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Christian and  Muslim knights playing chess in a tent.
Two knights playing chess, one Christian and one Muslim.

Hallo again to all.

Perhaps appropriately for Lent, we've been brooding on the 39... oh, make that the XXXIX Articles*. Their standing has ranged from official and established in the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the Anglican Church of Canada—at one time ordinands were required to assent to them in writing—to more elusive in the Episcopal Church in the USA. Although the Articles were 'established' there by the General Convention in 1801, no one seems to know conclusively what that means, as no formal act of subscription was required by a person in Holy Orders. So at present the Articles sit in the back of the current American Prayer Book in the 'Historical Documents' section.

We confess to liking some of the articles far more than others; Article XIX has a rather splendid ring to it. But Article XVIII is a difficult one for us.

They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus, whereby men must be saved.

We find ourselves generally squeamish when it comes to 'accursing'; perhaps that's a modern sensibility. But the sense of the article is undoubtedly clear: Do not think that devout Jews or Muslims are saved. If you think so and say so, you are accursed (The Latin is 'Sunt et illi anathematizandi'). It is Jesus only who saves. Thus, if nonbelievers are to be saved, we are obliged to evangelise, indeed proselytise, amongst devout Muslims and Jews, as well as the 'heathen', whether they want it or not.

Luckily, the Articles are not held 'to be such necessary truths ... Some of them are the very same that are contained in the Creed; some others of them are practical truths, which come not within the proper lists of points or articles to be believed; lastly, some of them are pious opinions or inferior truths which are asserted by the Church of England as not to be opposed; not as essentials of Faith necessary to be believed' (A 17th-century Irish Anglican comment). A later opinion? The articles 'are not officially acknowledged as a binding creed or confession of faith, but they do record the doctrinal foundations on which Anglican tradition grew' (a 20th-century US Episcopalian comment).Hebrew calligraphy

But still the Articles are, well, the Articles, and Number 18 confronts us in its black-and-whiteness. Does it reflect the only way that Christians can properly approach those who are not Christian? A book we've been reading recently, Maria Rosa Menocal's 'The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain' suggests that another way developed in the early Middle Ages:

'This was a chapter of Europe's culture when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side and, despite their intractable differences and enduring hostilities, nourished a complex culture of tolerance ... it found expression in the often unconscious acceptance that contradictions—within oneself as well as within one's culture—could be positive and productive'.

In Spain, she writes in the introduction,Arabic calligraphy

'the profoundly Arabized Jews rediscovered and reinvented Hebrew; Christians embraced nearly every aspect of Arabic style—from the intellectual style of philosophy to the architectural style of mosques—not only while living in Islamic dominions, but especially after wresting political control from them; there men of unshakable faith, like Abelard and Maimonides and Averroes, saw no contradiction in pursuing the truth, whether philosophical or scientific or religious, across confessional lines'.

It is not by accident that the tomb of Ferdinand III in Seville in 1252 was inscribed in Latin, Arabic, Catalan, and Hebrew.

Alas, in 1492, Granada fell, and the Muslims and Jews were driven out of Spain. Soon more purity-minded governments and cultures arose, and the divisions and differences that demarcate the modern world began to be marked on maps and articulated in articles.

In this world, we see the need to be more willing to cross lines than draw them. We yield to no one in our steadfast belief in Christianity as God's last, best, and final revelation: Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We do our level best to talk intelligently and imaginatively about our belief in Christ to those who would listen to us. With the Holy Spirit's help, we try to live our lives in ways that witness to the love of Our Lord. But if we take Article XVIII in its most simplistic sense, we see that it would lead to crusades, cruelty, forced conversions, and a host of other non-Christ-like actions. If a tenet similar to Article 18 was pursued by equally ardent Muslims, it would lead to the imposition of harsh Sharia law, death for conversions to Christianity, or brutal intolerance of Christians. (Do we not see that already in pockets round the world?) We cannot believe that these examples are what Our Lord had in mind when he said 'Go ye, therefore, and make disciples in all the world...'

So as we draw near to Holy Week, we shall try to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and love our neighbour as ourselves. And we'll let Article XVIII quietly slip back again into the historical context in which it was written.

See you next week.

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 6 April 2003

*Not sure about what they are? Have a look here.

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