Six Articles, Act of

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Six Articles, Act of, 1539 (31 Hen. VIII c. 14). The Act gave legal and penal authority to a set of highly reactionary statements on issues of church belief and practice. The Six Articles, decided by debate within the House of Lords and approved by convocation, upheld (a)the catholic doctrine of the transubstantiation of the substance of the eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ, in its most exclusive form; (b)the view that one need not receive both bread and wine in the communion; (c)the obligation of priests to remain celibate; (d)the binding character of vows of chastity; (e)private masses; and (f )auricular confession. The Act decreed that denial of the first article was to be punished by burning as a heretic; denial of the others, and priestly marriage, was ultimately punishable by hanging. In keeping with the Act's traditional nickname of the ‘whip with six strings’, this was not a reasoned doctrinal statement, but a legal snare designed to trap protestant believers. Bishops Shaxton of Salisbury and Latimer of Worcester resigned their sees in protest. The passing of the Act seems to have resulted from a temporary ascendancy in the king's council of conservative opponents of Thomas Cromwell, especially the duke of Norfolk and Bishop Stephen Gardiner. The Act was enforced very little during the life of Cromwell, and sporadically afterwards. It was repealed in the first Parliament of Edward VI in 1547.

Euan Cameron

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