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The term Anglican (from Anglia, the Latin name for England) describes the people and churches that follow the religious traditions developed by the established Church of England. The Anglican Communion codifies the Anglican relationship to the Church of England as a theologically broad and often diverging community of churches, which holds the English church as its mother institution. Adherents of Anglicanism within the Anglican Communion (that is in communion with the See of Canterbury) worldwide number around 70 million but there are numerous denominations which consider themselves Anglican but which are out of the Communion.

The issue of Catholic and Protestant affiliation is often confusing. Whilst many Anglicans regard themselves as being within the Protestant tradition, many other Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholics, do not consider themselves as Protestants. The Church of England claims explicitly that the Church "upholds the catholic faith." (The Athanasian Creed states "And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance." The phrase "catholic church" by definition means the universal Christian Church but also holds the sense of the "church in its fullness" ).

Ultimately, the Anglican Church considers itself as being both catholic (stressing its continuity with the ancient Church), and Reformed / Protestant (noting that the Church does not accept the universal infallible authority of the Pope). The conduct of eucharistically-centred worship services is in keeping with the catholic liturgical tradition and the Communion emphasises its status of full communion with the Old-Catholic Utrecht Union — a small community of churches which split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1870 over the doctrine of papal infallibility. On the other hand, the development of Anglicanism as a distinctive theological tradition is also deeply connected with the Protestant Reformation.

As with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches (but unlike most Protestant churches), Anglicans claim authority within the church through apostolic succession from the first followers of Jesus. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation actually reached agreement on the doctrine of the ministry in their Elucidation of 1979 [1], but the Roman Catholic Church continues to hold that Anglican Orders are not "valid." In contrast, Anglican Orders are recognized as valid by the Old-Catholics and Lutherans, communions which also consider themselves "the catholic Church." Anglicans traditionally date their church back at least to its first Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, in the 6th century and even centuries earlier to the Roman occupation. Many Anglicans point out that Christian missionaries existed in the British lands from the 1st century, with bishops established at Glastonbury by commission from the Apostle Philip. They consider Celtic Christianity a prefix of their faith, since many Celtic elements remained, even after the Synod of Whitby conformed to Roman customs (well after the establishment of the Canterbury See). They also point out that bishops from the British Isles participated in the early Ecumenical Councils - most significantly Pelagius, the monk who was almost successful in stopping Original Sin from becoming an official Church doctrine.


See also: History of the Church of England

While Anglicans acknowledge that the schism from papal authority under Henry VIII of England led to the Church of England existing as a separate entity, they also stress its continuity with the pre-Reformation Church of England. The organisational machinery of the Church of England was in place by the time of the Synod of Hertford in 672-673 AD when the English bishops were for the first time able to act as one body under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since the Elizabethan Religious Settlement the Church of England has enjoyed a heritage that is both Catholic and Protestant with the British monarch as its Supreme Governor. Contrary to much popular belief, the British monarch is not the constitutional "Head" of the Church of England and it is incorrect to refer to the monarch as such. The monarch has no constitutional role in Anglican churches in other parts of the world although the prayer books of several countries maintain prayers for "Our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth," and the versicle at Morning Prayer "O Lord save the Queen," which in former United States prayer books, for example, was altered to "O Lord save the state."

Nonetheless, the English Reformation was initially driven by the dynastic goals of Henry VIII of England, who, in his quest for a queen to bear him a male heir, found it necessary and profitable to replace the Papacy with the English crown. Henry's need for a legitimate male heir was real. England's previous experience in the twelfth century of rule by a queen had been a disaster that no-one wished to see repeated. (see Empress Matilda) It was not Henry's intention to found a new church. He was well-informed enough about history to know that the powers he was claiming were those which had been exercised by European monarchs over the church in their dominions since the time of Constantine and that what had changed since then had been the growth of papal power. The Act of Supremacy put Henry at the head of the church in 1534, while acts such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries put huge amounts of church land and property into the hands of the Crown and ultimately into those of the English nobility. These created vested interests which made a powerful material incentive to support a separate Christian church in England under the rule of the Monarch. The theological justification for Anglican distinctiveness was begun by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and continued by other thinkers such as Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. Cranmer had studied in Europe and was influenced by the ideas of the Reformation and had also married despite being a priest. Because Cranmer and other leaders of the Church of England had been ordained by bishops in the Apostolic Succession, and passed on that ordination to their successors, Anglicans consider that they have retained the historic apostolic succession, but differ as to how significant this is.

During the short reign of Edward VI, Henry's son, Cranmer was able to move the Church of England significantly towards a more Protestant Calvinist position. The first Book of Common Prayer dates from this period. This reform was reversed abruptly in the subsequent reign of Queen Mary. Only under Queen Elizabeth I was the English church established as a reformed Catholic church that was accepting of Calvinistic and Evangelical theology.

In the 16th century religious life was an important part of the cement which held society together. Differences in religion were likely to lead to civil unrest at the very least, with treason and foreign invasion possibly thrown in as well. Elizabeth's solution to the problem of minimising bloodshed over religion in her dominions was a religious settlement which prescribed a fixed, sparer form of worship, in the vernacular, in which everyone was expected to take part, i.e. common prayer, but a belief system formulated in a way that would allow people with different understandings of what the Bible taught to give assent. The Protestant principle that all things must be proved by scripture was endorsed in article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles, so that no one could be required to believe anything unless it could be clearly proved from the Scriptures. This did recognise that there were areas where the Bible did not give clear cut teaching, where differences of opinion among Christians were legitimate. The bulk of the population was willing to go along with Elizabeth's religious settlement, but extremists at both ends of the theological spectrum would have nothing to do with it, and cracks in the façade of religious unity in England were appearing.

For the next century there were significant swings back and forth between the Puritans and those with a less Reformed understanding of Anglicanism. It must be understood that the concept of religious freedom was in those days neither understood nor accepted by many people, and that the groups involved in the struggle were aiming for control, not freedom. By continental standards the level of violence over religion was not high, but among the casualties were a king (Charles I) and an Archbishop of Canterbury (William Laud). The final outcome in 1660 after the Restoration of Charles II was not too far removed from the Elizabethan ideal. One difference was that the ideal of encompassing all the people of England in one religious organisation, taken for granted by the Tudors, had to be abandoned. The religious landscape of England assumed its present form, with an Anglican established church occupying the middle ground, and the two extremes, Roman Catholic and those Puritans who dissented from the establishment, too strong to be suppressed altogether, having to continue their existence outside the national church, rather than controlling it. The English Reformation may be said to have ended at this point.

The Elizabethan settlement failed in that it was never able to gain the assent of the entire English people. Yet as the Anglican form of Christianity is now flourishing in many parts of the world far away from England it may possibly have succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of anybody alive in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


The Archbishop of Canterbury has a precedence of honour over the other archbishops of the Anglican Communion. He is recognised as primus inter pares, or first amongst equals. The Archbishop of Canterbury, however, does not exercise any direct authority in the provinces outside England. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as former Archbishop of Wales, is the first primate appointed from outside the Church of England since the Reformation. All Anglican priests have Apostolic Succession.

Since the reign of Henry VIII ultimate authority in the Church of England has been vested in the reigning monarch. Since the time of Elizabeth I the sovereign's title has been 'Supreme Governor' rather than 'Head' of the Church of England. In practice this means that the monarch has the responsibility of seeing that the administrative machinery of the church is running smoothly, and in particular that new bishops are appointed when needed. Today this responsibility is discharged by the Prime Minister. Anglican churches outside England do not have this relationship with the British monarch, however it remains the case that the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is appointed by the Crown of the United Kingdom (in theory; in practice by the Prime Minister).


Anglicanism is most commonly identified with the established Church of England, but Anglican churches exist in most parts of the world. In some countries (e.g., the United States, Scotland) the Anglican church is known as Episcopal, from the Latin episcopus, "bishop", which comes from a Greek word literally meaning an "overseer." Some Anglican churches are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury but consider themselves Anglican because they retain practices of the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer.

Each national church or province is headed by a Primate called a Primus in the Scottish Episcopal Church, an Archbishop in most countries, a Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church USA and a Prime Bishop in the Philippine Episcopal Church. These churches are divided into a number of dioceses, usually corresponding to state or metropolitan divisions.

There are three orders of the ordained ministry: deacon, priest and bishop. No requirement is made for clerical celibacy and women may be ordained as deacons in almost all provinces, as priests in some, and as bishops in a few provinces. Religious orders of monks, brothers, sisters and nuns were suppressed in England during the Reformation but have made a reappearance in Victorian times and thrive today.

Those Anglican churches "in communion" with the See of Canterbury constitute the Anglican Communion, a formal organisation made up of churches at the national level. However, there are a large number of denominations (albeit insignificant in terms of number of adherents) which call themselves Anglican that are known as the "continuing church" movement and do not acknowledge the Anglican Communion. They are generally conservative-to-traditionalist and, to a varying degree Anglo-Catholic in their doctrinal orientation, but tend to side politically with Evangelicals of the right; some, however, are at the extreme evangelical end of the churchmanship spectrum, such as the Church of England in South Africa (not in communion in Canterbury but in communion with the Diocese of Sydney), and the Reformed Episcopal Church. They consider the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, as well as some other member churches of the Anglican Communion, to have departed from the historic faith by ordaining women, by ordaining openly gay people, by altering the theological emphases of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church of the United States or the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, and by loosening the Church's traditional regulations concerning sexual and marital matters. There are also those independent jurisdictions, such as The National Anglican Catholic Church of the United States - which uses Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran principles in their doctrine. In the Indian subcontinent Anglican churches have entered into formal union with evangelical protestant denominations while remaining part of the Anglican Communion and indeed bringing their Presbyterian and other historically non-Anglican fellows along with them. As a percentage of the total population these united churches are not significant but numerically they are very substantial other than in Bangladesh. See Church of North India, Church of South India, Church of Pakistan and Church of Bangladesh.


Anglicans look for authority (in the formula of Richard Hooker) in the experience of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition (the practices and writings of the historical church). While it is often taught that these three are of equal value (using an image of a three-legged stool), the Anglican formularies have always pointed out that:

"Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." (Article VI, The Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion).

Historically, Anglicans have regarded the Bible, the three Creeds (Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed, and Athanasian Creed), the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer (1662) as the principal norms of doctrine. Thus, some have said that the Anglican Church retains much of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, but is tolerant of Reformed doctrine. This state of affairs is a consequence of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. The traditional liturgy of Anglicanism, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, has been considered "too Catholic" by those of Puritan leanings in the 16th century and Evangelicals in later periods, and "too Evangelical" by those of Anglo-Catholic leanings.

This distinction is routinely a matter of debate both within specific Anglican Churches and throughout the Anglican Communion by members themselves. Since the Oxford Movement of the mid-19th century, many churches of the Communion have embraced and extended liturgical and pastoral practices dissimilar with most Reformed Protestant theology. This extends beyond the ceremony of High Church services to even more theologically significant territory. Some Anglican clergy practise all seven of the sacraments in a marked way, in departure from the teaching of early Protestant thinkers like John Calvin and Martin Luther, even though opinions vary about the best way to understand these "sacramental rites". For example, some Anglican clergy will hear private confessions from their parishioners, a practice widely discontinued in Protestant denominations. Nevertheless, while Anglo-Catholic practices, particularly liturgical ones, have become much more mainstream within the denomination over the last century, there remain many areas where practices and beliefs remain on the more Protestant or Evangelical side of the debate.


Anglicanism has always been characterised by diversity in theology and the ceremony of the liturgy. Different individuals, groups, parishes, dioceses, and national churches may identify more with Catholic traditions and theology or, alternatively, with the principles of Reformism.

Some Anglicans follow such devotional practices common among Roman Catholics as solemn benediction of the reserved sacrament, use of the rosary, or of Anglican prayer beads, and prayer to the departed saints, which is contrary to the teaching of some of the English Reformers. Some give greater weight to the Apocryphal books of the Bible. (See Biblical canon.) Officially, Anglican teaching is that these books may be read in church for their instruction in morals, but not used to establish any doctrine. In recent years, prayer books (or "alternate services" books) of several countries have, out of deference to a greater agreement with Eastern Conciliarism (and a perceived greater respect accorded Anglicanism by Eastern Orthodoxy than by Roman Catholicism), instituted a number of historically Eastern and Oriental Orthodox elements in their liturgies, including replacing the Gloria in excelsis with the Trisagion and deleting the filioque from the Creed.

For their part, those Anglicans who emphasise the Reformed-Protestant nature of the Church stress the Reformation themes of salvation by grace through faith, the two dominical sacraments of the Gospel, and Scripture as containing all that is necessary to salvation in an explicit sense.

The range of Anglican belief and practice became particularly divisive during the 19th century, as the Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical movements emphasised the more Catholic or the more Reformed sides of Anglican Christianity. These groups, or parties, are still often equated with the terms High-Church and Low-Church, and these terms are commonly used to speak of the level of ceremony that is favoured. These terms are also used to discuss the theological place of the organised church within the Body of Christ.

The spectrum of Anglican beliefs and practice is too large to be fit into these labels. Most Anglicans are broadly Evangelical and Catholic and, in fact, stress that Anglicanism, rightly understood, is western Christianity's "Via Media" (middle way) between what were considered medieval superstition of Roman Catholicism and the slovenliness of Protestantism. Via Media may also be understood as underscoring Anglicanism's preference for a communitarian and methodological approach to theological issues rather than relativism.

The nineteenth century saw new heights of intellectual activity in the Anglican Church. Since that time, the theological contributions of the Church to the wider spectrum of Christian thought have declined somewhat. Another recent trend has been the emergence of Fundamentalism in some strands of Anglicanism. Fundamentalism, seen as an highly intellectual movement, rejects all but the most literal readings of the Bible. This doctrine is regarded by some as divisive, and is seen by its critics as a reactionary measure by those who cannot cope with the relativisation of truth that has been a predominant feature of the post-modernist epoch. Traditionally, Anglicanism had been associated with the English university systems and hence, the literary criticism produced in those organisations has been applied to the study of ancient scriptures, although not uncritically. Generally, the Anglican Church is conservative, except for the Canadian and American branches.

Social issues[]

A question of whether or not Christianity is a pacifist religion has remained a matter of debate for Anglicans. In 1937, the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship emerged as a distinct reform organisation, seeking to make pacifism a clearly defined part of Anglican theology. The group rapidly gained popularity amongst Anglican intellectuals, including Vera Brittain, Evelyn Underhill and former British political leader George Lansbury.

Whilst never actively endorsed by the Anglican Church, many Anglicans unofficially have adopted the Augustinian "Just War" doctrine. The Anglican Pacifist Fellowship remain highly active and rejects this doctrine. The Fellowship seeks to reform the Church by reintroducing the pacifism inherent in the beliefs of many of the earliest Christians and present in their interpretation of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Greatly confusing the matter was the fact that the 37th Article of Religion states clearly that "it is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars."

The Lambeth Council in the modern era has sought to provide a clearer position by repudiating modern war and developed a statement that has been affirmed at each subsequent meeting of the Council. This statement was also strongly reasserted when "the 67th General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirms the statement made by the Anglican Bishops assembled at Lambeth in 1978 and adopted by the 66th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1979, calling “Christian people everywhere ... to engage themselves in non-violent action for justice and peace and to support others so engaged, recognizing that such action will be controversial and may be personally very costly... this General Convention, in obedience to this call, urges all members of this Church to support by prayer and by such other means as they deem appropriate, those who engaged in such non-violent action, and particularly those who suffer for conscience' sake as a result; and be it further Resolved, that this General Convention calls upon all members of this Church seriously to consider the implications for their own lives of this call to resist war and work for peace for their own lives."

Religious life[]

A small yet influential aspect of Anglicanism is its religious orders of monks and nuns. Shortly after the beginning of the revival of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England, there was felt to be a need for some Anglican Sisters of Charity. In the 1840s Mother Priscilla Lydia Sellon became the first woman to take the vows of religion in communion with the Province of Canterbury since the Reformation, and a series of letters were exchanged publically between her and the Rev. James Spurrell, Vicar of Great Shelford, Cambs., who criticised Miss Sellon's Sisters of Mercy. From the 1840s and throughout the next hundred years, religious orders for both men and women proliferated in the UK, the United States, Canada, and India, as well as in various countries of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.

Anglican religious life at one time boasted hundreds of orders and communities, and thousands of religious. An important aspect of Anglican religious life is that most communities of both men and women lived their lives consecrated to God under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (or in Benedictine communities, Stability, Conversion of Life, and Obedience) by practicing a mixed life of reciting the full eight services of the Breviary in choir, along with a daily Eucharist, plus service to the poor. The mixed life, combining aspects of the contemplative orders and the active orders remains to this day a hallmark of Anglican religious life.

Since the 1960s there has been a sharp falling off in the numbers of religious in most parts of the Anglican Communion, just as in the Roman Catholic Church. Many once large and international communities have been reduced to a single convent or monastery comprised of elderly men or women. In the last few decades of the 20th century, novices have for most communities been few and far between. Some orders and communities have already become extinct.

There are however, still several thousand Anglican religious working today in approximately 200 communities around the world.

The most significant growth has been in the Melanesian countries of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. The Melanesian Brotherhood, founded at Tabalia, Guadalcanal, in 1925 by Ini Kopuria, is now the largest Anglican Community in the world with over 450 brothers in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. The Sisters of the Church, started by Mother Emily Ayckbown in England in 1870, has more sisters in the Solomons than all their other communities. The Community of the Sisters of Melanesia, started in 1980 by Sister Nesta Tiboe, is a growing community of women throughout the Solomon Islands. The Society of Saint Francis, founded as a union of various Franciscan orders in the 1920s, has experienced great growth in the Solomon Islands. Other communities of religious have been started by Anglicans in Papua New Guinea and in Vanuatu. Most Melanesian Anglican religious are in their early to mid 20s -- vows may be temporary and it is generally assumed that brothers, at least, will leave and marry in due course -- making the average age 40 to 50 years younger than their brothers and sisters in other countries. This growth is especially surprising because celibacy was not regarded as a Melanesian virtue; on the other hand, it is perhaps more accurate to conceptualise Melanesian religious as youth volunteers than as monastic orders on the medieval European model.


  • Norman Doe, 1998, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion: A Worldwide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, ISBN 0198267827
  • Hein, David (compiler), 1991, Readings in Anglican Spirituality, Cincinnati, Forward Movement Publications, ISBN 0880281251
  • Hein, David, and Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr., 2005, The Episcopalians, New York, Church Publishing
  • R.C.D., Jasper, 1989, The Development of the Anglican Liturgy, 1662-1980, London, SPCK
  • More and Cross, Anglicanism
  • Stephen Neill, Anglicanism
  • William L. Sachs, 1993, The Transformation of Anglicanism: From State Church to Global Community, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
  • Sykes, Stephen, Booty, John, & Knight, Jonathan, (eds.) The Study of Anglicanism, Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press
  • William Temple, Doctrine in the Church of England

See also[]

External links[]

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