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Anglicanism is a denomination within Christianity. It is made up of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion (a group of Anglican churches from many other countries). The term Anglicanism includes those who have accepted the English Reformation as embodied in the Church of England or in the offshoot Churches in other countries that have followed closely to its doctrines and its organisation.
In the English Reformation, the English Church kept the early Catholic ministry of bishops, priests, deacons, and most of the doctrine and liturgy. The event that led to the Anglican Church was the outright rejection of the Pope. This meant they also rejected the Catholic Church as an organisation.
The term Anglican comes from the phrase ecclesia anglicana. This is a Medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246. It means 'the English Church'. The noun Anglican is used to describe the people, institutions, churches, traditions and ideas developed by the state established Church of England and the Anglican Communion, a theologically broad and often divergent affiliation of thirty-eight provinces that are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anglicans can have many different beliefs. For example, there are a range of beliefs about Holy Communion. Some Anglicans believe that the bread and wine becomes the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Other Anglicans think that Holy Communion is about remembering the life of Jesus Christ and his death on the Cross. The first ('High Church') is in the minority. It is similar to the belief of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The second (the majority 'Low Church') is like the belief of most Protestants. It is fundamentally a Protestant church because the Bible is the source of authority, not the Pope.
The name Anglican for this Church comes from the Latin word for English because the Church started in England. In the British Isles, Anglicanism has been the official or State religion in all parts at one time or another. Anglican Church leaders, and the State, worked together in what is called the alliance of Throne and Altar or Church and State. Together, they tried to make the Anglican denomination as broad and welcoming as possible to a wide range of Christian believers.
They did this to try to get as many citizens as they could to worship in the official church.
When Henry VIII wanted to divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the Pope refused to divorce him. As a result, King Henry split from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Church of England. The English Parliament, through the Act of Supremacy, declared King Henry VIII to be the "Supreme Head of the Church of England" in order to fulfill the "English desire to be independent from continental Europe religiously and politically." This act said that the king, not the pope was the head of the Church of England. With this act, Henry VIII was not only free to divorce his wife and remarry, he also made England free from the interference of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.
Although now separate from Rome, the English Church, at this point in history, continued to maintain the Roman Catholic theology on many things, such as the sacraments. Over time the Church of England was reformed even more, in what is known as the English Reformation, which it gained a number of characteristics which has finally formed the modern day Anglican Communion.
In the British Isles, and early British colonies, this was done to try to defeat both the followers of the Roman Catholic Church and all the kinds of Protestants too by including their best ideas, traditions, and practices in the Anglican Church. Now, the only place in the United Kingdom where Anglicanism is still the official religion is England, where the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is the Supreme Governor on Earth of the Church of England. The effective government of the Church is by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the legal Church Parliament known as the General Synod.
In the rest of the world, Anglicanism was spread by overseas colonisation, settlement, and missionary work. It functions there as an ordinary denomination of Christianity without special status. Anglicans around the world join together in a group of national churches in countries where there are Anglican Churches to make the world-wide Anglican Communion. There are more than 80 million Anglicans in the world today. Most live in Africa and Asia and are not of British ethnic heritage anymore.
The Anglican Communion is struggling today with questions about the role of women and gay people in the Church. As the Anglican Communion deals with these serious issues, some have split into liberal and conservative groups. Already, there are Anglicans who have broken from the main Churches to form their own separate groups of believers. Some use the term Anglican combined with the word Catholic, Christian, Reformed, or Episcopal.
At the same time, leaders from the Anglican Communion hold talks with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to try to work toward Christian unity. At times, there has been some progress. Also, the Anglican and Lutheran Churches have agreed to a high level of shared beliefs, leadership, and practices called intercommunion.
Henry VIII's son, Edward VI (1547-1553 CE), led the church along more Protestant lines in liturgy and doctrine as evidenced by the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552 CE.
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