Since the Reformation, the Church of England or Anglican Church has been the established branch of the Christian church in England. Throughout the medieval period, English kings tried to limit the power of the church and the claims of its independent canon law. All of this was without success until the reign of Henry VIII. Parliament’s acts between 1529 and 1536 represent the beginning of the Anglican Church as a national church, independent of papal jurisdiction. Henry VIII, troubled by the refusal of Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, induced Parliament to enact a series of statutes that denied the pope any power or jurisdiction over the Church of England. Henry reinstated the ancient right of the monarch, so he could exercise supremacy over the affairs of the church within his control. He supported his right by referring to precedents set by relationships of the church and state in the Eastern Roman Empire until the 9th century under Charlemagne. Support was given particularly because no extreme changes were made in the Catholic faith, which meant the English were still accustomed to the practices. After Henry’s death, religious reforms in England continued, and in 1549 Parliament issued an act of Uniformity which enjoined the sole use of the Book of Common Prayer (Hingham 2).
A settlement of the religious controversy came when Elizabeth I succeeded Mary as queen of England in 1558. Most of the ecclesiastical laws of Henry VIII were restored, the Act of Supremacy laid out more carefully the Monarch’s power in the church. After the installation of the first Stuart monarch, James I, as king of England, in 1603, the agitation for religious change became firmly linked with the conflict between Parliament and the Stuart’s absolutism. Another attack was made on the establishment of the Anglican Church when King James II attempted to reintroduce the practice of Roman Catholicism in England.
Since the 17th century, the Anglican Church has been greatly expanded spiritually and ecclesiastically by consecutive movements. The most noticeable in these movements was the John Wesley’s, in which he and his followers left the Church of England to become Methodists. Low Church members, finding their devotion and church practice related to what was commonly distinctive of Protestantism, feared an extreme bias toward the High Church members and their rebirth of beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism. That which Low Church members feared most became reality, the High Church Oxford movement succeeded, transforming the face of the English church forever. The fact that both the Low Church Evangelical Revival and the High Church Oxford movement could develop within the Church of England, shows the importance and versatility of the Anglican tradition of faith and practice, as does the very coexistence through the years of the Low Church and High Church partiality. The Broad Church movement also occurred in the late 19th century, formed by those Anglicans who felt they belonged to neither the Low Church nor the High Church parties. This group included the British scholar Thomas Arnold, and countless other noticeable church members. This sense of muffled
viewpoints often has led to controversy and tension within the English church, but many Anglicans feel that the spirit that holds the church together are those very different viewpoints
that have caused so many problems. The independent Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was founded at the time of the American Revolution, when the members of the Anglican Church that lived in the former colonies couldn’t give their allegiance to the Church of England anymore. After this separation, a number of other churches followed, all of which centered upon the Church of England and became known as the Anglican Communion.
The thing that all of these separate churches had in common were that they all followed the doctrine of the Church of England, which is found primarily in the Book of Common Prayer, which was Thomas Cranmer’s bequest to the Church of England (Henson 19). The Book of Common Prayer contains the ancient creeds of an undivided Christendom, and secondarily in the Thirty-nine Articles, which are interpreted in accordance with the prayer book. The Church of England is different than the Roman Catholic Church because it does not respect the claims that the papacy has jurisdictions over the church. Also, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England allows women to become priests. The Church of England is closer to Eastern Orthodox Church than it is to the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church and its sister churches in the Anglican Communion are different from most Protestant churches in that they require episcopal installation for all their clergy. The structure and tone of the liturgical services are translations and revised versions of the pre-Reformation services of the church, in a spiritual
orientation in which a Catholic sacramental heritage is combined with the biblical and evangelical emphasis that came through the Reformation.
The Church of England consists of approximately two-thirds of the population of England. The Episcopal Church, Christian denomination, organized in Philadelphia in 1789, derives its orders (ministry), doctrine, liturgy, and traditions from the Church of England, with which it is in communion.
I belong to the Episcopal Church and this is why I wanted to do research on it. Now, that I have written this paper and done all of this research, I can better understand my church and in turn be a better Christian.
Hensen, Herbert Hensley. The Church of England. London: Cambridge University Press, 1939.
Hingham, Florence. Catholic and Reformed. London: S.P.C.K., 1962.