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A term used to denote the religious belief and position of members of the established Church of England, and of the communicating churches in the British possessions, the United States (see EPISCOPAL CHURCH), and elsewhere. It includes those who have accepted the work of the English Reformation as embodied in the Church of England or in the offshoot Churches which in other countries have adhered, at least substantially, to its doctrines, its organization, and its liturgy. Apart from minor or missionary settlements, the area in which Anglicanism is to be found corresponds roughly with those portions of the globe which are, or were formally, under the British flag.

This article is divided in to Seven parts



  1. Original Loyalty to Rome
  2. After the Act of Royal Supremacy (1534)
  3. The Effect of Royal Supremacy


  1. First Period: Henry VIII (1534-1547) 

  2. Second Period: Edward VI (1547-1553)

  3. Third Period: Elizabeth I (1558-1603)






To form a general idea of Anglicanism as a religious system, it will be convenient to sketch it in rough outline as it exists in the Established Church of England, bearing in mind that there are differences in detail, mainly in liturgy and church-government, to be found in other portions of the Anglican communion.

To these general characteristics we may add by way of corrective that while the Bible is accepted much latitude is allowed as to the nature and extent of its inspiration; that the Eucharistic teaching of the Prayer Book is subject to various and opposed interpretations; that Apostolic succession is claimed by many to be beneficial, but not essential, to the nature of the Church; that the Apostles' Creed is the only one to which assent can be required from the laity, and that Articles of Religion are held to be binding only on the licensed and beneficed clergy.


Inside these outlines, which are necessarily vague, the constitution of the Church of England has been largely determined by the events which attended its settlement under the Tudors.

Original Loyalty to Rome

Before the breach with Rome under Henry VIII there was absolutely no doctrinal difference between the faith of Englishmen and the rest of Catholic Christendom, and "Anglicanism", as connoting a separate or independent religious system, was unknown.

The name Ecclesia Anglicana, or English Church, was of course employed, but always in the Catholic and Papal use of the term as signifying that part or region of the one Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Pope which was situated in England, and precisely in the same way as the Church in Scotland was called the Ecclesia Scotticana, the Church in France, the Ecclesia Gallicana, and the Church in Spain the Ecclesia Hispanica. That such national or regional appellations were a part of the style in the Roman Curia itself, and that they in no sense could have implied any indication of independence from Rome, is sufficiently well known to all who are familiar with pre-Reformation records.

After the Act of Royal Supremacy (1534)

The first point of severance was clearly one of Erastianism. When news of the papal decision against the divorce reached England, Henry VIII gave his assent to four anti-papal statutes passed in Parliament in the spring of 1534, and in November the statute of the Royal Supremacy declared the King to be Supreme Head of the English Church (without the limiting clause of 1532), and an oath was prescribed, affirming the Pope to have no jurisdiction in the realm of England. The actual ministry of preaching and of the sacraments was left to the clergy, but all the powers of ecclesiastical jurisdiction were claimed by the sovereign.

Thus the chief note of Henrician settlement is the fact that Anglicanism was founded in the acceptance of the Royal, and the rejection of the Papal Supremacy, and was placed upon a decidedly Erastian basis.

When the Act of Royal Supremacy, which had been repealed by Queen Mary, was revived by Elizabeth, it suffered a modification in the sense that the Sovereign was styled "Supreme Governor" instead of "Supreme Head". In a subsequent "Admonition", Elizabeth issued an interpretation of the Royal Supremacy, to the effect that she laid claim "to no power of ministry of divine offices in the Church". At the same time she reasserted in the full the claim made by Henry VIII as to the Authority of the Crown in matters ecclesiastical, and the great religious changes made after her accession were carried out and enforced in a royal visitation commissioned by the royal authority.

In 1628, Charles I, in a Royal Declaration prefixed to the Articles, stated that it belonged to the kingly office "to conserve and maintain the Church committed to our charge, in unity of religion and the bond of peace", and decreed that differences arising as to the external policy of the Church were to be settled in Convocation, but its ordinances were to be submitted to the Crown for approval, which would be given to them if they were not contrary to the laws of the land.

Archbishop Laud, in 1640, had a series of canons drawn up in Convocation and duly published, but this attempt at spiritual independence was speedily suppressed. The indignation of Parliament was so great that he himself begged leave to withdraw them, and the House of Commons passed a resolution unanimously declaring that "the Clergy in Convocation assembled has no power to make any canons or constitutions whatsoever in matters of doctrine, discipline or otherwise to bind the Clergy and laity of the land without the common consent in Parliament" (Resolution, 16 December, 1640).

The Effect of Royal Supremacy

The effect of the legislation under Henry VIII, revived by Elizabeth, and confirmed in subsequent reigns, has been, as Lord Campbell pointed out in his famous Gorham judgment, in April, 1850, to locate in the Crown all that decisive jurisdiction which before the Reformation had been exercised by the Pope.

Until the year 1833, the Crown exercised this supreme jurisdiction through a special body called the Court of Delegates. Its members were appointed under the great Seal, and consisted of lay judges, with whom might be associated a number of bishops or clergymen. In 1833 this Court was abolished, and its powers were transferred to the King in Council. Hence matters which come under its purview are now decided by the King upon the advice of that part of the Privy Council which is known as the Judicial Committee. The statute (2 and 3 William IV, xcii) expressly states that its decisions are final, and are not subject to any commission of review.

It must be observed that this tribunal does not profess theoretically to decide articles of faith, or to pronounce upon the abstract orthodoxy or heterodoxy of opinions. "Its duty extends only to the consideration of that which is by law established to be the doctrine of the Church of England, upon the due and legal construction of there Articles and formularies" (Gorham decision, March 1850). But upon this ground the Crown decided that the views of Mr. Gorham, whose notorious rejection of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration had shocked his bishop and scandalized the Tractarians, were "not contrary or repugnant to the declared doctrine of the Church of England as by law established". Numerous protests and appeals were made by high Churchmen, but all attempts to reverse the decision were unavailing, and Mr. Gorham duly received institution to the benefice which his bishop had refused him. In like manner in 1849, when vehement opposition was made to the appointment of Dr. Hampden to the See of Hereford, the Prime Minister of the day insisted on the right of the Crown, and the Vicar-General of the Archbishop ruled that no exception could be suffered against one whom the Crown had duly nominated, and the Court of Queen's Bench sustained his ruling.

Thus, whatever views or aspirations have been held theoretically by Anglican divines on the spiritual authority of the Anglican Church, the Royal Supremacy remains an effective reality, and the Crown, supported by Parliament and the Law Courts, both as to the doctrines which may be taught, and the persons who shall be put in office to teach them, has possession of the practical and substantial control. It is characteristic of the Anglican Reformation that the supreme and far reaching regulative jurisdiction which was exercised by the Holy See was, after the severance from Rome, taken over, to all intents and purposes, by the Crown, and was never effectively entrusted to the Anglican Spirituality, either to the Primate, or to the Episcopate, or even to Convocation. As a result, there is to this day the lack of a living Church Spiritual Authority which has been to the Anglican Church a constant source of weakness, humiliation, and disorder.

In 1904 a royal commission was appointed to investigate the complaints against ecclesiastical discipline, and in July 1906, it issued its report, in which it points out that at no time in the past have the laws of public worship been uniformly observed, and recommends the formation of a Court which while exercising the Royal Jurisdiction, would be bound to accept the episcopate on questions of doctrine or ritual. This, if granted, would be the first step towards the partial emancipation of the Spirituality from the thraldom of the civil power, in which it has been held for more than three centuries.

It will be observed that Anglicanism as a religious system is separable from the doctrine of Royal Supremacy, which is an outcome of its union with the State, and of the circumstances of the English Reformation. In countries outside of England the Wales Anglican Churches exist, and, it is said, all the more prosperously from being untrammelled by the State connection. But even in those countries the decisive voice in the government of the Anglican Church is not entrusted to the Episcopate alone, and in some of them the lay power in the synods has made itself felt, and has shown that it can be as really a master as any Tudor sovereign invested with royal supremacy. The supremacy of the Spirituality in the domain of doctrine, as the sole guarantee of true religious liberty, is still lacking in the Anglican system, and the problem of supplying it remains unsolved, if not insoluble.


The doctrinal position of the Anglican Church, in like manner, can only be adequately studied in its history, which divides itself into a number of stages or periods. The first, or Henrician, period (1534-47) includes the breach with Rome, the setting up of an independent national church, and the transfer of the supreme Church authority from the Papacy to the Crown. The Edwardian (1547-53) and the Elizabethan (1558-1603) periods carried the work of separation much further. Both accepted the Henrician basis of rejection of the Papacy and erection of the Royal Supremacy, but built upon it the admission of the doctrinal and liturgical changes which make up mainly the Anglican Reformation, and brought the nation within the great Protestant movement of the sixteenth century.

First Period: Henry VIII (1534-1547)

Although the policy of Henry VIII, after the breach with Rome, was ostensibly conservative, and his ideal seemed to be the maintenance of a Catholic Church in England, minus the Pope, it is incontestable that in other ways his action was in fatal contradiction to his professions.

Influence of English Protestant Sympathizers. — By raising to power, and by maintaining in positions of unique influence, his three great agents, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, and Edward Seymour, all of whom were always, and as openly as they dared, in sympathy with the Reformation, Henry VIII, whether by intention or the by the indifference of his latter days, undoubtedly prepared the way and opened the gates to the Protestantism which came in under Edward and Elizabeth.

Influence of German Protestants. — In 1535 Henry sent agents to negotiate an agreement with the Reformers in Germany, and in 1537 he was led by Cromwell, in connivance with Cranmer, into further negotiations with the Protestant princes assembled at Smalkald. He wrote to Melanchthon to congratulate him on the work which he had done for religion, and invited him to England. Melanchthon was unable to come, but in 1538 three German divines, Burkhardt, Boyneburg, and Myconius, were sent to London, where they remained some months, and held conferences with the Anglican bishops and clergy. The Germans presented as a basis of agreement a number of Articles based on the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg. On the doctrinal part of these Articles, the first thirteen, both parties came to an agreement (Letter of Myconius to Cromwell, 8 September, 1538). On the second part, the "Abuses" (viz., private Masses, celibacy of the Clergy, invocation of Saints) the King would not give way, and finally dissolved the conference. Although the negotiations thus formally came to an end, the Thirteen Articles on which agreement with the Germans had been made were kept by Archbishop Cranmer, and afterwards by Archbishop Parker, and were used as test articles to which the preachers whom they licensed were required to subscribe. Eventually they became the nucleus of the Articles of Religion which were authorized under Edward VI and Elizabeth. Hence the almost verbal correspondence between these Articles and the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg, from which they were originally taken.

Second Period: Edward VI (1547-1553)

By the death of Henry VIII (27 January, 1547) the main obstacle to the reforming influence was removed. With the accession of Edward VI, who had been brought up in the reformed faith, with Seymour, also a Protestant, omnipotent in the Council, and Cranmer, now able to show his hand and work his will, the party of the Reformation became possessed of all the resources of national power, and during the five years of the reign (1547-53) remained triumphantly in the ascendant. This period witnessed the introduction of the great doctrinal and liturgical changes.

Denial of the Sacrifice of the Mass. — One of the cardinal principles of the Reformation which the German delegates had brought over in 1538 was that "the Mass is nothing but a Communion or synaxis" (Tunstall's Summary, M.S. Cleop. E. V., 209). Cranmer vehemently upheld this conception of the Eucharist. One of the first Acts under Edward VI was the introduction of a new English Communion Service, which was to be inserted at the end of the Mass, and which required Communion to be given under both kinds. This was soon after followed by a Book of Common Prayer, with a Communion Service entirely taking the place of the Latin Mass. Cranmer was the chief author of this book. Whether it ever received the assent of Convocation has been questioned, but it was approved by Parliament in 1549. Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, in opposing Cranmer's denial of the Real Presence and of the Sacrifice of the mass, argued that even certain passages in the new Prayer Book implied the acceptance of these doctrines; whereupon Cranmer and his fellow-reformers drew up a new prayer Book, still more Protestant in tone and character. In it the order of the parts of the Communion Service was considerably altered, and the passages used by Gardiner as apparently favouring the Catholic doctrine were studiously eliminated, or so changed as to preclude in future any such interpretation, and all allusion to Altar or Sacrifice was carefully omitted (Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer, 289). In 1552, this, the second Prayer Book of Edward VI, was authorized by Parliament. A new Ordinal or Order for making bishops, priests, and deacons was compiled, from which in like manner all mention of the sacrificial office of the priesthood was rigorously excluded. It was approved by Parliament in 1552. In 1551, quite in harmony with this liturgical reform, an Order in Council issued to Bishop Ridley required the altars to be torn down, and movable tables substituted, while a statement of reasons was to be made to the people explanatory of the change, namely, "that the form of a table may more move and turn the simple from the old superstition of the Mass and to the right use of the Lord's Supper".

Suppression of Catholic practices. — By Royal Proclamations and episcopal visitations, a multitude of Catholic practices and sacramentals, such as lights, incense, holy water, and palms, were suppressed. These reforms, proceeding tentatively but rapidly, were initiated and carried out mainly by Cranmer and his set, and the reflected his beliefs and that of this fellow-reformers.

The 42 Articles. — In 1553, a royal decree was issued requiring the bishops and clergy to subscribe forty-two Articles of Religion which embodied in great part what had been contained in the Thirteen Articles agreed upon with the Germans. The article on the Eucharist had been significantly changed to agree, as Hooper attests, with the teachings of the Swiss reformer, Bullinger.

Third Period: Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

In November, 1558, Queen Elizabeth succeeded Queen Mary, and immediately proceeded to restore the work of Henry VIII and Edward VI.

Based on Prayer Book of 1552. — The new settlement of religion was based, not on the First Prayer Book of 1549, but on the more Protestant one of 1552. The latter was adopted with a few slight modifications, and it remains for the most part substantially unchanged to the present day. The statement that Pius IV offered to approve the Prayer Book is devoid of all historical foundation. It has not a vestige of contemporary evidence to support it. Camden, the earliest Anglican historian who mentions it, says: "I never could find it in any writing, and I do not believe any writing of it to exist. To gossip with the mop is unworthy of any historian" (History, 59). Fuller, another Anglican historian, describes it as the mere conjecture "of those who love to feign what they cannot find".

The 39 Articles. — In 1563 the Edwardian Articles were revised in Convocation under Archbishop Parker. Some were added, others altered or dropped, and the number was reduced to Thirty-eight. In 1571, the XXIXth Article, despite the opposition of Bishop Guest, was inserted, to the effect that the wicked do not eat the Body of Christ. The Articles, thus increased to Thirty-nine, were ratified by the Queen, and the bishops and clergy were required to assent and subscribe thereto.

Calvinistic Influence. — During the whole of Elizabeth's long reign, the prevailing tone of Anglican teaching and literature was decidedly Genevan and Calvinistic (Dr. Prothero, English Hist. Rev., October, 1886). In 1662 a reaction set in against Puritanism, and the Prayer Book, which had been suppressed during the Commonwealth, was brought back and subjected to revision in Convocation and Parliament. The amendments made were numerous, but those of doctrinal significance were comparatively few, and of a kind to emphasize the Episcopal character of Anglicanism as against Presbyterianism. The most notable were the reinsertion, with altered wording, of the Black Rubric (omitted by Elizabeth) and the introduction in the form of the words, "for the office of a Bishop" and "for the office of a Priest", in the Service of Ordination.

Anglican Formularies. —

The historic meaning and doctrinal significance of the Anglican formularies can only be determined by the candid and competent examination of the evidence as a whole,

Here it is only possible to state the conclusions arising from such an inquiry in briefest outline.


The comparison of the Anglican Prayer Book and Ordinal with the Pre-Reformation formularies which they replaced leads to a second conclusion which in harmony with the above. On making an analysis of what has been removed, and what has been retained, and what has been altered, it becomes unmistakably apparent that the main motive which determined and guided the construction of the new liturgy was the same as that which inspired the whole Reformation movement, namely: the determination to have the Lord's Supper regarded only as a Sacrament or Communion, and not as a Sacrifice, and to remove whatever indicated the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, or the Real, Objective Presence, in the Catholic sense, in which Christ is worshipped in the Host.

The Catholic liturgical forms, missal, breviary, pontifical, were in possession and had been in actual use for centuries. In making a liturgical reform, it was by the necessity of the case impossible that the changes made should not have reference to them, standing as they did, in the relation of terminus a quo to a terminus ad quem of reformation. If the Sarum Missal, Breviary, and Pontifical are placed side by side with the Anglican Prayer Book and Ordinal, and a comparison made of the corresponding parts, the motive, drift, and intention of the framers are clearly revealed.

Thus, with regard to no less than forty-nine places, the new formularies bear the mark of deliberate exclusion and of anti-sacrificial and anti-sacerdotal significance. (See The Tablet, London, 12 June, 1897.)


Although the Anglican Articles and liturgy have been practically unchanged since 1662, it was inevitable that the life and thought of a religious body like the Church of England should present the note of development, and that such development should eventually out grow, or at least strain, the historic interpretation of the formularies, and the more so because there has been no living authority to adapt or readjust them to the newer needs or aspirations. The development may be said to have been guided by three main influences.


In 1833 a strong current of popular opinion directed against the Anglican Church aroused in its defense the zeal of a small band of Oxford students and writers, who gradually gathered under the informal leadership of John Henry Newman. Among these were John Keble, C. Marriott, Hurrell Froude, Isaac Williams, Dr. Pusey, and W.G. Ward. Their object was to make good for the Anglican Church its claim to the note of Catholicity. Their task led them to look both behind and outside the sphere of the Reformation.

By forming a catena of Anglican High Church divines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on one side, and a catena of certain Fathers on the other, it was hoped that a quasi-continuous chain of Catholic tradition could be made to connect the Anglican Church of their day with Catholic antiquity. Translations of the Fathers, works on liturgy, the festivals of the "Christian Year", and above all a memorable series of "Tracts for the Times", conveyed with telling force the newer and broader conceptions of churchmanship which entered into the spirit of the defenders.

In "Tract 90" an attempt was made, somewhat on the lines of Sancta Clara, to show that the Anglican Articles might in certain aspects be reconciled to the teaching of the Council of Trent. The result was a doctrinal and devotional crisis such as England had not witnessed since the Reformation, and the Oxford or Tractarian movement, during the twelve years from Keble's sermon on "National Apostasy", in 1833, to Newman's conversion in 1845, formed a historic epoch in the annals of Anglicanism. The fact that the work of the movement was informally a study de Ecclesi‚ brought both the writers and their readers more directly face to face with the claims of the Church of Rome.

A large number of those who took part in the movement, and notably its great leader, became Catholics, while others, in remaining Anglicans, gave a new and pro-Catholic direction and impulse to Anglican thought and worship. It may be said that in the case of Newman, Oakley, Wilberforce, Ward, and a host of others, the research of the nature of Catholicity and the rule of faith brought them to realize the need of the living voice of a Divine magisterium (the regula proxima fidei), and failing to find it in the Anglican episcopate, they sought it where alone it could be found.

Others, like Pusey, Marriott, Keble, sought what they called the voice of the "Church" in the inanimate formularies (or regula remota) which, after all, was merely adding the Fathers, the liturgies, and conciliar definitions to the Scripture as the area over which they still used, after the manner of true Protestants, their private judgement. The same principle is always more or less at work and goes as far now as then to sift those who come from those who stay. [If we bear in mind that by "Church" was thus meant the silent self-interpreted formularies (or regula remota), and by "Bishops" the living magisterium (or regula proxima) sought in Anglicanism, we shall feel that there is a great truth contained in Pusey's well-known saying, three years after the secession of Newman: "I am not disturbed, because I never attached any weight to bishops. It was perhaps the difference between Newman and me. He threw himself upon the bishops and they failed him. I threw myself on the English Church and the Fathers, as under God, her support" (Letter to C. Marriott, 2 January, 1848)].


Although the Oxford movement is regarded as having come to a close at the conversion of Dr. Newman in 1845, a large section of the Anglican public had been much too profoundly stirred by its ideals ever to return to the narrowness of the religious horizons which were bounded by the Reformation. Its influence has survived in the unceasing flow of converts to the Catholic Faith, and is shown in the Anglican Church itself by the notable change of belief, temperament, and practice which is known as the Anglican Revival.

The last fifty years (1860-1910) have witnessed the development of an influential and growing school of religious thought which, amid the inconsistencies of its position, has steadily laboured to Catholicize the Church of England. It has set up the claim, hopelessly untenable in the face of historical evidence, that the Anglican Church is one and continuous with the Ancient Catholic Church of the country, and is an integral portion of the Catholic Church of today. It professes to be able to give to Anglicans all that the Catholic Church gives to her members, save communion with the Holy See. Through possessing neither the learning nor the logic of the Tractarians, it exercises a wider and more practical influence, and has won the favour of a large body of the Anglican public by importing into the Anglican services something of the beauty and power which it has borrowed from Catholic teaching and ritual. At the same time it has in many centers earned the respect and attachment of the masses by the example of zeal and self-sacrifice given by its clergy.

It was natural that this advance section of the Anglican Church should seek to ratify its position, and to escape from its fatal isolation, by desiring some scheme of corporate reunion and especially by endeavouring to obtain some recognition of the validity of its orders. With the truest charity, which consists in the candour of truth, Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical on Unity, pointed out that there can be no reunion expect on the solid basis of dogmatic unity and submission to the divinely instituted authority of the Apostolic See. In September, 1896, after a full and exhaustive inquiry, he issued a Bull declaring Anglican Orders to be "utterly null and void", and in a subsequent Brief addressed to the Archbishop of Paris, he required all Catholics to accept this judgment as "fixed, settled, and irrevocable" (firmum, ratum et irrevocabile).

The Anglican Revival continues to reiterate its claim and to appropriate to itself, where practical, whatever in Catholic doctrine, liturgy, and practice, church vestments or church furniture, it finds helpful to its purpose. By the Lambeth judgment of 1891 it acquired a public sanction for many of its innovations. Since then it has gone further, and holds that no authority in the Church of England can override things which are authorized by "Catholic consent". It stands thus in the illogical and unhistorical position of a system which is philocatholic in its views and aspirations, but hopelessly committed to heresy and to heretical communication, and built upon an essentially Protestant foundation. Although to Catholics its very claim is an impious usurpation of what belongs of right to the Catholic Church alone, it fulfils an informal mission of influencing English public opinion, and of familiarizing the English people with Catholic doctrines and ideals.

Like the Oxford movement, it educates more pupils than it can retain, and works upon premises which cannot but carry it in the long run farther than it is willing to go. A branch theory which is repudiated by the principal branches, or a province theory which is unknown to the rest of the provinces, and a continuity theory of which more than twelve thousand documents in the Record Office and the Vatican Library are the overwhelming refutation, cannot form a standing ground which is other than temporary and transitional. In the meantime, its work amongst the masses is often a species of catechumenate for Catholicism, and in all cases it is an active solvent and a steady undoing of the English Reformation.

Wilkins, Concilia (London, 1737); Calendar of State Papers: Henry VII (London, 1862 sqq.); Edward VI (1856 sqq.); Elizabeth (ibid., 1863 sqq.); Prothero, Sclect Statutes; Cardwell, Documentary Annals (Oxford, 1844); Cranmer, Works; Gairdner, History of the Church of England in the XVIth Century; Dixon, Hist. of Church of England (London, 1878-1902); Wakeman, Introduct. to Hist. of Church of England (London 1897); Cardwell, History of Conferences (London, 1849); Gibson, the Thirty-nine Articles; Browne, Hist. of the Thirty-nine Articles; Keeling, Liturgiae Britannicae; Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer (London, 1891); Dowden, The Workmanship of the Prayer Book; Bulley, Variations of the Communion and Baptismal Offices; Brooke, Privy Council Judgements; Seckendorff, History of Lutheranism; Janssen, History of the German People, V, VI; Original Letters of the Reformation (Parker Series); Zurich Letters (Cambridge, 1842-43); Benson, Archbishop Laud (London, 1887); Church, The Oxford Movement (London and New York, 1891); Newman, Apologia; Liddon, Life of Pusey (London and New York, 1893-94), III; Benson, Life of Archbishop Benson


From the Catholic Encyclopedia,  1913