The latin Ecclesia Anglicana meaning ‘The English Church’, as it was often referred to and since the 17th Century more often called the Church of England. There is a deal of confusion about this Church by people who are member of it and those who are not. So here we go with a potted history, and not the whole story because you don’t have the time for that.
Christianity came to England probably in the first century (ie, before 100 AD) and certainly by the second century. The martyrdom of St Alban was quite possibly 209 AD and three British Bishops attended the Council or Arles in 314 AD. This Christianity (often referred to as Celtic Christianity) was significantly influenced by Orthodox Origins, and certainly observed the Eastern date for Easter.
In 595 AD Augustine was commission by Pope Gregory to lead a Mission to Britain. Clearly he went to a place where the Church already existed, and part of his brief was to bring the Church into line with Western (Roman) practice and custom. Pope Gregory gave to Canterbury the Pallium – which still remains as part of the arms of the Diocese of Canterbury. The Pallium is the mark of an ‘autocephalous’ Church. This is a Church with its own rule and authority, and capable of making Bishops. The Ancient autocephalous Churches included, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and of course Jerusalem. It would seem that the intent of Gregory was to establish an Autocephalous in the British Isles, partly I imagine because it was a long way from Rome, and partly to counter the Eastern Influence. Ultimately Augustine was able to negotiate a settlement with the Celtic Christians and bring order and western influence to the English Church.
Henry VIII was a devout church person whom the Pope decreed ‘Defender of the Faith’. In 1534, in order to achieve a number of ends Henry decreed ‘ the Pope has no temporal authority in England’. Some of the reasons included his need to a divorce that he might marry the now heavily pregnant Anne Boleyn, but also that Henry might regain control of much of the land and economic resources of England that were in Church (foreign) control. In a sense Henry determined that the Church of England was autocephalous.
Whilst no doubt for the proximity in history to the European Reformation some have thought that the English Church was protestant, were as in reality it was simply the Church in England – all be it autocephalous.
For the person in the pew, there was no requirement for a change in the position of faith. Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher summed the matter up.
We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution.
From time to time people who are part of the Church shift their community of identity within that. Sometime those who used to gather at the feet of the ArchBishop of Rome choose to gather at the feet of the ArchBishop of Canterbury. Sometimes they are tempted to say ‘I used to be a Catholic …’ or ‘When I was a Catholic …”. The truth of course is that they still are Catholic. There is no sense in which the Anglican Church should imagine itself anything less than Catholic. We may well have profound influences from the reformation about us (or not) however at our core we should never lose our sense of catholicity.
- We affirm the Nicene Creed – the only creed agreed upon by an ecumenical council – and all that it entails.
- We acknowledge one Baptism (we never re-baptise those who have been baptised in the threefold name in another tradition)
- We are ordered in sacramental ministry with Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
- We are connected through our Bishops in unbroken succession back tot he Apostles. (historic Episcopacy)
- We are open to all people, in all places, at all times.