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The term Anglican (from the "Angles" or English) describes those people and churches following 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.
The official position of the Church of England claims explicitly that the Church "upholds the Catholic faith." It emphasisizes its status of full communion with the Old Catholic Church — a small community of churches that split from the Roman Catholic church in 1870. However the issue of Catholic and Protestant affiliation is often confusing, and the Anglican/English Church regards itself as a community independent of both Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines.
As with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches (but unlike many Protestant churches), Anglicans claim authority within the church through apostolic succession from the first followers of Jesus. Anglicans traditionally date their church back to its first archbishop Saint Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th century and centuries earlier to the Roman occupation.
While the Protestant Reformation in mainland Europe was largely a principled theological split from the Papacy, which had actively and imposingly wielded its political power, and Anglican ideals had been espoused by figures such as Stephen Langton and the Lollards, the English Reformation was ultimately driven by the political goals of Henry VIII of England, who, in his quest for a queen to bear him a male heir, found it expedient and profitable to replace the Papacy with the English crown. The Act of Supremacy put Henry at the head of the church in 1534, and other 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. The created vested interest made for a powerful material incentive for the dissolutions, and established the basis for a separate Christian church in England, under rule of the Monarch.
Late to the Reformation, England's battles with the Papacy were largely political rather than theological. During his infamous quest for a queen to bear him a male heir, Henry VIII (though always referring to himself as "Catholic") broke from the Roman Catholic Church and its Papacy, establishing himself and his heirs as the highest officials of the Church of England. Under Elizabeth I, theological ties to Protestantism were instituted. While Anglicans acknowledge the schism which led to the formation of its mother church, its political origins are traditionally minimized in favor of a wider ethno-historic view of English Christianity that dating back to the Third Century A.D.. Since the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, the Church of England is a distinctly English sect of Christianity, claiming theological ties to both Catholicism and Protestantism, with the British monarch as its Supreme Governor.
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.
Since the reign of Henry VIII the Royal monarch has replaced the Roman Catholic Pope as titular head of the Church of England. However, since the Elizabethan Age, practical authority has rested with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but Anglican churches outside England do not view the British monarch as the Church of England does. However it remains the case that the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is appointed (in theory) by the Crown of the United Kingdom, (in reality) by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
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."
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 ECUSA, 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 many, and as bishops in a few provinces. Religious orders of monks, brothers, sisters and nuns were suppressed in England during the Reformation but made a reappearance in more recent times.
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 small number of churches which call themselves Anglican that are known as the "continuing church" movement and do not acknowledge the Anglican Communion. 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, altering the theological emphases of the historic Book of Common Prayer, and loosening the Church's traditional regulations concerning sexual and marital matters.
Anglicans look for authority (in the formula of Richard Hooker) in Scripture, Tradition (the practices and writings of the historical church) and Reason. The Church of England regards the Bible, the three Creeds (Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed, and Athanasian Creed), the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer as the principal statements of Anglican doctrine, as do most other churches in the Anglican Communion worldwide. The Thirty-Nine Articles, no longer binding in most churches, are considered somewhat Calvinist in their Protestant positions.
Anglicanism has always been characterised by diversity in theology and liturgy. Different individuals, groups, parishes, dioceses, and national churches may identify more with Catholic traditions and theology or, alternatively, with the principles of the Reformation.
Some Anglicans follow such Roman Catholic devotional practices as solemn benediction of the reserved sacrament, use of the rosary, and the invocation of the saints (although all are prohibited practices according to the Thirty-Nine Articles). Some give greater weight to the deuterocanonical books of the Bible. (See Biblical canon.) Officially, Anglican teaching is that these books are to be read in church for their instruction in morals, but not used to establish any doctrine.
For their part, those Anglicans who emphasize the Protestant nature of the Church stress the Reformation themes of salvation by grace through faith, the two sacraments of the Gospel, and Scripture as containing all that is necessary to salvation.
The range of Anglican belief and practice became particularly divisive during the 19th century, as the so-called Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical movements emphasized 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", but those terms properly only speak of the level of ceremony that is favored, not doctrine. A notable adherent to the beliefs of the "High Church" was the poet Christina Rossetti.
The spectrum of Anglican beliefs and practice is too large to be fit into these labels. Most Anglicans are probably somewhere in the middle and, in fact, stress that Anglicanism, rightly understood, is Christianity's "Via Media" (middle way) between Catholicism and Protestantism.
The nineteenth century saw the height 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 dramatically. A recent trend has been the emergence of fundamentalism in some strands of Anglicanism. Fundamentalism, seen as an anti-intellectual movement, rejects all but the most literal readings of the Bible. This controversial doctrine is regarded by most as highly divisive, rejecting all prior tradition 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.
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.
- Anglican Communion - The official site of the Anglican Communion.
- Anglicans Online - An unofficial site of the Anglican Communion. One of the biggest resources of Anglicanism in the world.
- What it means to be an Anglican: Official CofE site
- Anglicanism: ReligionFacts.com - Articles on Anglican history, ritual, and organization, plus an image gallery of people and places.
- Anglican Pacifist Fellowship - The official site of the Anglican Church's peace movement.
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