Church of England

views updated May 17 2018


CHURCH OF ENGLAND. During the early modern period, the English church experienced major disruption and change. After long debates and a series of reformations, it emerged at the end of the sixteenth century as a national Protestant church with its own distinctive theology and liturgy. During the seventeenth century, differences of view about the nature of the church were a cause of the English Civil War (16421649) that resulted in the unpopular Puritan revolution of the 1640s and 1650s. Although a monopolistic church was reintroduced soon after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, it could not command the loyalty and obedience of all Protestants. Following the 1688 "Glorious Revolution" a Toleration Act was passed that granted freedom of worship to those Protestants whose consciences prevented them from attending Anglican services in parish churches.


The central theological beliefs of the late medieval Church were salvation through faith and works, the efficacy of grace transmitted through the sacraments, and transubstantiation.

The Catholic Church taught that while faith in Christ was essential for eternal life, individuals also had to do good works and regularly receive the sacrament of penance. Even then their souls did not usually go directly to heaven, but had to spend time in purgatory, where they would suffer punishment for sins committed on earth that had not been fully expiated through contrition and by penance. People who died without having done penance for mortal sin were damned to hell.

Besides penance there were six other Catholic sacraments: baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage, extreme unction (the last rites), and the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. The church taught that, at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Mass, the "substance" of the unleavened bread and wine was transformed into the body and blood of Christ at the moment of consecration by the priest. This miraclethe literal reenactment of Christ's sacrificewas called transubstantiation and came about through the sacerdotal power of the priest. The ceremony was the most powerful form of intercession that could be offered to God as well as a channel of grace necessary for individual salvation. Lay people usually received the Eucharist annually, when they were offered "Communion in one kind" (the wafer but not the wine). Priests, however, regularly celebrated the Mass and consumed both the consecrated wafer and wine. The ceremony took place behind a rood screen in the chancel, while most of the congregation remained in the nave of the church. Nonetheless, the laity was expected to attend carefully and participate in the service.

The late medieval English Church was part of an international body with its center at Rome and the pope at its head. During the fifteenth century, papal power in England was eroded as the monarch gained greater control over taxation and nominations to benefices. Nonetheless, the pope still taxed the English Church, heard judicial appeals, and retained his spiritual authority over the clergy and laity. The archbishoprics of Canterbury and York were separate provinces of the Roman Catholic Church, each with its own administrative structure and jurisdictions. Since the middle of the fourteenth century, Canterbury had taken precedence over York, and even today its archbishop is the primate of England. The archbishoprics were divided into the twenty-three dioceses of England and Wales, and each diocese was divided into archdeaconries, which were in turn divided into roughly nine thousand parishes. Bishops were responsible for conducting visitations throughout their diocese and supervising the church courts, which administered canon law and dealt with cases concerning moral and church discipline. The consistory courts of the diocese heard appeals from archdiaconal courts, which handled the bulk of cases and were administered by archdeacons.

The priest who served the parish was sometimes the rector, who was entitled to receive the tithe (a tenth of income or produce) from parishioners. But the rectors of over one-third of English parishes in 1500 were the heads of monastic houses and thus absentee. In these cases a vicar was appointed to perform the liturgy and fulfill pastoral obligations. Other parishes too had nonresident rectors, since about one-quarter of English livings were pluralist, meaning that one priest held two or more offices at the same time; here a curate received a small salary to do the work. The appointment of all these clerics rested primarily with the patronlay or clericalwho had the right to appoint his candidate to the living (a right that was known as an advowson). Lay churchwardens, whose duties were to care for the building and ornaments of the church and to report deficiencies or clerical negligence to the ecclesiastical authorities, also served the parish community.

Historians now tend to agree that the late medieval church in England generally functioned well, and that the accusations of corruption made by later Protestant critics were greatly exaggerated. There is also a scholarly consensus that the number of heretics in England was small and that the vast majority of laypeople were deeply attached to the teachings and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Historians, however, are less united in their views about the subject of "anticlericalism" on the eve of the Reformation. Some deny its existence while others maintain that a significant number of individuals, as well as interest groups (such as the common lawyers), were critical of clerical privileges and hostile to clerical immunities and jurisdiction.


During the period known as the Reformation, the English Church broke with Rome and underwent major changes in doctrine and liturgy. This began as a top-down process that divided the country and created political instability.

Henry VIII's (ruled 15091547) attack on the papacy began when Pope Clement VII (reigned 15231534) refused to grant an annulment of the king's first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry had always claimed rights of supremacy over the English church, but not at the expense of Rome. In the 1530s, however, Henry asserted that English kings were answerable to no earthly superior. In 1532, he forced his senior clergy to concede that convocation (the provincial assembly) could not make ecclesiastical law without royal assent. Over the next two years, a succession of parliamentary statutes whittled away papal power in England while recognizing the king's right to reform the church, supervise canon law, and correct errors in doctrine. In 1534 the Act of Supremacy pronounced Henry's status as the supreme head of the Church of England. The English church remained Catholic, but the pope was no longer its headhe was now simply the bishop of Rome.

As supreme head of the church, Henry introduced some notable changes. In 1536 and 1539 the English monasteries were dissolved by acts of Parliament, and a small portion of their revenues was diverted toward educational endowments and the creation of six new dioceses. With their demise, monastic advowsons and appropriation of tithes fell into lay hands. Henry also began an assault on the cult of saints and "superstitious" images, which led to the destruction of shrines and resulted in damage to some cathedrals. He commissioned a new English Bible that was supposed to be placed in each parish church. In 1544 an Exhortation and Litany to be said during processions was published in English; the following year, Henry authorized an English primer (a late medieval devotional book containing various prayers and psalms) that reduced the number of saints' and holy days in the calendar and omitted many traditional prayers.

Despite these innovations, Henry's "reformation" did not seriously challenge Catholic doctrine. With the exception of the denial of papal supremacy and expressions of skepticism about the existence of purgatory, Henry upheld all the central pillars of the Roman Catholic faith. In 1521 he had written an attack on Martin Luther; twenty years later he still considered Lutheran teachings on justification by faith alone, the sacraments, the priesthood, and the Mass to be dangerous and erroneous. For this reason Henry was able to carry with him the majority of his bishops, who continued to see the king as a bulwark against heresy. Others of his Catholic subjects, however, were less compliant. In late 1536 and early 1537, revolts, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, erupted in Lincolnshire and northern England to demonstrate hostility to governmental policies such as the royal supremacy, the dissolutions of the monasteries, and the royal injunctions of 1536.

During the minority of Edward VI (ruled 15471553), England officially became Protestant. In 1547 the lord protector, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, prohibited processions and launched a nationwide campaign to destroy all religious images. The Parliament of 1547, meanwhile, repealed the heresy laws, permitted Communion in both kinds, and dissolved the chantries (chapels endowed for saying masses). In 1548 the government banned many traditional religious ceremonies, and the 1549 Parliament permitted clerics to marry. The same Parliament endorsed an English Book of Common Prayer, the work of Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury (14891556). Its liturgy simplified the traditional Sarum rite dating from thirteenth-century Salisbury and rejected many Catholic doctrines, although some ambiguity did remain.

A second revised prayer book was authorized by the Parliament of 1552. In producing it Archbishop Cranmer took advice from prominent Continental Protestant theologians, all of whom were influenced by the Zwinglian and Calvinist churches of southern Germany and Switzerland. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer was consequently far more radical than its predecessor in its liturgy and underlying theology. The word "mass" disappeared entirely from the Communion service, clerical vestments were simplified, and ordinary bread replaced the wafer at the Eucharist. The wording of the administration of Communion no longer referred to the body and blood of Christ but emphasized instead the commemorative significance of the sacrament. The new prayer book also included a Communion instruction, later known as the "black rubric," which said that kneeling to receive Communion did not imply Christ's physical presence. In 1553 Cranmer presented the Edwardian church with a statement of faith, the Forty-Two Articles. These articles were uncompromisingly Protestant in their theology and condemned the Roman Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation, purgatory, intercession, and good works. On the main issues in dispute between the Lutheran and Swiss Reformed Churches, namely predestination and the Eucharist, they were closer to Calvinism than to anything else. During the last years of Edward's reign, parish churches and cathedrals were denuded of their altars, plate, bells, vestments, and stained glass.

Under Mary I (ruled 15531558), virtually all the changes introduced after 1529 were reversed. Although few monasteries and chantries were endowed and the worship of saints failed to regain popularity, Mary's reign did witness a spontaneous revival of many of the Catholic seasonal ceremonies banned under Edward VI as well as a restoration of altars and images to parish churches. Soon after Elizabeth I's accession in November 1558, all changed again. Despite strong opposition from bishops appointed by Mary, the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity passed through Parliament in April 1559. The former act gave Elizabeth a new title, "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England; the latter authorized the use of a Book of Common Prayer that was largely modeled on that of 1552. The main change came in the Communion service, which incorporated some of the wording from Edward VI's 1549 Book of Common Prayer and omitted the 1552 black rubric (although it was replacedwith some alterationsin 1662). The royal injunctions of 1559, moreover, enjoined that undecorated wafers should be used at communion rather than bread. The effect was a theological ambiguity about the presence of Christ: was he present physically, spiritually, or not at all? The Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith of 1563 and 1571 attempted to clarify the theology when they asserted that Christ's body was taken in the Lord's Supper "after an heavenly and spiritual manner."

The Thirty-Nine Articles were less clear on predestination. Although they incorporated the Calvinist doctrine of election, no statement was made on assurance or the fate of the reprobate (a sinner condemned by God to eternal punishment). The 1559 prayer book, meanwhile, described the baptized child as "a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom," a form of words that seemed to discount the possibility that the infant might have been born reprobate. Despite this imprecision, the official doctrines taught by the church after 1570 were predominantly predestinarian. In 1595, moreover, the archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, endorsed the nine Lambeth Articles, an unequivocal assertion of the Calvinist position on grace and salvation. The evidence suggests, however, that despite access to a Calvinist catechism, many (possibly most) ordinary laypeople failed to absorb the doctrine of predestination and continued to believe that good deeds played some part in salvation.

Although the Elizabethan church was essentially Calvinist in its theology, some of its practices were traditional. Ministers were required to wear the surplice when officiating at morning and evening prayer and the more elaborate vestments of the alb and the cope for Communion. Although roods (the large crucifix dominating the nave), stone altars, and images were removed from churches, royal proclamations were issued to protect fonts and funeral monuments. Members of congregations were told to uncover their heads and bow at the uttering of the name of Jesus in church, and to use the sign of the cross in baptism, the ring in marriage, and other "popish remnants." At the same time, the diocesan and parochial structure of the church remained untouched, and no measures were put in place to reform the church courts, the tithe, advowsons, or canon law.


Although most committed Protestants were disappointed with the 1559 settlement, they initially accepted it as an interim measure, expecting that further changes would soon be introduced. During the mid-1560s, however, Elizabeth insisted that all clerics conform to the prayer book ceremonies and ornaments (including vestments) and ordered her bishops to suspend Nonconformists from their livings. Furthermore, Elizabeth scotched her bishops' reform initiatives in the 1563 Canterbury Convocation and the 1566 Parliament. For the most zealous Protestants this was a betrayal, and out of their frustration the Elizabethan Puritan movement was born.

Those who were labeled "Puritans" by their enemies preferred to call themselves "the godly." Contemporaries usually identified them by the intensity of their spirituality, for Puritans attended sermons during the week and devoted the Sabbath entirely to God. Puritans were also at the fore of the campaign for reform: they demanded frequent, high-quality preaching, insisted on significant changes in the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, and were critical of the church courts. Nonetheless, Puritans remained part of the Church of England, for they were reasonably satisfied with its Calvinist teachings on predestination and the Eucharist as well as its hostility to images. Largely because of their influence, Elizabeth was unable to eradicate a wide diversity of ceremonial practice in the church. James I (ruled 16031625) permitted this diversity to continue provided that Puritans rejected Presbyterianism (church government by presbyters or elders). In practice, therefore, many ministers continued to take Communion standing or sitting, rather than kneeling, and to use bread rather than wafers. Some ministers omitted those parts of the prayer book that they disliked and shortened the liturgy to leave more time for the sermon. While James I's reign brought no major changes in liturgical policy, it did see the publication of a new Authorised ("King James") Version of the Bible in 1611.

A strong defense of the Church of England against its Puritan critics was written in the 1590s by the theologian Richard Hooker (15541600), who justified its conservative governmental system and unique ceremonial style as a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Genevan Presbyterianism. Hooker's work, which also modified some contemporary predestinarian assumptions, became a source of inspiration for a number of early-seventeenth-century conservative clerics who were suspicious of preaching and placed great stress on set prayer and the sacraments as sources of grace. These men also rejected the asceticism of Calvinist worship and favored what was called the "beauty of holiness." Another influence on their thinking was the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (15601609), who argued against the rigidities of predestination. For this reason, these English divines have been misleadingly called "Arminians." Some historians prefer to call them "Anti-Calvinists," others "Laudians" after the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (15731645).

After Charles I's accession in 1625, Arminians gained dominance in the English Church and implemented important changes. Predestinarian beliefs came under attack, and Laud, who was appointed bishop of London in 1628 and archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, initiated a new "altar policy." Laud and other like-minded bishops pressured their parish clergy to acquire elaborate wooden tables, or preferably stone altars, and to position them permanently at the east end of the chancel, in a north-south, or "altarwise," alignment. The bishops further insisted that chancels should be cordoned off by rails, and that Communion should be received kneeling, though not necessarily at the rails. Other parts of the Elizabethan prayer book that had been allowed to lapse in some communities were now rigorously enforced. Historians disagree about the extent of opposition to this theological and liturgical program. A few scholars claim that only a Puritan minority was outraged by the reforms, but the prevailing view is that the altar policy, at least, was widely resisted. There is also evidence that many mainstream Protestants abhorred the changes as the reintroduction of popery, and fearedalbeit mistakenlythat Charles intended to return England to Rome. Few historians would dispute that the religious innovations under Charles I helped bring about the Civil War (16421649).

The parliamentary victory in the Civil War resulted in the triumph of Puritanism. In 1645 the prayer book was banned and replaced by a new Directory of Worship that contained instructions for the conduct of services and removed rites that Puritans had so long found offensive. The church courts ceased to function in the early 1640s, and in 1646 episcopacy was abolished. Godly observance of the Sabbath was imposed and all feast days, including Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun (or Pentecost), were banned. The Puritans, however, failed to gain popular support, and throughout the late 1640s and 1650s large numbers of clergymen continued to conduct services according to the old prayer book liturgy. At the same time, freedom of worship was granted to Protestant sects, including Baptists and Congregationalists.


At the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the state church was fully reimposed with the return of episcopacy and the church courts. Its liturgy was based on the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer of 1559 but included a number of Laudian practices. Altars were returned to many churches voluntarily; after 1680 they began to be imposed and by 1700 they were prevalent. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 demanded that the clergy accept every one of the Thirty-Nine Articles and every aspect of the new prayer book. Everyone was required to attend the Church of England, while the so-called Clarendon Code of the mid-1660s outlawed community worship by Protestant sects in chapels and meeting houses. In 1672 dissenters (Protestant Nonconformists) were also barred from holding civil office. Before the 1688 Revolution, many Dissenters practiced occasional conformity, but thousands of othersespecially the Quakerswere subjected to harassment and imprisonment.

Both Charles II (ruled 16601685) and James II (ruled 16851688) proved unsuccessful in their attempts to broaden the Church of England and allow a measure of toleration for Protestant dissenters and for Roman Catholics. After Mary and William III became joint monarchs in 1689, however, a Toleration Act (1689) was passed that gave all Trinitarian Protestant dissenters the right to worship in their own chapels or meeting houses and permitted nonattendance at church. Thus began the split between church and chapel that marked the eighteenth century. Nonetheless, civil disabilities continued to affect those dissenters who refused to take Communion at least once annually. The Toleration Act, moreover, did not apply to Roman Catholics, who had to wait until the nineteenth century before securing freedom of worship.

Under William III (ruled 16891702) and Queen Anne (ruled 17021714) a group of churchmen, usually known as Latitudinarians or low churchmen, became prominent in the Church of England. They sought to reduce religious controversy by arguing that the core Christian doctrines were few and that the most contentious issues of the Reformation were "adiaphora" (not essential to salvation) and could be left to the individual conscience. They were therefore willing to embrace all those who conformed to the church no matter how occasionally they attended or took Communion. High churchmen criticized their approach as defeatist and demanded full enforcement of the 1673 Test Act, which required all officeholders to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance to the king, to receive the sacraments of the Church of England, and to reject the doctrine of transubstantiation; they even tried (unsuccessfully) to extend civil disabilities to occasional conformists who might only take Anglican Communion annually. Despite clashes between low and high churchmen at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Church of England settled down to operate as a strong, flourishing, and successful institution.

See also Bible ; Dissenters, English ; Edward VI (England) ; Elizabeth I (England) ; Henry VIII (England) ; Hooker, Richard ; Laud, William ; Mary I (England) ; Puritanism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Ritual, Religious ; Toleration ; William and Mary .


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Collinson, Patrick. The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society. Oxford, 1982.

Davies, Julian. The Caroline Captivity of the Church: Charles I and the Remoulding of Anglicanism, 16251641. Oxford, 1992.

Doran, Susan, and Christopher Durston. Princes, Pastors and People: The Church and Religion in England, 15001700. 2nd ed. London, 2002.

Durston, Christopher, and Jacqueline Eales, eds. The Culture of English Puritanism, 15601700. Basingstoke, U.K., 1996.

Fincham, Kenneth. "The Restoration of Altars in the 1630s." Historical Journal 44 (2001): 919940.

Fincham, Kenneth, ed. The Early Stuart Church. Basingstoke, U.K., 1993.

Green, I. M. The Re-establishment of the Church of England, 16601663. Oxford, 1978.

Haigh, Christopher. English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors. Oxford, 1993.

Heal, Felicity. Reformation in Britain and Ireland. Oxford, 2003.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Thomas Cranmer: A Life. New Haven and London, 1996.

. Tudor Church Militant: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation. London, 1999.

Sharpe, Kevin. The Personal Rule of Charles I. London, 1992.

Spurr, John. "'Latitudinarianism' and the Restoration Church." Historical Journal 31 (1988): 6182.

. The Restoration Church of England, 16461689. London, 1991.

Tyacke, Nicholas. Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism, c. 15901640. Oxford 1987.

. Aspects of English Protestantism, c. 15301700. Manchester, U.K., 2001.

White, Peter. Predestination, Policy and Polemic: Conflict and Consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil War. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Susan Doran

Church of England

views updated Jun 27 2018

Church of England. Though, as an Erastian institution, the Church of England dates only from the 16th cent., Christianity in these islands originated with merchants, administrators, and soldiers in 2nd- and 3rd-cent. Roman Britain. Alban was martyred in the 3rd century and three British bishops were present at the Council of Arles (314), but the 5th-cent. Anglo-Saxon invasions virtually obliterated all trace of Christian presence, leaving a remnant in Wales whence Ireland and southern Scotland were converted. The present English church dates from the reintroduction of this Celtic Christianity into Northumbria by Aidan (635) and Roman Christianity into Kent by Augustine (597). After the union of these two streams at the Synod of Whitby (664), Theodore of Tarsus, archbishop of Canterbury, restructured the church to form the basis of the medieval ecclesiastical system. Though medieval kings exercised considerable authority over the church, it was the break with Rome (1534) which fully established royal supremacy, from which date the established Church of England (Ecclesia Anglicana) can be said to exist. The Act of Supremacy (1534) declared Henry VIII to be ‘the only supreme head of the Church’ in place of the pope, which Elizabeth's Act (1559) moderated to the less offensive ‘Supreme Governor’.

Apart from this the church remained legally and administratively much the same. The church courts and their penalties, diocesan administrative systems, the authority of bishops and archdeacons all continued. The non-monastic cathedrals—those of the old foundation—survived as before with the same legal standing and statutes. Only those which since Anglo-Saxon times had been monastic were perforce given revised constitutions. Ecclesiastical law remained as before. Though now under royal control the convocations of Canterbury and York survived. Even crown appointments to bishoprics and cathedral deaneries showed little change, for royal nomination by congé d'élire and letters dimissory had been the norm until the late Middle Ages; even then ‘the royal will was the final factor’. The church after Henry VIII was thoroughly Erastian, its officials little more than agents of the crown. Indeed post-Restoration clergy were also agents of royalist propaganda, parsons thundering from their pulpits the doctrines of divine right, non-resistance, and passive obedience. Every church building had to display the royal coat of arms on the chancel arch in place of the rood. All licensed Anglican clergy and ordinands still take the loyal oath and licensed clergy have the right to administer marriage recognized by civil law without a civil registrar's presence. Though the last prelate holding senior political office was John Robinson, bishop of London (1713–23), 18th-cent. episcopal appointments were a powerful means of government patronage, for the 26 bishops in the House of Lords, though sometimes breaking free, normally supported the government. More recently Archbishops Tait and Davidson in particular had substantial political influence, the latter, for instance, in the passage of the Parliament Act (1911). Though today there are 43 diocesan bishops, only 26 sit in the Lords where they try to represent the multi-cultural spiritual and ethical dimension of national life.

Though Henry VIII made virtually no theological or liturgical break with the past, there was under Edward VI a considerable influx of continental reform and liturgical innovation from Bucer, Zwingli, and Calvin. After a brief reversion to papal catholicism under Mary, the church moved towards a comprehensive settlement under Elizabeth. Enshrined in the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles, this attempted to reconcile the diverse shades of English opinion. Provided citizens fulfilled the royal injunction to weekly church attendance, there was to be no test as to conscience, ‘no windows into men's souls’. Episcopacy and royal supremacy marked the boundaries—presbyterianism and adherence to Rome were unacceptable. Most accepted, but minorities existed, some still adhering to Rome, others, though not yet schismatic, to presbyterianism or more extreme protestant views. Elizabeth and her first archbishop, Matthew Parker, used strict liturgical uniformity to mask theological differences between catholic and Calvinistic wings within the church. After the heyday of the sects in the Interregnum (1649–60), compromise became impossible. Moderate presbyterians' offer of limited episcopacy fell on deaf Anglican ears; instead, the Restoration settlement refused to recognize those already ordained non-episcopally, and demanded tests. A thousand incumbents were ejected—and thus became nonconformists. From that time the church ceased to be the church of the whole nation.

Nevertheless a distinctive Anglican theology had already sprung up. The writings of John Jewel (Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1562) and Richard Hooker (Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 1593–7) demonstrated that Ecclesia Anglicana, in attempting a return to the early church before its infection with medieval accretions, was both ‘catholic and reformed’, appealing to the Scriptures, the early fathers, and reason. Seventeenth-cent. Caroline divines including Lancelot Andrewes, John Cosin, George Herbert, Jeremy Taylor, and Nicholas Ferrar, through their personal sanctity, scholarship, and poetry, built on this foundation. The Prayer Book and the King James Bible became part of English culture.

After 1689 church life remained turbulent but settled down from 1714. Eighteenth-cent. ecclesiastics' reputation for idleness and rationalist indifference is undeserved. Modern research reveals that bishops and clergy were far more committed to their charges than hitherto supposed. Nor were they mere political hacks. Nevertheless liturgically the church was deadening. Medieval ecclesiastical corruption did not prevent the mysterious action of the medieval mass from touching the hearts of the humblest of men. Eighteenth-cent. Prayer Book liturgy and weighty preaching was another matter—too cerebral and unsuited to a mainly illiterate, uneducated people, about whose absence from, or misbehaviour in, church we often read in church court records. The preaching of the Wesley brothers thus fell on ready ears, but it was to the church's shame that these two devoted Anglican priests, both high churchmen, and their followers were rejected. Enthusiasm was dangerous, leading to fanaticism.

Though there is evidence of both evangelical and Caroline high-church strands in the 18th cent., the full evangelical revival spilled over into the 19th cent. and, with the tractarian movement, invigorated church life. Evangelicalism following in the Wesley tradition produced many of note, clergy like Fletcher, Newton, and Simeon and leading laymen such as Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. Tractarianism, led by Keble, Newman, and Pusey, initially traced Anglicanism's traditions back to Augustine, but developed later into a powerful movement to restore fully the church's catholic wing. By 1900, in the shape of Anglo-catholicism, it became increasingly ritualistic and caught the imagination and the hearts of the newly developed urban working class.

As the British empire spread throughout the world by commerce and the sword in the 18th and 19th cents., the church followed—or in some cases with its missionaries led the way. Two overseas dioceses in 1800 increased to 72 in 1882, and to 450 dioceses (in 28 provinces) in the 1990s. The Ecclesia Anglicana from having been merely the church of the English people became a world-wide communion of many nations and tongues. The archbishop of Canterbury, as St Augustine's successor, was not just ‘Primate of all England’ but came to hold a universal primacy of honour, ‘a presidency of maturity and affection’, though without authority. To provide cohesion and consensus, initially over the Colenso affair, the first Lambeth conference with 67 bishops met in 1867, to be followed at Tait's inspiration by the second in 1878. Tait and his successors kept increasingly frequent contact with the overseas churches. The archbishop still presides at the Lambeth conference each decade, and continuity is provided since 1968 by the Anglican Consultative Council and primates' meetings. Davidson was the first archbishop to visit the Church abroad—in Canada and the USA (1904). It is now part of the archbishop's quasi-patriarchal role to visit provinces world-wide. Commonly held Anglican principles are enshrined in the so-called Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888)—the Scriptures, the creeds, the historic episcopate and threefold ministry, and the sacraments.

Twentieth-cent. liturgical scholarship deeply affected all Christian denominations; Anglicanism is no exception. Recent liturgical modifications have meant that, with each Anglican province making its own modifications, the 1662 Prayer Book is no longer the global cohesive symbol. After England's attempt to produce a revised prayer book (1928) was foiled by Parliament, the Synod 50 years later introduced an Alternative Service Book 1980, providing services in modern English, embodying the fruit of liturgical study. Though worship is now closer to that of the early church and to modern practice in other denominations, the new forms have lost linguistic beauty, regarded by some as essential for true worship.

Because all religious orders were disbanded at the Reformation, there were no monasteries, convents, or friaries until the restoration of the catholic hierarchy in the 19th cent., except for Nicholas Ferrar's short-lived 17th-cent. Little Gidding community, but the Oxford movement spawned several Anglican religious orders in the monastic tradition, such as the Cowley Fathers (SSJE), Mirfield, and Kelham, while the Society of St Francis, founded in the 1920s, follows the Franciscan tradition, working in the Third World and in British inner cities.

Twentieth-cent. developments included women's ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood (in England 1987 and 1994), making the Anglican church the first episcopal church to take this step. Ecumenism, so much a part of 20th-cent. church life, has extended to dialogue with non-Christian faiths, which are now prominent in the English scene.

Though its regular practising members are fewer than the catholics, the Ecclesia Anglicana with its unique liturgical, musical, and architectural heritage is still the church of the nation. Through its parish system all citizens have a church building and the ministry of a parish priest. All citizens in a real sense belong, whatever their threshold of belief, and whether or not they are practising members. Today with regular church-going at 7 per cent (Church of England 2.4 per cent, in all UK 2.9 per cent), but with 70 per cent believing in God, the ubiquitous church building in village or city, together with mosque, synagogue, and temple, is sacramental, a vital outward and visible sign of the spiritual dimension of man's existence. Quite by chance in its creation as a ‘catholic and reformed’ national church, the Church of England happens to be pivotal between Roman catholic and eastern orthodox churches on the one hand and protestant reformed churches on the other. Its diversity under a cloak of uniformity, though apparently a weakness, is also its greatest strength, recognizing as it does disparate, but equally valid, paths to God, hints of which appear as early as New Testament times.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

Church of England in the Colonies

views updated May 11 2018


CHURCH OF ENGLAND IN THE COLONIES. The Church of England, or Anglican Church, first took root in America at Jamestown in 1607. The earliest plans for Virginia envisioned a role for the church, and as soon as the colony was strong enough, it was legally established. All the other southern colonies, except Maryland, were founded under the leadership of churchmen. In time, the Church of England was established in all of them, although not in North Carolina until 1765. Maryland was founded by a Roman Catholic proprietor, George Calvert, and in 1649 its general assembly passed an act protecting freedom of religion; but the Protestant settlers there took control in the Revolution of 1688 and by 1702 had suppressed the open practice of Catholicism and established the Church of England. The Anglican Church dominated the four leading counties of New York. In the other northern colonies Anglicans enjoyed no establishment and depended for support largely upon the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, founded in 1701.

During the eighteenth century the Church of England advanced in the colonies where it was not established and lost ground in those where it was—a phenomenon that corresponded with the religious awakenings and general breakdown of theological barriers during that century. The American Revolution deprived the church of its establishments in the South and of the aid of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the North and exposed it to some popular opposition. In 1789 the Protestant Episcopal Church broke from the English church and its primate, the archbishop of Canterbury. Although it created a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer for use in the United States and set up a native episcopate, the Episcopal Church retained its predecessor's high-church rituals and tradition of apostolic succession.


Herklots, Hugh G. The Church of England and the American Episcopal Church. London: Mowbray, 1966.

W. W.Manross/a. r.

See alsoChurch and State, Separation of ; Episcopalianism ; Great Awakening .

Church of England

views updated May 14 2018

Church of England Christian Church in England, established by law in the 16th century. During the reign of King Henry VIII, a process of separation from the Roman Catholic Church began. The initial impetus for this was the pope's refusal to grant Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. By the Act of Supremacy (1534), the English monarch became head of the Church. Henry wanted to retain the use of the Roman Catholic liturgy, but outside papal control. As the Reformation extended to England, the Church of England finally emerged independent of papal jurisdiction and adopted the Elizabethan Settlement. This agreement, while espousing Protestantism, aimed at preserving religious unity by shaping a national Church acceptable to all persons of moderate theological views. This middle course found expression in the doctrinal formulae known as the Thirty-nine Articles (1571). The liturgy of the Church of England is contained in the Book of Common Prayer (1662), but since the 1960s alternative forms of worship have come into use. The sovereign bears the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and formally nominates the bishops, but this does not confer any spiritual powers on the sovereign. The Church is episcopally governed, but priests and laity share in all major decisions by virtue of their representation in the General Synod. Territorially, the Church divides into two provinces, Canterbury and York. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England: the Archbishop of York is the Primate of England. The overseas expansion of the Church of England, in line with the growth of the British Empire, resulted in the development of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Church of England is the only part of the Anglican Communion still established by law as an official state Church. In 1992, the General Synod voted in favour of the ordination of women as priests. The first women priests were ordained in 1994. The issue of gay priests remains divisive.

Church of England

views updated May 23 2018

Church of England. The Christian Church which is ‘by law established’ in England. The Church of England is a consequence of the Reformation, as this was mediated under the 16th-cent. Tudor sovereigns. As the expression of Anglicanism, it is the continuity of Christianity from the earliest times (see e.g. CELTIC CHURCH), as that changes through time.

Church of England

views updated May 23 2018

Church of Eng·land the English branch of the Western Christian Church, which combines Catholic and Protestant traditions, rejects the pope's authority, and has the monarch as its titular head.

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