The name “Anglican” comes from the phrase “of England,” but Anglicanism has a global presence. To some historians, the Anglican Church dates all the way back to the 6th century, and the church evolved as part of the Roman Catholic faith. However, it branched off with Celtic influences and grew to be its own spirituality.
The Church of England began to expand during the post-reformation period. Anglicans trace their Christian history back to these ancestral roots of the early church. There were initially two stages in development and further expansion of the church. Starting in the 17th century, Anglicanism combined with the colonization in several territories including the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Secondly, another stage started in the 18th century as missionaries traveled to Latin America, Africa and Asia to establish Anglican churches across the world.
The Anglican church is different from the Roman church, but the split was most obvious in 1054 when Anglicans split from the Roman administration. In subsequent years, the church continued to develop on its own, and various conflicts arose as the church established itself as the Church of England.
There was a major eruption in England between the church and state, which can be traced back to the arrival of Augustine. This conflict continued to brew further problems for England. The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket was seen as a major schism, and he became a martyr both for the Anglican Church and Roman Catholic Church. The Magna Carta signed by King John contained 63 points. Signed in 1215, the first of these points stated that the English church was independent of its government.
At the start of the 16th century, the Roman Church and Church of England suffered further conflicts. Martin Luther published his famous 93 theses and nailed them to the door of the Church in Wittenburg at this time. This was seen as a threat, and 20 years later, the Anglican part of the church challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic church. Henry VIII took it a step further and dissolved abbeys and monasteries in 1536, which only heightened the tension. While many would believe that King Henry did this out of spite when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce, history shows that Henry had spent almost his entire reign challenging the Roman Church and its authority. The divorce was just another problem that made the split more obvious.
As the new Anglican church was established, it developed a formal structure under the reign of Elizabeth I in 1562. Her structure was not government or management processes. Rather, she wanted a church that brought its people together with shared traditions and beliefs. These traditions were taken from the Holy Bible and Articles of Religion, and much of it is composed in the Book of Common Prayer. The first Book of Common Prayer was released in 1549 and was translated into English from Latin. While the Common Prayer has been revised several times, the beliefs and traditions still remain the same.
Despite splitting away from the Roman Catholic church, Anglican followers still held many of the same beliefs and continued to practice Roman Catholic traditions. In the first part of the 17th century, the Church of England, Church of Ireland and churches in the American colonies all practiced worship that combined perspectives from Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism.
After the American Revolution, Anglican churches in America and Canada formed their own systems and named their own bishops. They had self-governing administrations. Christian missions were established to help newly formed churches and ventured into parts of the Pacific, Africa and Australia. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “Anglicanism” actually came into existence and described the religious traditions held by the churches in England and the Americas.
Today, there isn’t a single Anglican Church with a universal authority. Each country and region has their own systems of governance. However, there is the See of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Canterbury, which unifies the churches together. He calls the Lambeth Conference every 10 years is the President of the Anglican Consultative Council. The Anglican Communion has 80 million members and ranks third among Christian communions in the world.
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