On Tuesday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m., we started a new series entitled “Within the Body of Christ: Exploring the Different Belief Systems within Christianity.” During each session we’ll consider what makes each Christian denomination or group distinct. We’ll discuss their basic theology, their interpretation of scripture and how their understanding of faith shapes their lives. This week we focused on Anglicanism.
A podcast of the discussion and a brief video of the PowerPoint presentation is at the bottom of the page, and an outline of the session is below.
In 1534, King Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome. The English Reformation gained political support when Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Pope Clement VII, considering that the earlier marriage had been entered under a papal dispensation and how Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, might react to such a move, refused the annulment. Eventually, Henry, although theologically opposed to Protestantism, took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.
Henry maintained a strong preference for traditional Catholic practices and, during his reign, Protestant reformers were unable to make many changes to the practices of the Church of England. Indeed, this part of Henry's reign saw the trial for heresy of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics.
Under his son, King Edward VI, more Protestant-influenced forms of worship were adopted. Under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, a more radical reformation proceeded. A new pattern of worship was set out in the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552). These were based on the older liturgy but influenced by Protestant principles. The confession of the reformed Church of England was set out in the Forty-two Articles (later revised to thirty-nine). The reformation however was cut short by the death of the king. Queen Mary I, who succeeded him, returned England again to the authority of the papacy, thereby ending the first attempt at an independent Church of England.
Mary also died childless and so it was left to the new regime of her half-sister Elizabeth to resolve the direction of the church. The settlement under Queen Elizabeth I (from 1558), known as the Elizabethan Settlement, developed the via media (middle way) character of the Church of England, a church moderately Reformed in doctrine, as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but also emphasizing continuity with the Catholic and Apostolic traditions of the Church Fathers. It was also an established church (constitutionally established by the state with the head of state as its supreme governor). The exact nature of the relationship between church and state would be a source of continued friction into the next century.
For the next century, through the reigns of James I, who ordered the creation of what became known as the King James Bible, and Charles I, culminating in the English Civil War and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, there were significant swings back and forth between two factions: the Puritans (and other radicals) who sought more far-reaching Protestant reforms, and the more conservative churchmen who aimed to keep closer to traditional beliefs and Catholic practices. The failure of political and ecclesiastical authorities to submit to Puritan demands for more extensive reform was one of the causes of open warfare.
By Continental standards, the level of violence over religion was not high, but the casualties included King Charles I and Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. Under the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of England from 1649 to 1660, the bishops were dethroned and former practices were outlawed, and Presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced in place of the episcopate. The 39 Articles were replaced by the Westminster Confession, the Book of Common Prayer by the Directory of Public Worship. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform to this form of State Presbyterianism.
With the Restoration of Charles II, Parliament restored the Church of England to a form not far removed from the Elizabethan version.
Anglicanism does not possess an agreed-upon confession of faith, such as the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, nor does it claim a founding theologian, such as John Calvin or Martin Luther, or a central authority, such as the Roman Catholic magisterium, to set the parameters of acceptable belief and practice.
There are two parallel streams informing doctrinal development and understanding in Anglicanism. Firstly, there is an appeal to the historical formularies, prayer-books, ordinals and the "standard divines". Most prominent of the historical formularies are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, principally a