Although Christians were present in England since the 4th century or earlier, the Church of England traces its roots to Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 7th century.
The Church of England retains a form of worship closer to the Roman Catholic form than other Protestant churches. For example, the church has a hierarchical organization. Traditionally too, the organisation has been divided into High Church and Low Church factions that reflect the historical controversy over the forms of worship and expression.
Today the Church of England contains those of Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and Liberal persuasions as well as a flourishing Charismatic wing. These groups however have been deeply divided on moral issues such as gay marriage; indeed, such was the rift over Canon Gene Robinson's appointment in the US (in 2003) that some considered a split had only been narrowly avoided.
The head of the Church of England is officially the reigning monarch who is the Supreme Governor, but its effective chief cleric remains the Archbishop of Canterbury. It has its own court system known as the Ecclesiastical courts.
In addition to England proper, the jurisdiction of the Church of England extends to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and many congregations on the continent of Europe known as the Diocese of Europe.
Table of contents
Appointment of BishopsThe election of new Archbishops and Bishops involves several stages. The first stage involves the diocesan Vacancy-in-See Committee, which is composed of:
- The Dean of the Cathedral
- Two Archdeacons
- The Diocese's representative members of the General Synod of the Church of England
- Members of the diocesan House of Bishops
- The Chairman and two other members of the Diocesan House of Clergy
- The Chairman and two other members of the Diocesan House of Laity
- Other Members approved by the Bishop's Council
- The Archbishops of Canterbury and York (if either post is vacant, then another bishop is elected by the House of Bishops to take the Archbishop's place)
- Three members of the General Synod's House of Clergy
- Three members of the General Synod's House of Laity
- Six members of the Vacancy-in-See Committee
- An appointee of the Prime Minister (if the vacancy is in the see of Canterbury)
- An appointee of the Church of England Appointments Committee (if the vacancy is in the see of York)
Recent DevelopmentsOn March 12, 1994 the Church of England ordained its first female priests.
Schism with Rome
The English Church was in union with Rome until the reign of Henry VIII. The first break with Rome (subsequently reversed) came when Pope Clement VII refused, over a period of years, to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, not purely as a matter of principle, but also because he was living in fear of Catherine's nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
Henry first asked for an annulment in 1527. After various failed initiatives he stepped up the pressure on Rome, in the summer of 1529, by compiling a manuscript from ancient sources proving in law that spiritual supremacy rested with the monarch, and that Papal authority was illegal. In 1531 Henry first challenged the Pope when he demanded 100,000 poundss from the clergy in exchange for a royal pardon for their illegal jurisdiction, and that he should be recognised as their sole protector and supreme head. Henry VIII was recognized by the clergy as supreme head of the Church of England on February 11, 1531, however in 1532 he was still attempting to seek a compromise with the Pope.
In May 1532 the Church of England agreed to surrender their legislative independence and canon law to the authority of the monarch. In 1533 the Statute in Restraint of Appeals removed the right of the English clergy and laity to appeal to Rome on matters of matrimony, tithes and oblations, and gave authority over such matters to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. This finally allowed Thomas Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, to issue Henry's annulment; and upon procuring it, Henry married Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII was excommunicated by Pope Clement VII in 1533.
In 1534 the Act of Submission of the Clergy removed the right of all appeals to Rome, effectively ending the Pope's influence. Henry was confirmed by statute as Supreme Head of the Church of England by the first Act of Supremacy in 1536.
Becoming the head of the church not only made it possible for Henry to divorce but also gave him access to the considerable wealth that the Church had amassed, and Thomas Cromwell, as Vicar General, launched a commission of enquiry into the nature and value of all ecclesiastical property in 1535, which was followed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
ProtestantismSince the original schism with Rome, the Church of England has not been protestant in nature. Henry himself had earlier been awarded the title of fidei defensor (defender of the faith) by Pope Leo X partly for attacking Lutheranism. Protestant innovations under Henry included a limited iconoclasm, the abolition of pilgrimages, and pilgrimage shrines, and the extinction of many saints' days. However only minor changes in liturgy were made during Henry's reign, and he was responsible for the 6 Articles of 1539 which reaffirmed the Catholic nature of the church.
Under Henry's son, Edward VI, the first major changes to the church were made, including thorough revision of the liturgy along more Protestant lines. The resulting Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549 and revised in 1552, and was issued by authority of Parliament.
Re-establishment of union with RomeFollowing the death of Edward, the Roman Catholic Mary came to the throne. She renounced the Henrician and Edwardian changes, and re-established unity with Rome. She is commonly known as "Bloody Mary" because of her widespread torture and execution of all those opposed to the rule of Rome, however, such behaviour was not uncommon at the time.
The second schism
The second schism, from which the present Church of England originates, came later. Upon Mary's death in 1558, her sister Elizabeth came to power. Elizabeth became a determined opponent of papal rule, but despite reintroducing separatist ideas, Elizabeth was not excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church until February 25, 1570, when Pope Pius V intervened. The Church of England officially broke with Rome again in 1559, when Parliament recognized Elizabeth as having supreme power, with a new Act of Supremacy that also repealed the remaining anti-Protestant legislation. In the same year a new Book of Common Prayer was issued. Elizabeth presided over the "Elizabethan Settlement", an attempt to harmonize the Puritan and Catholic forces in England.
Under Oliver CromwellDuring the Commonwealth of England and The Protectorate, the ascendant Puritans replaced the Episcopalian government of the Church with a Presbyterian form, but retained the principle of ultimate state control of religious matters. When Charles II came to power, the Episcopalian government was re-established, and the Book of Common Prayer was issued in a new revision in 1662.
Supreme Governors of the Church of England
- Henry VIII (1509-1547)
- Edward VI (1547-1553)
- Mary I (1553-1558)
- Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
- James I (1603-1625)
- Charles I (1625-1649)
- Oliver Cromwell (1653-1658)
- Richard Cromwell (1658-1659)
- Charles II (1660-1685)
- James II (1685-1688)
- Mary II (1689-1694) jointly with
- William III (1689-1702)
- Anne (1702-1714)
- George I (1714-1727)
- George II (1727-1760)
- George III (1760-1820)
- George IV (1820-1830)
- William IV (1830-1837)
- Victoria (1837-1901)
- Edward VII (1901-1910)
- George V (1910-1936)
- Edward VIII (1936)
- George VI (1936-1952)
- Elizabeth II (1952-)
Related ChurchesIn Scotland, the established Church of Scotland is Presbyterian, but there is a smaller Anglican church known as the Scottish Episcopal Church.
- History of the Church of England
- List of Church of England dioceses
- British monarchy
- History of England
- Book of Common Prayer
- Anglican Communion
- General Synod
- Sydney Anglicans
- UK topics
- List of Church of England bishops
- United Reformed Church