History of the Church of England

History of the Church of England

:"This article is an expansion of a section entitled History from within the main article: Church of England"

The history of the Church of England has its origins sometime in the late 6th century in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Kent, and the mission of Saint Augustine. The Church of England emphasises continuity through apostolic succession and traditionally looks to these early events for its origins rather than to the changes brought about by the English Reformation. Events such as Henry VIII's schism with the Roman Catholic Church or the excommunication of Elizabeth I or the wider Reformation in mainland Europe are all events that contributed to the establishment of the Church of England, but are regarded as a continuation of the arrival of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church to the British Isles.

Christianity had first arrived in the British Isles around 200 during the Roman Empire. Archbishop Restitutus and others are known to have attended the council of Arles in 314. Christianity developed roots in Wales and Ireland, and spread to Scotland and north England, which endured after the Romans departed. But subsequent invaders and conquerors — the Saxons, Angles and Jutes — had followed Nordic pagan religions, which still leave traces in English Christian traditions to the present day. With the recent reinterpretation of Christian remains at Lullingstone Villa and Richborough Roman fortress, there is the possibility that Christian practice continued in Kent far later than previously understood and there is a remote possibility of continuity from Roman to Augustinian Christianity in the county.

Augustine and the Saxon period

Anglicans traditionally date the origins of their Church to the arrival in the Kingdom of Kent of the first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, at the end of the 6th century. However, the origin of the Church in the British Isles extends farther back. Christianity first gained a foothold during the Roman occupation of Britannia, possibly as early as the 1st century. The first recorded Christian martyr in Britain, St Alban, is thought to have lived in the early 4th century, and his prominence in Anglican hagiography is reflected in the number of parish churches of which he is patron. Restitutus (fl. 314) is known to have been the metropolitan bishop of London and he is named as having attended the Council of Arles. Irish Anglicans trace their origins back to the founding saint of Irish Christianity (St Patrick) who was a Roman Briton and pre-dated Anglo-Saxon Christianity. Some Anglicans consider Celtic Christianity a forerunner of their church, since the re-establishment of Christianity in some areas in the early sixth century came via Irish and Scottish missionaries, notably Patrick and St Columba. [cite book|last=González|first=Justo L.|title=The History of Christianity, Volume I: "The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation"|location=San Francisco|publisher=Harper|year=1984]

Ethelbert of Kent's wife Bertha, daughter of Charibert, one of the Merovingian kings of the Franks, had brought a chaplain (Liudhard) with her. Bertha had restored a church from Roman times to the east of Canterbury and dedicated it to Saint Martin of Tours, the patronal saint for the Merovingian royal family. Ethelbert himself, though a pagan, allowed his wife to worship God her own way.Probably under influence of his wife, Ethelbert asked Pope Gregory I to send missionaries, and in 596 the Pope dispatched Augustine, together with a party of monks.

Augustine had served as "praepositus" (prior) of the monastery of Saint Andrew in Rome, founded by Gregory.His party lost heart on the way and Augustine went back to Rome from Provence and asked his superiors to abandon the mission project. The pope, however, commanded and encouraged continuation, and Augustine and his followers landed on the Island of Thanet in the spring of 597.

Ethelbert permitted the missionaries to settle and preach in his town of Canterbury. By the end of the year he himself had converted, and Augustine received consecration as a bishop at Arles. At Christmas 10,000 of the king's subjects underwent baptism.

Augustine sent a report of his success to Gregory with certain questions concerning his work. In 601 Mellitus, Justus and others brought the pope's replies, with the pallium for Augustine and a present of sacred vessels, vestments, relics, books, and the like. Gregory directed the new archbishop to ordain as soon as possible twelve suffragan bishops and to send a bishop to York, who should also have twelve suffragans. Augustine did not carry out this papal plan, nor did he establish the primatial see at London as Gregory intended, as the Londoners remained heathen. Augustine did consecrate Mellitus as bishop of London and Justus as bishop of Rochester.

Pope Gregory issued more practicable mandates concerning heathen temples and usages: he desired that temples becomeconsecrated to Christian service and asked Augustine to transform pagan practices, so far as possible, into dedication ceremonies or feasts of martyrs, since "he who would climb to a lofty height must go up by steps, not leaps" (letter of Gregory to Mellitus, in Bede, i, 30).

Augustine re-consecrated and rebuilt an old church at Canterbury as his cathedral and founded a monastery in connection with it. He also restored a church and founded the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls. He died before completing the monastery, but now lies buried in the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

In 616 Ethelbert of Kent died. The kingdom of Kent and the associated Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which Kent had had influence over relapsed into heathenism for several decades.

The Synod of Whitby in 664 forms a significant watershed in that King Oswiu of Northumbria decided to follow Roman rather than Celtic practices.

Mediæval consolidation

As in other parts of mediæval Europe, tension existed between the local monarch and the Pope about civil judicial authority over clerics, taxes and the wealth of the Church, and appointments of bishops, notably during the reigns of Henry II and John.

eparation from Papal Authority

John Wycliffe (about 1320 – 31 December 1384) was an English theologian and an early dissident against the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. He founded the Lollard movement, which opposed a number of Roman practices. He was also an antagonist of the papal encroachments on secular power. Wycliffe was associated with statements indicating that the Church in Rome is not the head of all churches, nor did Peter have any more powers given to him than other disciples. Statements of this ilk related his call for a reformation of its wealth, corruption and abuses. Wycliffe, an Oxford scholar, went so far as to state that "...The Gospel by itself is a rule sufficient to rule the life of every Christian person on the earth, without any other rule." The Lollard continued his pronouncements from pulpits even under the persecution that followed with Henry IV up to and including the early years of the reign of Henry VIII.

However, a politically supported split with Rome occurred when Henry VIII's requested annulment to his current wife was refused. A similar annulment had been granted to Henry VIII's forebear, Henry II of England. Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine on 18 May 1152. Eleanor had children with Louis VII of France. Henry VIII used the political crown and the unsuccessful persecution to sustain his break with Rome. 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 the Pope lived in fear of Catherine's nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, as a result of events in the Italian Wars.

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 demonstrating the illegality of Papal authority. In 1531 Henry first challenged the Pope when he demanded 100,000 pounds from the clergy in exchange for a royal pardon for their illegal jurisdiction. He also demanded that the clergy should recognise him as their sole protector and supreme head. The church in England recognised Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church of England on February 11, 1531, however in 1532 he still continued to attempt to seek a compromise with the Pope, but negotiations (started in 1530 and ended in 1532) with the papal legate Antonio Giovanni da Burgio have failed.

In May 1532 the Church of England agreed to surrender its 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. Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry VIII 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. The first Act of Supremacy confirmed Henry by statute as the "Supreme Head of the Church of England" in 1536. (Due to clergy objections the contentious term 'Supreme Head' for the monarch later became 'Supreme Governor' - hence one cannot technically refer to the reigning monarch as the so-called 'head' of the Church of England.)

Such constitutional changes made it not only 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 culminated in the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 - 1540).


While Anglicans acknowledge that the repudiation of papal authority by Henry VIII of England led to the Church of England existing as a separate entity, they believe that it is in continuity with the pre-Reformation Church of England. Quite apart from its distinct customs and liturgies (such as the Sarum rite), the organizational machinery of the Church of England was in place by the time of the Synod of Hertford in 672673 when the English bishops were for the first time able to act as one body under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry's Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533) and the Acts of Supremacy (1534) declared that the English crown was "the only Supreme Head in earth of the Church of England, called "Ecclesia Anglicana"," in order "to repress and extirpate all errors, heresies, and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same." The development of the Thirty-Nine Articles of religion and the passage of the Acts of Uniformity culminating in the Elizabethan Religious Settlement resulted by the end of the seventeenth century in a Church that described itself as both Catholic and Reformed with the English monarch as its Supreme Governor.The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church by F. L. Cross (Editor), E. A. Livingstone (Editor) Oxford University Press, USA; 3 edition p.65 (March 13, 1997)] MacCulloch commenting on this situation says that it "has never subsequently dared to define its identity decisively as Protestant or Catholic, and has decided in the end that this is a virtue rather than a handicap." [cite book|first=Diarmaid|last=MacCulloch|title=The Later Reformation in England 1547-1603|publisher=Macmillan|year=1990|pages=172]

King Henry VIII of England

The English Reformation was initially driven by the dynastic goals of Henry VIII, who, in his quest for a consort who would bear him a male heir, found it expedient to replace papal authority with the supremacy of the English crown. The early legislation focused primarily on questions of temporal and spiritual supremacy. The introduction of the Great Bible in 1538 brought a vernacular translation of the Scriptures into churches. The Dissolution of the Monasteries and the seizure of their assets by 1540 brought huge amounts of church land and property under the jurisdiction of the Crown, and ultimately into the hands of the English nobility. This simultaneously removed the greatest centres of loyalty to the pope and created vested interests which made a powerful material incentive to support a separate Christian church in England under the rule of the Crown.

Cranmer, Parker, and Hooker

By 1549, the process of reforming the ancient national church was fully spurred on by the publication of the first vernacular prayer book, the Book of Common Prayer, and the enforcement of the Acts of Uniformity, establishing English as the language of public worship. The theological justification for Anglican distinctiveness was begun by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, the principal author of the first Prayer Book, and continued by other thinkers such as Matthew Parker, Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. Cranmer had worked as a diplomat in Europe and was aware of the ideas of the Reformers Andreas Osiander, Friedrich Myconius, as well as the Roman Catholic theologian Desiderius Erasmus.

, a Roman Catholic who re-established communion with Rome.

In the 16th century, religious life was an important part of the cement which held society together and formed an important basis for extending and consolidating political power. Differences in religion were likely to lead to civil unrest at the very least, with treason and foreign invasion acting as real threats. When Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, a solution was thought to have been found. To minimise bloodshed over religion in her dominions, the religious settlement between factions of Rome and Geneva was brought about. It was compellingly articulated in the development of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Ordinal, and the two Books of Homilies. These works, issued under Archbishop Matthew Parker, were to become the basis of all subsequent Anglican doctrine and self-identification.

The new version of the prayer book was substantially the same as Cranmer's earlier versions. It would become a source of great argument during the 17th century, but later revisions were not of great theological importance. The Thirty-Nine Articles were based on the earlier work of Cranmer, being modelled after the Forty-Two Articles.

The bulk of the population acceded to Elizabeth's religious settlement with varying degrees of enthusiasm or resignation. It was imposed by law, and secured Parliamentary approval only by a narrow vote in which all the Roman Catholic bishops who were not imprisoned voted against. As well as those who continued to recognise papal supremacy, the more militant Protestants, or Puritans as they became known, opposed it. Both groups were punished and disenfranchised in various ways and cracks in the façade of religious unity in England appeared.

Despite separation from Rome, the Church of England under Henry VIII remained essentially Catholic rather than Protestant in nature. Pope Leo X had earlier awarded to Henry himself the title of "fidei defensor" (defender of the faith), partly on account of Henry's attack on Lutheranism. Some Protestant-influenced changes 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 occurred during Henry's reign, and he carried through the Six Articles of 1539 which reaffirmed the Catholic nature of the church.

All this took place, however, at a time of major religious upheaval in Western Europe associated with the Reformation; once the schism had occurred, some reform probably became inevitable.

Only under Henry's son Edward VI (reigned 1547 - 1553) did the first major changes in parish activity take place, including translation and thorough revision of the liturgy along more Protestant lines. The resulting Book of Common Prayer, issued in 1549 and revised in 1552, came into use by the authority of the Parliament of England.

Reunion with Rome

Following the death of Edward, the Roman Catholic Mary I (reigned 1553 - 1558) came to the throne. She renounced the Henrician and Edwardian changes, first by repealing her brother's reforms then by re-establishing unity with Rome. The Marian Persecutions of Protestants and dissenters took place at this time. The queen's image after the persecutions turned into that of an almost legendary tyrant called Bloody Mary.

This issue is of some controversy as numerically, she does not appear to have killed any more for religious dissent than other TudorsFact|date=July 2007. However, such executions occurred over a period of only 5 years - a significantly shorter time period than most Tudor monarchs. This view of "Bloody Mary" was mainly due to the widepsread publication of Foxe's Book of Martyrs during her successor Elizabeth I's reign.

The second schism

The second schism, from which the present Church of England originates, came later. Upon Mary's death in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth I (reigned 1558 - 1603) came to power. Elizabeth became a determined opponent of papal control and re-introduced separatist ideas. In 1559, Parliament recognised Elizabeth as the Church's supreme governor, with a new Act of Supremacy that also repealed the remaining anti-Protestant legislation. A new Book of Common Prayer appeared in the same year. Elizabeth presided over the "Elizabethan Settlement", an attempt to satisfy the Puritan and Catholic forces in England within a single national Church. Elizabeth was eventually excommunicated on February 25, 1570 by Pope Pius V, finally breaking communion between Rome and the Anglican Church.

Puritanism and the Restoration

For the next century, through the reigns of James I and Charles I, and 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 reform, 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 a king, Charles I and an Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Under the Protectorate of the Commonwealth of England from 1649 to 1660, Anglicanism was disestablished, presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced as an adjunct to the episcopal system, the Articles were replaced with the Westminster Confession, and the Book of Common Prayer was replaced by the Directory of Public Worship. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform.

After Charles II came to power in 1660, his Restoration government re-established the Episcopalian structures, and issued a new revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1662. The Church of England played a part in rebuffing James II's policy of indulgence towards Catholics and Protestant dissenters (1685 - 1688) and became a prop of the Tory Party and the social "status quo".

King James Bible

Shortly, after coming to the throne James I attempted to bring unity to the Church of England by instituting a commission consisting of scholars from all views within the Church to produce a unified and new translation of the bible free of Calvinist and "Popish" influence. The project was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611 becoming "de facto" the "Authorised Version" in the Church of England and Anglican churches throughout the communion until the mid-20th century. The New Testament was translated from the "Textus Receptus" (Received Text) edition of the Greek texts, so called because most extant texts of the time were in agreement with it.

The Old Testament was translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text, while the Apocrypha was translated from the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The work was done by 47 scholars working in six committees, two based in each of the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and Westminster. They worked on certain parts separately; then the drafts produced by each committee were compared and revised for harmony with each other.

This translation had a profound effect on English literature. The works of famous authors such as John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden and William Wordsworth are deeply inspired by it.

The "Authorised Version" is often referred to as the "King James Version", particularly in the United States. This despite the fact that King James was not personally involved in the translation, though his authorization was legally necessary for the translation to begin, and he set out guidelines for the translation process, such as prohibiting footnotes and ensuring that Anglican positions were recognised on various points.

English Civil War

For the next century, through the reigns of James I and Charles I, and 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 reform, and the more conservative churchmen who aimed to keep closer to traditional beliefs and 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 a king, Charles I and an Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. For about a decade (1647-1660), Christmas was another casualty as Cromwell abolished all feasts and festivals of the Church to rid England of outward signs of "Popishness". Under the Protectorate of the Commonwealth of England from 1649 to 1660, Anglicanism was disestablished, presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced as an adjunct to the Episcopal system, the Articles were replaced with the Westminster Confession, and the Book of Common Prayer was replaced by the Directory of Public Worship.

Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform. In the midst of the apparent triumph of Calvinism, the 17th century brought forth a Golden Age of Anglicanism. The Caroline Divines, such as Andrews, Laud, Herbert Thorndike, Jeremy Taylor, John Cosin, Thomas Ken and others rejected Roman claims and refused to adopt the ways and beliefs of the Continental Protestants. The historic episcopate was preserved. Truth was to be found in Scripture and the bishops and archbishops, which were to be bound to the traditions of the first four centuries of the Church's history. The role of reason in theology was affirmed.

Restoration and beyond

Act of Toleration

With the Restoration of Charles II, Anglicanism too was restored in a form not far removed from the Elizabethan version. One difference was that the ideal of encompassing all the people of England in one religious organization, taken for granted by the Tudors, had to be abandoned.

The 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer became the unifying text of the ruptured and repaired Church after the disaster that was the civil war.

With the Act of Toleration enacted on 24 May 1689, Nonconformists had freedom of worship. That is, those Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists, Congregationalists and Quakers but not Roman Catholics were allowed their own places of worship and their own teachers and preachers, subject to acceptance of certain oaths of allegiance. It deliberately did not apply to Catholics and Unitarians and continued the existing social and political disabilities for dissenters, including their exclusion from political office. The religious landscape of England assumed its present form, with an Anglican established church occupying the middle ground, and Roman Catholics and those Puritans who dissented from the establishment, too strong to be suppressed altogether, having to continue their existence outside the national church rather than controlling it. Restrictions and continuing official suspicion and legal restrictions continued well into the nineteenth century.

The Elizabethan Settlement failed in that it was never able to win the assent of the entire English people, let alone the other peoples of the British Isles, yet it experienced enormous success as this model of Anglican Christianity spread overseas.

18th century

The Wesleyan reformation ended in schism with the birth of Methodism.

Spread of Anglicanism outside England

The history of Anglicanism since the 17th century has been one of greater geographical and cultural expansion and diversity, accompanied by a concomitant diversity of liturgical and theological profession and practice.

At the same time as the English reformation, the Church of Ireland was separated from Rome and adopted articles of faith similar to England's Thirty-Nine Articles. However, unlike England, the Anglican church there was never able to capture the loyalty of the majority of the population (who still adhered to Roman Catholicism). As early as 1582, the Scottish Episcopal Church was inaugurated when James VI of Scotland sought to reintroduce bishops when the Church of Scotland became fully presbyterian (see Scottish reformation). The Scottish Episcopal Church enabled the creation of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America after the American Revolution, by consecrating in Aberdeen the first American bishop, Samuel Seabury, who had been refused consecration by bishops in England, due to his inability to take the oath of allegiance to the English crown prescribed in the Order for the Consecration of Bishops. The polity and ecclesiology of the Scottish and American churches, as well as their daughter churches, thus tends to be distinct from those spawned by the English church - reflected, for example, in their looser conception of provincial government, and their leadership by a presiding bishop or primus rather than by a metropolitan or archbishop. The names of the Scottish and American churches inspire the customary term "Episcopalian" for an Anglican; the term being used in these and other parts of the world."See also: , "

At the time of the Reformation the four (now six) Welsh dioceses were all part of the Province of Canterbury, and remained so until 1920 when the Church in Wales was created as a province of the Anglican Communion. The intense interest in the Christian faith which characterised the Welsh in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was not present in the sixteenth, and most Welsh people went along with the Reformation more because the English government was strong enough to impose its wishes in Wales, rather than out of any real conviction.

Anglicanism spread outside of the British Isles by means of emigration as well as missionary effort. English missionary organizations such as USPG - then known as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) were established in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to bring Anglican Christianity to the British colonies. By the nineteenth century, such missions were extended to other areas of the world. The liturgical and theological orientations of these missionary organizations were diverse. The SPG, for example, was influenced by the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, while CMS was influenced by the Evangelicalism of the earlier Evangelical Revival. As a result, the piety, liturgy, and polity of the indigenous churches they established came to reflect these diverse orientations.

19th century

The Plymouth Brethren seceded from the established church in the 1820s.From the 1830s the Oxford Movement became influential and occasioned the revival of Anglo-Catholicism.

The growth of the twin "revivals" in nineteenth century Anglicanism — Evangelical and Catholic — were hugely influential. The Evangelical Revival informed important social movements such as the abolition of slavery, child welfare legislation, prohibition of alcohol, the development of public health and public education. It led to the creation of the Church Army, an evangelical and social welfare association and informed piety and liturgy, most notably in the development of Methodism. The Catholic Revival, arguably, had a more penetrating impact. It succeeded in transforming the liturgy of the Anglican Church, repositioning the Eucharist as the central act of worship in place of the daily offices, and reintroducing the use of vestments, ceremonial, and acts of piety (such as Eucharistic adoration) that had long been prohibited in the English church and (to a certain extent) in its daughter churches. It had an impact on Anglican theology, through such Oxford Movement figures as John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, as well as the Christian socialism of Charles Gore Frederick Maurice.

Recent history

On 12 March, 1994 the Church of England ordained its first female priests. A vote was passed by the Church of England's General Synod in York to allow women bishops on 11 July 2005.

:"See also women's ordination."

The first black archbishop of the Church of England, John Sentamu formerly of Uganda, took his throne on 30 November 2005.

In 2006 the Church of England made a public apology for the institutionalised role it played in the African Slave trade. Rev Blessant recounted the history of the church on the island of Barbados, West Indies where the Church branded the slaves it owned using red-hot irons as property of "society".cite web | title = Church apologises for slave trade | publisher = BBC | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4694896.stm | accessdate =2006-02-08]

ee also

* Anglican Communion
* Anglicanism
* Religion in the United Kingdom


Further reading

Chronological order of publication (oldest first)
* William Cobbett, " [http://www.exclassics.com/protref/protint.htm A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland] ", 1846 edition
* William Hunt, "The English Church: From Its Foundation to the Norman Conquest (597-1066)", Volume I of a 7 volume set by various authors, AMS Press, reprint, originally published in 1899, hardcover, 444 pages
* Eamon Duffy, "", Yale University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-300-06076-9

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