- Church of England
- The Church of England, still the established religion of the United Kingdom, traces its history back to Christian missionaries who came to the British isles in the Roman era. The archbishopric of Canterbury was established under Augustine (d. c. 605), who was consecrated in 597. As England expanded its territorial hegemony overScotland and ireland, so the church in those areas came under Canterbury's jurisdiction.Early in the 16th century, Protestantism gained support within the church and among the nobility, but King Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) at first resisted. However, when he later quarreled with the pope over divorcing his first, barren wife, Henry had a set of laws passed in 1533 and 1534, which made him the supreme authority over the Church in England. Several notables, including Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), were executed for refusing to acknowledge Henry's new role.In 1536, while negotiating an alliance with Protestant countries against the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry came close to accepting Protestantism, but he backed away when the alliance failed. However, the new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had come to accept much of Protestantism and used his office to further its cause.During the brief reign of Henry's son, Edward VI (r. 1547-53), Protestantism became the faith of the Church of England, and the first edition of the Book of Common Prayer was introduced. After Edward's death, the fiercely Roman Catholic Mary I (r. 1553-58) tried to undo the changes. She abolished the prayer book and arrested and executed Protestant leaders who failed to leave the country, including Cranmer.Mary was soon succeeded by Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603), who early in her reign imposed what became known as the VIA MEDIA, or middle way, on the Church of England. The prayer book was rein-stituted but revised to lessen the objections of Roman Catholics. A Protestantized statement of belief, the Thirty-nine Articles of RELiGiON,was issued in 1563. The episcopacy was maintained, but Elizabeth assumed supremacy over the church, and in 1570 the pope had her excommunicated. In the meantime, the via media became the rule for the church in Wales and Ireland, though not in Scotland, where Presbyterianism was supreme.Die-hard Catholics tried to assassinate or overthrow Elizabeth, which pushed her further into an alignment with Protestants. At the same time, she faced dissent from a new movement, the Puritans, a spectrum of diverse voices that wished to further "purify" the Church of England. The first challenge concerned clerical vestments. When Puritan ministers refused to don the prescribed garb, Elizabeth had them removed from their congregations. When Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) of Cambridge University advocated a presbyterial polity for the church, he lost his teaching post.Puritans at first made little headway, apart from gaining the acceptance of a new translation of the Bible, the King James Version, in 1611. Some formed separate congregations, and some left for Holland or the American colonies. However, by the 1640s, Presbyterians had gained the majority in Parliament and rebelled against Charles I (r. 1625-49). In 1645, it replaced the Book of Common Prayer with a Presbyterian Directory (for worship). In 1648, it called together a group of Presbyterian clergymen who authored the Westminster Confession of Faith (to replace the Thirty-nine Articles) and two new catechisms. In 1549, Oliver Cromwell, leader of the Protestant forces, had Charles executed and assumed leadership of the new British Commonwealth. The Westminster documents were the standard of faith for the Church of England for the next decade.The country's brief flirtation with Presbyteri-anism came to an abrupt end in 1660 with the restoration of the monarchy. Bishops were returned to their posts, the prayer book reappeared in the pews, and the Thirty-nine Articles resumed their status as a guiding statement of belief. A series of laws were passed to discourage Puritan gatherings, and persecution continued until the Act of Toleration of 1689. From that time, Puritans ceased their efforts to change the Church of England and organized their own set of dissenting churches.By this time, the restored church could not ignore the growing numbers of British citizens living in the overseas colonies and began to feel a need to supply them with clergy. This led, at the start of the 18th century, to the formation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (which sent ministers) and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (which supplied them with Christian literature).The spread of the church to other lands led some Anglicans to launch missionary work directed at the native populations of the different colonies. The Church Missionary Society took the lead, later joined by several other organizations. In the course of time, literally millions of non-British people became Anglicans.Bishops were needed in the new region to confirm new members and ordain priests, but it was not until 1787 that the bishop of London consecrated the first Church of England bishop assigned to a post outside of the British Isles, Charles Inglis, bishop of Halifax, Nova Scotia. No other bishopric would be established until 1842 (Australia), though a number were set up in successive decades. However, it was not until after World War ii that native people from the British colonies were integrated into the episcopacy.The first global meeting of the bishops occurred in 1867, giving birth to the regular Lambeth conferences every decade. In 1888, the bishops accepted the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as a valid statement of the Anglican position. It affirmed the church's adherence to the Bible, the Nicene Creed, the two sacraments (baptism and the Eucharist), and the historic episcopate (leadership by bishops in apostolic succession).In the mid-20th century, a move to dismantle the global Church of England prevailed. One by one, archdioceses around the world have reorganized as autonomous jurisdictions with local leadership; the international Church of England was reborn as the Anglican Communion, a fellowship of churches in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury. The communion includes more than 40 churches.The Church of England is now largely confined to England proper; Anglicans in other parts of the United Kingdom are cared for by the Church of Wales, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), and the Scottish Episcopal Church. There is a diocese of Europe, which has oversight of some widely separated Anglican churches in various countries of Europe that primarily serve expatriates. There are also a few isolated dioceses around the world that remain directly under the archbishop of Canterbury.Further reading:■ The Church of England Yearbook (London: Church Publishing House, published annually)■ John R. H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1986)■ Stephen C. Neill, Anglicanism (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1965)■ John William Charles Wand, What the Church of England Stands For: A Guide to Its Authority in the Twentieth Century (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972)■ Andrew Wingate, et al., eds., Anglicanism: A Global Communion (London: Mowbray, 1998).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.