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3. Anglican Communion

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Anglicanism refers to the form of Christianity practiced by the churches of the Anglican Communion. This loosely organized family of religious bodies represents offspring of the Church of England, one of the major branches of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. It is a form of Christianity that includes features of both Protestantism and Catholicism. It prizes traditional worship and structure but operates autonomously and flexibly in different locales. Anglicans possess few firm rules but a cluster of historic pieties and procedural loyalties. The Book of Common Prayer a compilation of the church's liturgical forms originally issued in the 16th century, represented the achievement of autonomy from Rome and remains the hallmark of Anglican identity. The prayer book derives from ancient English spirituality and embodies the uniqueness of Anglican Christianity.


i) Christianity in England.

The Church of England, mother church of the Anglican Communion, has had a long history. When Christianity began in England is uncertain, but it probably was not later than the early 3rd century. The church was well enough established by the 4th century to send three British bishops--of Londinium (London), Eboracum (York), and Colonia Linum (Lincoln)--to the Council of Arles (in modern France) in 314. In the 5th century, after the Romans had withdrawn from and the Anglo-Saxons had invaded Britain, Illtud performed missionary work in Wales and Patrick in Ireland. Though isolated from continental Christianity in the 5th and 6th centuries, Christianity in the British Isles grew due to the influence of monasticism. About 563 Columba founded an influential monastic community on the island of Iona off Scotland. In 597 a monk named Augustine went to England at the request of Pope Gregory the Great to oversee the development of English Christianity. Augustine's archbishopric at Canterbury soon became the symbolic seat of England's church. Subsequent mission work, such as that of Aidan around 634 in northern England, solidified the church's life. The early Catholic Church in England was a distinctive fusion of Romano-British, Celtic, and Roman influences. It retained powerful centres in the monasteries and lived in tension with the medieval monarchy. The martyrdom of Thomas Becket demonstrated the church's concern to preserve its integrity over the throne in the 12th century. The writings of John Wycliffe (d. 1384) questioned the form of the medieval church and became an early protest against Rome's control over England's church.

Under King Henry VIII in the 16th century the Church of England broke with the pope. Henry wished no Reformation but intended to substitute his royal authority over the English Church for that of Rome. Upon Henry's death Archbishop Thomas Cranmer began changes that allied the Church of England with the Reformation. His Book of Common Prayer, which appeared first in 1549, revised traditional forms of worship to incorporate Protestant ideas. When Elizabeth I assumed the throne in 1558 the Reformation in England triumphed. The theologian John Jewel (1522-71) wrote that England's church had returned to ancient precedent. Richard Hooker (1554?-1600) offered a defense of English Church order against Puritans and Catholics in England. In the 17th century Puritan opposition achieved powerful political form. But the Restoration of 1660 ended the Puritan commonwealth and began more than a century of great influence for the Church of England. Until the early 19th century it dominated England's religious life and became closely allied with the power of the throne.

The Church of England became a considerable social and spiritual force, its piety permeating English life. The church generated impressive forms of philanthropy, and clergy commonly performed the duties of civil servants. Anglican influence spread to colonial areas in India and North America. But the church's hold on English religious life began to wane in the 18th century despite impressive reform efforts. John Wesley, Charles Simeon, John Newton, and other Evangelical clergy prompted a surge of new religious fervour. Evangelical laity such as William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect fought slavery and encouraged social reform. In the early 19th century the Anglo-Catholic (High Church) Oxford Movement led by John Henry Newman, John Keble, and E.B. Pusey attempted a recovery of ancient liturgy and a response to social concerns. The church made impressive efforts to encompass the diversity of modern English life while retaining its traditional identity.

ii) Developments in worldwide Anglicanism.

From the time of the Reformation the Church of England expanded, following the routes of British exploration and colonization. It served native peoples and expatriates alike, and all initially considered themselves loyal to the see of Canterbury. The Church of England's great missionary societies were important agents of its growth beyond England. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, founded in 1699, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701, and the Church Missionary Society, begun in 1799, achieved global identity. These societies undertook mission work among indigenous people of English colonies and began the process of transferring authority in church matters to local leadership. Anglicanism thus came to function as a decentralized body of national churches loyal to one another and to the forms of faith inherited from the Church of England.

Social and political circumstances often hastened the development of autonomy. The American Revolution compelled the organization of the Episcopal Church, which completed its structure by 1789. The first American bishop, Samuel Seabury, was consecrated in Scotland in 1784. The Anglican Church of Canada had its own separate organization in 1893, though it was known as the Church of England in Canada until 1959, just as the Anglican Church of Australia continues to be so designated.

Initially Anglicanism's growth followed the outline of the British Empire. Vigorous missionary work produced strong church life in such diverse places as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, India, and Australia. In China and Japan, British, American, and Canadian Anglicans combined their efforts. The church left an impressive legacy of educational institutions and medical facilities. Here and there native peoples became clergy and even bishops. Samuel Crowther of Nigeria became the first black bishop in 1864.

Consolidation and indigenization characterized later Anglican mission. By the late 19th century Anglican bishops began meeting once a decade for the Lambeth Conference at the archbishop of Canterbury's residence in London. The immediate cause of the initial meeting in 1867 was a controversy that arose in one of the colonial churches. The archbishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray (who was High Church, or traditionalist), wanted the bishop of Natal, John Colenso (who was Low Church, or evangelical), to be arraigned on charges of heresy for holding what were then regarded as advanced views of the creation stories in the opening chapters of Genesis. The controversy centring on Bishop Colenso aroused intense feelings and anxieties over a wide range of issues--doctrinal, personal, and organizational--among all the Anglican churches throughout the world. Bishop Colenso was convicted and deposed in the church courts but upon appeal to the civil courts of England won his case and retained his church properties. What began as a jurisdictional dispute in South Africa became a matter of concern for all Anglicans. The issue of the relationship between the church's various branches required clarification. Lacking an authoritative centre, however, Anglicans have continued to rely upon consultation and consensus to coordinate matters of belief and practice.

The end of colonialism and the rise of newly independent nations compelled Anglicans to rethink their identity and mission. Once the church of the colonizer, Anglicanism has spawned a host of self-directing churches linked by common form and historic allegiance to the Church of England. In most cases Anglicanism has been able to adapt in an affirmative way to new and changing social circumstances. In 1947 Anglicans joined several Christian bodies to create the Church of South India, a unique ecumenical union. Frequently Anglicans have been articulate opponents of injustice. Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda was martyred for opposition to the rule of Idi Amin. In South Africa the Anglican Church has consistently opposed apartheid, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Prize for Peace for 1984 for his stand on behalf of racial equality. Anglicans rarely become revolutionaries, for the church views its task as working through existing structures for justice.

The Church of England has evolved a similar posture since the mid-19th century. Still the nation's official church, it has experienced attrition and attempted to redefine its place in English life. A succession of powerful leaders have enhanced the church's claim of being the nation's soul. In the latter 19th century Christian Socialism was an effort to draw compassionate attention to social problems. Sparked by the theologian F.D. Maurice, the movement later was led by clergy such as Stewart Headlam and Henry Scott Holland. In the 20th century Archbishop William Temple underscored that the church was a community of worship in step with modern life. The scholar and lay theologian C.S. Lewis restated the tenets of Christian belief in a sensitive response to modern doubt, and John A.T. Robinson affirmed the searching quality of modern Christian experience.


i) Doctrinal views.

What has come to be known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral defines Anglicanism's essential beliefs. First suggested by an American, William Reed Huntington, in 1870, the Quadrilateral stated four marks essential to the Anglican conception of Christian identity--Scripture, the Nicene Creed, baptism and Holy Communion, and the episcopate. The Lambeth Conference of 1930 further clarified the nature of Anglicanism when it described the Anglican Communion as:

a fellowship within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces or Regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which uphold and propagate the . . . faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer . . .; promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the Bishops in conference.

The Anglican Communion thus holds to the Catholic faith as expounded by the Holy Scriptures and by the early Church Fathers. It respects the authority of the state but does not submit to it; and it equally respects the freedom of the individual. In its relationship to the world the Anglican Communion does not seek to evade the challenges of the world or to live a life separate from it. Basing its doctrines on the Bible, the Anglican Communion allows a remarkable latitude of interpretation by both clergy and laymen.

Though the Church of England holds close to the spirit of the Thirty-nine Articles (a 16th-century doctrinal document that allows for broad interpretations), subscription to them is not required of the laity, and adherence by the clergy is expected only in a general way. Other churches or councils of the Anglican Communion take different views of the Articles, but none regards them as having, for example, the status of the historic statements of belief as set forth in the Apostles' or Nicene creed, nor do they accord them the status given to other 16th-century doctrinal statements, such as the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran churches or the Westminster Confession of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

ii) The ministry.

Anglicans accept a threefold order of ministry, which consists of bishops, priests, and deacons. Though holding to the view of succession from the Apostles, Anglicans are not committed to any one theory regarding the conveyance of that ministry. Anglicans attempt to balance the clerical point of view with forms of authority that include the laity. Even bishops rarely are able to function without the advice and consent of other clergy and laity.


i) Anglican worship.

Worship is the centre of Anglican life. Anglicans view their tradition as a broad form of public prayer, and they attempt to encompass diverse Christian styles in a traditional context. Although the prayer book is the most apparent mark of Anglican identity, it has undergone many revisions and wears national guises. The prayer book of 1662 represents the official version in the Church of England, but a 1928 version and a later Alternative Service Book are commonly used. (see also Index: liturgy)

A few overseas Anglicans still rely upon the English prayer book of 1662, but most have their own versions, increasingly in languages other than English. All forms hold to the essential, historic elements of the prayer book but incorporate local idioms. In recent years there has been a recovery of ancient liturgical styles and vestments and a heightened emphasis upon the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. Experimental rites have appeared in different parts of the Anglican world. Change in Anglican worship has meant increased variety, new roles for laity, and a tendency toward freedom of expression while holding to the essence of the church's traditional forms.

ii) Comprehensiveness in doctrine and practice.

Often said to be the middle way between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Anglican Communion is comprehensive in matters of doctrine and practice. While asserting the importance of the apostolic succession of bishops and The Book of Common Prayer, it nevertheless allows a considerable degree of flexibility in most doctrinal and liturgical matters. Thus, within the communion there are several schools of thought and practice, including High Church, Anglo-Catholic, Low Church, evangelical, and others. The various churches of the Anglican Communion, though autonomous, are bound together by a common heritage and common doctrinal and liturgical concerns, and there has always been a considerable amount of interchange of ecclesiastical personnel. (see also Index: Anglican Evangelical)

iii) Comprehensiveness in doctrine and practice.

Often said to be the middle way between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Anglican Communion is comprehensive in matters of doctrine and practice. While asserting the importance of the apostolic succession of bishops and The Book of Common Prayer, it nevertheless allows a considerable degree of flexibility in most doctrinal and liturgical matters. Thus, within the communion there are several schools of thought and practice, including High Church, Anglo-Catholic, Low Church, evangelical, and others. The various churches of the Anglican Communion, though autonomous, are bound together by a common heritage and common doctrinal and liturgical concerns, and there has always been a considerable amount of interchange of ecclesiastical personnel. (see also Index: Anglican Evangelical)

iv) Internal developments.

The mother church of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, has maintained close connections with the state; it has representative bishops in the House of Lords and can properly be called the established church, even though, contrary to much popular opinion, it is in no sense supported financially by the state. The Church of England itself is without question the church of the English people, even though many of the country's citizens do not so regard it. Only in England do Anglicans comprise a majority, accounting for more than one-half of the world Anglican population. (see also Index: church and state)

Apart from its assured position in the life of England, the Anglican Communion has never had much of a worldwide structure. Indeed, the Anglican Communion has been characterized by its lack of structured cohesion. Even meetings of Anglican Church leaders have been restricted, except in very recent times, to the meetings of the Lambeth conferences, which are held only once every 10 years, and to Pan-Anglican congresses, which involve clergy and laity as well as bishops. Only three such meetings have been held in the 20th century: in London in 1908, Minneapolis, Minn., in 1954, and Toronto in 1963. At two- or three-year intervals between Lambeth conferences meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council are held. While it has no real authority, the council gives cohesion to the Anglican Communion between Lambeth conferences. The council replaced the Lambeth Consultative Body, whose members were the primates or presiding bishops of the various national churches and also replaced the Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy, which came into being after World War II. The Lambeth Conference of 1968 recommended formation of the Anglican Consultative Council, and that body has assumed primary responsibility for coordinating the global Anglican network. The council is an advisory body of about 60 members, including bishops, clergy, and lay people. It shares information, coordinates policy, and develops unified mission strategies. Though lacking binding authority, the council has the archbishop of Canterbury as its president, and it increases the Anglican tendency toward consultation in matters of faith and life. The Lambeth Conference of 1978 recommended that the primates (heads) of all Anglican provinces meet regularly, and they have since done so in various countries of the Anglican Communion.

The importance of conversation among Anglicans has been underscored by the extent of change in some branches of the Anglican Communion. In the second half of the 20th century most churches of the Anglican world revised their versions of The Book of Common Prayer. Decentralized and autonomous, Anglican branches have this freedom, although they are constrained by a sense of coordinating their efforts. In the United States revision of the Episcopal Church's prayer book was extensive. The new prayer book of 1979 incorporated years of liturgical study, of trial drafts, and of discussion. It offered unprecedented liturgical options, including use of modern English liturgies and opportunities for informal worship. The book generated controversy, which abated only slowly.

Equally controversial was the admission of women to the church's priesthood and the prospect of women bishops. Women had been ordained priests in Hong Kong in 1944 and in 1971. By the mid-1970s large numbers of women in various parts of the Anglican world called for the priesthood to be opened to them. The impact was greatest in the United States and Canada, where women became a significant percentage of seminary students. American Episcopalians approved women as priests in 1976 after heated debate. While several other Anglican churches took a similar course, the Church of England hesitated to study and to debate the issue. Opponents of the ordination of women feared the loss of the church's Catholic heritage. Advocates saw a chance for Anglican leadership in expanding the ministries open to women in the church. The Lambeth Conference of 1988 confronted the possibility that a woman would be chosen bishop in the United States, forcing the issue of women's ministries into the international context.

Global mission has remained a priority for Anglicans, but the gradual penetration of Latin America has been a recent feature. While recognizing and respecting the pervasive influence of Roman Catholicism in the area, Anglicans have found a niche among unchurched people. Social mission, education, and provision of indigenous leaders have characterized this phase of Anglican expansion. There has also been impressive growth in Africa and Asia, all sparked by indigenous leadership, and Anglicanism has thus become as much a non-Western as a Western form of Christianity.

v) Relations with other churches.

Because the Anglican Communion consists of a cluster of related churches, it does not, as a worldwide Communion, have membership in the World Council of Churches; each of the Anglican churches, however, holds such membership. This type of ecumenical relationship is in keeping with one of the consistent goals of Anglicanism. Anglicans see themselves as catalysts for Christian unity, and the Anglican blend of Catholic liturgy and Protestant procedure affords the basis of broad ecumenical encounter. Within Anglicanism there is a common point with virtually all other expressions of the Christian faith. Anglicans readily engage Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders in theological discussion and joint liturgy. Ecumenical processes involving the Catholic Church have been regular and intensive, though without prospect of organic reunion. The Anglican/Roman Catholic International Theological Commission has met regularly as have committees involving the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. For Anglicans ecumenical discussion is the appropriate context for advancing Christian mission. (see also Index: ecumenism)

vi) World Anglicanism.

The Anglican Communion has tried to establish itself as the middle way in Christianity, attempting to bridge the gulfs between Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches. In 1947 Anglican dioceses were included in the new Church of South India, a communion that also included mission churches of the Methodists and Congregationalists. In other areas the Anglican Communion has special interchurch relations, as with the Lusitanian Church in Portugal, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India, the Old Catholic churches in Europe and the United States, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church. In the United States Anglicans took part in the Consultation on Church Union. In 1974 the Church of England and English Roman Catholics, Baptists, United Reformed, and Methodists agreed to form a national commission for discussions about practical reunion. Statements issued by Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and Pope John Paul II following a historic meeting between the two in England in 1982 emphasized the importance of the reconciliation effort. (R.S.De. /W.L.Sa.)

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