Church of England

Anglican Church

General Information

The Church of England is the established church in England. It is divided into two provinces, York and Canterbury, with 43 dioceses and approximately 27 million members. The monarch is technically at the head of the ecclesiastical structure, and the archbishops of Canterbury and York are next in line.

The beginnings of the Church of England date at least to the 2d century, when merchants and other travelers first brought Christianity to Britain. It is customary to regard St. Augustine of Canterbury's mission in 597 as marking the formal beginning of the church under papal authority, as it was to be throughout the Middle Ages. In its modern form, the church dates from the English Reformation of the 16th century, when royal supremacy was established and the authority of the papacy repudiated. With the advent of British colonization, the Church of England established churches on every continent and achieved international importance. In time, these churches gained independence, but retained connections with the mother church in the Anglican Communion.

The Church of England is identified by adherence to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons and by a common order of worship found in the Book of Common Prayer. The church is also characterized by a common attitude of loyalty to Christian tradition, while seeking to accommodate a wide range of people and views. It holds in tension the authorities of tradition, reason, and the Bible, but asserts the primacy of the Bible. It thus seeks to comprehend Catholic, humanist, and reformed elements, historically represented by Anglo-Catholics (high church), Liberals (broad church), and Evangelicals (low church).

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The established status of the Church of England means that all episcopal appointments are made by the crown, and all revisions of the liturgy must be approved by Parliament. In modern times, however, Parliament has been composed of non-Anglicans as well as Anglicans, and this places the church in an awkward position. This has resulted in efforts, such as those represented by the Oxford Movement, to maintain the church's integrity by separating it from the state. On the other hand, it has also spurred efforts to comprehend other Christians in the national church. The Church of England has been active in the Ecumenical Movement.

John E Booty

Moorman, J.R.H., A History of the Church in England, 3d rev. ed. (1973); Welsby, Paul, The History of The Church of England 1945-80 (1984).

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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