The Anglican Church is the established Church of England. It is recognized by the state, with the British monarch as the titular head. The Anglican Church was created in the sixteenth century during the Protestant Reformation. King Henry VIII (1491–1547) became Supreme Head of the English Church in 1534. Henry VIII wished to get an annulment from his first wife, the aging Catherine of Aragon, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn in an effort to produce a son for the throne of England. However, Pope Clement VII refused to grant the annulment.
In short, King Henry took over the English church, broke with Rome, and created the Anglican Church. He was then able to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, pronounce the marriage to Catherine null and void, leaving him free to marry Anne Boleyn.
Though King Henry had established this new church in order to wed Anne Boleyn, he had actually already done so in secret. Incidentally, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen of England, Elizabeth I.
The Church of England spread throughout the British Empire, spawning sister churches throughout the world; part of this colonial expansion and influence spread into India and North America. All this together made up the Anglican Communion as it is today, a body headed spiritually by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which has about 80 million adherents, making it the second largest Christian body in the Western World.
Central Beliefs and Holy Writings
The Anglicans meld features from both Protestantism and Catholicism; they prize traditional worship and structure and operate autonomously. They have few firm rules and great latitude in the interpretation of doctrine. They consider the Bible to be divinely inspired, and hold the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper, to be the central act of Christian worship. They recognize both the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds. (See Chapter 7.) Anglicans have a reputation for respecting the authority of the state without submitting to it; likewise, they respect the freedom of the individual.
The Book of Common Prayer (1662) is a major influence not only on the faith but also on English society in general and is used by churches of the Anglican Communion. Since its publication in the sixteenth century, it continues in various editions as the standard liturgy of most Anglican churches of the British Commonwealth. Most churches outside the Commonwealth have their own variants of the prayer book.
The expansion of Anglicanism is directly related to British colonization. The Church of England's great missionary societies went out into all the English colonies and promoted Christian knowledge. They were instrumental in creating a decentralized body of national churches that were loyal to one another and to the forms of faith inherited from the Church of England.
The scope of the missionary work was immense, and Anglicanism spread from Nigeria to Kenya, South Africa, India, and Australia. It also traveled east to China and Japan. The first American bishop, Samuel Seabury, was consecrated in Scotland in 1784. The Anglican Church of Canada created its own organization in 1893.
The Episcopal Church in the United States came into existence as an independent denomination following the American Revolution. Since members of the Anglican Church were required to swear allegiance to the King, it became necessary for American followers to establish their own church. It now has about 2 or 3 million members in the United States. Isaac Newton was an Anglican clergyman and theologian, as were some of the founders of the Royal Society, one of the world's oldest and most prestigious scientific societies.
The Episcopal Church continues this tradition. The church routinely requires its clergy to hold university as well as seminary degrees. For more than twenty years, the American Episcopal Church has ordained women to the priesthood. In 1988, it elected the first Anglican woman bishop, Barbara Harris.