A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH
By Fr Joel Graves
Christianity has been in Britain a long time: Aristobulus (Romans 16:10) was the first Christian martyr in Britain around 59 AD (and brother to Barnabas who accompanied the Apostle Paul – Act 13:1-3). In 314 AD the Church in Anglia sent a delegation of three bishops including Restitutus to the Counsel of Arles. Other bishops attended the Council of Sardica in 347 and the Council of Ariminum in 360. To give you a perspective on the timeline, the Roman Legions didn’t start leaving Britain until 410 AD. It is believed that most of Britain was Christian by the time they left, although it was divided among the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Celts. The believers practiced what is known today as Celtic Christianity or Insular Christianity and was distinct from the Roman Church which was developing in Europe. They were influenced by the Ionan liturgical tradition, whose source was the Isle of Iona inhabited by Irish monks. By the time Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission group led by the Benedictine monk, Augustine, to establish the Roman Catholic Church in Britain in 597 AD, Christianity had been on the island over 500 years. One of Augustine’s goals was to convert King Aethelberht, whose wife, Bertha, was already a practicing Christian. Aethelberht allowed the Gospel to be preached throughout his kingdom and before the end of 597, he became a Christian himself. The capital of the kingdom was Canterbury, and after his death, Augustine became known as Saint Augustine of Canterbury. The modern day Church of England dates its origin to Augustine’s mission.
Over the next sixty years, the church Augustine spread through parts of England, using the Roman liturgical tradition. What form of Christianity was practiced (Celtic Ionan tradition or Roman tradition) had a lot to do with who was on the throne in the various regions. Celtic Christianity calculated Easter differently than the Roman Church; and in an attempt at clarification, and probably to make the Celtic Church lose influence, the Synod of Whitby was called in 664 AD to resolve the matter. King Oswiu presided. Debates and deliberations on both sides decided in favor of Rome. The Celtic Church leadership moved to the Isle of Iona and their influence in England faded away.
In the 1200’s the word Anglican was first recorded to describe the Church of Anglia and comes from the medieval Latin, ecclesia anglicana, which literally means Anglican Church. In modern day Britain, the same term is referred to as simply the Church of England, while the church worldwide refers to itself as the Anglican Church.
THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION
The Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. At first the desire of the protesting leaders was to change the Catholic Church from the inside – reforming it of false doctrines and corruption. Failed attempts in this area caused them, in time, to separate completely and the Lutheran and Anglican churches were formed.
Catherine of Aragon married Henry in 1509, but over the years she could not give him a male heir. In 1533 he asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage, and the pope flatly refused since they already had children who had died and a living daughter, Mary [note: a pope in the Catholic Church is the same as an Archbishop in the Anglican Church]. When the annulment plan failed, Henry persuaded the English Parliament to separate from the Catholic Church, Thomas Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury, and he issued the marriage annulment Henry wanted. The 1534 Act of Supremacy, made Henry VIII head of the English Church and officially nullified the pope’s authority in that country. Although the initial reason for leaving the Roman Catholic Church was a personal choice of the king, supported by the government, it was a stepping stone for launching the Church of England squarely into the Reformation movement, which was well under way in Europe. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (pictured here) became the leader of the English Reformation, and the father of the Book of Common Prayer that we use today. He helped lay the groundwork for what would later be called the 39 Articles of Religion, which guide the Anglican Church in areas of theology and Christian doctrine. Along with many other reformers of that period, he was burned at the stake.
It would be incorrect, as some have suggested, that the Anglican Church was not part of the Protestant Reformation, but only rejected papal authority. The idea of separating from Rome was in the air all across Europe and certainly influenced Henry VIII’s decisions. The Reformation in England began as a political challenge, but once the crack was formed in the Catholic foundation, the theological weight moved in (started by John Wycliffe in the 1300’s , known as the Morning Star of the Reformation, who stressed Scripture as the primary standard of Christianity) and widened it permanently. Even a brief review of the 39 Articles published in 1563, shows that the Church of England was busy working out its own doctrine and theology in relation to the Catholic controversies and the various groups defining their own positions in the Protestant Reformation (Lutherans, Calvinists/Reformed, Anabaptists).
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the British Empire expanded around the world. Everywhere it went the Anglican Church could be found. The first Anglican Church in the United States was formed in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1607.
In order to break religious ties as well as political ties after the Revolutionary War, in 1789 the Anglican Church formally changed its name to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (PECUSA). In the early 70’s, the name, Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) was used informally, but was never officially recognized. In 1979 the name was changed to simply The Episcopal Church (TEC).
ANGLICAN CHURCH OF NORTH AMERICA (ACNA)
The ACNA was formed when twelve separate Anglican groups decided to come together and act in response to the liberal movement of the Episcopal Church. While there are about 53 different Anglican groups, the twelve listed here joined forces in June 2004. In 2006 they called themselves the Common Cause Partnership. In December 2008 eleven of them met in Wheaton, Illinois to form a new province – the Anglican Church in North America. On June 22, 2009, the ACNA held its first assembly in Bedford, Texas and Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh became the archbishop or primate.
In June 2014 Rev Dr Foley Beach was elected as the Archbishop of the ACNA to succeed Bishop Robert Duncan.
(Archbishop Foley Beach and Bishop Kevin Allen )
The Anglican Church of North America is also a province of the Anglican Church worldwide and includes Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The ACNA is divided up into geographically smaller parts called dioceses. The Diocese of Cascadia is led by Bishop Kevin Allen.