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The officially established Christian church in the nation of England is known as the Church of England, or the Anglican church. In addition to being the seat of Christian worship in England, the Church of England is also the mother church of Anglican beliefs, and it is considered the senior branch of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion refers to a group of churches around the world which are in agreement with the See or Office of Canterbury, the highest Bishopric in Anglican church. These churches do not submit to Roman authority, along with many other branches of Christianity.
The roots of Christianity in England are quite ancient, with evidence of Christian worship emerging as early as the first century CE. Through the medieval era, England followed the Roman Catholic Church, seated in the Vatican. However, increasing conflicts between church and state led England to join the Protestant movement. The Protestant Reformation in Europe brought about a serious split in the Church, with Protestants rejecting Roman authority, considering the Bible the ultimate source of religious information, and believing that through faith alone, Christians can find Redemption.
Anglicanism got a jumpstart when King Henry VIII of England officially rejected Roman authority over English worship. He was concerned that the church held too much power, and he was also dissatisfied with certain aspects of Roman doctrine. Under his daughter Elizabeth I, the English church went through further reforms, with Elizabeth supporting the adoption of a Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles, a list of basic statements which are used as the foundation for Anglican doctrine.
Despite its link with the Protestant break, the Church of England is not considered a Protestant church. Many people consider it to be a middle ground between Roman Catholic and Protestant belief, since it incorporates a bit of both.
During the period of upheaval in England marked by the English Civil War, the Church of England underwent a series of major changes, although it re-emerged in a more or less familiar form in 1662. As the English explored and settled other parts of the world, they introduced new people to the Anglican Church, and numerous churches around the world follow the doctrine and principles of Anglicanism. The Episcopal Church, which originally began as a branch of the Church of England, is now officially separate, and it is seated in the United States. Despite their divisions, these two churches are similar in a number of ways, representing their relatively recent split.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Church of England and when was it established?
The Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, is the primary state church in England and one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the country. It was formally established in the 16th century during the reign of King Henry VIII, who in 1534 broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and appointed himself as the head of the Church of England. This act of supremacy marked the beginning of Anglicanism as a distinct Christian tradition.
Who is the current head of the Church of England?
The current head of the Church of England is the reigning monarch, which as of the knowledge cutoff date in 2023, is King Charles III. However, the spiritual leader of the Church is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who as of the same date is Justin Welby. The Archbishop of Canterbury is responsible for the spiritual direction and leadership of the Church.
What are the core beliefs and practices of the Church of England?
The Church of England upholds the Bible as the foundation of its faith, along with the traditions of the apostolic church, the early Church Fathers, and the historic creeds. It practices two sacraments ordained by Christ Himself - Baptism and the Eucharist - and recognizes five others. Its worship is liturgical, following the Book of Common Prayer, and it embraces a theology that is both catholic and reformed, emphasizing the importance of faith, scripture, and reason.
How does the Church of England differ from the Roman Catholic Church?
The Church of England differs from the Roman Catholic Church in several key areas. It rejects the papal supremacy, allowing the English monarch to be the supreme governor of the Church. It also allows clergy to marry, does not mandate clerical celibacy, and has a different view on the nature of the Eucharist. Additionally, the Church of England ordains women as priests and bishops, a practice not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.
What is the global reach of the Church of England?
The Church of England is part of the wider Anglican Communion, which is a global network of independent churches. According to the Anglican Communion Office, there are about 85 million members in more than 165 countries. This communion is a family of churches with a shared heritage and theology but with diverse practices and cultures, reflecting the broad reach of Anglicanism since its establishment in England.