announcement

Update: Check new design of our homepage!

History of Anglicanism

Little-known Facts About the History of Anglicanism

The life of Christ is just the beginning tale in the rich history of Christianity. From the acceptance of Christianity in the Roman Empire to its spread around the globe, there are numerous tales and one such story and part of history is the inception and development of the Anglican Church. Scroll below for a timeline account of the Anglican Church's history.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
There are different traditions and branches of Christianity and one such ancient and renowned branch is Anglicanism. This branch of Christian science is followed by churches who are connected religiously to the Church of England. A member of such a church is called an Anglican and belongs to the Anglican Communion. The birthplace of this Christian tradition is England, more specifically being the Church of England. Anglicanism is often confused with Protestantism but it is not Protestant neither is it Catholic in its teachings and beliefs. The highest religious leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury but he does not dictate any traditions or rules. Unlike the Catholic church, where the Pope's word must be followed in church, Anglican churches issue directives based on consensus amongst its members. Anglicanism is a distinctly English or British church form and is followed by 77 million members in 164 countries. How did such a religious tradition come into being?

Anglicanism Timeline

There are numerous debates about the actual time period in which Christianity came to English shores. The estimated period is after the death of Christ. In 209 AD, an English soldier, Alban, offered shelter to a Christian priest. He converted to Christianity after spending time in the priest's presence. At that time the religion of Christ was not recognized by the Roman conquerors of Britain, namely Emperor Diocletian. Alban sacrificed his life to save the priest and so, became the first English Christian martyr.

In 312 AD, the Roman Empire officially recognized Christianity and adopted it as the religion of Rome and its colonies. So the Romans started to send Christian missionaries to their colonies to convert the native people. In the 5th century, the Roman Empire was under siege in Britain from pagan Germanic tribes and Anglo-Saxons. Soon the Romans left Britain and the Christian church representatives of Rome, fled to Wales and Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland, spreading and establishing Christianity in such parts.

Britain falling into the hands of such conquerors alarmed the Romans. They felt the pagan ways of the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts should not hold sway over the population. In an effort to teach the right way to worship, a group of Benedictine monks, their leader being Bishop Augustine, were sent to Britain. This took place in the 6th century. Bishop Augustine also set up a base for Christianity at Canterbury in Kent.

With his monks, Augustine started to evangelize and teach the local populace about true Christian practices. The impact of Christianity spread far and wide across Europe from his influence. More than half of the pagan English population had been converted to Christianity. The Celtic priests, who remained in Ireland and Wales, had serious disagreements with the new Roman priests. These two factions clashed over certain issues but towards the end of the 7th century, Bishop Theodore of Tarsus succeeded in unifying them and thus unifying the Christian religion in England.

The 14th and 15th century were a time of reformation for the Christian religion in Europe. The Christians of Europe were not satisfied with merely accepting the rules and traditions of the Roman Church. Martin Luther, a German monk, started the Lutheranism movement. In England, reformists such as William Tyndale and John Wycliff, were key characters in challenging the rigid and doctrine-like hold of the Roman Church. But the most powerful form of resistance came with Henry VIII ascending to the throne of England.

Henry VIII challenged many of the Church's doctrines and highlighted key points such as the Church hoarding gold, while the common man starves on the streets. He spent much of his reign trying to get the Church of Rome to reform itself. But things came to a head over the issues in his married life. Henry wanted to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon and marry Ann Boleyn due to Catherine's inability to give him a son.

Through various machinations and with the help of Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of the Church of England in 1534, splitting the ties between England and the Roman Church. He destroyed Catholic churches and monasteries and distributed their hoarded wealth. But his servant Thomas Cranmer carried out an important task, of making an English Bible and releasing it as a standardized volume to be used in all churches. This was known as the Book of Common Prayer, released in 1552.

Anglicanism suffered for a while, under the reign of Queen Mary, the Catholic daughter of Henry and Catherine. She had a number of prominent Anglican reformers executed, including Cranmer. Mary tried to bring back the Roman Catholic Church's presence in England. But she died in 1558 and Elizabeth I ascended to the throne. Queen Elizabeth set about eradicating Mary's Catholic effects and allowed the revision and release of the Prayer Book in 1559. The Church of England flourished in a way different from other reformed churches.

In 1603, James I became the King of England and Scotland. He released a new Bible, The King James Version in 1611. He balanced his attention between the reformed Christians and the Puritans. By 1662, England had seen a lot of political upheaval and in this year, the Book of Common Prayer was revised and released once more.

In 1689, King William III was on the throne and he passed the Toleration Act, allowing the breaking away of reformist churches from the Church of England. This allowed a lot of religious freedom as different churches were free to practice their own form of Christianity. This Act also paved the way for the arrival of the Methodist church which broke away from the Church of England.

In 1833, a faction of the Church of England tried to restore Catholic principles and beliefs into the Anglican church. Their movement to do so was known as the Oxford Movement. Certain Catholic practices, present in modern-day Anglicanism are a result of this movement's efforts.

The rich history of Anglicanism shows how even an established religion can be reformed and adopted with renewed fervor by a nation's population. The question on who founded this religion is always debated by experts, whether it is Henry VIII in his quest to divorce or Bishop Augustine, who was sent to start the spark of Christianity in England. In the 21st century, the Anglican Church strives to retain its traditional values and yet adapt to modern changes, such as gay marriage and women priests.