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It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the 3rd century and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury. The Act of Supremacy renewed the breach, and the Elizabethan Settlement charted a course enabling the English church to describe itself as both Reformed and Catholic. In the earlier phase of the English Reformation there were both Roman Catholic martyrs and radical Protestant martyrs.
In the 17th century, the Puritan and Presbyterian factions continued to challenge the leadership of the church, which under the Stuarts veered towards a more Catholic interpretation of the Elizabethan Settlement, especially under Archbishop Laud and the rise of the concept of Anglicanism as a via media between Roman Catholicism and radical Protestantism. After the victory of the Parliamentarians, the Prayer Book was abolished and the Presbyterian and Independent factions dominated.
The episcopacy was abolished in but the Restoration restored the Church of England, episcopacy and the Prayer Book. Papal recognition of George III in led to greater religious tolerance.
The church contains several doctrinal strands, the main three being known as Anglo-Catholic , evangelical and liberal. Tensions between theological conservatives and progressives find expression in debates over the ordination of women and homosexuality.
The British monarch currently Elizabeth II is the supreme governor and the archbishop of Canterbury currently Justin Welby is the most senior cleric. The governing structure of the church is based on dioceses , each presided over by a bishop.
Within each diocese are local parishes. The General Synod of the Church of England is the legislative body for the church and comprises bishops, other clergy and laity.
Its measures must be approved by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. There is evidence for Christianity in Roman Britain as early as the 3rd century. This mission was led by Augustine , who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Church of England considers the start of its formal history. In Northumbria , Celtic missionaries competed with their Roman counterparts. The Celtic and Roman churches disagreed over the date of Easter , baptismal customs, and the style of tonsure worn by monks. The king decided Northumbria would follow the Roman tradition because Saint Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome, hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven. By the late Middle Ages , Catholicism was an essential part of English life and culture.
The 9, parishes covering all of England were overseen by a hierarchy of deaneries , archdeaconries , dioceses led by bishops, and ultimately the pope who presided over the Catholic Church from Rome. The Church taught that, in the name of the congregation, the priest offered to God the same sacrifice of Christ on the cross that provided atonement for the sins of humanity.
It was believed that most people would end their lives with these penalties unsatisfied and would have to spend time in purgatory. Time in purgatory could be lessened through indulgences and prayers for the dead , which were made possible by the communion of saints. When the pope refused, Henry used Parliament to assert royal authority over the English church. In , Parliament passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals , barring legal cases from being appealed outside England.
This allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury to annul the marriage without reference to Rome. Henry’s religious beliefs remained aligned to traditional Catholicism throughout his reign. In order to secure royal supremacy over the Church, however, Henry allied himself with Protestants, who until that time had been treated as heretics.
To believe they can would be superstition at best and idolatry at worst. Between and , Henry engaged in the dissolution of the monasteries , which controlled much of the richest land. He disbanded religious houses, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided pensions for the former residents.
The properties were sold to pay for the wars. Historian George W. Bernard argues:. The dissolution of the monasteries in the late s was one of the most revolutionary events in English history. There were nearly religious houses in England, around for monks, for regular canons, nunneries and friaries; some 12, people in total, 4, monks, 3, canons, 3, friars and 2, nuns In the reign of Edward VI — , the Church of England underwent an extensive theological reformation.
Justification by faith was made a central teaching. Stained glass, shrines, statues, and roods were defaced or destroyed. Church walls were whitewashed and covered with biblical texts condemning idolatry. Mary died childless, so it was left to the new regime of her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I to resolve the direction of the Church. The Elizabethan Religious Settlement returned the Church to where it stood in before Edward’s death.
The Act of Supremacy made the monarch the Church’s supreme governor. In , the Thirty-nine Articles received parliamentary approval as a doctrinal statement for the Church. The settlement ensured the Church of England was Protestant, but it was unclear what kind of Protestantism was being adopted. The words of administration neither affirmed nor denied the real presence. Perhaps, a spiritual presence was implied, since Article 28 of the Thirty-nine Articles taught that the body of Christ was eaten “only after an heavenly and spiritual manner”.
The Church of England was the established church constitutionally established by the state with the head of state as its supreme governor. The exact nature of the relationship between church and state would be a source of continued friction into the next century. Struggle for control of the church persisted throughout the reigns of James I and his son Charles I , culminating in the outbreak of the First English Civil War in The two opposing factions consisted of Puritans , who sought to “purify” the church and enact more far-reaching Protestant reforms, and those who wanted to retain traditional beliefs and practices.
In a period when many believed “true religion” and “good government” were the same thing, religious disputes often included a political element, one example being the struggle over bishops.
In addition to their religious function, bishops acted as state censors, able to ban sermons and writings considered objectionable, while lay people could be tried by church courts for crimes including blasphemy , heresy , fornication and other ‘sins of the flesh’, as well as matrimonial or inheritance disputes. Following Royalist defeat in , the Episcopacy was formally abolished. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform to this form of state presbyterianism.
After the Stuart Restoration in , Parliament restored the Church of England to a form not far removed from the Elizabethan version.
Until James II of England was ousted by the Glorious Revolution in November , many Nonconformists still sought to negotiate terms that would allow them to re-enter the Church.
The religious landscape of England assumed its present form, with the Anglican established church occupying the middle ground and Nonconformists continuing their existence outside. One result of the Restoration was the ousting of 2, parish ministers who had not been ordained by bishops in the apostolic succession or who had been ordained by ministers in presbyter’s orders.
Official suspicion and legal restrictions continued well into the 19th century. As the British Empire expanded, British colonists and colonial administrators took the established church doctrines and practices together with ordained ministry and formed overseas branches of the Church of England.
As they developed or, beginning with the United States of America, became sovereign or independent states, many of their churches became separate organisationally but remained linked to the Church of England through the Anglican Communion. In the provinces that made up Canada, the church operated as the “Church of England in Canada” until when it became the Anglican Church of Canada. In Bermuda, the oldest remaining English colony now designated a British Overseas Territory , the first Church of England services were performed by the Reverend Richard Buck, one of the survivors of the wreck of the Sea Venture which initiated Bermuda’s permanent settlement.
The nine parishes of the Church of England in Bermuda , each with its own church and glebe land , rarely had more than a pair of ordained ministers to share between them until the 19th century.
From to , Bermuda’s parishes were attached to the See of Nova Scotia. Bermuda was then grouped into the new Diocese of Newfoundland and Bermuda from In , the Synod of the Church of England in Bermuda was formed. At the same time, a Diocese of Bermuda became separate from the Diocese of Newfoundland , but both continued to be grouped under the Bishop of Newfoundland and Bermuda until , when Newfoundland and Bermuda each received its own bishop. The Church of England in Bermuda was renamed in as the Anglican Church of Bermuda , which is an extra-provincial diocese ,  with both metropolitan and primatial authority coming directly from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The first Anglican missionaries arrived in Nigeria in and the first Anglican Nigerian was consecrated a bishop in However, the arrival of a rival group of Anglican missionaries in led to infighting that slowed the Church’s growth.
In this large African colony, by there were only 35, Anglicans, about 0. However, by the late 20th century the Church of Nigeria was the fastest growing of all Anglican churches, reaching about 18 percent of the local population by The Church established its presence in Hong Kong and Macau in From to the Church began operating in Sri Lanka formerly Ceylon , following the start of British colonisation, when the first services were held for the British civil and military personnel.
Subsequently the Church of Ceylon was established: in the diocese of Colombo was inaugurated, with the appointment of James Chapman as Bishop of Colombo. It served as an extra-provincial jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury , who served as its Metropolitan.
Under the guidance of Rowan Williams and with significant pressure from clergy union representatives, the ecclesiastical penalty for convicted felons to be defrocked was set aside from the Clergy Discipline Measure The clergy union argued that the penalty was unfair to victims of hypothetical miscarriages of criminal justice, because the ecclesiastical penalty is considered irreversible.
Although clerics can still be banned for life from ministry, they remain ordained as priests. The urgency of the challenge facing us is not in doubt.
Attendance at Church of England services has declined at an average of one per cent per annum over recent decades and, in addition, the age profile of our membership has become significantly older than that of the population Renewing and reforming aspects of our institutional life is a necessary but far from sufficient response to the challenges facing the Church of England.
The age profile of our clergy has also been increasing. Around 40 per cent of parish clergy are due to retire over the next decade or so.
In the Church of England admitted that it was embarrassed to be paying staff under the living wage. The Church of England had previously campaigned for all employers to pay this minimum amount.
The archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged it was not the only area where the church “fell short of its standards”. The canon law of the Church of England identifies the Christian scriptures as the source of its doctrine. In addition, doctrine is also derived from the teachings of the Church Fathers and ecumenical councils as well as the ecumenical creeds in so far as these agree with scripture. This doctrine is expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion , the Book of Common Prayer , and the Ordinal containing the rites for the ordination of deacons , priests , and the consecration of bishops.
However, Richard Hooker ‘s appeal to scripture, church tradition , and reason as sources of authority,  as well as the work of Thomas Cranmer , which inspired the doctrinal status of the church, continue to inform Anglican identity.
The Church of England’s doctrinal character today is largely the result of the Elizabethan Settlement, which sought to establish a comprehensive middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
The Church of England affirms the protestant reformation principle that scripture contains all things necessary to salvation and is the final arbiter in doctrinal matters. The Thirty-nine Articles are the church’s only official confessional statement. Though not a complete system of doctrine, the articles highlight areas of agreement with Lutheran and Reformed positions, while differentiating Anglicanism from Roman Catholicism and Anabaptism.