Is Anglicanism a protestant denomination which originated during the Reformation of the 16th century, or is it a Catholic Church with primitive Christian roots and an unbroken history going back to the earliest Church? Anglicans have always appealed to history, and to history we must go for answers to these questions.
The word Anglican comes from the Latin and means English, and refers to its Anglo-Saxon and Celtic spiritual heritage and roots in the ancient Church of the British Isles. The gospel of Jesus Christ was brought to Britain by St. Joseph of Arimathea, the disciple who buried Christ after His crucifixion. Gildas the Wise (AD 425-512), an early British historian wrote, “Christ, the True Sun, afforded His light, the knowledge of His precepts to our Island in the last year, as we know, of Tiberius Caesar.” The last year of Tiberius Caesar was AD 37, just a few years after the Resurrection of Christ! William of Malmesbury (AD 1080-1143), the best British historian of his day, says that after the crucifixion of Christ, St. Joseph of Arimathea came to Britain with eleven missionaries, and that the King gave them twelve hides of land at Glastonbury (De Antiquitate Galstoniae Cap. 1).
Tertullian (AD 155-222) wrote, “The extremities of Spain, the various parts of Gaul, the regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman arms have received the religion of Christ.” We know from the presence of British bishops at the Council of Arles in 314, that the Church took root in the British Isles, and has had a continuous existence since its establishment there.
The English Church was acknowledged by five Western Church Councils (Pisa 1409; Constance 1417; Sens 1418; Sienna 1424; and Basil 1434) as the oldest Church outside of the Holy Land; with the Council of Basil declaring in 1434, “The Churches of France and Spain must yield in points of antiquity and precedence to that of Britain, as the latter Church was founded by St. Joseph of Arimathea immediately after the passion of Christ.”
In his classic book, The Ways and Teachings of the Church, which has been a popular Anglican course of instruction for more than a century, author Fr. Lefferd M. A. Haughwout, wrote, “In the beginning all Bishops of the Church were possessed of equal powers. But for convenience of administration the dioceses were grouped into provinces, with an Archbishop at the head of each. These provinces were, in turn, grouped under the Bishops of the five great Christian centers – Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople – each of whom was independent in its own district. These Bishops were called Patriarchs…
“As Rome was at the time the first city in the world, the influence of her Bishop was naturally very great. Little by little he succeeded in forcing his claim upon the surrounding Churches, until after a while he gained complete authority over every Bishop in western Europe. The English Church was the last to yield; and it was only after an independent existence of more than eight hundred years that she was finally compelled to surrender her lawful rights. The Papal rule was set up by force of arms when William of Normandy conquered England in the year 1066. From that time until the sixteenth century the Church of England was dominated by Rome. Yet even so, it was never thought of as the ‘Roman Catholic Church.’ It was always and at all times the ‘Church of England, or ‘Anglican Church’ — ‘Ecclesia Anglicana.’ The name ‘Roman Catholic’ does not appear in any document relating to the English Church prior to the Reformation…
“The eastern Bishops, however, were strong enough to resist the power of Rome. The great Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople maintained their independence, and have remained independent ever since” (Morehouse-Barlow Co., New York, c. 1907, 1930 and 1944; pp. 71-73).
At the time of the Great Schism (division) between Eastern and Western Christendom in the year 1054, the Anglican Church sided with the Eastern Churches in rejecting the novel claims of the Bishop of Rome to a primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Universal Church. In response, the Pope blessed the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, to invade England and force the Church there into submission to Rome. This was accomplished in 1066, with the Norman invasion. William conquered England, seized the throne, replaced all but one of the native British bishops with Normans, and forced the Anglican Church to submit to papal authority. For the next four and a half centuries the English Church maintained an uneasy, sometimes beneficial and sometimes stormy, relationship with the papacy.
Unfortunately, the medieval English Church, like the rest of the Church under papal domination, grew increasingly corrupt in faith and morals, and in need of reform. John Wyclif (1324-1384), a parish priest and Oxford don, wrote and preached against the corruptions in the Church more than a century before Luther, and is known as the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” He translated the Bible into English so that all literate Englishmen could read the Scriptures for themselves; and sent out preachers, like the early friars, to proclaim the gospel throughout the land. “These ‘Poor Preachers’ were mostly priests, some were scholars, many were simple and humble men. As they went out they took copies of the Scriptures in English with them and laid much stress on the Bible as the sole standard of faith and action… Wyclif succeeded in lighting a candle which burnt steadily through many years of trial and which is by no means extinguished at the present day” (History of the Church of England, J.R.H. Moorman; Morehouse Publishing; Third Edition, 1980; pp. 121-122).
“In the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries the urgent need for a Reformation of the Church was recognized by all thoughtful men everywhere throughout western Europe, and was loudly expressed by almost everyone outside the circle of the influence of the Roman curia. Statesmen and men of letters, nobles and burghers, great churchmen as well as monks and parish priests — all bewailed the condition of the organized Christian life, and most of them recognized that the unreformed Papacy was the running sore of Europe” (A History of the Reformation, Vol.1; Thomas M. Lindsay, D.D., LL.D.; Charles Scribner’s and Sons; 1914; pp. 484-485).
“Jesus began his public ministry with the expulsion of the profane traffickers from the court of the temple. The Reformation began with a protest against the traffic in indulgences which profaned and degraded the Christian religion” (History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff; vol. 7; 1888; p. 146). The Ninety-five Theses that Martin Luther nailed to the Cathedral door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, in opposition to the sale of indulgences, sounded the trumpet call of the Reformation.
In Germany, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon led the Reformation; and in Switzerland and France the Reformation was led by John Calvin, but in England the Reformation was led by the bishops themselves, under the guiding hand of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.
“Cranmer was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on March 30, 1533. His opinions were known. He had been one of the Cambridge ‘Germans’; he had freely consorted with Lutheran divines in Germany; he had begun to pray for the abolition of the Pope’s power in England as early as 1525” (ibid, Lindsay, Vol. 2; p. 330).
In 1534, the Anglican Church was finally able to renounce papal supremacy and end centuries of papal control that had been uncanonically established by force of arms. In that year, Convocation, the governing body of the Church of England, declared that “the Bishop of Rome hath not, by Scripture, any greater authority in England than any other foreign bishop.”
The statement sometimes made that the Anglican Church was founded by King Henry VIII, has no basis in fact. The question of the King’s annulment, not divorce, was the occasion, not the reason, for the renunciation of papal supremacy by the English Church; and only one bishop and a handful of clergy declined to accept the action taken by Convocation. The Church before and after the renunciation of papal supremacy was the same Church, with the same liturgy, under the same bishops and parish priests. It is true that Henry VIII was a dissolute king, in fact Anglicans call his reign the royal tyranny; but it is also true that Pope Paul III, who’s unscriptural and uncanonical authority Convocation repudiated, was a dissolute Pope with illegitimate children.
After the repudiation of papal supremacy, the Church of England was able to begin the process of reformation. The reform began in 1534, with Convocation calling for the Holy Scriptures to be translated into English; and in 1535, Miles Coverdale agreed to undertake the translation. In 1536, Injunctions were issued to the clergy which ordered a copy of the English Bible to be placed in all churches before August 1537.
Henry VIII died in 1547, and was succeeded on the throne by his nine year old son, Edward VI. Under the new King the Church was able to speed the process of reformation. In 1549, the Book of Common Prayer was published, and the reform of the Church continued. “The great innovation in this Liturgy was that all its parts were in the English language, and every portion of the Services could be followed and understood by all the worshippers” (ibid, Lindsay; Vol. 2; p. 357).
“Once freed from the Roman influence, the Church set about to reform some of the abuses into which it had fallen. The old service books were revised and translated into English, many wrong teachings and harmful customs were done away with, and the Bible was given to the people in their own language” (ibid, Haughwout, p. 74).
Edward VI died in 1553, leaving the crown, by hereditary right, to his half sister, Mary Tudor. Under Queen Mary (reigned 1553-1558), the Roman Catholic daughter of King Henry VIII, the English Church reverted briefly to papal authority and the gains made by the Reformation were suppressed. All dissent was cruelly crushed, with nearly 300 men, women and children, clerical and lay, burned at the stake during her brief five year reign, with many more imprisoned, earning her the name “Bloody Mary.”
With the death of Queen Mary in 1558, her half sister, Elizabeth Tudor (reigned 1558-1603), became Queen. Under Elizabeth I, religious persecution ceased and the Church of England secured its freedom from all novel and unscriptural papal claims, renewed the process of reformation, and began to eliminate the abuses and errors that had crept into the doctrine and discipline of the Western Church since the Middle Ages. Indulgences and forced clerical celibacy were abolished; the Latin Services were replaced once again by Services in English, and published as the Book of Common Prayer; a new emphasis was placed on preaching the Word of God and the frequent reception of Holy Communion; and the English Bible was made available to all
It was Rome, not England, that divided the Church when the Pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I in 1570, for supporting the Reformation, and forbade papal loyalists from continuing to worship in Anglican churches. There was never any desire on the part of the English Church to sever ecclesiastical communion with the rest of Western Christendom, as was reaffirmed in the canons of 1604.
Reformation and restoration is never easy, and it was especially difficult during the religious turmoil of the sixteenth century. The Anglican Church had to contend with a flood of refugees that had fled England during the Marian persecution, some of whom were returning as radical Calvinists. On the other hand, there were the papal loyalists that opposed any reform whatsoever, and wanted to maintain the religious policy of the late Queen Mary. In addition, there was always the threat of invasion by the armed forces of Roman Catholic nations, which finally became a reality with the sailing of the Spanish armada.
“The reform movement in England was of great benefit to the Church in many ways, but it would be a mistake to assume that everything was 100% perfect. It was very far from that. There were losses as well as gains. Among other things, there came to be divisions in the Church, which in some cases resulted in schisms or separations. Schism is the sin of separating ourselves from the visible communion of God’s Church. The extreme reformers were not satisfied with what was done. They wanted to make the English Church exactly like the newly founded Churches of continental Europe – the Lutheran of Germany and the Calvinist or Presbyterian of Switzerland. Those who favored doing this were called Puritans. Most of them eventually left the Church, but in many ways their influence remained” (ibid, Haughwout, p. 75).
The English Reformation was carried out gradually and over a long period of time. Anglican theologian Vernon Staley writes, “In speaking of the Reformation, we should remember that though this great movement began in the 16th century, it was not confined to that period. The Reformation was continued and brought more fully into shape by the Caroline Divines in the 17th century, whose spirit the leaders of the Catholic Revival in the 19th century so largely inherited” (The Catholic Religion, A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Anglican Communion, by Vernon Staley; A. R. Mowbray & Co., London & Morehouse-Barlow Co., New York; 1893; p. 83).
In his book Anglicanism, published in 1958, Bishop Stephen Neill summarizes what the English Church had accomplished during the Reformation. He wrote, “It had maintained the Catholic faith, as that is set forth in the Scriptures, Creeds, and the decisions of the… General Councils. It had restored the Catholic doctrine of the supremacy of Holy Scripture in all matters of doctrine and conduct. It had restored Catholic practice in the provision of worship in a language understanded of the people. It had restored Catholic practice in the encouragement of Bible-reading by the laity. In the Holy Communion, it had restored Catholic order by giving the Communion to the laity in both kinds, both the Bread and the Wine, instead of in one kind only, as was the practice of the medieval Church. In Confirmation and Ordination, it had restored Catholic order by making the laying on of hands by the Bishop the essential in the rite. It aimed at restoring the Catholic practice of regular Communion by all the faithful. It had retained the three-fold Order of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. It had most carefully retained the succession of the bishops from the days of the Apostles. It retained the liturgical order of the Christian year, though in a considerably modified and simplified form. It had repudiated the supremacy of the Pope, as that had developed since the days of Gregory VII. It denied that the Pope had authority to interfere in the civil affairs of States and to depose princes. Itclaimed liberty for national Churches, within the fellowship of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, ‘to decree Rites or Ceremonies’ (Article XX). It rejected the scholastic philosophy, and the late medieval definitions, especially of transubstantiation, which had been based on it. It rejected late medieval ideas of purgatory, indulgences, and the merits of the saints… It maintained continuity of administration, most of the Episcopal registers showing the work of the Church was carried on through all the troubles without the intermission of a single day. It claimed to be a living part of the world-wide Church of Christ” (pp. 131-132).
The word “Reformation” means a return to an earlier normal condition, and that is just what the Anglican Church sought to do. Unlike the continental Churches who look back to Luther, Calvin or some other Reformer as the man who finally got theology right after some fifteen hundred years of Christian history, the Anglican Church has always looked back to the Holy Scriptures, and to the consensus of the Fathers and doctors of the Church, and especially the teachings of the Oecumenical Councils of the undivided Church. The writings of the Anglican Reformers of the 16th century have never been widely circulated and are not much read today by Anglican clergy and faithful. What is important about the Anglican Reformers is that they pointed the Anglican Church back to the Scriptures and the primitive Church.
In 1562, Anglican Bishop John Jewel wrote, “We have returned to the Apostles and the old Catholic Fathers. We have planted no new religion, but only preserved the old that was undoubtedly founded and used by the Apostles of Christ and other holy Fathers of the Primitive Church” (Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae).
Likewise, in 1563, Queen Elizabeth I, said, “We and our people – thanks be to God – follow no novel and strange religions, but that very religion which is ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consentient mind and voice of the most early Fathers.”
Archbishop John Bramhall (1594-1663) of Armagh in Ireland, wrote, “I make not the least doubt in the world, but that the Church of England before the Reformation and the Church of England after the Reformation are as much the same Church, as a garden before it is weeded and after it is weeded, is the same garden; or a vine before it is pruned and after it is pruned and freed from luxuriant branches is one and the same vine.”
The Anglican Church is a Catholic Church, and reformation Anglicanism is a reformed Catholicism, a return to the Faith and practice of the undivided Church. Bishop John Pearson (1613-1686) taught, “Search how it was in the beginning; go to the fountainhead; look to antiquity;” and Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711) said, “I die in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West. More particularly I die in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papal and Puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.”
The Anglican Church is thoroughly Evangelical. How could it be otherwise? The word “Evangel” cones from the Greek and means Gospel. To repudiate the name Evangelical is to repudiate the Gospel, and to embrace the word Evangelical is to embrace the Gospel and the Great Commission to preach the Gospel to every creature. The Anglican Church, like the primitive Church, is a Gospel preaching Church. As Blessed George Herbert has written in his classic work, The Country Parson, “The Country Parson preacheth constantly, the pulpit is his joy and throne.”
Drawing on the early Fathers of the Church, Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion says, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary for salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” This Article echos St. Cyril of Jerusalem, a great 4th century Church Father who wrote, “Concerning the divine and sacred mysteries of the faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures. Do not then believe me because I tell you these things, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures.”
However, the Anglican Church does not subscribe to the unscriptural notion of private interpretation of Scripture whereby, like Israel of old, every man does what is right in his own eyes. The canon which imposed the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion upon the clergy during the reign of Elizabeth I, directs preachers “to be careful that they never teach ought in a sermon, to be religiously held and believed by the people, except what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected out of the same doctrine.”
Dr. E. B. Pusey, the great 19th century Anglican theologian, wrote, “What is matter of faith must be capable of being proved out of Holy Scripture; yet that, not according to the private sense of individuals, but according to the uniform teaching of the Church” (The Rule of Faith, p. 36).
St. Vincent of Lerins (died before AD 450) writes, “The Canon of Scripture is perfect, and most abundantly of itself sufficient for all things.” However, “since the Scripture being of itself so deep and profound, all men do not understand it in one and the same sense, but divers men, diversely, this man and that man, this way and that way, expound and interpret the sayings thereof, so that to one’s thinking, so many men, so many opinions almost may be gathered out of them… for the avoiding of error, the prophets and apostles must be expounded according to the rule of the ecclesiastical and catholic sense” (Commonitorium).
Likewise, Blessed William Laud, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury said, “When the Fathers say, We are to rely upon Scripture only, they are never to be understood with the exclusion of Tradition, in which causes soever it may be had. Not but that the Scripture is abundantly sufficient, in and of itself, for all things, but because it is deep, and may be drawn into different senses, and to be mistaken, if any man will presume upon his own strength, and go single without the Church” (Conferences with Fisher the Jesuit, xvi. 33).
Laud is, of course echoing the Rule or Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins, found in his Commonitorium, that Anglicans have always appealed to: that the true Catholic Faith is “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” By this triple test of oecumenicity, antiquity, and consent, the Church is to differentiate between true and false traditions, and orthodoxy from heterodoxy.
The Anglican Church is fully Catholic. The word “Catholic” comes from the Greek and means “Universal,”and “whole and complete.” The Church is called Catholic “because it is universal, holding earnestly the Faith for all time, in all countries, and for all people; and is sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world” (Book of Common Prayer). Classical Anglicanism combines Evangelical Truth and Catholic Order, or as is commonly said today, Catholic Faith, Orthodox Worship, and Evangelical Witness.
“Anglo-Catholicism” and “Anglo-Catholic” are terms that can be used to described all Anglicans, and should not be used to define a School of theology or church party. All Anglicans are Anglo-Catholics because the Anglican Church is the English (Anglo) Church, and Anglicans are Catholic Christians.
Blessed Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), Bishop of Winchester, said, “Anglicanism has no specific teaching other than that of Scripture interpreted by the primitive Church with which it has continuity, historical and doctrinal.”
Dr. E. B. Pusey (1800-1882) wrote, “The Church of England has, from the Reformation, held implicitly, in purpose of heart, all which the ancient Church ever held.”
Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (1887-1972) of Canterbury said, “We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution. We stand firm on that rock.”
Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, Anglican Church in North America, has said, “orthodox Anglicans uphold the historic faith and order of the undivided Church. We are nothing more nor less than Catholic Christians, seeking to be faithful to the teaching of the early Church Fathers and the great Ecumenical Councils of the first centuries of Christian witness. With St. Vincent of Lerins, we affirm that the Catholic Faith is that which has been believed ‘everywhere, always, and by all.’ Whenever you find departures from this given faith and received order, you will find sectarianism, heresy and error” (We Are Catholic Christians, by Bishop Jack Iker, January 11, 2011).
If the Anglican Church is a Catholic Church then why was the American Church called the Protestant Episcopal Church for much of its history? Most people today do not know the origin of the word Protestant, and just assume that Protestant means the opposite of Catholic. However, that assumption is not correct. Protestant, in the classical sense of the word, is not the opposite of Catholic. The opposite of Catholic is heretic, not Protestant.
In The Ways and Teachings of the Church, Fr. Lefferd M. A. Haughwout writes, “The term Protestant is one of those words that have different meanings, and as this leads to a great deal of misunderstanding, it is important in every case to know the exact sense in which it is used. In a general way, it refers to anyone who makes a protest. It was in this sense that it was first applied to the minority representatives of an important council that was held in Germany in the year 1529, the Diet of Spires. This conference had adopted a resolution that limited the freedom of several states in matters of religion. Those who signed a protest against it were called Protestants. In course of time this term came to be given to all who protested against papal rule, regardless of their particular beliefs in other matters… however, the term has come to be applied to those who not only protested against papal domination but also against the Catholic Church, as such, its Faith, its worship, and its authority. That was the position of the continental reformers… And this, unfortunately, is what the name means to most people today” (ibid, pp. 78-79).
In the 16th century many of those who professed to be Catholic Christians, but who protested against the errors and abuses that had crept into Western Christendom in the centuries after the Great Schism were known as “Protestants.” Blessed Lancelot Andrewes called the Church of England “the English Protestant Catholic Church,” and Anglicans in post revolutionary America called their Church the Protestant Episcopal Church to denote a national Church led by Catholic Bishops (hence, “Episcopal”) who protested (hence, “Protestant”) against the unreformed papacy and were therefore not under the authority of the Roman Patriarchate.
Blessed Lancelot Andrewes illustrated this position when, as Bishop of Chichester (1605-1609), he met with Tobie Matthews, son of the Archbishop of York, who was in the process of embracing Roman Catholicism. During their meeting, Bishop Andrewes referred to the Anglican Church as the “English Protestant Catholic Church.” He told Matthews that he “held the English Protestant Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church, to be one and the same Church of Christ,” except that “my Church” is “the better swept, and more cleanly kept, and more substantially repaired.” Andrewes also used the term “protestant” in his Response to Cardinal Bellermine, but qualified the useage on the grounds of “temporary convenience.” Temporary, because the protest would no longer be necessary once Rome reformed herself. However, because the term Protestant is seldom used in its classical sense anymore, and because most people today simply take it to mean the opposite of Catholic, it is a term that contemporary Anglicans would do best to avoid using to describe themselves; and if ever used, it should only be used with the most clear and careful explanation of the classical meaning of the term.
The term “Via Media” does not mean a halfway house between Tridentine Roman Catholicism and Continental Protestantism, a latitudinarian comprehensiveness, or a qualified Catholicism. As Dom Anselm Hughes of Nashdom Abbey has written, “Quod semper does not mean from the Apostolic age, or from the Age of the Fathers, or the First six centuries, or the First Four General Councils; nor does it mean the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth. It means just what it says — always” (The Rivers of the Flood, The Faith Press; 1961; pp. 150-151). As Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar put it at the great Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923, “We now stand for the Catholic Faith common to East and West… We are not a party… Our appeal is to the Catholic Creed, to Catholic worship and Catholic practice.”
In his book, The Anglican Reformation, William Clark gives an excellent and accurate explanation of the meaning of the term Via Media. He writes, “It has been sometimes charged against the Church of England that she takes what is called the Via Media, meaning by this that she makes a compromise between the party who clung to the traditional beliefs and those who advocated revolution. Even if this were the case, probability would be on her side. But it may be said with some confidence that history will not bear out this theory. The English reformers, taken as a whole, were neither eclectics nor were they mediators between extremes. They acted and they intended to act upon the principle laid down in the Ten Articles [an earlier version of the Articles of Religion, issued in 1536], that the faith of the Church must be determined and tested by the Scriptures and the Creeds, then by the Fathers and the early Councils of the Church. Here is a clear principle upon which the Church of England professes to base her action, and she has never departed from it” (Edinburgh, 1897, p. 104).
Anglicans have always seen their Church as a “bridge Church,” with part of her mission and vocation being the healing of a divided Christendom. The Anglican Church is both thoroughly Evangelical and fully Catholic, uniting Evangelical Truth with Catholic Order, placing it in a good position to reach out to both sides of the Reformation divide and to bring healing and wholeness.
Likewise, while the Anglican Church is a Western Church, it has Eastern roots, and has maintained aspects of Eastern Christian piety and spirituality, and a commitment to the faith of the undivided Church. The Gospel came to the British Isles directly from the Middle East when St. Joseph of Arimathea arrived from Jerusalem in AD 37. As the Eastern Churches will acknowledge, the first bishop in the British Isles was St. Aristobulus, a co-worker of the Apostle Paul. One of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury was a Greek monk named St. Theodore of Tarsus, who came from the same city as the Apostle Paul. At the time of the Great Schism, Ecclesia Anglicana had sided with the Eastern Churches rather than Rome, leading to the Norman invasion in 1066. Relations with the East resumed in 1611 when Archbishop George Abbot of Canterbury entered into direct correspondence with the Patriarch of Constantinople. That dialogue has continued for more than 400 years now. The Body of Christ must begin to breathe again with both lungs, Eastern and Western; the reunion of Anglicans with the four ancient Eastern Patriarchates could be a vehicle to bringing that back to reality.
Beginning early in the 17th century we find Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Church-leaders corresponding and building relationships. Patriarch Cyril of Constantinople had many contacts with representatives of the English Church and government. He corresponded with Archbishop George Abbot of Canterbury from 1611 to 1633, and then with his successor Blessed William Laud. He was also a close personal friend with the English Ambassador in Constantinople and with the Anglican embassy chaplain. Archbishop Abbot invited the Ecumenical Patriarch to send Greek students to be educated in England, and in 1617 Patriarch Cyril sent Metrophanes Kritopoulos to study at Oxford and he remained in Great Britain until 1624. Late in the 17th century a Greek College was even established at Oxford that functioned from 1699 to 1705, but closed because of the difficulty of getting Greek students to England.
The Anglican Non-Jurors carried on correspondence with the Eastern Orthodox from 1716 to 1725 seeking corporate reunion. The Non-Jurors described themselves to the Eastern Orthodox as “the remnant of the ancient and once Orthodox Church in Britain.” In 1718 the Orthodox Patriarchs wrote to these “British Katholicks” about the Non-Juror version of the Book of Common Prayer: “When therefore, we have considered it, if it needs correction, we will correct it, and if possible will give it the sanction of a genuine form.” Later the Patriarchs wrote to the Non-jurors saying that in regard to “custom and ecclesiastical order, and for the form and discipline of administering the Sacraments, they will easily be settled when unity is effected. For it is evident from ecclesiastical history that there have been and now are different customs and regulations in different places and Churches, and yet the unity of the Faith and Doctrine is preserved the same.” Eastern Orthodox scholar V. T. Istavridis says of this correspondence, “The question of the validity of Anglican Orders was not mentioned during this correspondence, which means that the Anglican bishops were considered to be canonically ordained” ( Orthodoxy & Anglicanism, by V. T. Istavridis; SPCK; 1966; p. 5 ).
In response to the unity dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and the Non-jurors, Archbishop William Wake of Canterbury wrote to Patriarch Chrysanthos of Jerusalem saying that the Non-Jurors were schismatics and disloyal subjects, and that any correspondence with them should therefore be closed. Patriarch Chrysanthos replied that the Eastern Orthodox were unaware that the Non-jurors were schismatics, and agreed to end discussions with them. In 1725, Archbishop Wake wrote to Chrysanthos saying, “we, the true Bishops and clergy of the Church of England, as, in every fundamental article we profess the same Faith with you, shall not cease, at least in spirit and effect (since otherwise owing to our distance from you, we cannot) to hold communion with you, and to pray for your peace and happiness. And I, as I do profess myself most specially bound to your Holiness, so do I most earnestly entreat you to remember me in your prayers and sacrifices at the Holy Altar of God.”
In 1840, George Tomlinson, a priest of the Church of England and Secretary of SPCK, became bishop of Gibraltar and was sent to the Middle East by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Tomlinson was directed to make it clear to the Eastern Orthodox that the Anglican Church had nothing to do with proselytizing activities among Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Middle East.
In the mid-19th century the Russian Orthodox theologian Alexis Khomiakov became very interested in the return of the West to Orthodoxy. He encouraged an Anglican Deacon, William Palmer (1811-1879), who had visited Russia, to start a movement in England toward Orthodoxy. The famous Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow, said that while Anglicans who embraced Orthodoxy must be in full accord with the rest of Orthodoxy in regard to doctrine, “every rite not implying a direct negation of dogma would be allowed.”
In July 1869 Archbishop Archibald C. Tait of Canterbury wrote Patriarch Gregory VI of Constantinople, expressing his prayers for unity, and asking for the Patriarch to grant permission for Anglicans to be buried by Eastern Orthodox clergy in Eastern Orthodox cemeteries when no Anglican clergy or cemeteries were available. In response, Patriarch Gregory VI declared on September 26, 1869 that Orthodox priests would bury Anglicans who died abroad.
In 1869 and 1870 the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Alexander (Lycurgos) of Syros and Tenos visited England, discouraged proselytism among Anglicans, and said that the Church of England was “a sound Catholic Church, very like our own.” On February 27, 1873, the Patriarchate of Constantinople forbade proselytizing among Anglicans.
The Eastern Churches Committee of the third Lambeth Conference in 1888 stressed that proselytizing of Eastern Orthodox Christians must stop, and that Anglicans should do all in their power to support the Eastern Orthodox in their ecclesiastical and spiritual life. The 17th resolution of that Lambeth Conference declared, “This Conference… desires to express its hope that the barriers to fuller communion may be, in the course of time, removed by further intercourse and extended enlightenment.”
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Kallistos (Timothy Ware) wrote, “This [Anglican] appeal to antiquity has led many Anglicans to look with sympathy and interest at the Orthodox Church, and equally it has led many Orthodox to look with interest and sympathy to Anglicanism. As a result of pioneer work by Anglicans such as William Palmer (1811-1879), J. M. Neale (1818-1868), and W. J. Birkbeck (1859-1916), firm bonds of Anglo-Orthodox solidarity were established by the end of the nineteenth century” (The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware, Penguin, c. 1993, p. 318).
In 1922 the Oecumenical Patriarchate declared Anglican Orders to be valid. Declarations of the validity of Anglican Orders were also made by the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in 1923, Cyprus in 1923, Alexandria in 1930, and Romania in 1936.
In 1925 the Church of England organized jubilee solemnities to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicea (AD 325). Representatives of the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem attended, as did Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). During a Solemn Eucharist in Westminister Abbey, at which the Eastern Orthodox hierarchs were present, the Nicene Creed was read aloud in Greek by Patriarch Photius II of Constantinople. So impressed was he by what he had experienced and seen, that at a special banquet attended by the Anglican and Orthodox hierarchs, Metropolitan Antony of ROCOR said that “if any Anglican Bishop or cleric were to desire to enter the Orthodox Church, then he could be received in the third rank — that is without a second consecration — in other words, in his existing rank.”
These positive and ongoing contacts between representatives of the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches led to three important and official Conferences. Two of these were held in London (1930 and 1931), with the third held in Bucharest in 1935. This last Conference was the high point in Anglican-Eastern Orthodox rapprochement. At the close of the 1935 Conference in Bucharest, the delegates stated, “A solid basis has been prepared whereby full dogmatic agreement may be affirmed between the Orthodox and Anglican Communions.”
With the outbreak of the Second World War there was an unavoidable pause in the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox dialogue; but with the end of the war, dialogue became very difficult to resume. An Iron Curtain had fallen across Europe. The Eastern European Orthodox Churches found themselves behind that curtain, and under ever increasing persecution. The beginning of the Cold War which spread world-wide only made matters worse.
However, nineteen years after the end of the Second World War dialogue between the two Churches resumed. “In 1964 the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference at Rhodes unanimously decided officially to resume dialogue with the Anglican Communion, and this was ratified by all the Orthodox Churches… The Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I described Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s 1962 visit to Constantinople as ‘the beginning of a new spiritual spring that may lead to greater rapprochement and the closer collaboration of all churches.’ During his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I in 1982 Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury referred to that earlier remark and then spoke of the first series of Anglican-Orthodox conversations [in the 1930s] as a ‘spiritual summer’ with the Moscow Agreed Statement [of 1976] as its ‘first fruits’” (Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, c. 1985, pp. 1-2).
Unfortunately, all of that was about to change. “The main part of the 1978 Conference at Moni Pendeli, Athens, was devoted to setting out the Orthodox and Anglican positions on the ordination of women to the Priesthood. In its report the [Eastern] Orthodox members said: ‘We see the ordination of women, not as part of the creative continuity of tradition, but as a violation of apostolic faith and order of the Church… This will have a decisively negative effect on the issue of the recognition of Anglican Orders… By ordaining women Anglicans would sever themselves from continuity in apostolic faith and spiritual life.’ They added: ‘It is obvious that, if the dialogue continues, its character would be drastically changed’… Following the 1978 Lambeth Conference’s Resolution 21 on the ordination of women, the Orthodox Co-Chairman of AOJDD, Archbishop Athenagoras, expressed his view that ‘the theological dialogue will continue, although now simply as an academic and informative exercise, and no longer as an ecclesial endeavor aiming at the union of the two churches’” (ibid, pp. 2-3).
As history demonstrates, the Anglican Church is an historic branch of the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself. As such, the Anglican, or English Church has had a continuous and unbroken existence since the founding of the Church by Christ nearly 2,000 years ago.
This Church has spread world-wide, until today it is the third largest body of Christians in the world after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Missionary work has been so successful that Anglicanism has spread from the British Isles to more than 160 nations, and today there are more black and brown Anglicans than there are white Anglicans simply because there are more Black and Brown people than White people in the world.
However, while God has blessed Anglicanism with dynamism and tremendous growth in the two-thirds world, and has preserved orthodox Anglicanism in the West in hundreds of faithful congregations, He has not preserved the Anglican Communion. Since the 1950s, heretical theology has been placed alongside orthodox theology in a false “openness” – creating cognitive dissonance in the clergy and confusion among the faithful. Tolerance of sexual immorality and rampant divorce – on the part of both clergy and lay – have discredited the moral authority of the Communion. With the beginning of women’s ordination to the presbyterate in the Church of England  almost two decades ago (and now to the episcopate) the slow deterioration of that Church which began in the United States with the cultural revolution of the 1960s has become a race to the bottom.

With the headlong rush of the Church of England into apostasy, the Anglican primates of the conservative Global South, where most Anglicans now live, have been talking about establishing a new center of Anglican unity in the southern hemisphere to replace Canterbury. For many reasons it has been suggested that the new Anglican center of unity be in Kenya, where the current president of the GAFCON Primates Council resides.

Anglicans were part of the undivided Church for more than a thousand years from AD 37, when the Gospel arrived in the British Isles, right through the Great Schism of 1054, when the English Church stood with the four ancient Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem) in resisting the novel claims of the Roman Patriarchal See to jurisdiction over the entire Church. It was not until 1066, that the Anglican Church came under Roman authority, and that was due to the Norman invasion, and was achieved uncanonically by force of arms. The goal of the English Reformation was to restore the Faith and practice of the undivided Church. Yet, somehow, we have forgotten that the undivided Church was — undivided!
Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox have been in dialogue since 1611, that is more than 400 years! As long ago as 1725, Archbishop William Wake of Canterbury could write to the Patriarch of Jerusalem saying: “we, the true Bishops and clergy of the Church of England, as, in every fundamental article we profess the same Faith with you, shall not cease, at least in spirit and effect (since otherwise owing to our distance from you, we cannot) to hold communion with you.” At the close of the 1935 Anglican-Eastern Orthodox Conference in Bucharest, the delegates stated, “A solid basis has been prepared whereby full dogmatic agreement may be affirmed between the Orthodox and Anglican Communions.” As the September 7, 1987 edition of The Christian Challenge magazine reported, “Anglicanism, if it is true to its own positions, is Western Orthodoxy.” There is little preventing corporate reunion today, the wheels of church history move slowly.
For nearly five hundred years Anglicans have been traveling down the path of reform and restoration in an effort to recover the fullness of the Catholic Faith of the undivided Church. This path has led through such men as John Jewel, and Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes and George Herbert, the Caroline Divines, John Keble, E. B. Pusey, the Oxford Movement, and the St. Louis Church Congress.

What is Anglicanism’s future? As Martin Thornton wrote in 1963, Anglicanism is “sane, wise, ancient, modern, sound and simple; with roots in the New Testament and the Fathers, and of noble pedigree; with its golden periods and its full quota of saints and doctors; never obtrusive, seldom in serious error, ever holding its essential place within the glorious diversity of Catholic Christendom” (English Spirituality, p. 14).

Since the re-establishment of orthodox Anglicanism through the Anglican Church in North America, many ecumenical dialogue partners have stated that we are the vehicle forward. The Roman Catholic Church has welcomed our archbishop and ecumenical officers. The Orthodox Church in America sent their Metropolitan to our first provincial assembly to address the Church on the subject of unity. Pope Francis sent personal greetings to Archbishop Foley Beach on his installation as the Primate of our Province. And many protestants (most notably, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) are seeking ways to work toward fellowship in ministry.
We invite you to join us.