Anglicanism: Definition, History & Beliefs

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Christian religious doctrine derived from Catholicism, which began in England during the 16th century.

Definition of Anglicanism

Anglicanism is a Christian religious doctrine derived from Catholicism, which began in England during the 16th century. Its founder was King Henry VIII (1509 – 1547), who, in the context of the Protestant Reformation, separated England from the authority of the Roman Church, for political and personal reasons.

Today this religion is known as the “Anglican Communion” and recognizes the Archbishop of Canterbury as its spiritual leader. It gathers about 90 million faithful, most of them in Great Britain and the rest in countries that were British colonies, such as Canada, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand.

Despite its differences with Catholicism, it has more similarities to the Roman Church than other Protestant strains, such as Lutheranism and Calvinism .

Portrait of King Henry VIII

Portrait of King Henry VIII, promoter of Anglicanism. Oil painting by the German artist Hans Holbein, the Younger.

Origin of Anglicanism

In 1517, the German monk and theologian Martin Luther criticized various practices of the Catholic Church, including the sale of indulgences and the accumulation of material goods. His preaching in favor of a return to the values ​​of early Christianity and against the authority of the Pope gave rise to Protestantism, a religious movement that soon spread throughout much of northern Europe.

In this context, King Henry VIII asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, with whom he had not been able to have a male heir. As the Pope refused, in 1534, Henry VIII sanctioned the Act of Supremacy, by which he proclaimed himself the highest authority of the Church of England.

In this way, he caused a break with the Catholic Church, after which he divorced and married Ana Bolena.

This disruptive attitude of Henry VIII was supported by his Secretary of State, Thomas Cromwell, and by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Instead, it was rejected by the humanist – Tomas Moro, who refused to accept the Act of Supremacy, for which he was sentenced to death.

During the reign of Henry VIII, Cromwell and Cranmer established the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of Anglicanism and in 1539, they promoted the dissolution of the Catholic abbeys  and Monasteries, confiscating all their property.

Despite the break with Rome, Henry VIII rejected the most radical claims of Lutheranism. For that reason, Anglicanism is considered a form of Christianity intermediate between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Anglicanism was in danger of disappearing during the reign of María I (1553-1558), daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The queen tried to re-establish Catholicism and had Thomas Cranmer burned at the stake.

The premature death of María brought her half-sister Elizabeth I (1558-1603), daughter of Enrique VIII and Ana Bolena, to power. Isabel, faithful heir of her father, broke relations with Rome and consolidated Anglicanism as the official religion of England.

During his reign, Parliament passed a religious agreement that defined Anglicanism as a church that was both Catholic and Reformed, with the English monarch as supreme head.

Difference Between Anglicanism and Catholicism

The main differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism are as follows:

  • In Anglicanism, there is no priestly celibacy, while in Catholicism, it is mandatory for all its members. Anglican pastors are allowed to marry and have children.
  • The more liberal Anglicanism accepts the female priesthood, while in Catholicism it is prohibited.
  • Part of the Anglican community accepts gay marriage, which is not accepted by Catholics.
  • In addition to the Bible, the doctrinal bases of Anglicanism are the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, where Anglican beliefs and doctrines are specified. The Bible can be freely interpreted by individual reason.
  • The Anglican Church only recognizes two of the seven sacraments accepted by Catholicism, Baptism and the Eucharist.
  • As in Lutheranism, Anglicans are in favor of justification through faith. This means that to access salvation all you need is to believe in God and repent of all your sins.
  • The leader of the Anglican Church is the Archbishop of Canterbury, so the authority of the Pope, spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, is unknown.

photograph of the nave of Canterbury Cathedral

View of the interior of the central nave of Canterbury Cathedral, in English Gothic style. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Church.

Anglican Church Divisions

The Anglican Church is divided into three branches, which differ in their perspective on some biblical doctrines. These branches are as follows:

  • Conservatives or Anglo Catholics: They accept the seven Catholic sacraments, as well as the veneration of the images of the saints.
  • Evangelicals: they are the majority sector and those who hold the most reformed perspective within Anglicanism, approaching Calvinism. Its members emphasize the Protestant character of their religion. From this branch was born the Episcopal Church of the United States.
  • Liberals: these are groups that have carried out the latest reforms in the precepts of Anglicanism, since they are in favor of the feminine ministry and also approve the marriage of homosexual couples.
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