The History of the Anglican Communion


There are some 70,000,000 members of the Anglican Communion in 35 self-governing Churches or Provinces in more than 160 countries. The Anglican Church has developed from its roots in the Church of England in two stages.

The first stage began in the 17th century as a result of colonization. Anglican Churches were established in countries such as the USA, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The second stage began in the late 18th century.

During that era Anglican Churches were established world-wide due to an explosion of missionary activity. In some instances the two overlapped. Today the Communion is still expanding at a rapid rate, particularly in Africa and South America.

Anglican Churches uphold and proclaim the historic Catholic and Apostolic faith, based on the scriptures and interpreted in the light of tradition, scholarship and reason. Following the teaching of Jesus Christ, Anglican Churches are committed to the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel to the whole of creation.

A comprehensiveness is found within the Anglican Communion; its principles have reflected from the time of Queen Elizabeth I n 'via media' in relation to other Christian traditions. Thus it has become a 'focus' for ecumenism. In the quest for Christian unity the Anglican Church has sought to be true to the essentials of its Catholic and Apostolic heritage and thus in 1888 stated four principles which were to be inherent in any plan for union with other churches.

The document, known as the 'Chicago - Lambeth Quadrilateral', affirms the following elements as those basic to faith and order in a united church:

· The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed word of God;

· The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith;

· The two sacraments ~ Baptism and the Eucharist ~ ministered with unfailing words' and elements used by Christ;

· The historic Episcopate.

Central to worship for Anglicans is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (also called the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, the Mass). In this offering of prayer and praise the person, life, death and resurrection of Christ are made real to the worshiper by way of proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Sacrament. Though worship is at the heart of Anglicanism, this worship will be found to range in styles in different places. Although Baptism and the Eucharist are the two key elements in Anglican sacramental practice, the five other sacramental rites common to Catholic practice are employed.

The Churches of the Anglican Communion are linked by history, affection, and a common loyalty. They are all in full communion with the See of Canterbury and thus the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his person, is a unique focus of Anglican unity. However, he does not have authority in and over other Anglican Churches - he is seen more as 'the first among equals' in his relationships with other Archbishops and heads of Provinces. The present and 103rd Archbishop, in the succession of S. Augustine, is His Grace, the Most Reverend and Right Honorable George L. Carey enthroned in April 1991.

As mentioned earlier, the international Anglican Communion had its roots in the English Church founded by the mission of S. Augustine in AD 597. He was declared Archbishop of Canterbury in 604 AU. Christianity though had reached Britain much earlier than this: there is evidence going back to the third century, and in the fourth century English bishops are recorded as having attended various synods in Europe. The mission of S. Augustine had the effect though of firmly linking the Church in Britain with western Christianity.

Historically, over many centuries the British Church, in common with other European Churches, had problems with the political presumptions of the Roman papacy, which led eventually to a papal bull being issued in the 12th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. This had the effect of excommunicating the Queen and anyone who supported her. Elizabeth though had already taken care to ensure the continuation of Catholic order in the English Church. In the preceding reigns the English Church had been purged of the corruptions current in the Roman Church of the time.

Much of the influence for this came from the Continental reformers. Some of this reforming zeal went too far and the balance was not really restored until the 19th century influences of the Tractarians and the Anglo-Catholic revival took effect. King Henry VIII had a pivotal role in the events of his day because of his desire for an heir and his need for money. The latter drive led to the dissolution of the monasteries. But to say, as some Roman Catholics in the past did, that Henry founded the Church of England just cannot stand the test of history. The English Church, as an institution, was founded by S. Augustine of Canterbury.

The Church of England today is the Established Church of the land with the Queen as its nominal temporal head bearing the title 'Defender of the Faith' . In no sense is the Queen the spiritual head of the Church. No other Anglican Church is in this position. In England today these links with the Crown are gradually being weakened and the laws governing the Church/State relations are being rationalized and modernized.

 Copyright @Simon Harding and Rev'd CanonDenis Moss - 2005