History of the Anglican Communion

Putting your finger on the historic source of Anglicanism is not as easy as some would lead you to believe. Although some would attempt to convince you otherwise, Anglicanism is probably not a form of Christianity that rose up in the British Isles independent of the wider church nor is it the result of a King Henry VIII’s drive for independence from Rome.

A long history of Benedictine Monasticism in the isles, however, instilled an ethos within the Christian practice. This ethos instilled values like moderation and balance, scholarship, hospitality, and an emphasis on practice that can all be traced to the Rule of St. Benedict.

As the Church of England, during Henry VIII’s reign, sought to separate itself from Rome for political independence as well as Henry’s desire for a male heir, it was the scholarship of the day that provided a reasoned and learned approach for this seperation. The legacy of the reformation in England may not be so much the values Luther or Calvin, but instead an intellectual approach rooted in the likes of Erasmus.

In the wake of the English Reformation, following Henry VIII’s reign, the church struggled to establish a peace between dissenters and establishment. The Elizabethan settlement is often heralded as the middle way that would remain in place to this day. But the truth is that the settlement was hardly ever settled. The result was a pendulum swing that would bring about the Cromwellian Republic, and then a swing back with the reestablishment of the monarch. At the time of the reestablishment, laws were enacted that prevented dissenting ministers from practicing their ministry. While the desire was to eliminate dissent, the result of which was to establish dissent deeply in the life of the nation. The profound effects of the loss of scholarship and heart-felt ministry to the Church of England cannot be enumerated here. Perhaps the Anglican take away is a greater awareness of the loss to the church during these attempts to squelch dissent. Ultimately, today it makes us less reactionary in times of disagreement within our churches or within the wider communion.

Anglicanism could not be complete without understanding its worldwide presence. Where the British empire went so went the church. This relationship, however, was not uni-directional, but fed the church with new ways of seeing and thinking as it reached out to new contexts. The church usually responded openly, although sometimes slowly, to its own self-understanding in order to meet the needs of the world.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive exploration of Anglicanism, perhaps it begins to show you that to be Anglican is to be deeply rooted in history and experience. To be Anglican means we subscribe to a worldwide, patient, and open understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It means that we rely on the miracle and richness of individuals and causes that rise among us and not on the laws and rules that seek to protect us. It means the we understand ourselves as both catholic and reformed.

For a fuller explanation, we recommend starting here.