Church of England

The origins of English Christianity are unknown, but the presence of British bishops at the Council of Arles (314) indicates the existence of an organized church. Following the Roman withdrawal and the Teutonic invasions, Christianity retreated to the Celtic lands, but in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, a Roman mission under Augustine* and a Celtic mission under Aidan* began the reconversion of England. Celtic and Roman Christians disagreed over several minor customs, but the Synod of Whitby (663/4) secured the observance of Roman forms. Theodore of Tarsus,* archbishop of Canterbury (668-90), united and organized the church on a diocesan basis, but though continental monastic reform influences were felt during the tenth century, under Dunstan* the English church was largely isolated from continental ecclesiastical affairs until the Norman invasion of 1066. William I and his archbishop, Lanfranc,* brought the church into line with the main features of the Hildebrandine reform, though William himself managed to avoid a complete subservience to the papacy. The Investiture Controversy* had repercussions in England in the conflict between Anselm* and first William II and then Henry I; the church-state struggle for supremacy produced its most dramatic example in England with the quarrel between Henry II and Thomas Becket* over the trial of criminous clerks, resulting in Becket's martyrdom and consequent victory. The triumph of papalism was clearly seen in King John's recognition of the kingdom as a papal fief in 1213, after the lifting of the papal interdict, and during the thirteenth century the extension of canon law gave the papacy wide influence in England. However, distance from Rome, the conflict between England and France (which in the fourteenth century controlled the papacy), and also papal decline made English submission more nominal than real in the later Middle Ages.


The post-Restoration church had its High and Low wings, the High Churchmen maintaining Laudian emphases, and Low Churchmen (or Latitudinarians), inspired by the Cambridge Platonists,* stressing the place of reason in religion. Like most Protestant denominations, the Anglican Church was affected by Deism* in the eighteenth century, but the key movement of this period was the Evangelical Revival (see Revivalism), with its emphasis on justification by faith, personal conversion, and the Bible. Though the Wesleys and Whitefield increasingly worked outside the Anglican system, a sizable Evangelical party emerged in the church, valuing the Prayer Book and the parish system, gaining its leadership from laymen such as William Wilberforce and the members of the Clapham Sect.* Eighteenth-century Anglicanism also produced important philosophers in George Berkeley* and William Paley.*

The early nineteenth century with its movements for Catholic Emancipation, the removal of Nonconformist disabilities, utilitarian reform of the church, and parliamentary reorganization of the Irish Church, saw the position of the Establishment threatened. A financial, administrative, and diocesan reform of the church, bringing it into line with a modern world, was undertaken by Parliament and the newly created Ecclesiastical Commissioners, under Bishop Blomfield, but spirituality was revived by the Oxford Movement,* led by J.H. Newman,* John Keble,* and E.B. Pusey,* with an emphasis on the church, apostolic succession, sacramental grace, and ascetic holiness. By many the movement was seen as a Romanizing tendency, a suspicion which seemed to be confirmed by the secession of Newman and others to Rome in 1845; but the majority in the movement were loyal in their Anglicanism and weathered persecution within the church, though until the mid-twentieth century party conflict has been rife.

In 1854 the convocations of the clergy were revived, thereby giving the church a forum for debate. But though laymen began to be more involved in church affairs in the later part of the nineteenth century, it was not until the passing of the Enabling Act (1919) and the creation of the church assembly* and parish church councils that laymen gained an official place in church government; and not until the introduction of synodical government in 1970 have clergy and laity achieved an equal footing in the councils of the church.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, due to the activity of the Christian Socialists,* the church has become increasingly aware of its social responsibilities, and a number of Anglicans, particularly Archbishop William Temple,* have played a prominent role in this sphere.

Having both Catholic and Protestant features, the Anglican Church has had an important function within the ecumenical movement, but to date her attempts at union negotiations with other churches have not achieved success. Like other denominations, the Anglican Church has been affected by the Liturgical Movement,* and despite the abortive attempt to revise the Prayer Book in 1928, liturgical reform has gone ahead since 1965, by the use of alternative services for experimental periods. Theologically, neo-biblicalism dominated the church from the thirties until the early sixties, but radicalism has had a growing influence since, as has conservative evangelicalism, which has grown numerically since World War II.

H. Gee and W. Hardy, Documents Illustrative of English Church History (1896); W.R.W. Stephens and W. Hunt, A History of the English Church (9 vols., 1899-1910); J.R.H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England, (3rd ed., 1973).