• Anglicanism is a modern term, only in common usage from the 19th century: beforehand the term Church of England was used to refer to the English Church established from Rome by Augustine of Canterbury in 597, through the 16th century which saw Reformation upheaval (a split from Rome in 1534, followed by re-entering communion with Rome in 1554, followed by a definitive split in 1559) and into the modern day. Using a term other than Church of England became necessary when the Church of England spread across the globe in pulses of missionary zeal begun intially by British emigration to North America and Australia, but continued in an Anglican holy war against slavery in Africa after that abhorrent practice had been abolished under Anglican and Quaker influence in the British Empire in 1833. The relationship of communion between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the USA was defined and agreed in 1840, and by 1867 it was possible and plausible for Charles Longley, archbishop of Canterbury, to convene the Anglican bishops from the worldwide provinces for a meeting known as the Lambeth Conference (which will next take place in 2020).

    What makes Anglicanism distinctive is not its worldwide spread or its creeds. It is easily bested in geographical reach by the Roman Catholic Church, whose 1 billion adherents dwarf Anglicanism's 90 million. Anglicans are adamant that their faith is a form of Western Christianity which is entirely consonant with their big sisters in Catholic Rome and Orthodox Constantinople. All three communions hold the Bible in special authority, together with the quintessential doctrinal conclusions reached in the first 4 ecumenical councils of the universal church in Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). All three communions hold to the apostolic tradition of seeing the priesthood of all the baptized as served by ordained ministers in the three orders of deacons, priests and bishops. All three communions have a deep and extensive tradition of theological reflection and learning, coupled with practical, ethical action in society. All three communions have a developed sacramental tradition whereby Jesus Christ, as the supreme and true sign to humankind of God's salvation, is the single and supreme sacrament, seen in and through the sacraments he himself instituted (baptism and holy communion) as well as through the church's sacraments (confession, confirmation, ordination, marriage, anointing). In all this, Anglicanism sees itself as catholic more than protestant, and the current in vogue phrase "reformed catholic" is very popular among Anglicans to describe themselves.

    Anglican doctrine, defined by the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, is catholic; the Anglican temperament, as part and parcel of the Reformation movement of the 16th century, is protestant; Anglican ethnicity has in previous centuries been Anglo-Saxon and Celtic, but is overwhelmingly not so today, with the average Anglican being under 30, black, from sub-Saharan Africa and not English-speaking by birth. Anglican liturgical experience can be as catholic as a tridentine mass, as evangelical as a Billy Graham rally, pentecostally charismatic, quakerly silent, learned preaching, contemplative meditation led by monks and nuns, and much else besides, with all these expressions being seen as ways of opening heart, mind and soul to God as he shows himself to us in Jesus Christ through the Spirit, and of participating in the mutual conversation of love of the Trinity.

    So we are still left with the question of what makes Anglican Christianity distinctive, and to this there is no definitive answer. Different Anglicans will offer different explanations with equal sincerity. My own answer, the fruit of a decade of dialogue with European non-Anglican Christians, is that Anglicanism has a particular style of thinking exemplified by the obscure 16th century country vicar Richard Hooker, who described the root authority of the Church of England as subsisting in "Scripture, reason and the voice of the church" - the famous threefold cord of Scripture, tradition and reason. Other churches have equal respect for the Bible, for the catholic tradition and for the exercise of the reason which God gives us. But in Anglicanism, this attention to Scripture-tradition-reason has become part of our church DNA.

Quick Facts

- Anglicanism is a form of Christianity which believes in the Trinity, that God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God's supreme revelation to humankind ("the Word") is Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, who was born, lived, died and rose again to reveal and offer to all people God's love and salvation. God's Spirit lives with us today, to guide, counsel, inspire and show us the right.
- Christianity was represented in the British Isles in Celtic and Catholic forms from the 2nd century and certainly from the 3rd century. Anglicans tend to date the beginning of the Church of England (in Latin, Ecclesia Anglicana) from the mission of Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, to Kent in 597, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to evangelise the English.
- King Henry VIII removed the Church of England from communion with the Church of Rome in 1534, assuming the grandiose title of "supreme head of the Church of England, called Ecclesia Anglicana". His daughter Queen Mary I restored full communion with Rome in 1554, abandoning her initial use of that grand title. His other daughter Queen Elizabeth I removed the Church of England definitively from communion with Rome in 1559, assuming the modified title "supreme governor of the Church of England" which her successor Queen Elizabeth II still bears today.
- The Anglican Communion is a worldwide family of 39 independent national churches and, with 90 million adherents, is the third largest Christian denomination today, after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The five largest Anglican provinces are the Church of Nigeria, the Church of Uganda, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Kenya and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
- For more information, see:

Mark Chapman, Anglicanism, a Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2006)

Why do people become Anglicans?

Here are two brief quotes from people recently confirmed in a chaplaincy in the Diocese in Europe: both are in their 20s and neither is British.

"I was drawn to the Anglican way as an adult, through her liturgy, poetry, and music. The first service of Holy Communion that I attended was a transcendent experience, and afterwards the priest greeted me with the words, “If there is anything we can do to help you in your walk with Christ, we’re here.” That open, generous offer remained with me. I began reading about Anglican theology and found the breadth and variety astounding. Surely a church which could hold such diverse Christian people with their diverse opinions in communion was a church that reflected the kingdom of God. With that conviction, I was confirmed in 2016."

"I find the rich tradition and robust ecumenism of the Anglican Church to be among her most compelling attributes. It is inspiring to worship Christ in the company of a global communion of saints. The Anglican emphasis on reason enables me to interact theologically with new and invigorating concepts which in turn help me to worship God with 'all my mind'. I’ve found a way to be a Christian and to bring my intellect and questions with me into church. Faith that seeks understanding can embrace those questions and not shudder. These are all reasons why I was confirmed in the Anglican Communion."

Anglicanism in Europe

The Church of England was present in Continental Europe from before the Reformation and in its earliest phases. The Bible translator William Tyndale was strangled and burned at Vilvoorde in Belgium in 1536 – Henry VIII had earlier asked Charles V to extradite him to England to answer charges of sedition for opposing his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but Charles in the end tried and executed him for heresy. During the reign of Mary I, Anglican bishops sought refuge in Protestant European countries, and the unique theological blend of Erasmus and Calvin which characterises Anglicanism emerged in this period. Embassy and merchant factory chapels from Hamburg to Istanbul were established in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, and Charles I put all Anglican chaplaincies in Europe under the jurisdiction of the bishop of London in 1633. After the British victory at Waterloo in 1815, and the increase in general peace and stablity on the continent, Anglican chaplaincies grew in number and size: in the three years after Waterloo, chaplaincies were established in Brussels, Boulogne, Rome, Tours, Lausanne and Florence. Questions were quickly raised about the payment of Anglican chaplains, since the Consular Advances Act of 1825, which allowed for British consulates to budget and pay for a chaplain, was not universally followed, and the act was repealed anyway in 1873. The Kingdom of Belgium developed a unique system of paying for its own Anglican chaplains in a structure independent from the diocese of London. By 1845, just after the creation of the diocese of Gibraltar in 1842, the British churches in Gibraltar and Malta were joined by 25 permanent chaplaincies in France, 18 in Germany, 11 in Italy, 9 in Belgium, 7 in Russia, 4 in Switzerland, 3 in the Netherlands, and 2 each in Greece, Portugal and Turkey. The bishop of Gibraltar had responsibility for the Mediterranean basin, but chaplaincies north of the Alps or the French Mediterranean coast remained under the jurisdiction of the bishop of London, as did Madeira and the Canaries. Meanwhile the American Episcopalians founded their own chaplaincies in Paris (before 1864), Rome (1859) and subsequently in Florence, Geneva, Dresden and Munich. One of the bases for the founding of chaplaincies and for the new diocese of Gibraltar was an optimistic ecumenism, with strenuous efforts being made not to appear to proselytise among Catholics or Orthodox as well as to begin informal talks with those churches. Hopes for ecumenical progress with Rome were dashed by the conclusions of Vatican I in 1870 and especially by Leo XIII's rejection of the validity of Anglican ministerial orders in 1896. But Anglicans did established full communion with the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht in 1931, and the general atmosphere of ecumenical cooperation with Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants has been utterly transformed since Vatican II and its Orthodox and Protestant analogues. The Church of England now enjoys full communion with Scandinavian and Baltic Lutherans (since 1996) and the warmest partial communion with German and French Lutherans and Reformed (since 1988 and 2000). Organisationally, the new diocese in Europe was created in 1980, combining the diocese of Gibraltar in the south with the chaplaincies in the north under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Fulham on behalf of the bishop of London. The cathedral remains in Gibraltar, with pro-cathedrals in Malta and Brussels. The diocesan office is in London, but the bishop of Gibraltar in Europe lives and works in Brussels.

Quick facts

  • The diocese in Europe is the largest diocese by area in the entire Anglican Communion. In terms of its chaplaincies, it stretches from Madeira to Moscow, from Tromsö to Casablanca.
  • There are 280 chaplaincies and places of worship served by 170 clergy and 100 lay readers.
  • Chaplaincies created recently include Leuven, Camino de Santiago and Kortrijk.
  • We have 2 bishops, Robert Innes (based in Brussels) and David Hamid (based in London).

Jack McDonald

canon theologian in Brussels

May 2018