The name "Anglican" means "of England", but
the Anglican church exists worldwide. It began in the sixth century
in England, when Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine to Britain
to bring a more disciplined Apostolic succession to the Celtic Christians.
The Anglican Church evolved as part of the Roman church, but the
Celtic influence was folded back into the Roman portion of the church
in many ways, perhaps most notably by Charlemagne's tutor Aidan.
The Anglican church was spread worldwide first by English colonization
and then by English-speaking missionaries.
The Anglican church, although it has apostolic succession, is separate
from the Roman church. The history of Christianity has produced numerous
notable separations. In 1054 came the first major split from Roman
administration of the church, when the Eastern Orthodox church and
the Roman split apart.
The conflict of authority in England between church and state certainly
dates back to the arrival of Augustine, and has simmered for many
centuries. The murder of Thomas
a Becket was one of the more famous episodes of this conflict.
The Magna Carta, signed
by King John in 1215, contains 63 points; the very
first point is a declaration that the English church is independent
of its government..
Discontent with Roman administration
of the church.
The beginning of the sixteenth century showed significant discontent
with the Roman church. Martin
Luther's famous 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the church
in Wittenburg in 1517, and news of this challenge had certainly reached
England when, 20 years later, the Anglican branch of the church formally
challenged the authority of Rome. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries
and abbeys in 1536.
There is a public perception, especially in the United States, that
Henry VIII created the Anglican church in anger over the Pope's refusal
to grant his divorce, but the historical record indicates that Henry
spent most of his reign challenging the authority of Rome, and that
the divorce issue was just one of a series of acts that collectively
split the English church from the Roman church in much the same way
that the Orthodox church had split off five hundred years before.
Defining the new church.
The newly-separated Anglican church was given some formal structure
in 1562 during the reign of Elizabeth I. That structure is not a
management process or governing organization. What binds us together
is not common administration but shared tradition and shared belief.
Our belief is written down in the Holy Bible and the Articles of
Religion; our tradition is in part embodied in our Book of Common
Prayer. The first Book of Common Prayer was produced in 1549. In
it the Latin liturgy was radically simplified and translated into
English, and for the first time a single 'use' was enforced throughout
England. It has been revised numerous times since then, the most
significant revision being the first, in 1552. All revisions since
then, before the modern era, were very conservative revisions. The 1662
English Book of Common Prayer forms the historical basis for
most Anglican liturgy around the world. While several countries have
their own prayer books, all borrow heavily from the English tradition
rooted in Cranmer's original work.
Church history has been an important part of the cultural history
of every nation, and through the centuries thousands of books have
been written about it. Every library and every encyclopedia will
cover it to some degree. An informative online starting point for
learning more about the history of the Anglican Church is The
Anglican Timeline, produced by the American physician Ed Friedlander,
MD. It lists several hundred notable events in the history of the
Anglican church, with large numbers of links to reference materials
and primary sources.