The beginnings of the Church of England date at least to the 2d century, when merchants and other travelers first brought Christianity to Britain. It is customary to regard St. Augustine of Canterbury's mission in 597 as marking the formal beginning of the church under papal authority, as it was to be throughout the Middle Ages. In its modern form the church dates from the English Reformation of the 16th century, when royal supremacy was established and the authority of the papacy repudiated. With the advent of British colonization the Church of England established churches on every continent and achieved international importance. In time these churches gained independence but retained connections with the mother church in the Anglican Communion.
The Church of England is identified by adherence to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons and by a common order of worship found in the Book of Common Prayer. The church is also characterized by a common attitude of loyalty to Christian tradition, while seeking to accommodate a wide range of people and views. It holds in tension the authorities of tradition, reason, and the Bible but asserts the primacy of the Bible. It thus seeks to comprehend Catholic, humanist, and reformed elements, historically represented by Anglo-Catholics (high church), Liberals (broad church), and Evangelicals (low church).
The established status of the Church of England means that all episcopal appointments are made by the crown and all revisions of the liturgy must be approved by Parliament. In modern times, however, Parliament has been composed of non-Anglicans as well as Anglicans, and this places the church in an awkward position. This has resulted in efforts, such as those represented by the Oxford movement, to maintain the church's integrity by separating it from the state. On the other hand, it has also spurred efforts to comprehend other Christians in the national church. The Church of England has been active in the ecumenical movement.
During the 1970s and '80s the Church of England was sharply divided over the issue of permitting women to be ordained to the priesthood. In November 1992, after a bitter debate, the church's governing bodies narrowly approved a measure authorizing the ordination of women.
John E. Booty
Bibliography: Foster, Andrew, The Church of England, 1570 1640 (1995); Gibson, William, The Achievement of the Anglican Church, 16891800 (1995); Hannaford, Robert, ed., The Future of Anglicanism: Essays on Faith and Order (1997); McAdoo, Henry R., Anglican Heritage (1994); Moorman, J. R. H., A History of the Church in England, 3d rev. ed. (1973); Rowell, Geoffrey, ed., English Religious Traditions and the Genius of Anglicanism (1994); Walsh, John, et al., eds., The Church of England, 16891833 (1993); Welsby, Paul, The History of the Church of England, 194580 (1984).