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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian


Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Edward's untimely death in 1553 ushered in the reign of his half-sister, Queen Mary I, an ardent Catholic who restored the English Church to Roman headship. Nicknamed "Bloody Mary" for her propensity to execute opponents, she saw to the famous execution of Archbishop Cranmer in 1556.

Mary also died prematurely, in 1558. Her half-sister was crowned Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth became Supreme Governor of the Church of England and swiftly unwound England's Catholicism. The elements of her so-called Settlement of Religion became the lasting foundation of Anglicanism. In 1559 the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer, changed only slightly from Cranmer's 1552 version, became England's official book of liturgy. In 1563 Cranmer's original Forty-two Articles of Religion were revised and reissued as Thirty-nine Articles. Although Protestant in its doctrine, the Settlement included some distinctly traditional (pre-Reformation, or we would say Catholic) aspects. For instance, Church polity retained the hierarchical structure with authority vested in bishops, and a number of traditional forms, such as clerical vestments, were also retained. And the liturgy of Common Prayer retained many elements from the medieval Catholic Mass. Out of the political necessities of a religiously diverse realm, Elizabeth's Settlement was thus neither wholly Protestant nor wholly Catholic.

Nevertheless, in the decades following the Settlement, Protestant beliefs of the Reformed or Calvinist branch predominated in the Church hierarchy. Doctrinally, this meant that God's grace was to be found primarily in Bible-based preaching and God's secret, eternal election of certain individuals to eternal life (the rest having been passed over and "reprobated" to eternal damnation). The true Church was the invisible Church of the elect, and the visible Church was important only for the sake of the edification of the elect. Although this Reformed hegemony, which characterized most of Elizabeth's reign, began to crack in the 1590s, the idea that the English Church was a via media, a middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism, would not take hold until a century later.

Study Questions:
     1.    What does the term Anglican denote?
     2.    What role did King Henry VIII’s marriage play in the formation of Anglicanism?
     3.    How was the Protestant Reformation enacted under Henry VIII? Edward VI?
     4.    How did the Book of Common Prayer evolve over time? Why might this have been the bridge between Protestantism and Catholicism?


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