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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian


Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII in 1533, and played an important part in Henry's drive to end England's subjection to the papacy.  He remained archbishop throughout the reign of King Edward VI, but upon the accession of Mary Tudor in 1553 he began his sputtering drive toward martyrdom.  Sentenced for treason and heresy, he recanted his views, and then reversed his decision, a number of times, before finally renouncing his recantations.  He was burned at the stake in Oxford in 1556.

Cranmer gave Anglicanism the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the Church's official service book and perhaps its single most defining feature.  Cranmer's second major contribution was a statement of the beliefs of the English Church, originally written as the Forty-two Articles of Religion.  It was Reformed in emphasis, but also brief and at points ambiguous enough to be open to varying interpretations.  These were adopted after the time of Queen Mary's reign, but revised and reduced in number to thirty-nine by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563.  She is the third and final of the chief contributors to Anglicanism.

Elizabeth was born to Anne Boleyn in 1533.  Crowned in 1558 upon the death of her Catholic half-sister Mary, her 45-year reign is commonly thought to have been one of England's most successful monarchs.  She is also considered by many to have been a great champion of Protestantism, although her personal writings reveal that her own views may have been somewhat more complex.

The Queen's contribution to Anglicanism was her 1559 Settlement of Religion.  The Settlement may be seen as looking back to the Reformed Protestant flavor of her half-brother Edward's reign, with a slightly more traditionalist, pre-Reformation bent.  Thus, Church polity retained a hierarchical structure with authority vested in bishops, as well as a number of traditional forms such as clerical vestments.  Cranmer's 1552 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was also adopted, with minor, traditionalist adjustments.  And the Thirty-nine Articles of 1563 largely retained Cranmer's Reformed faith, and also his brevity and ambiguity.  Elizabeth wanted a Church in which as many of her people as possible could feel comfortable, both ceremonially and doctrinally.  Her Settlement determined the shape of what would eventually become Anglicanism.

Many other individuals contributed importantly to the development of Anglicanism.  Richard Hooker, John Overall, Lancelot Andrewes, and William Laud, with their more sacrament-centered spirituality that so influenced later Anglicanism, are certainly deserving of mention.  Representing a more Reformed churchmanship, figures such as John Jewell, William Perkins, Joseph Hall, and Thomas Morton may be less conventionally associated with Anglicanism, yet were vital to its evolution.  Still, the contributions of these eight and others like them were of a lesser magnitude.  Without Henry's break from Rome and sanction of the English Bible, Cranmer's BCP and Articles of Religion, and Elizabeth's Settlement, Anglicanism as it has come to be known simply would not have existed.

Study Questions:
     1.    Describe the relationship between royalty and Anglicanism’s origins.
     2.    What were Henry’s two major contributions to Anglicanism?
     3.    Who was Thomas Crammer? What did he give to Anglicanism?
     4.    What happened in the 1559 Settlement of Religion?


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