How would you define Anglicanism?

How would you define Anglicanism? September 7, 2020

How would you define Anglicanism?

There used to be a game show called “Name that Tune,” in which contestants competed to name tunes in as few notes as possible. One contestant would say, “I can name that tune in ten notes,” and the other might respond, “I can name it in eight.” The two contestants would bid lower and lower until one dared the other, saying: “Name that tune!”

I will now attempt to define Anglicanism not in ten words or five words or even three words. I can define Anglicanism in two words! (Drum roll please.)

Here goes: “Reformed Catholicism.”

There are, of course, two parts to this definition: “Reformed” and “Catholicism” or “Catholic,” and the two words stand in a distinct relation to each other. “Reformed” is the adjective which modifies the noun “Catholicism.” This is an important point to grasp.

The fact that the “Catholic” part of Anglicanism is the noun means that it is the thing that is being reformed.  In this sense, although Anglicanism is also Protestant, it is essentially a Catholic Christian tradition. And yet it’s not only Catholic because in the Western Church it became necessary to reform some of the abuses and errors of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

Anglicanism has characteristics of catholicity which bear a certain similarity and relationship to the catholicity of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. But it also has characteristics of being Reformed which bear a certain similarity and relationship to the churches that proceeded from the Continental Reformation, such as Calvin’s Geneva or Luther’s Germany.

Anglicanism is sometimes called the via media, or middle way. In its simplest sense, Anglicanism is seen as the via media[1] between Protestantism (especially more radical forms of it) and Roman Catholicism. Just which of these two Anglicanism is actually closer to is a complex subject. But it is true that in some ways Anglicanism looks more like Protestant churches and in some ways it looks more like Roman Catholicism.

So, how would you define Anglicanism? In a future post, I’ll give you my extended one-sentence definition

If you want to know my most complete answer, you can buy my Orthodox Anglican Identity: The Quest for Unity in a Diverse Religious Tradition on Amazon here:


[1] I’m aware that the concept of the Anglican via media has a few other associations as well.

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