Fr. Van McCalister
We hear questions like: Are you Catholic? Do you have a pope? Are you Protestant? Weren’t you founded by King Henry the VIIIth? (That’s embarrassing!)
Unfortunately, we have accepted some misleading labels that get us off to a bad start. So, let’s get our identity back!
Are Anglicans Catholic? Yes, we are. But we are not Roman Catholic. Our bishops have been consecrated within the unbroken line of apostolic succession from the apostles to the present, along with the bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore our identity as a Catholic Church is as legitimate as that of the Roman Catholic Church. For Anglicans, being Catholic means being faithful to the catholicity of the Early Church before the denominational divisions, and the medieval corruptions born out of political interests.
Do Anglicans have a pope? No. The early undivided Catholic Church made decisions through councils where bishops and others met to seek God’s direction over matters of faith, through prayer and debate. For example, the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon, which have defined Trinitarian doctrine and the nature of Christ for nearly 1700 years, were the products of Church Councils. During those early centuries the Bishop of Rome was known as “the first among equals” – certainly someone who deserved much respect, but still only a bishop among fellow bishops. Prior to the Great Schism of 1054, the Emperor called the early Ecumenical Councils together and presided over them. The Emperor sought the advice of the Bishop of Rome, who in turn presided over lesser councils and synods to resolve theological and ecclesiastical issues. It is noteworthy that the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) did not have broad unilateral authority during the early centuries of the Church. Anglicanism follows a similar pattern, where an archbishop will preside over councils, but he is still simply a bishop among a college of bishops. The archbishop’s authority allows him to call the College of Bishops together, to introduce an agenda, and to preside over the meetings, but he does not have unilateral authority to introduce or revise matters of Faith and Doctrine.
Are Anglicans Protestant? Not really. Anglicans were among those who protested the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation Movement of the 1500s and later. However, none of the Christian denominations are now what they were in the 1500s. So, the label “Protestant” is not very helpful. Since then, “Protestant” has come to mean “churches that are not Catholic” because few Christian denominations are still protesting the Roman Catholic Church. So, if by “Protestant” one means “not Catholic” then Anglicans are not really Protestants. At least, certainly not in the way other denominations are Protestant. The difference between Anglicans and Protestants is most apparent by the fact that Anglicans were the only group of protesting Christians within the Reformation Movement who maintained the ancient Catholic Liturgy and continued the ministration of the seven Sacraments. As you can imagine, the “Protestant” label and the “Catholic” label carry a variety of implications depending on the context.
Weren’t Anglicans founded by Henry the VIII? No. The Church was founded by Christ on Pentecost. During the Reformation Movement, a number of people risked their lives and gave up their lives to reform the Church in England during those tumultuous years. Henry the VIII simply provided an opportunity to carry out those reforms. To diminish the sacrifice of those English martyrs by attributing their faith to the political whims of King Henry is a travesty. The fact that Anglicanism has no such visible founder as Luther, Calvin or Knox is a testimony to the desire of the Anglican reformers to restore the doctrine and practices of the Early Church in England. This is why you will find no Anglican Creed. Our only Doctrine is Holy Scripture. Our only Creeds are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Finally, the most important aspect of our identity is that we are followers of Jesus.
“In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . .” Saint Peter