Religion Wiki
Part of a series on the
Anglican Communion
Canterbury Cathedral - Portal Nave Cross-spire.jpeg

Archbishop of Canterbury
Rowan Williams
Primates' Meeting
Lambeth Conferences
Anglican Consultative Council
Bishops, Dioceses, and
Episcopal polity


Christianity  • Christian Church
Anglicanism  • History
Jesus Christ  • St Paul
Catholicity and Catholicism
Apostolic Succession
Ministry •Ecumenical councils
Augustine of Canterbury  • Bede
Medieval Architecture
Henry VIII  • Reformation
Thomas Cranmer
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Church of England
Edward VI  • Elizabeth I
Matthew Parker
Richard Hooker  • James I
King James Version • Charles I
William Laud  • Nonjuring schism
Ordination of women
Homosexuality •Windsor Report


Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
Theology  • Doctrine
Thirty-Nine Articles
Caroline Divines
Oxford Movement
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
Sacraments  • Mary  • Saints

Liturgy and Worship

Book of Common Prayer
Morning and Evening Prayer
Eucharist  • Liturgical Year
Biblical Canon
Books of Homilies
High Church  • Low Church
Broad Church

Anglican Topics

Ecumenism  • Monasticism
Prayer  • Music  • Art

Flag of Anglican Communion.svg.png

The terms Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Catholicism describe people, groups, ideas, customs and practices within Anglicanism that emphasise continuity with Catholic tradition. Since the English Reformation there have always been Anglicans who identify themselves closely with traditional Catholic thought and practice. The concept of Anglo-Catholicism as a distinct sub-group or branch of Anglicanism, however, began to come to prominence in the Church of England during the Victorian era under the influence of the Oxford Movement or "Tractarians".


Anglo-Catholics stress historical continuity of the Church of England (and those constituent Churches derived from it through Apostolic Succession - see Anglican Communion) with Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, and hence uphold a "high" concept of the episcopate and of the nature of the sacraments (or Sacred Mysteries). According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the existence of such a school goes back to the Elizabethan Age; it flourished under the Stuarts, and came into prominence again with the Oxford Movement.

In the early 19th century various factors caused misgivings among English Churchmen, including the decline of Church life and the spread of laxity in theology in the Church of England. The plan to suppress ten Irish bishoprics in 1833 evoked a sermon from John Keble in the university church in Oxford which is regarded as the beginning of the Oxford Movement. The chief objective of the Oxford Movement was the defence of the Church of England as a Divine institution, of the doctrine of the Apostolic Succession, and of the Book of Common Prayer as a rule of faith. The key idea was that the Anglican Church was not a Protestant denomination but a branch of the "church Catholic" (along with the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy), despite the Protestant doctrinal positions which had dominated it since the Reformation, since it was argued that it had preserved the Apostolic Succession of priests and bishops and thus the Catholic sacraments. These arguments were spread by a series of "Tracts for the Times", hence the movement became known as "Tractarianism".

The Oxford Movement in the Church of England aimed at restoring High Church principles. The leaders of the movement were John Keble, John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey. It soon gained influential support, but it was also attacked by the latitudianarians within the University and by the Bishops. Within the movement there gradually arose a much smaller party which tended towards submission to Rome. After the censure by the Convocation of Oxford in 1845 of a book by W. G. Ward, and again after the Gorham Case in 1850, there were a number of conversions to the Catholic Church. But the majority remained in the Church of England and, despite the hostility of the press and of the Government, the movement spread. Its influence was exercised in the sphere of worship and ceremonial, in the social sphere (the slum settlements were among its notable achievements), and in the restoration of the religious life in the Church of England and many parts of the Anglican Communion.

However, despite the great effect of the movement, its theological basis, that the Anglican Church is a branch of the "church Catholic" with valid Apostolic succession and sacraments, has always been vulnerable to attack. Neither of the other supposed "branches", the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church, accept the "branch theory" of the Church. - each has different accounts of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The validity of the traditional Anglican ordination rites, and thus the Anglo-Catholics' claim to unbroken Apostolic succession and valid sacraments, is rejected by the Catholic Church. Finally, many Catholic teachings which Anglo-Catholics uphold (such as the Sacrifice of the Mass) were specifically rejected by the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church (which have a definitely Protestant tone), and were unknown within the Anglican Church until the mid-nineteenth century Oxford Movement. The large Evangelical party in the Anglican church has continued since the Oxford Movements's inception to emphasise the essentially Protestant nature of the Anglican church and to fight against Catholic doctrines within it. Thus Catholic doctrines are reduced to private opinion rather than being official doctrines of the Anglican Church, unlike in the Roman Catholic Church where they are official, bindingly taught by apostolic authority and tradition. Considerations of this kind led the Oxford Movement's intellectual leader, Newman, to convert to the Catholic Church, as many other Anglo-Catholics have done since.

Practices and beliefs

Anglo-Catholic people and churches are usually identified by their liturgical practices and ornaments. Anglo-Catholics use many traditional Catholic practices in their liturgical ceremonies such as vestments, incense and candles and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices (sometimes called 'Ritualism' though many Anglo-Catholics resent the term) were a particular source of controversy in the nineteenth century, especially in England where Parliament was asked to legislate against certain practices. Many Anglo-Catholic "innovations" (or, rather, revivals of dormant practices) have, however, since become accepted by most mainstream Anglicans. In fact, the Liturgical Movement, ignited by Anglican divine Dom Gregory Dix with his book, The Shape of the Liturgy shaped the sweeping simplifications and standardizations in liturgical practice of the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II, as well as of the churches in the Lutheran World Federation and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and the Independent Catholic Churches derived from them. What little distinction is left in the Western liturgy has to do with the Anglican recourse to the customary of the Sarum (Salisbury Cathedral) Use, the Nordic recourse to the Wittenberg Use, and the Roman Catholic recourse to the liturgical Use at Rome.

In much of the Church of England and other Anglican / Episcopalian churches, Anglo-Catholic practice has made strong inroads, yet Anglo-Catholic theology remains in flux.

What Anglo-Catholics believe can be highly debated even among people who identify themselves as such. In agreement with the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches, Anglo-Catholics — along with Old-Catholics and Lutherans — generally rest their case on the authority of Vincentian orthodoxy. This canon of St. Vincent of Lerins is accepted as the rudder for divining the Catholic and Apostolic Faith of the undivided Church: "What everywhere, what always, and what by all of us has been credited, that is truly and properly Catholic."

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles make distinctions between Anglican and Roman Catholic understandings of doctrine. Because they were purposely written in such a way as to be open to a wide range of interpretation, Anglo-Catholics have defended Catholic practices and beliefs as being consistent with the Articles, yet the Articles, because of their harsh tone, have never been regarded with much favor by Anglo-Catholics. Anglo-Catholic priests often hear private confessions and anoint the sick, regarding these practices (as do Roman Catholics) as sacraments; whereas more Reformed-Protestant-minded Anglicans generally think of them as merely optional sacramental rites. (The classic Anglican aphorism regarding private confession is "All may, none must, some should").

Anglo-Catholics, in contrast to other Anglicans, usually share with Roman Catholics a belief in the sacramental nature of the priesthood, the sacrificial character of the Mass, and the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and lay great stress on these points to counter the tendency of Evangelicals to try to promote ideas such as lay presidency at the Eucharist. Some Anglo-Catholics encourage priestly celibacy.

Since the 1970s at least the Anglo-Catholic party in the Anglican church has been fracturing in two divergent directions, though in retrospect the tensions could be traced back to Charles Gore's work in the 19th century. The Oxford Movement had been inspired in the first place by a rejection of liberalism and latitudinarianism in favour of holding to the traditional faith of the "Church catholic", defined by the teachings of the Church Fathers and the common doctrines of the (Roman) Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy. Thus until the 1970s most Anglo-Catholics, emphasising the need to stay in line with tradition and the doctrines of Rome and the East, would have rejected such innovations as the possibility of women receiving Holy Orders. However, Gore's work, bearing the mark of liberal Protestant higher criticism, paved the way for an alternative form of Anglo-Catholicism influenced by liberal theology. Thus, in recent years, many Anglo-Catholics have accepted the ordination of women. Furthermore, in many places, Anglo-Catholic parishes also drew a large following of gay communicants, and many Anglo-Catholic parishes have been at the forefront of inclusion and acceptance for openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people — including non-celibates — in the priesthood and throughout the Church. Many Anglo-Catholics have embraced other aspects of liberalism such as the use of contemporary and inclusive language in Bible translations and the liturgy. Thus today there are two strands of Anglo-Catholicism. The classical type seeks to maintain tradition and to keep doctrine in line with that of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and often allies with low-church evangelicals to defend traditional teachings on sexual morality. The main organisation in the Church of England that opposes the ordination of women as priests and bishops, Forward in Faith, is largely composed of Anglo-Catholics, and other Anglo-Catholics of this stripe have left the official Anglican Church to form churches in the Continuing Anglican Movement such as the Traditional Anglican Communion, or have left Anglicanism altogether for the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, on the basis of their argument that the liberal doctrinal innovations in the Anglican Church prove it is not a branch of the "Church catholic", destroying the theory on which Anglo-Catholicism is founded. The other type is the inclusive movement represented by Affirming Catholicism. A growing number of Anglo-Catholics of this type are part of the interfaith Progressive Reconstructionist movement.

A minority of Anglo-Catholics (sometimes called Anglo-Papalists) consider themselves under Papal supremacy even though they are not in full communion with Rome. A significant portion of Britain's present Roman Catholics are former Anglicans or their descendants. Many Anglo-Catholics seek eventual reunion with the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy.

In the Anglican Communion three terms are frequently — but not always correctly — used to denote the parish's style of worship: High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church (or Latitudinarian).

  • "High Church" is generally used to describe moderate to advanced Anglo-Catholicism.
  • "Low Church" is used for Anglicans of a more Evangelical or Reformed-Protestant theology who emphasize the primacy of scripture, salvation by grace through faith alone, and — usually (with the notable exception of the Australian Diocese of Sydney) — worship based on the official prayer books but with much less ceremonial. Sydney Diocese does not mandate the use of any prayer book and worship services in its parishes are often considerably at variance with the shape of traditional Anglican liturgies.
  • The term "Broad Church" is sometimes used for those "middle-of-the-road" Anglicans who are somewhere between the "high" and "low" traditions, or those who stress that there is room for diverse traditions in the Anglican Communion. Attending the Eucharist at a Broad Church parish nowadays is likely to remind one most directly of attending a contemporary Roman Catholic Mass.


Anglo-Catholicism (controversially) claims continuity with the earliest Christians in Britain. Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine in the late 6th Century from Rome to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons, a process completed by the 7th century. England remained a Catholic country under Papal authority and united with Rome for a thousand years.

When the Reformation broke out on the European Continent, the tide swept up England as well. King Henry VIII took England into schism from Rome when the Pope refused to declare null his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, but retained Catholic views in theology and liturgy, while some reformers (such as Bishops Ridley and Latimer) wanted to follow the radical reforms of Geneva. It was under the reign of Edward VI that the English Church was reformed with a sparer liturgy in the common vernacular and the tolerance of variant and new theological positions. These reforms were reversed, briefly, during the reign of the staunchly Catholic Mary I who resumed communion with Rome as part of a general campaign to end the Reformation in England and Wales. Consequently, when Queen Elizabeth I took the English throne, she sought to steer a via media between what her bishops felt were the excesses of Rome, on the one hand, and those of Geneva, on the other (though still clearly Protestant). Thus was born the Elizabethan Settlement, and the promulgation of a single Book of Common Prayer, for whatever theological party was to use it within the Anglican Church. This marks the birth of a special ethos for the Anglican Church. This ethos, peculiar to Anglicanism, was championed by the Elizabethan divine, Richard Hooker.

From that time, through Archbishop Laud and the Caroline divines, up to the time of the Oxford Movement Tractarians, and the Anglo-Catholic Congresses, to the present day of Affirming Catholicism, there has always been a theological party within Anglicanism which has sought to stress apostolic continuity all the way back to the apostle Philip, although the movements before the Oxford Movement were more High Church Protestant and rejected many Catholic doctrines that have become accepted among Anglo-Catholics. In response to Pope Leo XIII's Apostolicae Curae (1893), which declared the Anglican apostolic succession invalid, the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York have claimed, starting with their official response, Saepius Officio, that there is an unbroken apostolic succession in the Anglican priesthood, and that the historic episcopate has been in the British Isles from the earliest days of the Church." Rome does not dispute the latter point, inasmuch as the Catholic Church has continued to exist in the British Isles. Rather, the Catholic Church maintains that this apostolic succession was broken by the use of the Ordinal of King Edward VI, which deletes all reference to the central priestly function, the sacrifice of the Mass.

See also

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Anglo-Catholicism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.