Anglican Communion

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The Anglican Communion uses the compass rose as its symbol, signifying its worldwide reach and decentralized nature. It is surmounted, like ecclesiastical coats of arms, by a bishop's mitre; in the center is a  cross of St. George recalling the communion's origins in the Church of England. The  Greek motto, Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς ("The truth will set you free") is a quotation from John 8:31.
The Anglican Communion uses the compass rose as its symbol, signifying its worldwide reach and decentralized nature. It is surmounted, like ecclesiastical coats of arms, by a bishop's mitre; in the center is a cross of St. George recalling the communion's origins in the Church of England. The Greek motto, Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς ("The truth will set you free") is a quotation from John 8:31.

The Anglican Communion is a world-wide organization of Anglican Churches. There is no single "Anglican Church" since each national or regional church has full autonomy; as the name suggests, rather, the Anglican Communion is an association of these churches in full communion with each other and particularly with the Church of England, which may be regarded as the "mother church" of the worldwide communion. For membership, see the box at the bottom of this page.

As a result, all rites conducted in one member church are to be recognized by the others. Some of these churches are known as Anglican, explicity recognizing the link to England; others prefer a less specific name. Each church has its own doctrine and liturgy, based in most cases on that of the Church of England; and each church has its own legislative process and overall episcopal leadership from a local primate. The Archbishop of Canterbury, religious head of the Church of England, has no formal authority outside that country; but is recognized as a symbolic head for the worldwide communion. Among the other primates, he is primus inter pares, or "first among equals." If the Archbishop of Canterbury is compared with other religious leaders such as the Pope, therefore, it is only because of his prominent figurehead role in the media.

Some non-Anglican churches have entered into full communion with the Anglican Communion and are treated as members despite having non-Anglican origins and traditions. There are also a number of Anglican bodies which separated from a member church of the Anglican Communion and are no longer in communion with the Church of England. They are usually known as "continuing churches."


What holds the Communion together?

The Anglican Communion has no official legal existence nor any formal governing structure. (There is an "Anglican Communion Office" in London, under the aegis of the Archbishop of Canterbury; but it serves merely a supporting and organizational role.) Some have asked what holds the communion together.

The first attempt at an answer was the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888. Proposed by the American Episcopal Church in 1886 and adopted by the Lambeth Conference of 1888, it set out four principles for future Christian unity. Although wider union has not followed, the quadrilateral has been useful within the communion itself.

The quadrilateral, according to the wording adopted in Lambeth ([1]), consists of:

  1. "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as 'containing all things necessary to salvation', and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith."
  2. "The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith."
  3. "The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him."
  4. "The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church."

This, then, is the theoretical basis for unity. But what holds it together organizationally? In the last few years people have began to refer to four "Instruments of Unity", which are effectively symbols to which all the churches of the communion can feel tied. In order of antiquity, they are:

Since each province is legally independent and free to chart its own course, the stress on these instruments of unity can easily be imagined. In recent years, for example, some Anglicans (particularly in Africa and Asia) have been displeased with the American and Canadian branches, upset by their welcoming attitudes towards homosexuals, and by the confident way the changes have been made — the conservatives condemmed the action as unilateral and called for wider consultation within the communion before such steps were taken. After the North American churches reaffirmed their belief that their actions had been righteous and "prophetic", they were asked to withdraw their delegates from the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultive Council. They were permitted at the meeting with voice, but no vote. But they have not been expelled or even suspended from the communion; indeed, no church ever has. It is unclear, moreoever, how such an expulsion could ever be carried out, since the communion is such a theoretical construct.


Main article: see History of the Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion is a relatively recent concept. Ever since the Church of England (which until the 20th century included the Church in Wales) broke from Rome in the reign of Henry VIII, it has thought of itself not as a new foundation but rather as a reformed continuation of the ancient "English church" and a reassertion of that church's rights. As such it was a distinctly local phenomenon.

Thus the only members of the present Anglican Communion existing by the late 18th century were the Church of England, its closely-linked sister church, the Church of Ireland (which also broke from Rome under Henry VIII), and the Scottish Episcopal Church, which for parts of the 17th and 18th centuries was partially underground (it was suspected of Jacobite sympathies).

However, the enormous expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries of the British Empire brought the church along with it. At first all these colonial churches were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London. After the American Revolution, the parishes in the newly independent country found it necessary to break formally from a church whose earthly head was (and remains) the British monarch. Thus they formed their own dioceses and national church, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in a mostly amicable separation.

At about the same time, in the colonies which remained linked to the crown, the Church of England began to appoint colonial bishops. In 1787 a bishop of Nova Scotia was appointed with a jurisdiction over all of British North America; in time several more colleagues were appointed to other cities in present-day Canada. In 1814 a bishop of Calcutta was made; in 1824 the first bishop was sent to the West Indies and in 1836 to Australia. By 1840 there were still only ten colonial bishops for the Church of England; but even this small beginning greatly facilitated the growth of Anglicanism around the world. In 1841 a "Colonial Bishoprics Council" was set up and soon many more dioceses were created.

In time, it became natural to group these into provinces, and a metropolitan appointed for each province. Although it had at first been somewhat established in many colonies, in 1861 it was ruled that, except where specifically established, the Church of England had just the same legal position as any other church. Thus a colonial bishop and colonial diocese was by nature quite a different thing from their counterparts back home. In time bishops came to be appointed locally rather than from England, and eventually national synods began to pass ecclesiastical legislation independent of England.

A crucial step in the development of the modern communion was the idea of the Lambeth Conferences. In 1867, at the suggestion of the Canadian synod, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Thomas Langley, invited a great conference of bishops to meet with him at Lambeth Palace. By inviting the bishops of the Churches of England and Ireland, those of the semi-autonomous colonial churches, and those of the fully autonomous Episcopal Church in the United States of America, he set a precedent that they all could meet together despite the absence of universal legal ties. Some bishops were initially reluctant to attend, fearing that the meeting would declare itself a council with power to legislate for the church; but it agreed to pass only advisory resolutions. These Lambeth Conferences have been held decennially since 1878 (the second such conference), and remain the most visible coming-together of the whole communion.

Recent controversies

Recent disagreements over homosexuality have strained the unity of the communion as well as its relationships with other Christian denominations; see Anglican views of homosexuality.

Relationship with the Roman Catholic Church

Efforts have been underway at least since 1966 to effect a reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, focusing on theological issues [2] and ways "to further the convergence on authority in the Church. Without agreement in this area we shall not reach the full visible unity to which we are both committed." [3]

Related topics

External links

The Anglican Communion
The "Instruments of Unity"

Archbishop of Canterbury | Lambeth Conference | Anglican Consultative Council | Primates' Meeting

Churches of the Anglican Communion

Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia | Australia | Bangladesh | Brazil | Burundi | Canada | Central Africa | Central America | Cuba | England | Hong Kong | Ireland | Japan | Jerusalem and the Middle East | Kenya | Korea | Melanesia | Mexico | Myanmar | Nigeria | North India | Papua New Guinea | Pakistan | Philippines | Portugal | Rwanda | Scotland | South East Asia | South India | Southern Africa | Southern Cone | Spain | Tanzania | Indian Ocean | West Indies | West Africa | Uganda | USA | Wales

Churches in full communion

Philippine Independent Church | Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India | Old Catholic Church

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