July 23, 2008

I'm sorry for making Americans look dumb...

I recently left the following comment on a blog post about the Church of England and the Vatican:

Although this may show just how ignorant I am, reflect poorly on the American public school systems, and be a huge oversimplification, I'm going to ask a question I have had for a long time: Why is a church that was founded so a king could get a divorce still around? How can people actually feel there is any authority from it's leaders?

Shortly after, I received an email from Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the President of Dublin City University, Ireland. He is a member of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), and of St Bartholomew's Church, Dublin (http://www.stbartholomews.ie/). He wrote the following:

The Church of England was not founded because of Henry VIII's divorce. In fact, Henry VIII did not found any new church, nor did he think he was doing so. He died (as he thought) a catholic, clutching his rosary beads. What he did was break with Rome (as, say, Abp Lebfevre did), but not with catholicism. The Church of England as a Protestant church was not founded until the reign of Edward VI, who was an out and out Protestant reformer. However, it was immediately returned to catholicism under Queen Mary, and then Anglicanism with its own ethos probably dates from Elizabeth I, who sought a middle way between the ultra-Protestants and catholics.

Modern Anglicanism has two origins, melded together. One is the evangelical movements of the early19th century, and the other is the catholic/Tractarian movement of the middle of the same century; the latter restored the liturgy and the sacraments and catholic theology.

Whether Anglicanism can or deserves to survive is another debate - but its origins have nothing to do with Henry's divorce!

Ferdinand said he is willing to go into more detail if anyone has any further questions, so if you do please leave a comment. I, for one, am wondering if you can tell me the difference between Anglicans and Episcopalians. And, is it true that a British monarch cannot marry a Catholic?

Thank you, Ferdinand, for clarifying everything and for giving me permission to post what you wrote.


  1. I used to think the same thing. I'm so glad you asked the question. Even after watching the PBS special on Henry the VIII earlier in the year, it seemed as though he broke away and founded the Anglican faith based on his breaking away from Rome.


  2. Bonnie, I'll try to answer your two questions...

    First, the US Episacopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, and as such is an Anglican Church., Anglican churches generally are identified traditionally by asking whether they are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is, as you probably know, a lot of stuff going on around all this right now, but that's the formal position.

    Secondly, it is true that a British Monarch cannot, under the law as it still stands, marry a Roman Catholic (I am adding the word 'Roman' not to be offensive, but to point out that many Anglicans regard themselves as 'catholic', as I do myself). It is an impossible prohibition to justify, but dates from the time when it was thought that the Pope claimed temporal (i.e. civil) jurisdiction over England. It is said that Queen Elizabeth would have no objection to this prohibition being repealed.


  3. To pick up the point made by 'Anonymous', Henry VIII, even after the break with Rome, did not introduce any new liturgy or theology. The old Roman Missal continued in use in England throughout his reign. In 1549, during the reign of his son Edward, the Missal was adopted in the vernacular, but largely remained the old Roman rite. Three years later, in 1552, the first really Protestant prayer book was introduced. All of this was removed by Queen Mary a few years later, and the Roman Catholic church was restored.