What Anglicans Believe
Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher
We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and those creeds we hold without addition or diminution.
Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury
This powerful and famous quote from Archbishop Fisher reminds us that we are not an individual institution, but rather part of the ongoing life of the Church. Many mistake our origins in the 16th Century, and whilst do doubt there was much in that period that has helped shape the character of Anglicanism today, we remain the inheritors of a tradition that stretch way back to the Apostolic period, and the English Church had Bishops and Martyrs' long before the arrival of the the Augustinian Mission at the start of the seventh century.
The early English Church Historian, the Venerable Bede, spent much time discussing the date of Easter, and how the Church that existed before the Augustinian Mission celebrated Easter on the wrong day. And again in 1066, we see William carry the Pope's banners in battle, and much of the next two years is spent deposing the English Bishops and replacing them with Normans and Italians (though Italy had not been thought of as a country at that stage).
In some sense the Separation of the English Church in the 16th Century was a matter of reclaiming the self governing nature of the English Church, rather than the matter of the great doctrinal issues which were the matter of the continental reformation.
There are Three Creeds officially acknowledged by the Anglican Church.
The Nicene Creed
The revised form of the Creed coming from 381 AD, the 1st Council of Constantinople. This is arguably the most important of the Creeds as it is the oldest and only Creed that was agreed in both the East and the West. If anyone ever speaks of 'The Creed' the assumption is it is this creed. Most Contemporary Eucharistic Rites follow the ancient practice if singing or saying the Nicene Creed as part of the Eucharistic Liturgy on Sundays and Holy Days, which has been nearly universal since the Third Council of Toledo in 589.
The Apostle's Creed
A creed was first referenced by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, about ten years after the 1st Council of Constantinople. It is a shorter Creed, and lays less stress on Christology (the nature of Christ) and the Pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit). It is thought by some to have been a compromise to help keep Arian Christians onside as they certainly suffered a defeat at the Council of Constantinople. The Apostles Creed has become the Baptismal Symbol in the West - and Anglicans will often include it in the office of Morning or Evening Prayer on a Sunday or major feast day. Not used in the East.
The Athanasian Creed
This is much later and probably a liturgical work to lay great stress on the Triune Nature of God. It is unlikely that it was the work of St Athanasius, as it is much later and Athanasius was a major supporter of the Nicene Creed. The use of the Athanasian Creed has been largely lost, partly due to the length and complexity of thought forms and sentences. Little effort has been made to render it in contemporary language. None the less it is a good read, at a slow pace, for private reflection. It is not used in the eastern Churches.
The Articles and Elizabethan Settlement
The Sixteenth Century and particularly the 30 years from 1532 to 1562 were tumultuous years in the English Church. In 1533 Henry VIII divorced his first wife and in 1534 came the Act of Supremacy. Theologically Henry VIII was a classic catholic, but as a pragmatic monarch he resented the Pope's meddling in the affairs of state. In 1547 Henry died and though there had been some pressure to change, and the litany had been rendered in English, the English Church was largely the same - save for the lack of a Pope. The Regency of Edward saw a number of movers try hard to press the cause of the reformers, and Edward's untimely death in 1553, saw the return of the Pope under Mary and her Archbishop of Canterbury Cardinal Pole, after the eight day rein of Jane Grey. Mary also died early in 1558 (probably from uterine cancer) and Cardinal Pole died a few hours later from natural causes. This hectic pace and ebb and flow of the national religious position weighed heavily of Elizabeth who claimed the throne following Mary.
Elizabeth along with Matthew Parker (her Archbishop of Canterbury) sought to find a solution that would ensure that every loyal English person could be loyal to Church and Monarch. 1562 saw the publication of the 39 Articles which sought to achieve just that, and this position often refereed to as the Elizabethan Settlement has shaped the character of Anglicanism to this day. There is no doubt that there was a great intent to ensure that the structure the Church held true to the catholic origins, but that it took an inclusive view to all subjects, be their view reformed or catholic.
In the Nineteenth Century there came a mind to greater unity between Churches, and Anglicans strove to understand what was on the table that they could negotiate and what in the table was non-negotiable. The four guiding principals effectively describe some of the nature and character of the basic of Anglican's in relation to our relations with the members of other Churches.
The Lambeth Resolution of 1888, thought by some to be a little more modest that the Chicago Resolution of 2 years previous read as follows:
- That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion:
- (a) 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.
- (b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
- (c) 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.
- (d) 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.