Anglo Catholic Church
The Shield of the Anglican Communion

So, just what is an Anglo-Catholic?

An Anglo-Catholic is a member of the Anglican Communion, a world-wide body of Christians in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, holding catholic beliefs and keeping catholic sacramental practices.

The Church of England

The Church in England existed before 596 A.D.   St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the inhabitants of the British Isles. Even before the settlement of the heathen Anglo-Saxon tribes to whom he was sent by the pope, the indigenous Celts had been Christianized by Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy friend of Jesus. Legend has it that Joseph brought the Holy Grail with him to England. When St. Augustine arrived in Britain, there was already an indigenous Christian community present and thriving.

The conflict came to a head again at the beginning of the 13th century. By this time the papacy had consolidated its power and England had become a well-established monarchy. When the Church of Rome required obedience in the form of taxes from each of the nations in Western Christendom, the Plantagenet rulers of England, refused to pay, so Pope Innocent III placed an interdict on England and forbade all sacramental rites, from Baptism to the Last Rites, to be celebrated in England until it paid fealty. This lasted for five years before England finally conceded.time was that of Our Lady of Walsingham.


  Several hundred years later, when Henry VIII drew the Church of England under his temporal control, he ended a struggle between England and Rome that had been mounting for some time. All over Europe, kings had been divorcing their wives for centuries by having the marriages deemed invalid in the first place by the pope.  Henry sought to do the same with his wife, Katherine, the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who had failed to produce a male heir to the throne.  However, at the time, Ferdinand had the Pope, Clement VII, held captive in the south of France.  So, of course, Clement was reluctant to grant Henry the divorce from Katherine.


The Tudor Reformation

While Henry’s break from Rome was a political move, he did not “start” the Church of England.  The Church had been in Britain since the first century. Henry upheld the catholic faith to his deathbed; and for a theoloogical treatise that he wrote in his early life in which he was adamantly opposed to the thought of Martin Luther, he was given the title Defensor fidei, or Defender of the Faith, from the pope. (English monarchs, rather strangely, bear the title to this day.)

Under Henry VIII, monasteries were abolished, but the apostolic succession of bishops, priests and deacons remained, under the guidance of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The Mass remained in Latin and catholic doctrine unchanged. 

When Henry's son Edward VI -- who was merely a boy -- he ascended to the throne and the Protestant Reformation which had begun earlier on the continent of Europe came to England. Many radical Protestant reformers influenced Edward and he changed and abolished what were believed to be superstitious and repugnant "Romish" practices in the church.These "reforms" were carried out to such an extent that the Church of England seemed to owe more to the Protestant reformers Luther and Calvin than to historic catholicism. 

In 1549, The Booke of the Common Prayer was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. This book was esentially a translation and simplification of the Sarum Mass, the local liturgy of the Diocese of Salsbury, or Sarum, which was used by much of southern England The Lord Archbishop Thomas Cranmer  at the time. The Prayer Book was designed to be used not only by the clergy, but by the laity as well. 

In 1570, the Roman Catholic Church standardized its liturgy and forced all bishops to conform to this new rite, at the Council of Trent (which had been convened to reform abuses in the church and denounce the heresies of the continental "reformers".) This standardized Roman liturgy became known as the Tridentine Rite.

The Elizabethan Settlement

Elizabeth I came to the thrown after her sister Mary's death. Many called for reform and many called for a return to tradition. Realizing that this could turn into a major conflict, Elizabeth chose a middle ground and a "Reformed Catholicism" came into being. The Book of Common Prayer would come back into use with a few but significantly catholic changes and continental Protestant theology (i.e., the theology of Luther, Calvin, Zwinglil, et al. would be discouraged. 

Queen Elizabeth I -- There was a toleration of sundry views so long as one remained loyal to the Church of England and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England -- Queen Elizabeth. The English accepted the Elizabethan Settlement.  In the mind of Elizabeth, as long as the Liturgy was from the Prayer Book and she was acknowledged as Head of the Church, tolerance was possible.

The seven sacraments, three creeds, and basic catholic doctrine, and the Apostolic Succession of Bishops would remain, but "Romish embellishments" would not be allowed.

The Book of Common Prayer was revised in a catholic direction so to speak. The pope offered to approve the Anglican rite for the Eucharist, if Elizabeth would reëstablish ties with Rome. The Queen had no stomach for papal domination and rejected his offer. 

It has been asserted by some Roman Catholic scholars that the Tudors had no intention of keeping catholicism, let alone the doctrine of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Conveniently, they seem to forget the famous reply of Queen Elizabeth I (who held many catholic views) to those reformers in the Church of England who would deny the Real Presence:

'Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and Brake it,
And what his Word doth make it,
That I believe and take it."


The Puritan Uprising


This middle ground, or via media , between Catholicism and Protestantism lasted until 1642 and the English Civil War, when the Puritans gained control of the government.  These Puritans were not the sweet, kind, persecuted people that American mythology makes them out to be. They were the Religious Right of their time.  They wanted to "purify" the Church of England from what they believed to be too many Romish views. They accepted the teachings of the continental reformers, primarily John Calvin.

A sizable minority of the English people seemed to subscribe to such views. There were powerful Puritans in both Parliament and the military. They eventually became strong enough to challenge the monarchy and to execute the king, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The reign of the Puritans was characterized by harsh and strict rule, and much iconoclasm. They abolished all catholic practices, smashed altars and stained glass windows, torched cathedrals, desecrated shrines, and beheaded the most famous Anglican martyr, King Charles I. This barbarism lasted only a few decades before the English grew tired of the horror of the Puritan yoke and ousted them. Many Puritans escaped to America and began to wreak havoc in the New World. The monarchy and Church were restored in A.D. 1660 and  The Book of Common Prayer  revised and put back to use in 1662. The  via media  was reinstituted.

The Evangelical and Catholic Revivals

Protestant sentiments became ubiquitous in England, but they seemed to lack a religious fervor. A need for reform became evident by the middle of the 18th century.  T his middle ground stagnated. The Stuarts Monarchs had fostered an environment that allowed intellectuals to thrive in the church. The Stuart varied in temperament, but viewed the Church as something great. They had high ideals for the Church of England.

Two movements in the late 18th century and early 19th century changed the face of Anglicanism.

John and Charles Wesley, Priests of the Church of England until their deaths.

The first was the Evangelical Revival started by two Anglican priests, brothers, John and Charles Wesley. Charles is known for his hymnody; John, for his ideas about religion. He stressed personal holiness, scriptural study, a steadfast and methodical approach to the Prayer Book , with an emphasis on preaching. He also stressed more frequent reception of the Eucharist. Unfortunately, the Wesleys' followers eventually split from the Church of England and formed the Methodist Church. 

The second movement is commonly called the Catholic Revival, or the Oxford Movement. A group of students and faculty of Oxford University began to write tracts on what was wrong with the Church of England. The primary author of these tracts was the great John Henry Newman. One of the things that these folks saw was a decline in reverence and morality. Their solution? Mediæval Catholicism. The Oxford Movement focused on catholic theology, while the ensuing Anglo-Catholic Movement of later years focused on catholic practices.

The Tridentine Mass [the Latin Mass standardized, for all Roman Christendom, at the Council of Trent] was translated into English for  the English Missal.  Men and women again took the three-fold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and monastic communities of monks and nuns were formed; the rosary became popular; confessions became more regular; High Mass, with full ceremonial including incense, was not uncommon; and priests began to wear "Roman" garments, not only in the church, but on the street.

Newman, Keble, Pusey and Friends

The Catholic Reformers sought to bring mediæval catholic theology and practice back to the church. Some of the reformers, such as John Henry Newman, became Roman Catholics. Those who stayed, such as John Keble and Edward Bouverie Pusey, did much to change the face of Anglicanism. This new "Anglo-Catholicism" caught on like wildfire. By the 1920s, one in every four Anglican was an Anglo-Catholic. As the Church of England spread to the colonies, so did the Catholic Revival. Today, almost half of the Anglican Communion is "Anglo-Catholic" (though most Anglo-Catholics live in the Third World.) Saint James' was founded by Episcopalians who were deeply shaped by the Oxford Movement in this country.

Anglicanism came to the United States with the colonies. After the Revolution, however, the American Church did not want the name Anglican -- which is Latin for "English" -- in its title. So, it became the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. "Protestant" meaning "opposed to Roman papal rule" and "Episcopal" meaning "having Catholic bishops." They were Protestant Episcopal as opposed to Roman Episcopal ( i.e . the Roman Catholic Church.) 

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC The Catholic Revival came to America as well, and flourished in the Northeast and the West. Churches such as St. Mary the Virgin (New York), S. Mark's (Philadelphia), Church of the Advent (Boston), Church of the Advent of Christ the King (San Francisco), and St. Mary of the Angels (Los Angeles) came into being and attracted people to Anglo-catholic faith and worship.

The Church Today

In today's world, Anglo-Catholic churches provide a home for Western Christians who are drawn to the mystery and awe of the ancient Catholic faith without having to give their obedience to Rome.  Anglicans have always been free thinkers and have encouraged theological exploration, questioning,  and even doubt – in a healthy way.

The Marrieage of a Same Gender Couple by an Episcopal Bishop

Anglicans “worship God in the beauty of holiness.”  Beauty in worship is seen not only as an instructive tool to teach the faith, but also a way in which we honor God.  If you come by an Anglo-Catholic church you may find a Mozart, Haydn or Brahms Mass being sung. You may find High Mass  on Sunday, with incense, bells and the chanting that goes with it. You may find the rosary, and other such devotions as the norm. Sunday afternoons you may find Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament after Evensong. 


Today there is a growing community of Anglo-Catholics who are progressive in their views and practices.  They have come to these views not out a sense of needing to be politically correct, but by reading the Gospels and taking to heart the words of Jesus as well as being open to the traditions and life of the Early Church.  These Anglo-Catholics affirm the full inclusion of both women and LGBTQ folks within the life of the Church and within Church’s Sacramental system.  Many progressive Anglo-Catholic Parishes provide for the celebration of Marriage for both same and opposite gender couples.  Liturgically, these Anglo-Catholics are quite open to celebrating the Mass in the contemporary idiom and some have adopted inclusive language in their celebrations of the Eucharist.  These Anglo-Catholics have also harkened back to the beginning of the Anglo-Catholic revival in advocating for and meeting the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the ostracized. Mass being celebrated by Mother Katherine Reid at St. Clement's Church, Seattle

While continuing to adhere to Anglo-Catholic practice in theology and liturgy, these progressive Anglo-Catholics have felt moved by the Holy Spirit to bring the movement into the 20th and 21st Centuries.  St. James' Church is one of these.  When you come to worship with us, you will find an open, affirming and inclusive community of Christians dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ within the Anglo-Catholic tradition.  St. James' Church has a vibrant and significant heritage and a diverse community in which there is always a place for you.