Anglicanism

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The term 'Anglican' describes those people and churches following the religious traditions of the Church of England following the Reformation. Anglicans trace these traditions historically back to the first followers of Jesus, but acknowledge that schisms occurred first with the Orthodox then with the Roman Catholic churches. Like Orthodox and Catholics (and unlike most Protestants), Anglicans maintain authority within the church through apostolic succession.

Anglicanism is most commonly identified with the established Church of England, but Anglican churches exist in most parts of the world. In some countries (eg USA, Scotland) the Anglican church is known as Episcopalian, from the (Latin?) episcopus, bishop. The majority of Anglicans consider themselves 'in communion' with the See of Canterbury, and the Anglican Communion is a formal organisation made up of churches at the national level. However, there are a small number of Anglicans who do not acknowledge the Anglican Communion, because they consider the Church of England and the Episcopal Church of the USA as having overstepped the boundaries of 'liberalism' or 'modernisation'.

Each national church is headed by a Primate and is divided into a number of dioceses, usually corresponding to state or metropolitan divisions. There are three levels of ordained minister: deacon, priest and bishop. Clerical celibacy is not enforced, and women may be ordained as deacons (everywhere?) and priests (in most dioceses) and in some countries as bishops.

Anglicans look for authority (in the formula of Richard Hooker) in Scripture, Tradition (the practices and writings of the historical church) and Reason, allowing for continued development of doctrine. The Church of England regards the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, in addition to the Bible, as the principal statements of Anglican doctrine. Most Anglican churches adopt a similar formula.

Anglicanism has always been characterised by a wide diversity in theology and liturgy. Different individuals and groups may identify more with Catholic tradition or with the principles of the Reformation. For example, some Anglicans follow the Catholics in regarding the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible as having some authority, while others reject these as not belonging in the Bible. (See Biblical canon) Two extreme forms of Anglicanism which became particularly prominent in the 19th century were the Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical movements. These groups are often equated with 'High' and 'Low' Anglicanism, but the range of beliefs held by Anglicans in the last two centuries are far too diverse to fit into these labels.