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Bible Dictionaries
Church of England

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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and IRELAND is that established by law in England and Ireland, where it forms a part of the common law of the land, or constitution of the country.

1. When and by whom Christianity was first introduced into Britain, cannot at this distance of time be exactly ascertained. Eusebius, indeed, positively declares that it was by the Apostles and their disciples; Bishops Jewel and Stillingfleet, Dr. Cave, and others, insist that it was by St. Paul; and Baronius affirms, on the authority of an ancient manuscript in the Vatican Library, that the Gospel was planted in Britain by Simon Zelotes, the Apostle, and Joseph of Arimathea; and that the latter came over A.D. 35, or about the twenty-first year of Tiberius, and died in this country. According to Archbishop Usher, the British churches had a school of learning in the year 182, to provide them with proper teachers; and it would appear that they flourished, without dependence on any foreign church, till the arrival of Austin the monk, in the latter part of the sixth century.

2. Episcopacy was early established in this country; and it ought to be remembered, to the honour of the British bishops and clergy, that during several centuries they withstood the encroachments of the see of Rome. Popery, however, was at length introduced into England, and, as some say, by Austin, the monk; and we find its errors every where prevalent during several ages preceding the reformation, till they were refuted by Wickliffe. The seed which Wickliffe had sown ripened after his death, and produced a glorious harvest. However, it was not till the reign of Henry VIII, that the reformation in England in reality commenced. When Luther declared war against the pope, Henry wrote his treatise on the seven sacraments against Luther's book, "Of the Captivity of Babylon," and was repaid by the pontiff with the title of "Defender of the Faith." This title, in a sense diametrically opposite, and by a claim of higher desert, was transmitted by Henry with his crown, and now belongs to his successors. Henry's affections being estranged from his queen Catharine, and fixed on Anne Boleyn, he requested a divorce from his wife; but the pope hesitating, the archbishop of Canterbury annulled his former marriage. The sentence of the archbishop was condemned by the pope, whose authority Henry therefore shook off, and was declared by parliament "supreme head of the church." In the year 1800, when the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland were united, the churches of England and Ireland, which had always been the same in government, faith, and worship, became one united church.

3. The acknowledged standards of the faith and doctrines of the united church are, after the Scriptures, the Book of Homilies and the Thirty-nine Articles. Her liturgy is also doctrinal, as well as devotional. The homilies were composed by Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, men of unexceptionable learning and orthodoxy; or, according to others, the first book was written principally by Cranmer, and the second by Jewel. They were appointed to be read in churches at the beginning of the reformation, when, by reason of the scarcity of learned divines, few ministers were found who could safely be trusted to preach their own compositions. The first draught of the Articles was composed by Archbishop Cranmer, assisted by Bishop Ridley, in the year 1551; and after being corrected by the other bishops, and approved by the convocation, they were published in Latin and English in 1553, and amounted to forty-two in number. In 1562 they were revised and corrected. Being then reduced to thirty-nine, they were drawn up in Latin only; but in 1571 they were subscribed by the members of the two houses of convocation, both in Latin and English; and therefore the Latin and English copies are to be considered as equally authentic. The original manuscripts, subscribed by the houses of convocation, were burned in the fire of London; but Dr. Bennet has collated the oldest copies now extant, in which it appears that there are no variations of any importance. During the last century, disputes arose among the clergy respecting the propriety of subscribing to any human formulary of religious sentiments. Parliament, in 1772, was applied to for the abolition of the subscription, by certain clergymen and others, whose petition received the most ample discussion, but was rejected by a large majority. It has been generally held by most, if not all, Calvinists, both in and out of the church, that the doctrinal parts of our Articles are Calvinistic. This opinion, however, has been warmly controverted. It is no doubt nearer the truth to conclude that the Articles are framed with comprehensive latitude; and that neither Calvinism nor Arminianism was intended to be exclusively established. In this view such liberal sentiments as the following, from the Apology of the Church of England in 1732, are not of uncommon occurrence: "This, I know, I am myself an Anti-Calvinian; and yet, were I to compile articles for the church, I would abhor the thoughts of forming them so fully according to my own scheme of thinking, or of descending so minutely into all the particular branches of it, that none but Arminians should be able to subscribe, or that the church should lose the credit and service of such valuable men as the Abbots, Davenant, Usher, and other Calvinists undoubtedly were. And since our reformers were men of temper and moderation, it seems but justice, I am sure it is but reasonable, to think they intended such a latitude as I contend for, so that both parties, the followers of Arminius as well as of Calvin, might subscribe." In a subsequent page, however, the same author says, "But what, if there was not so entire a harmony among the compilers or imposers, as was before supposed? What if several of them were Anti-Calvinian? This will incline the balance still more in our favour, and enlarge the probability of the articles being drawn up in a moderate, indefinite way. The divines who fled for refuge, in Queen Mary's reign, to Geneva, Zurich, and other places beyond sea, (where, by conceiving a great veneration for Calvin, they were mightily changed in their sentiments and ways of thinking,) began to propagate his notions soon after their return in the next reign: and this seems to have been the prime occasion of Calvinism taking any considerable root in this kingdom. In King Edward's time it doth not appear to have prevailed, except among a few ‘gospelers,' and how they were reflected on by Bishop Latimer and Hooper has been already observed. When the articles were formed in 1552, I do not find that any deference was paid to Calvin's judgment or authority: instead of that, the assistance he offered was, to his no little grief and dissatisfaction, refused. Next to the Scriptures and the doctrine of the primitive church, the compilers had an eye to the Augustan Confession, as appears from the identity of many of the articles; to the writings of Melancthon, whose assistance they desired, and whom King Edward invited over hither; the works of Erasmus; and the Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man. This last book was published by King Henry's authority in 1543: and because it then had the approbation of most of those who compiled the Articles nine years afterward, it will be of consequence to see how it stands affected toward Calvinism. It teaches the cardinal point of universal redemption in several places; which strikes directly at the root of the Calvinian system, and, as Dr. Whitby expresses it, ‘draws all the rest after it, on which side soever the truth lies.'" This judicious amplitude has received much elucidation in Dr. Puller's Moderation of the Church of England considered, 1679; and in other works of more recent date.

4. In this church, divine service is conducted by a liturgy, which was composed in 1547, and has undergone several alterations, the last of which took place in 1661, in the reign of Charles II. Many applications have been since made for a review; and particular alterations were proposed in 1689, by several learned and excellent divines, in the number of whom were Archbishops Tillotson and Tenison, and Bishops Patrick, Burnet, Stillingfleet, Kidder, &c. This subject has been recently revived; and it is believed that some changes are under consideration. To this liturgy every clergyman promises at his ordination to conform in his public ministrations.

5. Ever since the reign of Henry VIII, the sovereigns of England have been styled "supreme heads of the church," as well as "defenders of the faith;" but this title is said to convey no spiritual meaning; or, in other words, it only substitutes the king in place of the pope, with respect to temporalities, and the external economy of the church. The church of England is governed by two archbishops and twenty-four bishops, beside the bishop of Sodor and Man. The benefices of the bishops were converted by William the Conqueror into temporal baronies; and, therefore, all of them, except the bishop of Man, are barons or lords of parliament, and sit and vote in the house of lords, where they represent the clergy. The bishops'

representatives and assistants are the archdeacons, of whom there are sixty in England. The other dignitaries of the church are the deans, prebendaries, canons, &c; and the inferior clergy are the rectors, vicars, and curates. The united church knows only three orders of ministers; bishops, priests, and deacons: but in these orders are comprehended archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, rectors, vicars, and curates. The church of Ireland is governed by four archbishops and eighteen bishops. Since the union of Britain and Ireland, one archbishop and three bishops sit alternately in the house of peers, by rotation of sessions.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Church of England'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​c/church-of-england.html. 1831-2.
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