This is part 4 in a series on what we love about Anglicanism. To see the previous articles, click here. This week is the first of a two-part article on the traditional nature of the Anglican Church.
4A. Anglicanism Is Traditional
The fourth reason we love Anglicanism is because of its tradition. Tradition is often seen as a bad thing in the eyes of some Christians, but Anglicanism embraces it to the extent it is not inconsistent with Scripture, which, as explained earlier, is the highest authority. There are two types of tradition, different in nature, that we will discuss. The first one refers to the history of the Anglican church. It is not a “new” church and it is not a “denomination.” Instead, it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, which has existed in the British Isles since, perhaps, the first century A.D. The second aspect of tradition, which will be discussed in the next installment, concerns theological traditions.
When did Anglicanism start? Many history students will answer: with Henry VIII’s desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon. This is not an accurate assessment, however. The English Church existed long before Henry VIII claimed to be its head in 1534. What about 597, when St. Augustine of Canterbury, on a mission from Pope Gregory, arrived on Great Britain? That’s certainly a key moment in the life of the English church, but the Church started much earlier than that.
Though it cannot be proven, there is a tradition that Joseph of Arimathea visited the British Isles in the first century A.D. While this may or may not be accurate, it is rooted in the truth that Christianity appeared in Great Britain, which was a Roman territory at the time of Christ, at a very early date. In one writing, dating to around the early 200s, an Aristobulus (thought to be, perhaps, the one in Romans 16:10) is mentioned as having visited Britain in the first century. Whether this is true or not, we have writings from Tertullian and Origen that confirm ancient, apostolic Christianity in Great Britain as of their own times (mid-second to mid-third century).
Tertullian wrote that even “the regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman arms have received the religion of Christ.” St. Jerome, in the fourth century, wrote of the British church and stated that it had the same faith as all the other churches, with bishops of equal dignity as successors of the apostles (thus, the British Church was episcopal then, like the entire church at the time, as it is now). This British Church, in fact, sent its own bishops to the Council of Arles in 314 A.D. There are several other early church historians who mention Christianity in Great Britain before the arrival of St. Augustine, the Roman Catholic Pope’s emissary, in 597.
It is certainly true that the English church voluntarily subjected itself to the Roman Church at and after the Synod of Whitby in 664 A.D., but this admission underscores the fact that the English Church existed, independent of Rome, for nearly 600 years before that. Thus, another reason we love the Anglican Church is that it is a historical, traditional church that traces its roots not to the reformation, but to the apostolic, or immediately post-apostolic age. It is now, and has always been, part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
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