As long as I can remember, as a life-long Episcopalian, I have always been taught emphatically that Henry VIII
did not found the Anglican Church. However, all of my non-Episcopalian friends – both Roman Catholic and
Protestant – believe that he did create it. Why do they say that Henry VIII did and we maintain that he did not?
All church historians agree that Christianity came to Roman Britain in the earliest days of the Church, at the
same time the new faith was spreading all through Rome’s Empire. The first documentation of the British Church
as a permanently established and recognized self-governing regional Catholic Church was the attendance of three
of its Bishops at the Council ...view middle of the document...
The Benedictine monks then moved up the east coast as the Celtic monks
were moving down the coast, and the two groups met in the mid-600’s in Northumbria. Neither had known of
the existence of the other; but when they met, recognizing each other as fully valid authentic parts of the
Catholic Church, they held a council at Whitby in A.D. 664 to unite their life and mission.
The resulting united regional Catholic Church was self-governing but in Full Communion with the whole
undivided Universal Church, which itself was made up of autocephalous (self-governing) regional Churches both
East and West, all of which were in Full Communion with each other. (There was no “universal primate” with
jurisdiction over the whole Church.)
This was the beginning of a “golden age” in the life of the English Church with great statesmen-archbishops,
scholars, and missionaries (e.g. St Theodore, St Bede the Venerable, Alcuin, St Boniface), a period which lasted
over 200 years. While it remained an independent regional Catholic Church, the English Church underwent
several shifts from its earlier Celtic spirituality and culture to a more international continental European culture
– the adoption of the continental pattern of church organization made up of secular (non-monastic)
dioceses with Bishops as Ordinary as well as such customs as using the continental method of
reckoning the date of Easter
– the decline of Celtic monasticism and the growth and eventual predominant influence of
Benedictinism, not only in English monasticism but throughout the secular Church as well
– the adoption of the Roman form of Canon Law in place of a code based on English Common Law
While these shifts made its spirituality and structure more congruent with that of the continental national
Churches, the English Church remained unmistakably autocephalous. Though it was in Full Communion with the
whole Western Church, it was in no sense governed from Rome nor was the Bishop of Rome ever understood to
be the head of the English Church.
The temporal power of the Bishops of Rome first grew beyond the Italian peninsula in 1077 as a result of the
Investiture Controversy. Pope Gregory VII demanded that the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV turn over to the
Bishop of Rome the Emperor’s rights to confirm the appointment of Bishops and collect some ecclesiastical taxes
in continental Europe (only). Because of the prevailing feudal political structure Gregory was able to organize a
“rent strike” among Henry’s vassals and force Henry to cede this temporal authority.
In 1215 the English nobility forced the despotic and unpopular King John to sign the Magna Carta, limiting the
authority of the monarch. Among the provisions the nobles included in this landmark constitutional document
was giving the Bishop of Rome the same right to confirm the appointment of Bishops and collect some
ecclesiastical taxes in England that he now had on the continent. This was not for...