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The terms Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Catholicism describe people, beliefs and practices within Anglicanism that affirm the Catholic, rather than Protestant, heritage and identity of the Anglican churches.

Many Anglo-Catholics today, especially in England, prefer the terms Anglican Catholic or Catholic Anglican. The term High Church is also often used to refer to Anglo-Catholicism even though its traditional meaning is not identical.

Churchmanship differences

Within Anglicanism, especially in the Church of England, various terms are frequently used - not always entirely correctly - to denote the three principal forms of Anglican churchmanship: High Church, Low Church and Broad Church (or Latitudinarian).

  • High Church is generally used to describe forms of Anglicanism influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by the Catholic tradition. Anglo-Catholicism is often identified with this variety of churchmanship, although not all "High Church" Anglicans would endorse some prominent aspects of Anglo-Catholicism.
  • Low Church usually refers to Anglicans of a more Evangelical tradition who, more consistent with the Protestant tradition, emphasise the primacy of scripture and salvation through faith alone. Low Church Anglicans usually worship according to the official prayer books, but with much less ceremony.
  • Broad Church generally refers to Anglicans somewhere between the "high" and "low" traditions. The term is sometimes used to denote Anglicans of a more liberal theological perspective.


Anglo-Catholicism claims the continuity of the Church of England with the early days of Christianity in Great Britain, even before Pope Gregory the Great sent St Augustine of Canterbury from Rome in the late 6th century to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons, a process largely completed in the 7th century. The conversion of the English marked the beginning of Christianity in most parts of Englandmarker, although many of the Romano-British inhabitants of the Britishmarker islands practised a non-papal episcopal Christianity long before the arrival of pagan Germanic tribes from Denmark and northern Germany.

When the Protestant Reformation broke out in Europe, the tide reached England as well. King Henry VIII took England into schism from Rome when the Pope refused to declare null his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, but retained Catholic views in theology and liturgy, while some reformers (such as Bishop John Hooper) wanted to follow the radical reforms of Geneva. All reforms were reversed, briefly, during the reign of the staunchly Roman Catholic Mary I who resumed communion with Rome as part of a general campaign to end the influence of Reformation ideas in England and Wales. Consequently, when Queen Elizabeth I took the English throne, she sought to steer a via media between what her bishops felt were the excesses of both Rome and Geneva. Thus was born the Elizabethan Settlement and the promulgation of a single Book of Common Prayer for all theological persuasions in the Church of England. This marks the birth of the Anglican ethos which was championed by the Elizabethan divine Richard Hooker.

From that time, through Archbishop Laud and the Caroline Divines, up to the time of the Oxford Movement Tractarians, the Anglo-Catholic Congresses and the present day, there has always been a theological party within Anglicanism which has sought to stress apostolic continuity all the way back to the Twelve Apostles. In response to Pope Leo XIII's Apostolicae Curae (1896), which declared the Anglican apostolic succession invalid from the Vatican's perspective, the Anglican Archbishops of Canterburymarker and Yorkmarker have claimed, starting with their official response Saepius Officio, that there is an unbroken apostolic succession in the Anglican priesthood and that the historical episcopate has been in the British Isles from the earliest days of the Church. Anglo-Catholicism has been weakened at regular intervals by secessions by its prominent leaders to the Roman Catholic Church, or occasionally to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, among whom was John Henry Newman, who went on to become a cardinal. Moments of crisis provoking such defections include the (narrowly avoided) condemnation of Tract 90 in 1841, the ritualistic controversy and the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874, the Prayer Book controversy of 1927-28 and, more recently, decisions by many Anglican provinces to ordain women as priests.

Oxford Movement

The modern Anglo-Catholic movement can be traced to the Oxford Movement of the Victorian era, sometimes termed Tractarianism.

In the early 19th century, various factors caused misgivings among English churchmen, including the decline of church life and the spread of unorthodox practices in the Church of England. The British government's action in 1833 of beginning a reduction in the number of Church of Ireland bishoprics and archbishoprics inspired a sermon from John Keble in the University Church in Oxford on the subject of "National Apostasy". This sermon marked the inception of what became known as the Oxford Movement.

The principal objective of the Oxford Movement was the defence of the Church of England as a divinely-founded institution, of the doctrine of the Apostolic Succession and of the Book of Common Prayer as a "rule of faith". The key idea was that Anglicanism was not a Protestant denomination, but rather a branch of the historic Catholic Church, along with the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. It was argued that Anglicanism had preserved the historical apostolic succession of priests and bishops and thus the Catholic sacraments. These ideas were promoted in a series of ninety Tracts for the Times.

The principal leaders of the Oxford Movement were John Keble, John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey. The movement gained influential support, but it was also attacked by the latitudinarians within the University of Oxfordmarker and by bishops of the church. Within the movement there gradually arose a much smaller group which tended towards submission to the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1845 the university censured the pro-Roman Catholic theologian W. G. Ward and his Ideal of a Christian church. 1850 saw the victory of the Evangelical clergyman George Cornelius Gorham in a celebrated legal action against the church authorities. A number of conversions to the Roman Catholic Church followed. The majority of adherents of the movement, however, remained in the Church of England and, despite hostility in the press and in government, the movement spread. Its liturgical practices were influential, as were its social achievements (including its slum settlements) and its revival of male and female monasticism within Anglicanism.


Since at least the 1970s, Anglo-Catholicism has been dividing into two distinct camps, along a fault-line which can perhaps be traced back to Bishop Charles Gore's work in the 19th century.

The Oxford Movement had been inspired in the first place by a rejection of liberalism and latitudinarianism in favour of the traditional faith of the "Church Catholic", defined by the teachings of the Church Fathers and the common doctrines of the historical eastern and western Christian churches. Until the 1970s, therefore, most Anglo-Catholics rejected liberalising development such as the conferral of holy orders on women. Present-day "traditionalist" Anglo-Catholics seek to maintain tradition and to keep Anglican doctrine in line with that of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. They often ally themselves with Evangelicals to defend traditional teachings on sexual morality. The main organisation in the Church of England that opposes the ordination of women, Forward in Faith, is largely composed of Anglo-Catholics.

Gore's work, however, bearing the mark of liberal Protestant higher criticism, paved the way for an alternative form of Anglo-Catholicism influenced by liberal theology. Thus in recent years many Anglo-Catholics have accepted the ordination of women, the use of inclusive language in Bible translations and the liturgy and progressive attitudes towards homosexuality. Such Anglicans often refer to themselves as "Liberal Catholics". The more "progressive" or "liberal" style of Anglo-Catholicism is represented by Affirming Catholicism.

A third strand of Anglican Catholicism criticizes elements of both liberalism and conservatism, drawing instead on the twentieth century Roman Catholic Nouvelle Théologie, especially Henri de Lubac. John Milbank and others within this strand have been instrumental in the creation of the ecumenical (though predominantly Anglican and Roman Catholic) movement known as Radical Orthodoxy.

Some traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have left official Anglicanism to form "continuing Anglican churches" such as the Traditional Anglican Communion. Others have left Anglicanism altogether for the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, in the belief that liberal doctrinal innovations in the Anglican churches has resulted in Anglicanism no longer being a true branch of the "Church Catholic".

Practices and beliefs


What Anglo-Catholics believe is fiercely debated, sometimes even among Anglo-Catholics themselves.

In agreement with the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches, Anglo-Catholics — along with Old-Catholics and Lutherans — generally appeal to the "canon" (or rule) of St Vincent of Lerins: "What everywhere, what always, and what by all has been believed, that is truly and properly Catholic."

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles make distinctions between Anglican and Roman Catholic understandings of doctrine. As the Articles were intentionally written in such a way as to be open to a range of interpretations, Anglo-Catholics have defended Catholic practices and beliefs as being consistent with them. Due to the Articles' harsh tone, however, they have generally not been held in high regard by most Anglo-Catholics.

Anglo-Catholic priests often hear private confessions and anoint the sick, regarding these practices, as do Roman Catholics, as sacraments. The majority of Anglicans generally think of them merely as optional sacramental rites. The classic Anglican aphorism regarding private confession is: "All may, some should, none must."

Anglo-Catholics share with Roman Catholics a belief in the sacramental nature of the priesthood, the sacrificial character of the Mass and the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist. A minority of Anglo-Catholics also encourage priestly celibacy. Some Anglo-Catholics encourage devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly under her title of Our Lady of Walsingham, but not all Anglo-Catholics adhere to a high doctrine of Mariology.

A minority of Anglo-Catholics, sometimes called Anglo-Papalists, consider themselves under papal supremacy even though they are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Such Anglo-Catholics, especially in England, often celebrate Mass according to the contemporary Roman Catholic rite and are concerned with seeking reunion with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Liturgical practices

Anglo-Catholics are usually identified by their liturgical practices and ornaments. These may be characterised by the "six points" of the Oxford Movement's eucharistic practice:
  • eucharistic vestments
  • eastward-facing orientation of the priest at the altar (not facing the congregation)
  • unleavened bread for the eucharist
  • mixing of water with the eucharistic wine
  • incense and candles.

Many other traditional Catholic practices are observed within Anglo-Catholicism, including eucharistic adoration. Many Anglo-Catholic "innovations" (or, rather, revivals of dormant practices) have since become accepted by mainstream Anglicans.

Various liturgical strands exist within Anglo-Catholicism:

Preferences for Elizabethan English and modern English texts vary within the movement.

In the United States a group of Anglo-Catholics in the Episcopal Church published, under the rubrics of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, an Anglican Service Book which is "a traditional language adaptation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer together with the Psalter or Psalms of David and additional devotions." This book is based on the 1979 Book of Common Prayer but includes offices and devotions in the traditional language of the 1928 Prayer Book that are not in the 1979 edition. The book also draws from sources such as the Anglican Missal.


Opposition to Anglo-Catholicism has existed within Anglicanism since the movement's inception. The more Evangelical or Low Church traditions emphasise a more Reformed understanding of the nature of Anglicanism and has been suspicious of, or even openly hostile to, the Catholic ethos that informs Anglo-Catholicism.

The theological basis of Anglo-Catholicism - that Anglicanism is a branch of the historic Catholic Church, with valid bishops, priests and sacraments - has never fully been accepted by the two largest church traditions, the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches (the exception being some schools of thought within the Orthodox communion), since each of those bodies claims to be in itself the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In 1896, Pope Leo XIII declared in the papal bull Apostolicae Curae that the orders of Anglican clergy were "absolutely null and utterly void" and that Anglican priests and bishops were therefore laymen. Apostolicae Curae continues to be a source of some controversy: for one, its criterion for establishing the validity of holy orders allegedly disqualifies several ancient forms of Catholicism, according to the Church of England's official response [[Saepius Officio]]. That response is regarded by Anglicans as a refutation of Rome's claims.

Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices (sometimes called 'Ritualism', though many Anglo-Catholics dislike the term) were a particular source of controversy in the 19th century and led to the passage of the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874.


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