Crisis in the Episcopal Church and Parallels to the Reformation

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Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Henry VIII was at odds with the Pope because of his “marriage shenanigans.” To solve the problem, he simply formed his own church. This Portrait of Henry VIII is by Hans Holbein the Younger.

In the last five decades the Episcopal Church has undergone a radical transformation. Although the church has not departed from its base Catholic traditions of the Mass and the Eucharist, the Episcopal Church has grown decidedly liberal and pioneered the mainstream ordination of women and homosexuals. Five centuries ago, the Anglican Church formed or reformed, not over religious issues, but due to politics between the king of England and the pope.

Henry VIII Breaks Away From Rome

Henry VIII, in disagreement with the pope over Henry’s marriage shenanigans, broke away from the Catholic Church in Rome and became a separate entity, known as the Church of England or the Anglican Church. Henry became the titular head of the Church with the power to appoint Bishops, and he left most of the Roman liturgy and mass intact, even to the point of leaving the celebration of the mass in Latin.

Bloody Mary Briefly Restores the Catholic Church

Henry’s son Edward continued with his father’s policies; however, upon Edward’s death, Henry’s daughter Mary brought the church back under papal authority, persecuting and killing those who resisted. Later known as Bloody Mary, Queen Mary burned the famous Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, at the stake.

Much of the hierarchy of the Church of England left for the continent where, during the time known as the Reformation, they learned from many of the Protestants such as the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists.

Upon Mary’s death, her half-sister Elizabeth became Queen and immediately restored the Church of England. The Catholic Mass and Eucharist remained, but the Protestant influence crept into the theology and teachings of the Church of England.

Beginnings of the Episcopal Church in America

During the American Revolution, the Episcopal Church formed because some American Protestants found it intolerable to have the king of England in charge of the church. The Episcopal Church remained in the Anglican Communion and enjoyed the same rituals and rites as the mother church.

Fast forward to the latter half of the twentieth century when the Episcopal Church, along with other mainstream churches in the United States, began to shift to a more liberal theology. Impacted by the abject racism felt during the Civil Rights era, and by the civil unrest fomented by the anti-war protests, the laity and clergy of the church responded, slowly at first, by shifting the focus from the conservative well-to-do traditional members of the church, to helping those on the fringes of society.

The United States National Cathedral is an Episcopal Cathedral

The Episcopal Church has evolved into one of the more progressive offshoots of Catholicism. The United States National Cathedral is an Episcopal Cathedral. Photo by Agnosticpreacherskid.

The Rift in the Episcopal Church

Along with the shift came a decrease in membership – a slow decrease to be sure; however, the decision to ordain women as priests and bishops caused a rift that slowly grew into a chasm with the ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood and as bishops.

In the last five years the Episcopal Church has lost hundreds of thousands of members as conservative members, sometimes entire parishes and dioceses, leave to form Anglican Churches under the direction of African and South American bishops.

Pope Benedict Welcomes Anglicans

Pope Benedict, whose papacy ended in February 2013, took advantage of the split among the Anglicans/Episcopalians and offered to bring those who desired back under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church. Five hundred years after the Anglicans broke away from the Romans, the pope came calling and many Anglican bishops and laity answered the call. Married Anglican priests are allowed to remain married when they become Catholic, a back door that existed long before Pope Benedict.

Though they spent five hundred years apart, the Catholic and Anglican Churches have more in common than they have differences. The Liturgy of the Mass and Eucharist remain almost identical. The Anglicans do venerate Mary; however, they do not worship her. The Queen of England remains the head of the Anglican Church as the Pope remains head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Modern Reformation

Today, the conservative Anglicans/Episcopalians find more in common with the Roman Catholic Church than their more liberal brethren do. For a large percentage of conservatives, the present-day Reformation entails reforming under the auspices of the Catholic Church.

Resources

Booty, J. The Episcopal Church in Crisis. (1988). Cowley Publications.

Bunderson, Carl. Pope Praised for Trailblazing Unity With Anglicans. (2013). Catholic News Agency. Accessed April 27, 2013.

Mullet, M. Reformation and Counter-Reformation. (2010). The Scarecrow Press Inc.

Sunshine, G.S. The Reformation for Armchair Theologians. (2005). Westminster John Know Press.

The Episcopal Church. Accessed April 27, 2013.

© Copyright 2013 L. R. Putt, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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Comments

  1. Frank Beswick Francis Beswick says:

    In the early seventeenth century there were some Anglcian bishops who argued that the split with Rome was not for ever and that the aim was one day for the churches to re-unite. Remember, The English did not want the split, it was forced on an unwilling people by a powerful elite.

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