Further Thoughts 

After finishing a book, an author inevitably gains new insights and wishes that they could have come earlier, so as to be incorporated into the book.  Also, readers draw attention to errors, inconsistencies and other glitches.  This page shares some random thoughts that might be included in a second edition of The Sacramental Church.  It page also provides background material or expanded discussions that had to be omitted because of length constraints.  This additional material is unedited and may not meet the same standards of presentation, consistency and accuracy as the book does.

Random Thoughts

Anglicans have been quick to criticize the Church of Rome for its use of Latin, and the Russian Orthodox Church for use of Old Church Slavonic—languages "that nobody understood."  Use of the vernacular English was a key ingredient of Thomas Cranmer's strategy for church reform.  Yet large numbers of  Anglicans continue to insist on "traditional language" liturgies and the King James Bible (the language of the KJV was archaic even when it was written!). Tudor English is the Anglican "sacred language," with a huge investment of emotion and spiritual experience. 

As for Latin and Old Slavonic, the argument that these sacred languages impeded ordinary people's ability to participate in public worship was always overstated.  They could certainly follow the services more easily when they visited another country within the sacred linguistic region.  Moreover, those sacred languagesalong with Hebrew and Sanskrithave a mantric quality that may not exist in modern languages.  The growing Roman Catholic population that has pressed for return to the Latin Mass provides evidence of continued reverence for a sacred language, even after two or more generations have grown up in the vernacular worship environment.

On page 193 it is stated that no Anglican religious orders were dedicated to Mary.  It should have said "no male religious orders."  A few pages earlier the book mentions the Community of St Mary, founded in 1865 by Harriet Starr Cannon.  The order, whose mother house is in Peekskill, New York, remains active today, and has houses in Memphis and Sewanee, Tennessee, and elsewhere.  [Thanks to Fr. Charles Cannon for pointing this out.]  

Page 204 states that Guildford Cathedral was the only new cathedral built in England since the Reformation.  In fact [thanks again to Fr. Cannon for pointing this out] Truro Cathedral, Cornwall, was also newly built.  The foundation stone was laid in 1880, and the quire and transepts were dedicated seven years later.  The nave was dedicated in 1903.  Following the traditions of the catholic revival, the cathedral was designed in the neo-Gothic style.  The architect, John Loughborough Pearson, used an almost identical design for St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, Australia. 

Page 219 states that Bishop Manton Eastburn of Massachusetts died before the General Convention ruled that a bishop must visit all parishes in his or her diocese at least once every three years. Julianne Ture of the Church of the Advent, Boston, points out that Bishop Eastburn passed away in 1872, sixteen years after the Convention action. Moreover, Eastburn visited the Church of the Advent at least once during that period. Thank you for that clarification.

The book divides Christianity into sacramental and evangelical traditions, along with the comparatively recent liberal/progressive tradition. We should also acknowledge that Christianity has always had an esoteric tradition, overlapping the others.  Esotericism explores the subtle, veiled aspects of scripture, theology, and worship, rather than the literal, external, and more obvious aspects.  That an esoteric tradition extended back to apostolic times is readily seen from the Gospel of Thomas and other extra-canonical texts.  Expressions of esoteric Christianity include Gnosticism, medieval and later mysticism, the Rosicrucian movement, Christian Kabbalah, the Gnostic revival, and Christian Theosophy.  Eastern Orthodox mystical theology has a strong, esoteric dimension. In the West in modern times, the Liberal Catholic Church exemplifies the esoteric sacramental tradition, and the Unity School of Christianity the esoteric evangelical tradition. 

The ordination of women clergy and consecration of women bishops remain divisive issues within the Anglican Communion.  Appeal to the fact that Christ chose twelve men to be his disciples loses its force for two reasons.  First, many women also served in Christ's immediate circle, and the Pauline epistles and Acts confirm that women continued to play important roles in the early church. Second, the twelve disciples scarcely provide an adequate model for an all-male Christian church hierarchy; they were all Jews! 

The Thirty-Nine Articles have been allowed to become historical artifacts.  And apart from that one venture into dogma the Anglican church has wisely steered clear of binding theological formulas in favor of a vibrant, evolving liturgy.  Dogma is the dead residue of spiritual experience—in almost all cases other people's experiences, because those who formulate dogma have rarely had authentic spiritual experiences.

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More on Early Christianity in Britain

Celts once inhabited large areas of Europe.  By the beginning of the Common Era, however, they had been pushed to the Atlantic seaboard by Roman imperial expansion.  Following Julius Caesar’s expedition to the region in 55 BCE, the Celtic lands acquired their Latin names: Britannia, or Albion (roughly corresponding to present-day England and Wales), Caledonia (Scotland), Hibernia (Ireland), Armorica (Brittany) in northwestern France, and Galicia in northwest Spain.  A series of military campaigns, lasting through the latter part of the first century CE, brought much of Britannia under imperial occupation, whereupon we call it “Roman Britain.”  Amorica and Galicia were lightly occupied.  Hibernia and much of Caledonia escaped Roman occupation.

As we examine the origins of Christianity in Roman Britain, three important questions arise: when did the first missionaries arrive, who were they, and where did they come from?  According to the sixth-century Welsh priest Gildas the Wise, Christianity came to Britain “at the latter part… of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”:

[T]hese islands, stiff with cold and front, and in a distant region of the world, remote from the visible sun, received the beams of light, that is, the holy precepts of Christ, the true Son, showing to the whole worlds his splendour.[1]

Tiberius died in 37 CE, and Gildas’ estimate seems implausible; nevertheless legends of missionary activity in neighboring Gaul support the theory of an early arrival in Britain.  Gildas added that the holy precepts “were received with lukewarm minds by the inhabitants, but they nevertheless took root among some of them.”

The first reference to Joseph of Arimathea’s arrival in Britain comes from the Life of Mary Magdalene, a ninth-century text attributed to Rabanus Maurus (c.780–856), archbishop of Mainz.  That text and other legends declared that Joseph was sent to Britain by the apostle Philip, whereupon he purchased land at Glastonbury to build a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Rebuilt after a fire, the church eventually became “St. Joseph’s Chapel” in the abbey church of St Peter and Paul.  Allegedly Joseph brought with him a twig from the crown of thorns, together with the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and which also caught drops of blood at the crucifixion.  Glastonbury became identified with Avalon of the Arthurian stories, and the chalice with the Holy Grail.[2]  The 12th-century historian William of Malmesbury claimed that Joseph was accompanied by twelve followers, including his son, and that they married into Celtic aristocracy.[3] 

Conceivably Christian missionaries could have reached Britain by sea from the Mediterranean, but most likely they came from Gaul, or what is now France.  Multiple legends refer to Christian communities in Provence and the Rhône valley in the period 40–60 CE.  Allegedly they included Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Martha, Salome the mother of James and John, and Trophimus—the last of whom was listed as one of Jesus’ “seventy” disciples.[4]  The Church in Gaul was well-established when Pothinus, Bishop of Lyon; Sanctus, deacon of neighboring Vienne; and others were martyred in 177, under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Significantly, the Gallic Church looked east, rather than to Rome, for its source of authority.  Pothinus and his successor, Irenaeus, were both disciples of Polycarp of Smyrna in Asia Minor; and news of the martyrdoms was sent “to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia, who have the same faith and hope of redemption as ourselves.”[5]  Roman ecclesiastical authority evolved slowly and became effective only in the fourth century.

Much earlier than Gildas and Rabanus, the Roman scholar Hippolytus (c.170–c.236) attributed the conversion of Britain to Aristobulus, another of the 70 disciples and brother of Barnabas:

Aristobulus… was chosen by St Paul to be the missionary bishop to the land of Britain, inhabited by a very warlike and fierce race.  By them he was often scourged, and repeatedly dragged as a criminal through their towns, yet he converted many of them to Christianity.  He was there martyred after he had built churches and ordained deacons and priests for the island.[6]

After his death in about 90 CE—reportedly at Glastonbury—Aristobulus became known as the “Apostle of Britain.”  Yet another legend claims that Altus, an Irish soldier in the Roman army, was present at the crucifixion and that, after converting to Christianity, he returned to Ireland as a missionary.  Less direct references to the christianization of Britain appear in the writings of Church Father Tertullian of Carthage (c.160–c.220); historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c.263–c.339); and Hilary (c.300–c.368), bishop of Poitiers.  Tertullian noted that Christianity had already expanded beyond the areas of Roman occupation:

For upon whom else have the universal nations believed, but upon the Christ who is already come?  For whom have the nations believed… all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons—inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ…?[7]

He may have been referring to the western periphery of Britain or to Ireland.

None of these assertions, taken alone, can be considered more than speculative; but in combination they suggest that Christianity reached the British Isles at an early date.  In any event we have historical evidence that Christianity was established in Britain by the fourth century.


[1]           Gildas the Wise, On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, §8, (trans: J. Giles), Six Old English Chronicles, London: Bell & Sons, 1891

[2]            Legends surrounding Joseph and Glastonbury are explored in John W, Taylor, The Coming of the Saints: Imaginations and Studies in Early Church History and Tradition, New York: Dutton & Co., 1907.

[3]            John Scott, An Early History of Glastonbury, Boydell Press, 2009.

[4]            A list of the 70 disciples was provided by Hippolytus.

[5]            Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lugdunum to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia, (trans: A. Roberts & J. Donaldson), Early Christian Writings.

[6]            Hippolytus, Martyrologies of the Greek Church, entry for March 15, 160 CE.  See also Luke 10:10.  This Aristobulus is not to be confused with the second-century BCE Jewish scholar Aristobulus of Paneas.

[7]            Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos (“Against the Jews”), ch. 7, (trans: S. Thelwall), Christian Classics Library, 1998.  “The Spains” probably included parts of southern France.

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More on Henry VIII

Henry assigned the task of dissolving the monasteries to the politically astute and ambitious Thomas Cromwell.  Financier and lawyer, Cromwell had gained experience in the 1520s while serving as assistant to Cardinal Wolsey; he had helped Wolsey dissolve thirty monasteries to fund the establishment of Cardinal College, Oxford, later renamed Christ Church, and a school in Ipswich that was never completed. 

During 1534 and ’35 Cromwell visited monastic institutions throughout the realm to ascertain the quality of spiritual life and make an inventory of their assets and income.  Certainly not all monasteries lived up to the highest spiritual ideals, but Cromwell’s reports provided conveniently graphic accounts of abuses and immorality.  With the reports in hand, between 1536 and 1541, Henry disbanded all abbeys, priories, nunneries and friaries in England, Wales, and the part of Ireland under English control.  Some abbeys were converted into secular churches or cathedrals; others, like Glastonbury, were left in ruins.  The income from seized properties was appropriated and assets sold to the nobility and gentry.  Lifetime pensions were awarded to former religious who could not be reassigned as secular clergy.  The remaining annual income from the properties was still substantial. 

One of Henry VIII’s political strategies was to build political alliances with the princes of northern Germany.  To curry their favor he decided to introduce limited Lutheran-style reforms into the Church of England.  The bishops issued a doctrinal statement in August 1536, known as the Ten Articles   It emphasized the primacy of scripture; presented a watered-down version of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith; and listed just three sacraments: Baptism, Penance and the Eucharist.  But it left the Latin Mass in place and affirmed the Real Presence.  Needless to say, the Ten Articles outraged Catholics but disappointed reformists who wanted much more.  One month later Cromwell issued an injunction banning the observance of some saints’ days and condemning pilgrimages and the use of images in churches.  By then Cromwell had acquired two new honors.  He was named “Baron Cromwell” and—though not an ordained priest—was appointed royal Vicar-General of the Church of England, with authority even over the Archbishop of Canterbury.[1]

Rebellions broke out in 1536 in protest against the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, first in Lincoln and then in York;[2] two more erupted in 1537.  Little came of the rebellions, but Henry determined to suppress religious practices likely to attract significant numbers of people loyal to the pope.  He banned pilgrimages, saints’ days and the display of relics.  His soldiers also looted and destroyed many shrines that had been popular pilgrimage destinations since the Middle Ages. 

The mood of the country changed on October 12, 1537, the feast of Edward the Confessor, when Queen Jane Seymour successfully bore a son, the future King Edward VI.  Jane died of postnatal complications 12 days later.

Nothing came from Henry’s overtures to the German princes, and by the end of the decade the traditionalist party was in the ascendancy.  In June 1539 parliament issued a new doctrinal statement, the Six Articles, prepared with Gardiner’s help, which retreated from the earlier Protestant stance.  Gardiner and Norfolk assumed responsibility for enforcing the Articles, while the reformists were caught off-guard.  After criticizing the Articles, Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, resigned his see and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Nicholas Shaxton, Bishop of Salisbury, was arrested for denying the real presence in the Eucharist.  Barnes reverted to Lutheranism and was burned at the stake. 

Two days earlier, on July 28, 1540—and just three months after being named Earl of Essex—Cromwell was beheaded.  His death, after serving Henry faithfully for a decade, reflected the king’s anti-reformist mood, but he and Barnes had also arranged Henry’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves.[3]  The marriage was annulled, and Henry married Catherine Howard on the day of Cromwell’s execution.  Cranmer was one of the few high officials in Henry’s court to maintain the volatile king’s favor throughout the reign; he did so by spending most of his time out of the country.

Finally, in 1543 the King’s Book—largely the work of Henry himself—gave the people “a true and perfect doctrine.”  It reaffirmed almost all the familiar Catholic teachings, including belief in transubstantiation, communion under one kind, auricular confession, and clerical celibacy.[4]  Cranmer disagreed with the Book’s provisions but had no choice but to enforce them.  The rule of clerical celibacy was particularly embarrassing to Cranmer because his own marriage to the daughter of Lutheran theologian Andreas Oslander was an open secret.  By the end of Henry’s reign, the Church of England could well be described as “independent Catholic.”  Few doctrines had been changed, and public worship continued much as in pre-Reformation times.  The major differences were the break with Rome, the end of the monastic system, and the suppression of some traditional devotional practices. 

Catherine Howard was beheaded in February 1543, and the following July Henry married one last time, to Catherine Parr.  His six wives bore him three surviving children: a son and two daughters.  The Act of Succession of 1543, the third during the reign, declared that Edward, Henry’s son by Jane Seymour, was the heir apparent; it also restored Mary and affirmed Elizabeth as heirs behind Edward.  Henry died January 28, 1547, with Cranmer at his bedside.  The life of the Duke of Norfolk, whose execution was scheduled for the next day, was saved;[5] nevertheless Norfolk remained in prison for a further six years.

[1]     Cromwell received the title of baron, July 9, 1536; four years later April 18, 1540) he was named Earl of Essex.  He was made Vicar-General January 1, 1535.  Clergy reacted to Cromwell’s appointment as Vicar-General, complaining that he had become a tyrant worse than the pope.

[2]     The second of the two rebellions of October 1536, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, had a mixture of religious, political and economic motives.

[3]     Cromwell was convicted, without trial, by parliamentary attainder for “heresy, treason, fellony, and extortion.”  See Thomas Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D. 1485 to 1559, vol. 1, (reprint), Camden Society 1875, p. 120.

[4]     According to Thomas Wriothesley, clerical celibacy was mandated under the June 1539 Act of parliament.  He commented that the roughly 300 priests then married were ordered to seek divorces. See A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D. 1485 to 1559, vol. 1, p. 102-103.

[5]     Norfolk had fallen out of royal favor and, along with his son, Lord Surrey, had been sent to the Tower of London on charges of high treason in December 1546.  Surrey was beheaded the following month.

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More on James I, Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell

Later in his reign James would be called upon to make an important decision in foreign affairs. Serious sectarian tensions had long been building on the continent of Europe, not only between Roman Catholics and Protestants but among the various branches of Protestantism. By the time James came to the throne armed conflicts had already erupted in France and the Netherlands, and Spain had tried to conquer England. Then in 1618 the Thirty Years’ War broke out. It began when the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor intervened to prevent Bohemia from becoming a Calvinist nation. Bohemian nobles had invited the Calvinist Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate to take the throne. The war was viewed as a life-or-death struggle, a holy war in which either Reformation Christianity or Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism would dictate the long-term future of Europe.

The Elector Frederick was James I’s son-in-law; he had married James’ daughter Elizabeth in 1613. Frederick appealed to James for military support, sure that the family tie, together with English abhorrence for Roman Catholicism, would guarantee a favorable response. To his dismay James ignored the request. Appeals to the Protestant states of Germany were equally unsuccessful. Political rivalries and Lutheran–Calvinist tension were so strong that even the Lutheran Elector John George I of neighboring Saxony sided with the emperor rather than with Frederick.[1]

Frederick’s fate was sealed. The Roman Catholic Hapsburgs conquered Bohemia and their ally, Spain, occupied the Palatinate. By 1630 it seemed likely that Protestantism would be eradicated throughout the whole of Germany. The tide was turned only when Lutheran Sweden intervened. Under King Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish army pushed the imperial forces back all the way into the south German heartland. When the king died in battle, the army’s advance was halted, and the war degenerated into a stalemate. By the time the war ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia—long after James I’s death—much of Europe was devastated. Any pretense that it was a religious war had long been forgotten. Instead it had provided hostile nations opportunities to settle old scores and make territorial gains. It was the last religious war of any significance to be fought in Europe.

Whatever guilt James might have felt on moral grounds, it was clearly to England’s advantage to stay out of the war. However, James had plenty of worries at home. He struggled to manage the conflicting Protestant factions, particularly the puritan faction whose influence was steadily growing. James had become enamored of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings: the notion that kings are anointed by God and are responsible to him rather than to their subjects. Bearing in mind that the crown and parliament had been jockeying for supremacy for centuries, James’ bold doctrine could hardly endear him to a staunchly puritan parliament.

The situation deteriorated still further after James’ death. Charles I (1625–1649), who succeeded his father in 1625, also believed in the Divine Right; but he was even less politically astute. Enemies accused him of having Romish leanings, and suspicions increased when he married the Roman Catholic Princess Henrietta Maria of France. Faced with mounting hostility from the political sector, the king dissolved parliament in January 1629 and ruled for the next 11 years by royal prerogative. The years of personal rule provided an opportunity to pursue his policies without parliamentary interference.

Charles reacted angrily to the action of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in November 1638, rejecting the Proposed Prayer Book (Laud’s Book) and deposing or excommunicating the Scottish bishops. He launched a military campaign to subdue the Scots. But the campaign was under-funded and the troops poorly trained. The so-called “Bishop’s War” went badly, and the Scottish army invaded northern England. In 1641 Charles was forced to sue for peace, agreeing to a policy of noninterference in the Scottish Church. Charles also agreed to pay the Scots’ war expenses.

To raise the money, Charles was forced to convene parliament for the first time since 1629.  Summoned in 1640, it remained in session, on and off, for twenty years and came to be known as “the Long Parliament.” Already hostile to the king, parliament was determined to restrict royal power and presented him with a list of 204 grievances.[2] Foremost among the grievances were Archbishop Laud’s policies. In a warning to Charles, the official court “fool” was persuaded to declare “give great praise to the Lord, and little laud to the devil.” It was a spiteful reference to Laud, who was diminutive in stature. In 1640 parliament accused Laud of heading a Roman Catholic conspiracy and arrested him. Laud remained in prison throughout the early stages of the English Civil War. In the spring of 1644, he was brought to trial on a treason charge. The outcome was inconclusive, but parliament passed a bill of attainder condemning him to death. Despite being granted a royal pardon he was beheaded the following January.

Echoing the Church of Scotland’s action two years earlier, 15,000 Londoners petitioned the English parliament in 1640 to abolish the episcopate “root and branch.” A similarly named bill was defeated in parliament in 1641. However, parliament passed the Bishops Exclusion Act later that year, under which bishops were excluded from the House of Lords. And the Root and Branch Act was passed five years later.

In 1643, parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines,” to meet in Westminster Abbey to advise on issues of worship, doctrine and governance of the Church of England. The divines produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. Reflecting Calvinist theology, it would only be used for a short time in England. But the Confession became the “subordinate standard” of doctrine in the Church of Scotland. In October 1646, parliament passed an “Ordinance for the Abolishing of Archbishops and Bishops in England and Wales and for Settling their Lands and Possessions upon Trustees for the Use of the Commonwealth.” As a result the Church’s episcopal structure was dismantled, bishops were removed from their sees, and a presbyterian style of Christianity was established in England.

The struggle between Charles I and parliament degenerated into intermittent civil war that lasted from 1642 to 1648. The outcome was the sound defeat of royalist forces by the parliamentary army of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658). Charles was brought to trial on charges of high treason. Believing in the Divine Right doctrine that he was answerable only to God, he refused to plead. He was convicted and publicly executed in January 1649.

In May of that year the “rump parliament,” purged of all royalists, passed the “Act Declaring England to be a Commonwealth.” Formally implemented in 1853, the measure changed England from a monarchy into a republic. Constitutional power was vested in a Council of State, headed by Cromwell. Parliament remained in session but was given minimal power.

Oliver Cromwell not only supported the puritan cause in England; he also reached out to aid dissident groups abroad. He threatened to send the English fleet to Rome if attacks on the Waldensians of northern Italy did not cease. When Pope Alexander VII yielded to the threat, giving the Waldensians a brief respite, Cromwell earned the congratulations of the emperor Ferdinand II.[3] 

In 1653 Cromwell dismissed parliament and assumed dictatorial power. With the title of “Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland,” he was an absolute monarch in all but name. To emphasize his power, Cromwell was ceremonially re-installed as lord protector in June 1657 at Westminster Hall. He sat upon King Edward’s chair, which was moved from Westminster Abbey for the occasion. The installation used much of the traditional coronation regalia, including a purple ermine-lined robe, a sword of justice and a scepter; only the crown and orb were missing. However Cromwell lived little more than a year.  Upon his death in September 1658, he was briefly succeeded by his son, Richard, who proved to be an ineffective ruler. Also, by that time, public opinion had turned against the Commonwealth. Elections were called, the first in twenty years, and a royalist majority was returned to parliament. A “Convention Parliament” restored Charles I's eldest son to the monarchy as Charles II. Oliver Cromwell’s remains were exhumed and ritually “executed.”


[1]     Eventually Catholic France entered the war on the Protestant side.

[2]     The list of grievances was known as the “Grand Remonstrance.”

[3]     G. F. Young, The Medici, Modern Library, 1930, p. 702.

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More on James II, the Later Stuarts, and the Hanoverians

The Act of Uniformity decreed that the new Prayer Book be used in all church services in England, and clergy were required to subscribe to the Prayer Book as a condition of ordination or retention of their livings. More than 1,000 clergy declined and were ejected from their parishes to join growing numbers of dissenters, or “nonconformists” as they were termed in the Act. Nonconformist clergy and laypeople, defined at that time as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers who refused to participate in Anglican worship, were denied participation in many areas of public life. Puritans, who had enjoyed a period of ascendancy under the Commonwealth, were once again marginalized, as they had been before the Civil War. But despite discrimination, puritanism continued to have broad influence among ordinary people.

Life in the royal court and among the nobility, by contrast, was anything but “puritan.” Charles II’s reign was colored by a wave of license—a reaction against the austerity of the Commonwealth era. Society life in London, typified by stories of the King’s long-time mistress Nell Gwyn, scandalized conservative onlookers.

Charles’s reign was also colored by the situation of his brother James, duke of York.[1] James and his first wife, Ann Hyde, converted to Roman Catholicism in the late 1660s. For a while James kept his conversion secret and continued to attend Anglican worship services. His conversion to Rome became public as a result of the new Test Act of 1673.[2] The Act, passed by parliament specifically to combat growing Roman influence, required all persons holding civil or military office, or admitted of the king’s or duke of York’s household, to swear:

I, N, do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

The Act also required officials to denounce certain Roman Catholic practices as “superstitious and idolatrous” and to receive the Eucharist according to the usage of the Church of England. James refused to take the oath and relinquished the post of Lord High Admiral to which he had been appointed. Charles had opposed James’ conversion to Rome and ordered that their children, Mary and Anne be raised as Protestants. Nevertheless, he allowed James to marry the 15-year-old Italian princess Mary of Modena in 1673. Charles II had a dozen illegitimate children, by seven mistresses, but no legitimate heir. When he died in 1685, James, Duke of York, acceded to the throne as James II.

James II appointed Roman Catholics to some of the highest offices of his three kingdoms: England, Scotland and Ireland. His viceroy to Ireland, Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell, was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office since the Reformation. James also received a vicar apostolic at his court, the first official representative of the pope since the reign of Mary I.[3] However James also tried to appease his puritan subjects. In 1687 he issued the Declaration of Indulgence suspending penal laws targeting both Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters.[4] A similar declaration, issued the following year, was ordered be read from every pulpit in the land. Those measures broadened James’ support base but antagonized the Church of England establishment. Seven English bishops, including William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, petitioned the king to withdraw the declaration. They were arrested and charged with seditious libel but acquitted by the Court of King’s Bench.

By then James’ second wife, Mary, was widely suspected of being an agent of the pope and anti-Roman hysteria was running high. It reached a peak in June 1688 when Mary gave birth to a Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward. The prospect of a continuing Roman Catholic monarchy provoked powerful forces to intervene. James was deposed in the so-called “Glorious Revolution.” A group of English nobles invited the Dutch Calvinist William of Orange (1650–1702) to invade England.

William was a nephew of James II and husband of James’ Protestant daughter Mary.[5] When he arrived with an army in November 1688 the king’s forces disintegrated and the invaders faced little resistance. Three months later parliament recognized William and Mary as joint sovereigns: William III and Mary II, and James took refuge in France. The overthrow of James II had two important consequences: the Jacobite movement and a schism in the Anglican Church. The Jacobite movement sought to restore him or one his successors to the throne. The movement received promises of aid from France and Spain, but a series of military campaigns, culminating in the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, were unsuccessful. The last credible pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, died in 1788, whereupon the movement ceased to be politically significant.[6]

Mary II died in 1694, and her husband in 1702. The Bill of Rights of 1689 determined that Princess Anne and her descendants would succeed William and Mary. Accordingly, Anne (1665–1714), daughter of James II and Mary’s sister, became last Stuart monarch. Anne had married Prince George of Denmark in 1683; both were Protestant. Anne had numerous pregnancies and bore five children, four of whom died in infancy. The one surviving child, William, died in 1700 at the age of 11. That death provoked a succession crisis, and the Act of Settlement 1701 determined that, upon Anne’s death, the throne would pass to the Electress Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James, I and her heirs. The main purpose of the Act was to ensure that the monarchy remained Protestant and specifically to exclude the Roman Catholic Stuarts—whose claim to the throne was constitutionally much stronger.

Queen Anne died in 1714. By then Sophia was already dead, and the English throne passed to the Elector of Hanover, who became George I. Thus began the Hanoverian dynasty that lasted through Victoria’s reign. George’s accession again raised the issue of conflict with the oath clergy had taken to James II and “his heirs and lawful successors.”[7] Clergy loyal to the Jacobite line refused to recognize his legitimacy. Unwilling to swear allegiance to the new king, they were deprived of their livings and joined the nonjurors.[8]

Under the Acts of Union of 1707, England and Scotland were united as a single sovereign state, the Kingdom of Great Britain. Anne became its first monarch, while continuing to hold the separate crown of Ireland. In 1712 the Episcopal Church in Scotland, later known as the Scottish Episcopal Church, was recognized as a corporate entity, separate from the presbyterian Church of Scotland. However, priests in the new Episcopal Church had to be ordained by bishops in one of the established churches: the Church of England or the Church of Ireland. Nonjurors were thereby excluded. There were now three major Protestant denominations in Scotland: the Church of Scotland, serving a majority of the population; the small but official Scottish Episcopal Church; and the larger schismatic church of nonjurors which also claimed to be the “Scottish Episcopal Church,” or sometimes even the “Church of Scotland.” Roman Catholicism remained a force in the Scottish highlands.

The Electress Sophia died a few months before Anne, so in 1714 the British crown passed to her son George I. Thus began the Hanoverian dynasty, which lasted until the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. The Hanoverian era is remembered for the loss of the American Colonies but also the great expansion of the British Empire in Asia, the Pacific and elsewhere. Primarily because of its naval strength, Britain became the most powerful nation on earth.


[1]     Upon its capture by the English in 1664, the Dutch territory of New Netherland was named the Province of New York in James’s honor.

[2]     The 1673 Act did not apply to the peerage. But it was extended in 1678 to require that all members of parliament to make a declaration denouncing transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the Mass.

[3]     Abortive attempts had been made in the 1620s to appoint a Vicar Apostolic for England. John Leyburn’s appointment in 1685 marked the start of a permanent vicariate.

[4]     The Declaration was also known as the Declaration for Liberty of Conscience.

[5]     William’s mother was Mary, eldest daughter of Charles I.

[6]     Charles’ younger brother Henry, who now styled himself King Henry IX of England, was living in Rome and had become a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.  Needless to say he had little support for his claim.

[7]     J. H. Overton, The Nonjurors: Their Lives, Principles, and Writings, New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1903, pp. 2. 

[8]     The Hanoverians were particularly unpopular, in many people’s eyes, because they were foreigners.  George I could not even speak English. Yet he would become “Supreme Governor” of the Church of England.

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More on the Early Settlement of North America

Spanish forces invaded Mexico in 1519, and within five years had colonized significant areas of the country.  Roman Catholic missionaries served the settlers’ religious needs and preached to the indigenous peoples.  Over time Mexico became a worthy outpost of Spain’s religious tradition.  Cathedrals were built, and choirs performed Gregorian chant and Spanish sacred polyphony.[1]  In 1526 Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón founded the colony of San Miguel de Guadalupe in present-day Georgia or South Carolina.  The colony failed but is remembered for the first known use of African slaves within the present boundaries of the United States.  More successfully, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St Augustine, Florida, in 1565, and vibrant missions and churches were established along the Californian coast. 

Frenchman Jacques Cartier explored the coast of Newfoundland and the St Lawrence River in the 1530s, and several attempts were made over the next several decades to establish permanent French settlements.  A trading post was established in Tadoussac, Quebec, in 1599, and Quebec City was founded in 1608.  Large tracts of land in “New France” were given to the Church—that is, the Church of Rome.

Sweden and the Netherlands both established settlements in the mid-Atlantic region in the early 17th century.  “New Sweden,” bordering the Delaware River, was later seized by the Dutch and incorporated into the “New Netherlands,” a region stretching from present-day Connecticut to Delaware.  As was common at that time, colonization was outsourced to the private sector, and administration of the New Netherlands was entrusted to the Dutch East India Company.  The company was charged with establishing a national presence, developing profitable agriculture and trade, providing for the educational and spiritual needs of settlers, and securing a satisfactory return to stockholders.  Both New Sweden and the New Netherlands were ethnically mixed and Protestant.

[1]     Construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption began in 1573, to replace an older building.

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More on the Church of England and the Anglican Communion

The Church of England faced other problems. As in most other countries, rationalism, secularism and materialism were increasing, both in the population and in parliament which continued to legislate on matters of doctrine, liturgy and ecclesiastical polity. The Church continued to lose members to other Christian denominations and to the ranks of the “unchurched.”

However Anglicanism was growing rapidly, worldwide, with the creation of national Churches in foreign nations and British colonies. In mid-century the question was posed: how much power over colonial Churches resided in Britain? Two test cases answered that question, both involving Robert Grey (1809–1872), first bishop of Cape Town and metropolitan of the Province of the Cape of Good Hope. The first case arose when Grey convened provincial synods in 1857 and 1861. In both instances William Long, vicar of Mowbray, refused to attend. The bishop suspended Long under powers granted by the synod. Long lost appeals to a local ecclesiastical court and to the civil courts in Cape Town but then appealed to the Privy Council in Britain. The verdict, handed down in June 1863, sided with Long. It stated that the convention had never been established by a lawful civil assembly and had no power to dismiss a vicar. The second test case arose when Grey, supported by the archbishop of Canterbury and 41 other bishops, attempted to remove John William Colenso, bishop of Natal, which was in Grey’s province, for heresy. In 1865 the Privy Council ruled in that case that, even though Grey had received letters patent from Queen Victoria approving his consecration, she could not appoint a metropolitan in a self-governing British colony.[1] 

The outcome of the two cases was that bishops, metropolitans, and dioceses throughout the Anglican world did not have the legal standing they thought they had. Ecclesiastical authority in self-governing colonies could only flow from local legislatures; neither the Church of England—represented by the crown, the Conventions of Canterbury and York, or the archbishop of Canterbury—nor parliament retained imperial power in ecclesiastical matters. Importantly, the monarch was not the “supreme governor” of colonial Churches. Canadian bishops were particularly concerned and appealed to the archbishop of Canterbury to call a worldwide meeting to discuss the implications of the ruling.[2] They wanted reassurance that their appointments were valid. They also wanted to know what it meant to be “Anglican” and what, if anything, united colonial and foreign Churches.

The idea of a “super-convention,” which might acquire legislative and judicial power, was not well received in Britain. However in 1867 the archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Thomas Longley, convened the first Lambeth Conference of bishops from domestic, colonial and foreign Anglican provinces. The archbishop of York refused to attend, and the dean of Westminster refused to allow the meeting to be held in the Abbey—hence the decision to meet at the primate’s palace at Lambeth. Longley tried to allay fears by explaining that the conference was not intended to be a global synod but was merely an opportunity to “discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action.” The meeting took place, and similar meetings have been held ever since, at intervals of about ten years. Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference do not have binding authority, but they have considerable weight in influencing deliberations by the general conventions of the various Anglican provinces.

In most provinces of the Anglican Communion bishops are elected by synods or conventions that include other clergy and laypeople. Uncertainty has long existed as to which had ultimate authority. In 1948 a committee of the Lambeth Conference declared in favor of bishops:

As in human families the father is the mediator of this divine authority, so in the family of the church is the bishop, the father-in-God, wielding his authority by virtue of his divine commission and in synodical association with his clergy and laity, and exercising it in humble submission, as himself under authority.[3]

The committee report was never formally adopted, and in any case resolutions of the Lambeth Conference are not binding on member churches. Whether the patriarchal flavor of the declaration would appeal to people today is an open question.

The longer-term consequence of the 1865 Privy Council ruling was that the member churches of the Anglican Communion realized that they were standalone entities, resembling the autocephelous (that is, fully independent) patriarchates of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. What keeps them together is something intangible, a sense of being “Anglican,” however that might be interpreted at any given time. Whether that cohesion can withstand the centrifugal forces of intra-Communion disagreements remains to be seen. At the time of present writing the Anglican Communion is under great internal stress over policies taken by some member churches to become more inclusive in eligibility for ordination and other gender-related issues.

Currently the Anglican Communion includes 44 regional and national member churches in over 160 countries. Among the member churches are the Church of Ireland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church in Wales. After the Anglican Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869, it created a General Synod to govern itself. Like other Irish churches, the Church of Ireland did not divide when Ireland was partitioned in the 1920s and continues to serve members in both North and South.

The Church of Scotland Act of 1921 was an attempt to settle issues of legal status that had simmered ever since its reorganization in 1690 with a presbyterian style of governance. The Act recognized the Church of Scotland as the “national church” but accorded it complete independence in matters of doctrine, worship, and ecclesiastical appointments. The Church of Scotland is not affiliated with the Anglican Communion, but the separate Scottish Episcopal Church is an affiliate province.

Efforts to separate the Anglican Church in Wales from the Church of England began in the late 19th century, owing to the large number of nonconformists in the population. Bitterly resisted by the House of Lords—in which no Welsh bishops were represented—the Welsh Church Act 1914 was finally passed by the British parliament during the Liberal government of David Lloyd George. It provided for the Welsh Church, consisting of six dioceses, to be disestablished on lines broadly similar to those of the Church of Ireland. Implementation was delayed because of World War I, but the Church in Wales became an independent province of the Anglican Communion in 1920.

The Church of England remains the only established Church in the British Commonwealth. Episcopal appointments still require nomination by the prime minister and royal assent. Parliament also retains ultimate authority on matters of liturgy and doctrine. In 1919 the Church Assembly was created, which gave the Church a degree of legislative authority, but parliament’s rejection of the 1927/28 Prayer Book showed how inadequate that was.

[1]     E. Hermitage Day, Robert Gray: First Bishop of Cape Town, London: Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, 1930; reproduced by Project Canterbury.

[2]     Address of the Provincial Synod of Canada to the Archbishop of Canterbury, September 16, 1685; quoted in Hayes, Anglicans in Canada, pp. 255-256.

[3]     Alan L. Hayes, Anglicans in Canada, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2004, p. 103.

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Copyright © John F. Nash, 2012.  All rights reserved.