The Anglican Church numbers about 85 million (Countries With the Largest Anglican Populations, worldatlas.com). The top five countries, by number, are: (1) Nigeria; (2) United Kingdom; (3) Uganda; (4) Sudan; (5) Australia. The United States is seventh, counting the Episcopal Church U.S.A. (ibid).
The Episcopal Church U.S.A. numbers 1.8 million as of 2019 (2019 Parochial reports show continued decline by Egan Millard, episcopalnewsservice.org). It is rapidly declining. An Episcopal priest, Rev. Dwight Zscheile suggests, “At this rate, there will be no one in worship by around 2050 in the entire denomination” (ibid).
1. Arthur and Catherine
Arthur married Catherine in 1501. Arthur was the Prince of Wales, the son of Henry VII, and the apparent heir to the English Crown. Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who reigned in Spain. She was also the aunt of Charles V, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The marriage lasted only a few months. Arthur died of some illness in 1502.
2. Henry VIII and Catherine
Spain did not want to lose this alliance with England. It was politically valuable to Ferdinand and Isabella.
England did not want to lose the dowry. Half of the promised dowry had been received, but it must be returned if Catherine returned. The other half of the dowry was still to be received.
The Pope was petitioned to allow Prince Henry VIII to marry Catherine. His approval was needed since Henry would be marrying the widow of his elder brother. This was not ordinarily allowed by the Roman Catholic Church. Catherine insisted that the marriage had never been consummated. Pope Julius II granted this dispensation in 1504.
The two were married in 1509, after young Henry had matured. The marriage occurred shortly after Henry had become King of England.
Over time, Henry became convinced that the marriage had not been pleasing to God. The marriage had produced multiple miscarriages and still births. Catherine was pregnant at least six times. However, only one child survived, a girl, Mary. No male heirs survive (The pregnancies of Katherine of Aragon by Sarah Bryson, tudorsociety.com). Henry read Leviticus 20:21 and 18:16. He was convinced that the papal dispensation, which allowed him to marry Catherine, should never have been granted.
3. Anne Boleyn
Sometime around 1525-1526, Henry became infatuated with Anne. She served as a maid of honor to Catherine. She refused to be Henry’s mistress, as her sister Mary had been. She wanted more. She wanted to marry Henry.
Henry petitioned Pope Clement VIII for an annulment for his marriage to Catherine (c. 1527). This placed the Pope in a difficult position. It was difficult politically. Catherine’s parents ruled in Spain. Her nephew was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It was difficult ecclesiastically. He was being asked to say that a previous Pope was wrong in allowing the marriage to Catherine. This potentially would erode confidence in the church. In 1531, the annulment petition was denied. Moreover, Henry was threatened with excommunication if he married Anne.
Henry would not be deterred. He banished Catherine from his presence. She lived out her days in Kimbolton Castle. Henry married Anne. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, annulled the marriage to Catherine in 1533.
4. Break with Rome
Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534. If officially removed the Church of England from papal authority. It also declared the King and his successors to be “the Supreme head of the Church of England.” He had at one time been a defender of the Roman Catholic Church, and papal authority. In 1521, Henry was declared “Defender of the Faith” (Fidei Defensor) by Pope Leo X, after Henry wrote a book entitled Defence of the Seven Sacraments (Assertio Septem Sacramentorum). “Henry’s treatise was intended as a defense of the church and the supremacy of the papacy from Luther’s ideas and writings” (Defender of the Faith, blogs.bl.uk). [Note: The title Defender of the Faith (FD or FID DEF) was carried over into the Church of England. It is used to refer to the head of the Church of England].
The Church of England under Henry VIII might be considered Catholicism without the Pope. Doctrinally there was little obvious difference. “Henry did not intend any real reformation within the English Church. During his reign there was a cleavage from the papacy, but there was not any official acceptance of Protestantism” (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 271). “Under the initial leadership of King Henry VIII, the Church of England broke with the Pope… not with the Catholic faith” (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 1, p. 887).
Wealth was transferred. In 1539, Parliament closed all Roman Catholic monasteries in England. The land and possessions were sold. This is called the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This further separated England from Rome.
5. Edward VI
Henry VIII had a difficult time producing a male heir. Catherine produced a daughter, Mary. Anne Boleyn produced a daughter, Elizabeth. His third wife, Jane Seymour, gave him a male heir, Edward. Henry married three more times, but had no more children.
Edward was not yet ten when his father died. He had been tutored and would continue to be influenced by Protestants. During his short reign (1547-1553) the Church of England became more Protestant.
6. Mary and Elizabeth
Mary’s reign (1553-1558) attempted to bring England back under the Papacy. Protestants referred to her as “Bloody Mary” due to the persecution of Protestants and reformers. Archbishop Cranmer and bishops Ridley and Latimer were among those who died during her bloody reign.
Elizabeth’s reign (1558-1603) removed England from Rome once again. In 1559, another Act of Supremacy was passed. “In her efforts to bring peace to Britain she did all she could to satisfy both the Catholics and the Reformers. In her chapel she had a crucifix, burned candles and had private mass, but she pleased the Protestants outwardly by making it possible for them to have legal existence… As Luther had retained… many outward forms of Romanism, Elizabeth seemed to want to follow this pattern and not offend the Catholics any more than necessary. It is likely that she sincerely desired a middle ground position” (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 274).
“As the colonies broke with England, many who had been Anglican took the name Episcopalian and established the Episcopal Church. Their doctrine and organization, however, remained that of the Church of England” (Mattox, p. 304). The Episcopalian Church USA (ECUSA) or officially The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA) is a part of the Anglican communion. However, it is self-governing. The national headquarters is located in New York, New York (episcopalcafe.com).
[The following works are among the works consulted in presenting this material: Owen Chadwick, The Reformation; Anglican Community, Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 1 © 1979; Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church; F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom; Susan Doran, Henry VIII and the Reformation, bl.uk; Barton Gingerich, What Do I Need to Know About the Anglican Church? Christianity.com; Crystal Ponti, Who Were The Six Wives of Henry VIII, history.com; Catherine of Aragon, biography.com; Anne Boleyn, hrp.org.uk; Ryan Reeves YouTube Channel Historical Theology For Everyone, Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary].