The Church of England is the established Christian church in England and the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church has both liberal and conservative clergy and members.
The church dates its establishment to the 6th-century Gregorian mission in Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury. The English church renounced papal authority when Henry VIII sought to secure an annulment from Catherine of Aragon in the 1530s. The English Reformation accelerated under Edward VI's regents before a brief restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary I and King Philip. The Act of Supremacy 1558 renewed the breach and the Elizabethan Settlement charted a course whereby the English church was to be both Catholic and Reformed:
Catholic in that it views itself as a part of the universal church of Jesus Christ in unbroken continuity with the early apostolic church. This is expressed in its emphasis on the teachings of the early Church Fathers, as formalised in the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian creeds.
Reformed in that it has been shaped by some of the doctrinal principles of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, in particular in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer.
In the earlier phase of the English Reformation there were Catholic martyrs but some radical Protestants were martyred as well. The later phases saw the Penal Laws punish both Catholic and nonconforming Protestants. In the 17th century, political and religious disputes raised the Puritan and Presbyterian faction to control of the church, but this ended with the Restoration. Papal recognition of George III in 1766 led to greater religious tolerance.
Since the English Reformation, the Church of England has used a liturgy in English. The church contains several doctrinal strands, the main three known as Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical and Broad Church. Tensions between theological conservatives and progressives find expression in debates over the ordination of women and homosexuality.
The governing structure of the church is based on dioceses, each presided over by a bishop. Within each diocese are local parishes. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England, leading the Church of England and acting as a focus of unity for the wider Anglican Communion. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is the British monarch, currently Elizabeth II, whose role is largely ceremonial. The General Synod of the Church of England is the legislative body for the church and comprises bishops, other clergy and laity. Its measures must be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
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