The Anglican Church

"one holy catholic apostolic", but not Roman Catholic

Things Roman Catholics need to know about the Anglican Church
By The Rev. William Guerard

Many times I have talked with people who were raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and who, for one reason or another, were thinking about joining the Anglican Church.  They often say things like, "It's just like the Catholic Church, well sort of, right?" or "Your liturgy is almost like the Catholic Church, and I feel so comfortable here."  or "I know you don't accept the Pope, but is there any other difference between churches?"

The purpose of this booklet is to save you and me some time by addressing the issues that usually come up in such conversations.  I also want to raise some issues that all too often don't come up, but should.

This booklet is not intended as a tool for proselytizing people away from the Roman Catholic Church.  Roman Catholics and Anglicans both stand within strong, historic traditions of Christian faith.  Those traditions share many beliefs in common that are central to all of Christianity.  But they also have some important differences that you need to understand before making any decision about which church you will be part of.

My resource for laying out the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, published in 1997 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  References will be listed as "CCC" followed by a paragraph number.

I hope you will find this booklet helpful, not only in searching out what kind of church you want to belong to, but more importantly, in understanding how Jesus Christ is calling you to follow Him.  May God give you the full guidance of His Holy Spirit in this search, the most important search of your life!

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Bill Guerard

An Introduction to the Anglican Church:

So, where did the Anglican Church come from?  We are part of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide community of some 80 million members who trace their origin to the Church of England.

The Anglican Communion began its story as a church apart from the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation, that period in the 16th century when several groups separated from the “Holy Roman Empire”.  Like the Lutherans in Germany, the Church of England separated from Rome over doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church that they felt had no basis in Scripture.  The reformers wanted to restore the church to the doctrine and practice that was reflected in the book of Acts and the apostolic letters of the New Testament.

What about Henry VIII?   King Henry VIII was instrumental in separating the Church of England from Rome.  Although his reasons were admittedly selfish, they raised the same questions that the reformers in Europe were asking about the use of power by the church.

Henry’s first marriage was to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  The parents arranged the marriage to form an alliance between Spain and England.  There was just one problem.  Catherine had been previously married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who then died.  Since the law of the Church forbade Henry to marry his brother’s wife, the royal parents obtained a dispensation from Pope Julius II. The marriage was approved by the Church.

However, the marriage did not produce the much needed male heir to the throne.  In their 21 year marriage, Catherine and Henry had three sons and two daughters, but only one daughter lived past infancy.  A cloud of death seemed to hang over the marriage.

Henry had grave doubts as to whether they had done the right thing, and whether the Pope had the right to overrule Church law.  After polling the best biblical scholars of Europe, he determined that the marriage would never be blessed by God, and should never have taken place.

Henry requested an annulment from the Pope, which under the circumstances, would normally have been given.  But at that time the Pope was Clement VII who was a virtual prisoner of Emperor Charles V.  Charles hated Henry, and  was putting pressure on the Pope not to do anything for England.  The annulment was denied.

Henry was outraged, not only because he was refused the annulment, but because he felt the decision was made on the basis of politics rather than church doctrine.

Did Henry VIII create the Church of England?  In a political sense, yes, since only the king had the power to declare a nation’s independence from the Pope.

But in a spiritual sense, no.  It was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the first Book of Common Prayer, who established the beliefs, the form of worship, and much of the structure of the Church of England according to the pattern of the European Reformers.

The Anglican Church came to America with the settlers who came here from England.  When we became independent from England, the name “Episcopal Church in the U. S. A.” (ECUSA) was adopted by the Anglicans in the United States.  For 200 years the Episcopal Church has been the American branch of the Anglican Communion.  However, in recent years the leadership of the Episcopal Church has departed from the biblical teaching of the Anglican Communion.  St. George’s continues to follow the teaching of the Anglican Communion, not the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

Hierarchy of Truth:

Every group of people have to ask themselves where their primary source of guidance comes from.  Whether it is a nation, a business, or a church, there are some major sources of truth that give the group direction, and a point of reference for dealing with problems or questions.  The very first question that Roman Catholics ask about the Anglican Church is usually “What about the Pope?”

In the Anglican heritage, the three primary sources of truth are Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, in that order. In the Roman Catholic Church they are Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium. (CCC 82, 95)  We differ not only in the order, but in the definition of each.

Scripture, for the Anglican Church, refers to the books of the Old and New Testaments, while the Roman Catholic Church includes the Apocryphal books as Scripture.   We do read from the Apocrypha in the Anglican Church, but these books are not used to establish church teaching.

Tradition, for the Anglican Church means the liturgical customs and institutional forms of the church that have been found helpful in giving expression to the Faith described in the Scriptures.  Tradition, in that sense, is not another body of teaching added to Scripture, but the customs by which the church arranges its life around the teaching that is found in the Scripture alone.  The Tradition of the Anglican Church is contained in the Book of Common Prayer.  It is our belief that nothing shall be taught in the church as a matter of faith that cannot be proven from Scripture.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Tradition is much more far-reaching, including many other volumes of teachings and pronouncements by the Church down through the centuries.   This “tradition” of teaching is given the same authority as the Scriptures.  (CCC 82)

The Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, referring to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him (CCC 85, 86) is described as "infallible" (CCC 2034, 2035) and has become another source of authority equal to that of Scripture (CCC 891).

This has no parallel at all in the Anglican Church.  We do not recognize any person or council as being "infallible."  Since it is clear in Scripture that the Apostle Peter was not infallible himself (Gal. 2:11), how can the papacy that succeeds from him claim to have suddenly become infallible?  Nor is the doctrine of papal infallibility an ancient part of the Christian faith.  It was not declared as a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church until the Vatican Council of 1870.

What we have been given is reason, the uniquely human capacity to understand and discern what is true and what is false, and the Holy Spirit to guide us in applying our reasoning.  The whole church engages in the process of reasoning together, under the leadership of our bishops.  Together we discover how best to apply the teaching of Scripture to our present-day situation in those areas where Scripture gives no clear command.  But our decisions never have the same authority as Scripture.

Especially troubling to Anglicans is to hear the Pope described as having “...full, supreme and universal power over the Church....” (CCC 882)  Again, it is clear from Scripture that Peter never “ruled” over the Church in such a way.  Rather, what we see in the time of the first Apostles is a collaborative leadership in which the Holy Spirit moved upon the whole Church and worked out doctrinal decisions in a fellowship of Apostolic leaders.

How much Catechism is needed?

One difference that you will notice between the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church is the size and number of volumes of doctrine that is presented.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a volume of some 688 pages, not including the index and glossary.  Do we really need a book as big as the Scripture to tell us how to read Scripture.

The Catechism of the Anglican Church is included at the end of this booklet.  A major feature of our Catechism is simplicity.  It is intended only to lay out a basic framework for understanding the Christian Faith.  Within that framework, and in the constant study of Scripture, the Christian believer will work out a life of discipleship with the Holy Spirit being his/her Guide and Counselor, and the fellowship of the Church being a support and encouragement.  The Catechism in intentionally brief (only 18 pages) so that the emphasis remains upon our relationship with Christ and learning how to find in Him the answers that we need, not how to look them up in a book of church doctrine.

We believe that engaging the individual believer in the search for truth is as important as finding the answer- that learning how to walk daily with Christ is as essential as reaching the destination, the Kingdom of God.  Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Role Of “Holy Mother Church”:

The Church is described as “mother” in the Catholic Catechism (CCC169) .  It is made clear that this refers only to the Roman Catholic Church (CCC816, 834-838, 882-883) which alone is the place where salvation is found and the sacraments truly celebrated.  Let me quote from paragraph 834, “All Christian churches everywhere have held and hold the great Church that is here at Rome to be their only basis and foundation...”

I can only say that this is a misreading of history.  The primacy of Rome has been constantly debated in every generation.

In the Anglican Church, we do not speak of “the Church” apart from all of the members who make it up.  It is not an institution composed of clergy, and it is not our “mother”.   The church is not an “it” at all.  The Church is the whole Body of Christ gathered for worship.  We are the Church.  We recognize that the Church exists in many forms as people come together in the name of Christ.  They choose different forms of prayer, and have different ways of organizing their leadership.  These are not the defining marks of the true Church.  Rather, it is faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior which is the first distinctive of the true Church.   

The Virgin Mary:

The next major area of difference between the Churches is the role of Mary in faith and worship.

Let’s begin at paragraph 149 in the Catechism, that “The Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith.” In the Anglican Church we teach that Jesus Christ is the purest realization of the faith.  He is the one and only Mediator between man and God. (1 Tim. 2:5)  That is why we have no altar to Mary.  The only altar in our church is dedicated to Jesus Christ.

We do not teach the “Immaculate Conception”, the belief that Mary was born without sin (CCC 411).  We do believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, but we believe it is a mistake to try to apply the same state to Mary.  Scripture tells us nothing about Mary being immaculately conceived.  What we are told is that she was a woman of faith whom God chose for an extraordinary purpose.

The statement that Mary was “full of grace” (CCC 490-491, 721-722) is a strange way to render the passage from Luke 1:28.  “Highly favored” is a more correct translation on which all major versions of scripture agree.  Indeed, Mary was “favored” by being chosen to be the mother of Christ.  It is misleading to describe her as “full of grace” from which she becomes a dispenser of grace to us (CCC 773, 829, 969).  Jesus alone is the dispenser of grace.

We do not teach that Mary was “perpetually virgin” (CCC 499-500).  It is clear that the Scripture speaks of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, (Luke 8:19, Matt. 13:35, Mark 6:1)  We do not find any reason for saying that these were actually “cousins” or that Mary never had a normal physical relationship with her husband.  The writers of the New Testament knew the difference between brothers and cousins.  The word they chose means “brother”, a biological sibling.

Jesus identifies with us fully because He lived a fully human life in a family of brothers and sisters, with parents who had a fully human marriage.

Neither do we teach the assumption of Mary into heaven (CCC 966-969).  We find no witness to this in Scripture.  To refer to Mary as “Mediatrix” is deeply troubling to Anglicans.  We honor her as a saint, indeed as foremost of the saints, but we find no grounds for elevating her to a superhuman role (CCC 2030).

What about Purgatory?

Purgatory, as an intermediate state of purification between earth and heaven (CCC 1030-1032) is not a doctrine of the Anglican Church.  What we teach is what the Scripture says, that “It is given to all men to die once.  Then comes judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)  Perhaps the clearest evidence of this is the man who died on the cross beside Jesus.  He had lived a badly sinful life and was being punished for it.  In his last moment of life he turned to Jesus and asked for mercy.  Jesus’ response to him was, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)   Jesus does not say to him, “After you spend some time in purgatory paying for your sins, and if someone in the church will say enough prayers to get you through, maybe then I’ll see you.”

The ministry of the Church is to the living, not the dead.  Our urgency about sharing the Gospel is born of the knowledge that after our loved ones die there is no more opportunity to minister to them.  We had better do it now.

What about Indulgences and Masses for the Dead?

One of the major issues of the Reformation was the practice by the Roman Catholic Church of selling indulgences.  This is based on the concept of the Church having a “treasury of merit” which it can dispense on behalf of the faithful who, for whatever reason, feel that a simple act of repentance is not enough to cover their sins (CCC 1471- 1479).

The Anglican Church does not have any practice of offering “indulgences” or “special dispensations”.  We believe that whenever a Christian is convicted of sin, he or she must confess it to God, repent, and then receive God’s full forgiveness which is given by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross.

Is missing Church a sin?

If it is because you are ignoring God’s call on your life, yes.  On this much Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree.  But the Anglican Church does not teach “holy days of obligation” (CCC 2042-2043, 2180-2181).  The purpose of worship is not to become an obligation, but to be an opportunity for us to rejoice in God with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  If someone is missing from worship, we should call to find out what is wrong and see how we can help, not accuse them of sin.

Are priests allowed to marry?

In the Anglican Church, everyone is allowed to marry. We do not require priests or bishops to be celibate as the Roman Catholic Church does (CCC 1580- 1583).  The reason is this.  We know for certain that Peter was married (Matt. 8:14), that Paul, though unmarried, taught all should be free to marry or remain single as the Lord led them (1 Cor. 7:28, 1 Tim. 4:1-5), and that the requirements of a bishop in the early church involved his wife and children (1 Tim. 3:2).  Marriage is neither a requirement for ordination nor a barrier to it.

“I’m divorced.  Do I need an annulment?”

To annul a marriage is to say that there never was a “real” marriage in the first place.  This presents some serious  problems.  If you were married in the church, was the sacrament defective?  At what point should someone in the church have told you “You don’t have a ‘real’ marriage so you shouldn’t be living together.”  When there have been children from the marriage, if the parents were never really married, are the children illegitimate?

The Anglican Church does not offer annulments, and we do not excommunicate people for divorce.  In the Anglican Church we recognize that sometimes marriages fail for a variety of reasons.  Rather than try to go back and undo the marriage, we try to help the couple understand what went wrong, find reconciliation with God and forgiveness of one another, in the recognition that we are all sinners in constant need of God’s grace.  These are the things that should be dealt with before a divorced person considers remarriage.

What about confession?

Sacramental confession is offered in the Anglican Church but not required.  The General Confession that we pray together on Sunday is considered to be a full and sufficient act of confession to prepare us to receive communion.

If a person is troubled by a particular sin, it is a good thing to seek the counsel of a priest.  The Sacrament of confession in the Book of Common Prayer is available for this purpose.

What about ordination of women?

The Anglican Church does allow the ordination of women as priests and bishops.  This is a recent change in the church (1977) and is still being debated in some areas where women’s ordination is not accepted.

What about Transubstantiation?

The doctrine of transubstantiation was once a hotly debated point of difference between our churches because it originated in the metaphysical language of early “Enlightenment” Europe.  It was an attempt to use semi-scientific terms to describe the exact mechanism by which bread becomes flesh and wine becomes blood.  How real is real?  If it still looks like bread, what part of it is “really” flesh?  It was a concept that the reformers found unhelpful and confusing, placing a magical aura around the role of the priest.

The Anglican Church teaches that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, both through the elements of bread and wine, and in the hearts of His faithful people.  Today, the Catholic Catechism describes the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in language that any Episcopalian would be comfortable with (CCC 1322-1405).  I don’t believe we have a conflict over this any more.  Our problem today lies in the role of the clergy, and their power to consecrate.  (see below, “Ecumenism”)


You should know that ever since the proclamation of Pope Leo XIII in 1896, the official position of the Roman Catholic Church has been that ordination in the Anglican Communion is not valid.  As I write this, I am aware that the Roman Catholic Church does not regard me as a priest who possesses the “true charism” of the church.  This means that in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church our celebrations of Holy Communion are not valid.  (CCC1400)

This is an obstacle between Anglicans and Roman Catholics that remains immovable, since it was pronounced with papal authority, and has therefore become a doctrine for all Roman Catholics.  We can be neighbors.  We can have prayer services together.  We may even come to recognize that we are all serving the same Lord and must be in the same Church.  Yet there remains this wall between us.  It is a dilemma!

Other Differences:

“Last Rites” is not a term that we use in the Anglican Church.  We do offer the sacrament of Unction, that is, the anointing of the sick with prayers for healing.  The emphasis is on healing, not dying.

When we say the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) we always include the final doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.....)  It is one of the variations that appear in scripture according to the earliest manuscripts that we have of the New Testament.  In this case, it’s a judgment call.  Some manuscripts include the doxology (Matthew 6:13) while others do not.  In the Anglican Church we have always found it to be helpful to end the prayer on a note of praise.

Although Confirmation can now be administered by priests in the Roman Catholic Church, Confirmation in the Anglican Church is administered only by bishops.


I hope this gives you an idea of what the Anglican Church is about.  The best way to get to know us is to join us on Sunday morning for worship.  There is much that we have in common, most importantly, Jesus Christ.  The Catholic Catechism offers a definition of the Faith that is beautiful, and to which any Anglican could say “Amen!”

“To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom.  For this we must humble ourselves and become little.  Even more: to become “children of God” we must be “born from above” or “born of God.”  Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us.  Christmas is the mystery of this marvelous exchange.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 526