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I was having a discussion with a friend and he made the claim:

The Anglican Church was originally intended to be a 'middle ground' between Catholics and Protestants.

This seemed half-true to me, but I thought the origins were more based in the interests of Henry the VIII and having an English National church distinct from the Continental Church. My understanding is that the Constitutional documents are meant to be 'inclusive' but I wouldn't have described them as a 'middle ground'.

My question is: Is it fair to say that the Anglican Church was originally intended to be a 'middle ground' between Catholics and Protestants?

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There were many people involved in the formation of the Anglican church, and they had different purposes for it.

The most prominent initial issue was of course Henry VIII's desire to get a divorce. But equally significant was the authority of Rome in England: Henry passed laws prohibiting legal appeals to Rome, and removing the church's authority to make laws. He had a theological mind and even wrote a book on the sacraments, but it's hard to establish exactly what he thought a lot of the time. Still it seems that many of the stages of the reform had his input. He wanted English language Bibles to be used in churches and I think he was personally opposed to shrines to saints, relics and pilgrimages.

Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the Church of England's break with Rome and for about twenty years afterwards, and was thoroughly committed to protestant theology. While he was limited somewhat during Henry's reign, during Edward's reign he was able to enact most of the reforms he desired. He wrote the Book of Common Prayer and an early draft of what would become the 39 Articles, which together define what Anglicanism is.

After Edward died his sister Mary became queen. She was strongly Catholic, and reversed the laws which had made England independent of the Catholic Church. She also executed many protestant leaders, including Cranmer.

Mary's sister Elizabeth became queen next, and was protestant. But she was a pragmatist, and wanted a strategy to avoid the violence of her sister's reign. With her reign the via media (middle road) became that strategy. The official doctrine of the church, as shown in the 39 Articles, was thoroughly protestant, but concessions and space was made for the more Catholic people of England. Anglicanism has always kept bishops and rejected the ecclesiological reforms of many continental churches (or Scottish Presbyterianism). The liturgical desires of the puritans were rejected, with churches given the freedom to decide what style to use (what is now called high and low, or somewhere in between).

So the answer to this question depends on what you call the 'original Anglican church'. Mary's reign was only five years, so there were only five years of Catholic dominance between the two protestant eras. There were only 11 years between Henry and Elizabeth! Elizabeth's Anglicanism was not what Henry and Cranmer created, but I think it's close enough to say that the via media has been part of Anglicanism since the beginning. What is five years compared to the four and a half centuries since then?

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