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?


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 so 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?


The split between the Anglican sect and Catholicism was mutual:

Henry VIII made it clear he was forming a new sect separate from the Catholic Church when he declared himself, against the papacy, "Supreme Head of the Church of England."

Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry VIII.

Hence, there is no middle ground.


  • Just to be clear - you're saying it was entirely a Protestant thing, and aiming to be entirely English and non-Catholic? – hawkeye May 17 '15 at 3:07
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    This doesn't seem to represent at all the way that 'middle ground/road' is used in discussions of Anglicanism. – curiousdannii May 17 '15 at 11:39
  • @hawkeye: Yes. It was a furtherance of Luther's revolution. The Papacy is absolutely essential to Catholicism; if you deny or oppose the papacy, you no longer have the Catholic faith. – Geremia May 17 '15 at 23:13
  • @curiousdannii Of course schismatics rationalize their schism by saying there is a middle ground between communion with the Church Christ founded and excommunication from it. There's no such thing as partial communion. You're either in Christ's flock or not. – Geremia May 17 '15 at 23:15
  • @Geremia The 'middle road' of Anglicanism isn't about being in communion with Rome. It's about flexibility in doctrine and liturgy in basically any matter other than the authority of Rome. – curiousdannii May 18 '15 at 1:58

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