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Churchmanship (or churchpersonship; or tradition in most official contexts) is a way of talking about and labelling different tendencies, parties, or schools of thought within the Church of England and the sister churches of the Anglican Communion.

The term is derived from the older noun churchman, which originally meant an ecclesiastic or clergyman but sometime before 1677 was extended to people who were strong supporters of the Church of England, and was by the 19th century used to distinguish between Anglicans and Dissenters. The word "churchmanship" itself was first used in 1680 to refer to the attitude of these supporters but later acquired its modern meaning. While many Anglicans are content to label their own churchmanship, not all Anglicans would feel happy to be described as anything but "Anglican" (Neill:398). In official contexts the gender-neutral term "tradition" is preferred.

"High" and "Low", the oldest labels, date from the late 17th century and originally described opposing political attitudes to the relation between the Church of England and the civil power. Their meaning shifted as historical settings changed and towards the end of the 19th century they were being used to describe different views on the ceremonies to be used in worship. Shortly after the introduction of the "High/Low" distinction, a section of the "Low" Church was nicknamed Latitudinarian because of its relative indifference to doctrinal definition. In the 19th century, this group gave birth to the Broad Church which in its turn produced the "Modernist" movement of the first half of the 20th century. Today, the "parties" are usually thought of as Anglo-Catholics, evangelical Anglicans, and Liberals; and, with the exception of "High Church", the remaining terms are mainly used to refer to past history. The precise shades of meaning of any term vary from user to user and mixed descriptions such as liberal-catholic are found. Today "Broad Church" may be used with a different sense to the historical one mentioned above and used to identify Anglicans who are neither markedly high, nor low/evangelical nor liberal (Hylson-Smith:340).

It is an Anglican commonplace to say that authority in the church has three sources: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. In general, the Low churchman and Evangelical tend to put more emphasis on Scripture, the Broad churchman and Liberal on reason, and the High churchman and Anglo-catholic on tradition (Holmes III:11; Carey:14-16). The emphasis on "parties" and differences is necessary but in itself gives an incomplete picture. Cyril Garbett (later Archbishop of York) wrote of his coming to the Diocese of Southwark:

I found the different parties strongly represented with their own organizations and federations... But where there was true reverence and devotion I never felt any difficulty in worshipping and preaching in an Anglo-Catholic church in the morning and in an Evangelical church in the evening"... and when there was a call for united action... the clergy and laity without distinction of party were ready to join in prayer, work and sacrifice.

— (Garbett:27)

and William Gibson commented that

the historical attention given to the fleeting moments of controversy in the eighteenth century has masked the widespread and profound commitment to peace and tranquility among both the clergy and the laity.... High Church and Low Church were not exclusive categories of though and churchmanship. They were blurred and broad streams within Anglicanism that often merged, overlapped and coincided.

— (Gibson:1, 2)

Sometimes the concept of churchmanship has been extended to other denominations. In Lutheran churches it can be liberal Protestant, pietist, confessional Lutheran, or evangelical Catholic.

See also[edit]


  • Balleine, G. R. (1909). A History of the Evangelical Party. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Bebbington, D. W. (1993). Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. London: Routledge.
  • Bennett, Gareth (1998). To the Church of England. Worthing, UK: Churchman Publishing Ltd.
  • Carey, George (1996). "Celebrating the Anglican Way". In Bunting, Ian(ed). Celebrating the Anglican Way. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Chadwick, Owen (1996R). The Reformation. London: Adam & Charles Black.
  • Chadwick, Owen (VC). The Victorian Church (2 vol). London: Pelican. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  • Cragg, Gerald C. The Church and the Age of Reason 1648–1789. London: Pelican (revised 1960).
  • Davies, Julian (1992). The Caroline Captivity of the Church. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Garbett, Cyril (1947). The Claims of the Church of England. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Gibson, William (2001). The Church of England:1688-1832. London: Routledge.
  • Holmes III, Urban T. (1982). What is Anglicanism?. Wilton, Connecticut: Moorehouse-Barlow Co.
  • Hylson-Smith, Kenneth (1989). Evangelicals in the Church of England:1734–1984. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
  • Hylson-Smith, Kenneth (1993). High Churchmanship in the Church of England. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
  • Neill, Stephen. Anglicanism. London: Pelican: Revised and reprinted:1960.
  • Smyth, Charles (1962). The Church and the Nation. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Rosman, Doreen (2006). The Evolution of the English Churches. Cambridge University Press.
  • Spurr, John (1991). The Restoration Church of England, 1646–1689. London: Yale University Press.
  • Trevelyan, G.M. (December 1944). History of England. London: Longman Green & Co.