The word “Catholic” is often understood in opposition to the word “Protestant.” However, this is both a recent and uniquely western perspective. In the ancient church, catholicism was understood to be the opposite of heresy, or false belief, and even today there are millions of Christians in Greece, Russia, and other parts of the world who consider themselves neither “Catholic” nor “Protestant,” but “Orthodox.”
During the sixteenth century, the Church of England sought to modify certain beliefs and practices that had developed over the centuries and appeared extraneous, unwise, or divergant from apostolic faith and practice. In doing so, the church did not abandon its catholicism; rather it engaged in a process of reform. As Bishop John Bramhall wrote in the seventeenth century, “our religion is the same it was, our Church the same it was…differing only from what they were formerly, as a garden weeded from a garden unweeded.”
Anglicanism, then, is best understood as a reformed catholic faith. Likewise, we believe that the church is in need of continual renewal and reformation. It must oppose the errors of every age in order to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).