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Anglican theology is the set of beliefs that underpins the religious life and practice of the Anglican faith. This theology was initially nearly identical to that of the Catholic Church but has developed in different directions in subsequent years. Most Anglican theology emphasizes the role of informed intellectual dialogue between original scripture and current members of the Church. A measured and rational approach to the understanding of the divine is typical, and a good deal of freedom is given to individual believers and congregations.
The Anglican Church came into being for reasons having much more to do with politics than religion. Henry VIII created the church by fiat during the course of disputes with the Papacy. Initially, the Anglican Church adopted a theology that was a hybrid of Catholic and Protestant beliefs with the King of England as the leader of the Church.
Key features of Catholic doctrine survive in modern Anglican theology. Anglicans believe that the scriptures have spiritual authority. They consider themselves to be spiritual descendants of the original apostles and emphasize the importance of early church councils in shaping religious doctrine and practice. They also believe in the importance of both baptism and communion as sacraments although they follow a more protestant line in relegating practices such as marriage to a non-sacramental position.
Other aspects of Anglican theology are less reminiscent of Catholic belief and practice. One crucial area of difference is in the nature of hierarchy within the church. Anglican theology does not follow the same strict and hierarchical model of authority that is central to Catholic religious practice. Furthermore, the Anglican Church also lacks a single clear statement of belief, allowing a great deal of heterodoxy to flourish within the Church. A belief in the importance of careful interpretation of scripture rather than literal reading further emphasizes the role of individual and congregational autonomy.
Anglicans are among the most tolerant and diverse faith communities, and this diversity is manifest in Anglican theology. Specific congregations are free to follow their own consciences. The Church generally acknowledges that human understanding of religious truth and of the scriptures should emerge from the interactions between scripture and the real world and that change in other areas of human knowledge and endeavor should naturally change the interpretation and understanding of scripture. This flexibility lends Anglican theology a great deal of flexibility, but at the same time makes it difficult to pin down specific Anglican beliefs in many areas as groups differ in their understanding of even such major tenets as the true nature of the Eucharist.
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