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The Chief Differences Between the Roman and Anglican Churches

Updated: May 1, 2021

Note: This is adapted from Bishop John Cosin’s “A PAPER CONCERNING THE DIFFERENCES IN THE CHIEF POINTS OF RELIGION BETWIXT THE CHURCH OF ROME AND THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND” which can be found here. I do not agree with Bishop Cosin on all points, and I will provide brief comments as needed. The ideas expressed by Bishop Cosin will be bolded, my comments will not be bolded.


Today there is often confusion about wherein we as Anglicans differ from Rome. On a popular level, those Christians unacquainted with the tradition can misunderstand Anglicans as “Rome with married priests.” Some portions of the church in their zeal for church unity (a noble cause) have minimized the differences which are present between the two communions. Others out of their hatred for Rome have amplified these differences and strayed from a charitable Catholicity.

Bishop John Cosin was the Bishop of Durham and is considered a High Churchman. He played an important role in the 1662 revision of the Book of Common. Recently in perusing his works I stumbled upon a short letter which he wrote to “The Countess of Peterborough” about the disagreements which were foundational to the continued separation of the Roman and Anglican churches and the agreements which could be the basis for unity between the two communions. He describes it as,

"The differences, in the chief points of religion, between the Roman Catholics and us of the Church of England; together with the agreements, which we for our parts profess, and are ready to embrace, if they for theirs were as ready to accord with us in the same."

In reading it I felt as if it was a helpful, charitable, and succinct description of those disagreements which divide our two communions. I am here laying out the 14 points of agreement and disagreement which he lays out as a foundation for reunification between Rome and Canterbury, making comments as necessary.


Cosin comments that these differences,

“we hold, some to be pernicious, some unnecessary, many false, and many fond, and none of them to be imposed upon any Church, or any Christian, as the Roman Catholics do upon all Christians and all Churches whatsoever, for matters needful to be approved for eternal salvation….we totally differ from them (as they do from the ancient Catholic Church) in these points"

(Notice that Cosin is listing the doctrines of Rome by which he disagrees so when I comment something to the effect of "this is a universally held belief amoungst Anglicans," I am commenting that we agree with Cosin's disagreement, not the doctrine being expressed)

  1. “That the Church of Rome is the mother and mistress of all other Churches in the world.” This is a universally held belief (against the Roman Doctrine) amongst today’s Anglicans, outside of the so-called “Anglo-Papalists.” This, though, does not discount the view (which Cosin later expresses in this work) that the Church of Rome has an ancient primacy of honor by which she was stamped, as St. Ireneaus attributes to it (because of it being the city of martyrdom for both Sts. Peter and Paul).

  2. “That the Pope of Rome is the vicar of Christ; or that he hath an universal jurisdiction over all Christians.” By “Vicar of Christ” we may understand it in multiple senses. If by vicar of Christ we are to understand that one is a representative of Christ in a general sense then we have no quarrel, for all Christians in that sense are “vicars of Christ.” Further, if this is meant in a Ministerial sense, that the Priest stands “In Persona Christi” there are varying degrees of agreement within the Anglican Communion. This sense is even used by the Roman Church, "The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ, govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations, and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power." Lastly, this can be taken in an exemplary sense by which the Bishop of Rome in an especial manner is the representative of Christ on earth, as the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, “a title of the pope implying his supreme and universal primacy, both of honor and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ.” This sense is wherein Anglicans disagree.

  3. “That the synod of Trent was a general council.” This is a universal view within the Anglican communion. The views on the numbering of ecumenical councils vary. Some argue that the first 7 ecumenical councils are all true ecumenical councils, others argue for the first 6, others for the first 4 and the Christological clarifications of the 5th and 6th, and still others that it is the first 4. In the Book of Homilies, the 7th ecumenical council is listed as one of those councils which “may err.” The Jerusalem Declaration of GAFCON accepts the first 4 ecumenical councils saying “We uphold the four Ecumenical expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” The Forward in Faith movement accepts all 7 writing in their Declaration of Common Faith and Purpose, “I believe all Seven Councils are ecumenical and catholic on the basis of the received Tradition of the ancient Undivided Church of East and West.”

  4. “That Christ hath instituted seven true and proper Sacraments in the New Testament.” This is where there is some disagreement within the Anglican Communion. It is universally admitted that there are two sacraments of the gospel, the Holy Eucharist and Holy Baptism, as the 39 Articles state “There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.” Although the 39 articles state in regard to the other 5 “Those five commonly called Sacraments...are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel.” In a sense, it is widely admitted that the others are “sacramental rites of the church.” Others within the Anglican communion disagree with Bishop Cosin here admitting with the Declaration of Common Faith and Purpose that “I recognize the seven Sacraments of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

  5. “That the Priests offer up our Saviour in the mass, as a real, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the quick and the dead.” The issue of the “sacrifice of the mass” is a tricky one here. It is often posed within modern polemics as a question of whether or not the Eucharist is a sacrifice when a more helpful (and historical) question is “how is the eucharist a sacrifice?” The Rev. Dr. Eric Parker has a helpful article on this Calvinism and Eucharistic Sacrifice. For, most of the Church Fathers and many Anglican Divines will speak of the “Eucharistic Sacrifice,” but what is meant by this? What is being denied here is the Tridentine doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice, that the mass is “a real, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice.” The Roman Doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is affirmed in many Anglo-Catholic circles. There are various ways of speaking of this eucharistic sacrifice outside of those circles, as a commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ, as sacramental participation in the benefits of the sacrifice of Christ, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, etc. Even Bishop Cosin will speak of the Eucharistic sacrifice, writing, “this Sacrifice of our Eucharist. In which regard, and in divers other besides, the Eucharist may, by allusion, analogy, and extrinsical denomination, be fitly called a Sacrifice, and the LORD'S table an Altar; the one relating to the other; though neither of them can be strictly and properly so termed.”

  6. “That, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole substance of bread is converted into the substance of Christ’s Body, and the whole substance of wine into His Blood, so truly and properly, as that after consecration there is neither any bread nor wine remaining there; which they call transubstantiation,:” On this issue, that of the presence of Christ in the eucharist there is substantial agreement between the two communions, both Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. As Lancelot Andrewes (an early 17th century Anglican Bishop) says, “Christ hath said, ‘This is My Body’, not ‘This is not My Body in this mode.” Now about the object we are both agreed; all the controversy is about the mode. The ‘This is,’ we firmly believe…of the mode whereby it is wrought that ‘it is’, whether in, or with, or under, or transubstantiated, there is not a word in the Gospel. And because not a word is there, we might rightly detach it from being a matter of faith…[quoting Durandus] ‘We hear the word, feel the effect, know not the manner, believe the Presence.’ The Presence, I say, we believe, and that no less true than yourselves.” As Bishop Andrewes has pointed out, the disagreement between Rome and Canterbury is that Rome has defined the Eucharistic presence in a certain mode that is disagreeable, not that we disagree on the fact of eucharistic presence. Although there are disagreements between Anglicans on how exactly to express this (the so-called Jewel vs. Parker Schools), the agreed-upon disagreement with Rome is that of the substantial presence of the bread and wine. In Transubstantiation the substance of the bread and wine are no longer present, in all Anglican views, it is present. I am sure that within the Anglican communion there are individuals which support Transubstantiation, but as it is clearly objected to in our articles (“Transubstantiation...cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”) there is not a substantial group of individuals doing so.

  7. “That the communion under one kind is sufficient and lawful, (notwithstanding the institution of Christ under both;)” This is not really a major matter of disagreement anymore.

  8. “That there is a purgatory after this life, wherein the souls of the dead are punished, and from whence they are fetched out by the prayers and offerings of the living” This is now a point of disagreement between the various schools of Anglicanism within the Anglican Communion. Although in classical Anglicanism an intermediate state of purification was denied, it is now popular within Anglo-Catholic circles to affirm an intermediate state of purification, i.e. purgatory, although there may be slightly different definitions than that of Rome.

  9. “That all the old saints departed, and all those dead men and women, whom the Pope hath of late canonized for saints, or shall hereafter do so, whosoever they be, are and ought to be invocated by the religious prayers and devotions of all persons.'' This too is a point of disagreement within the Anglican Communion. The intercession of the saints is now often practiced within the Anglican Communion.

  10. “That the relics of all these true or reputed saints ought to be religiously worshipped.” Again, this is a point of disagreement.

  11. “That the images of Christ, and the blessed Virgin, and of the other saints, ought not only to be had and retained, but likewise to be honoured and worshipped, according to the use and practices of the Roman Church” This is a point of disagreement.

  12. “That the power and use of indulgences, as they are now practised in the Church of Rome, both for the living and the dead, is to be received and held of all.” There is universal disagreement with Rome on the matter of the granting of indulgences.

  13. “That all the ceremonies used by the Roman Church in the administration of the Sacraments [lists various Roman liturgical practices]...are of necessity to salvation, to be approved and admitted by all other churches:” There is now an agreement between the Roman and Anglican communions as a whole on this point. For, the issue of the Anglican church was not necessarily with individual practices of the Roman Church (such as “the giving of an empty chalice and paten to them that are to be ordained Priests”). A lot of these practices are non-controversial, then why the condemnation by Bishop Cosin?” The issue has to do with the phrase “to be approved and admitted by all other churches.” Rome had sought liturgical unanimity, whereas, by its very nature, liturgy develops towards perfection with different regional flavors. Anglicanism realizes this in its Articles where it is stated “It is not necessary that the Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word...Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.” Today, this is recognized within the Roman communion in the retention of Eastern liturgical practices at Vatican II and the establishment of Anglicanorum Coetibus, where the Anglican liturgical Patrimony is retained.

  14. “That all the ecclesiastical observations and constitutions of the same Church, (such as are their laws of forbidding all Priests to marry, the appointing several orders of monks, friars, and nuns, in the Church, the service of God in an unknown tongue, the saying of a number of Ave-Marias by tale upon their chaplets, the sprinkling of themselves and the dead bodies with holy water, as operative and effectual to the remission of venial sins, the distinctions of meats to be held for true fasting, the religious consecration and incensing of images, the baptizing of bells, the dedicating of divers holidays for the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of the blessed Virgin, and for Corpus Christi or transubstantiation of the Sacrament, the making of the Apocryphal books to be as canonical as any of the rest of the holy and undoubted Scriptures, the keeping of those Scriptures from the free use and reading of the people, the approving of their own Latin translation only, and divers other matters of the like nature,) are to be approved, held, and believed, as needful to salvation”

    1. Clerical Celibacy: There is agreement in the Anglican Communion that this ought not to be forced upon the entire church, as there is agreement within Rome (see: the exceptions within Anglicanorum Coetibus and in the Eastern Catholic churches). There is disagreement over whether this is lawful or not for Rome to establish clerical celibacy within the Latin rite.

    2. Monasteries: There has been a reestablishment of monasticism within Anglicanism and a wider acceptance of the practice, though there are still groups within Anglicanism strongly against the practice.

    3. Service of God in an unknown tongue: The use of liturgical Latin has crept into Anglicanism slightly (such as the chanting of certain canticles in Latin), but it has not been established as a widespread practice, and most of the time it is done is on special occasions. The major shift on this point has been on Rome’s side, where there is now the Novus Ordo in the vernacular, although the usage of the “Extraordinary form” (the Latin Mass) is still prevalent and is regarded as lawful (in opposition to many groups within Anglicanism).

    4. The Rosary: There is disagreement within Anglicanism on this point.

    5. The Friday Meat fast: Personally, I have never met anyone who has argued that this is an evil or ungodly practice (I personally strive to follow this practice), the disagreement is on whether this ought to be obligatory on the faithful. Even modern-day Rome does not oblige the faithful to keep the Friday meat fast, although it is regarded as a pious practice.

    6. The full Roman Calendar: Certain groups within Anglicanism have expanded their calendars more in line with the Roman rite, others have kept the traditional Anglican calendar.

    7. The Marian Dogmas: This IS a major point of divide between the Roman and Anglican communions. This is a point that has been dogmatically accepted within the Roman communion, and from their point of view, acceptance of this doctrine is necessary for any future communion between the two churches. Within Anglicanism, this is at best regarded as a pious opinion which one may or may not hold.

    8. The Apocrypha: This is a major point of disagreement between the two communions. Although the Anglican communion has the highest regard for the Apocryphal books within Protestantism, classical Anglicanism rejects them from their cannon. There is disagreement about this judgment within the Anglican communion among the Anglo-Catholics.

    9. The Translation of scripture into the vernacular: This is no longer a point of contention between the two communions.


Here is Cosin’s list oF agreements that we have with Rome and would be the foundation for any union between Rome and Canterbury (in his day). I will leave these mostly without comment.

  1. “All the two and twenty canonical books of the Old Testament, and the twenty-seven of the New, as the only foundation and perfect rule of our faith:”

  2. “All the apostolical and ancient Creeds, especially those which are commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Creed of S. Athanasius; all which are clearly deduced out of the Scriptures:”

  3. “All the Decrees of faith and doctrine set forth, as well in the first four general councils, as in all other councils, which those first four approved and confirmed, and in the fifth and sixth general councils besides, (than which we find no more to be general,) and in all the following councils that be thereunto agreeable, and in all the anathemas and condemnations given out by those councils against heretics, for the defence of the Catholic Faith:”

  4. “The unanimous and general consent of the ancient Catholic Fathers and the universal Church of Christ in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and the collection of all necessary matters of Faith from them during the first six hundred years, and downwards to our own days:” We see that there is the admittance of Cosin’s “Reformed Catholicism.” What Cosin is seeking in the joining of Rome and Canterbury is a Reform of the doctrine and practice of the church back to the doctrine and practice of the ancient church.

  5. “In acknowledgment of the Bishop of Rome, if he would rule and be ruled by the ancient canons of the Church, to be the Patriarch of the West, by right of ecclesiastical and imperial constitution, in such places where the kings and governors of those places had received him, and found it behooveful for them to make use of his jurisdiction, without any necessary dependence upon him by divine right:”

  6. “In the reception and use of the two blessed Sacraments of our Saviour; in the confirmation of those persons that are to be strengthened in their Christian Faith, by prayer and imposition of hands, according to the examples of the holy Apostles and ancient Bishops of the Catholic Church; in the public and solemn benediction of persons that are to be joined together in holy matrimony; in public or private absolution of penitent sinners; in the consecrating of Bishops, and the ordaining of Priests and Deacons, for the service of God in His Church by a lawful succession; and in visiting the sick, by praying for them, and administering the blessed Sacrament to them, together with a final absolution of them from their repented sins:”

  7. “In commemorating at the Eucharist the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood once truly offered for us:”

  8. “In acknowledging His sacramental, spiritual, true, and real Presence there to the souls of all them that come faithfully and devoutly to receive Him according to His own institution in that holy Sacrament:”

  9. “In giving thanks to God for them that are departed out of this life in the true Faith of Christ’s Catholic Church; and in praying to God, that they may have a joyful resurrection, and a perfect consummation of bliss, both in their bodies and souls, in His eternal kingdom of glory:”

  10. “In the historical and moderate use of painted and true stories, either for memory or ornament, where there is no danger to have them abused or worshipped with religious honour:”

  11. “In the use of indulgences, or abating the rigour of the canons imposed upon offenders, according to their repentance, and their want of ability to undergo them:”

  12. “In the administration of the two Sacraments, and other rites of the Church, with ceremonies of decency and order, according to the precept of the Apostle, and the free practice of the ancient Christians:”

  13. “In observing such holy days, and times of fasting, as were in use in the first ages of the Church, or afterwards received upon just grounds, by public or lawful authority:”

  14. “Finally, in the reception of all ecclesiastical constitutions and canons made for the ordering of our Church; or others which are not repugnant either to the Word of God, or the power of kings, or the laws established by right authority in any nation.”


In conclusion, this is an interesting piece by Bishop Cosin on multiple levels. First, it gives us a glimpse into mid-17th century views of the state of Roman/Anglican dialogue. Second, it gives a point of reference to compare the developments in both communions towards agreement on several doctrines, whether in whole or in part. Lastly, this piece is helpful to those individuals considering swimming the Tiber or the English channel, to give them a perspective of the chief differences which separate both communions

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