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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.

Introduction

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.

THE DIFFERENCES

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 Councils...as 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.”