In a remarkable article in the London-based Church Times (13th April), Canon Gregory Cameron, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, publicly distanced Anglicanism from Protestantism. Canon Cameron spoke of an Anglican “dialogue with the Protestant traditions,” making it clear that he regarded Anglicanism as lying beyond the pale of Protestantism. Many in Ireland will regard his views with puzzlement, and perhaps not a little concern. So will many historians.
We need to appreciate that the sixteenth-century Reformation was a complex phenomenon. There was no single Protestant ”˜template’. Rather, a variety of reforming movements emerged during the sixteenth century, whose specific forms were shaped by local politics and personalities, as much as by the broader commitment to a recognizably Protestant agenda. The forms of Protestantism which emerged in the great imperial cities (such as Strasbourg), territories (such as Saxony) and nations (such as England or Sweden) had their own distinct characteristics. Some, for example, retained the episcopacy and a fixed liturgy; others discarded one or both. Yet each represented a local implementation of the Protestant agenda.
Historians generally consider that one of the most remarkable and influential forms of Protestantism emerged in England, and has come to be known as ”˜Anglicanism’. Reformers in the reign of Henry VIII did not refer to themselves as ”˜Protestants’, partly because this was seen to have foreign associations at the time. (Henry VIII, it will be recalled, disliked foreigners having influence over English affairs.) Yet from the reign of Edward VI onwards, English Church leaders began to use this term to refer to themselves, and see themselves as being connected with the great reforming movements and individuals on the continent of Europe.