The Anglican Church of Australia is a member church of the Anglican Communion, that family of churches over which the Archbishop of Canterbury presides. It owes its origin to the activities of missionaries of and settlers from the Church of England and adheres to Anglican teaching and practice.
The formal establishment of the Church of England as a national church independent of the Pope, was the work of King Henry VIII in the third decade of the sixteenth Century. Its origins were political, but under Queen Elizabeth, Anglicanism as a doctrinal system distinguishable from that of other communions, both Catholic and Protestant, emerged. Its liturgical and doctrinal formularies – the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles – in their settled form, date from Elizabeth’s reign. Although it took a century of controversy and conflict culminating in the English Civil War, the final settlement which followed the Restoration of King Charles II remained true to its Elizabethan Settlement.
While elements of Church life in pre-reformation England anticipate some later, specifically Anglican, features, Anglicanism as such originates at the Reformation. At the same time it is a development out of, not a reaction against, historic English Christianity.
What made the English Reformation different and Anglicanism unusual was its conservatism. As a result, the post-Reformation Church of England took over a great heritage of material organisation, of custom, and tradition. In addition, it maintained its essential continuity in faith and doctrine with the Church of the early fathers as it developed from its New Testament roots and found expression in the Creeds of the Church. The centuries-old structuring of dioceses under bishops and parishes under parish priests continued to function. An ordered and uniform liturgy was prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. The Articles of Religion are inclusive rather than exclusive with truth being sought in the joint testimony of Scripture and Tradition intelligently understood.
Attempts to impose an Anglican pattern on the Church of Scotland failed and in the Church of Ireland succeeded only to a limited extent. By the Eighteenth Century, religious passions had spent themselves, and while the challenges of Deism and rationalism were successfully met, the Church made little impact on intellectuals and the newly-emerging industrial communities. The Evangelical Revival went far to raise the levels of personal religion, but it remained for reforming bishops and supporting politicians and to the Oxford Movement to renew the institutional life of the Church of England.