Roman Catholic vs. Anglican: What’s the Difference?

Explore the differences between Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism using the comparison charts below. From church governance to communion, the tradition’s contrasts reveal unique convictions. Examine the historical, theological, and cultural facets that define and distinguish these Christian traditions.

In summary, Catholicism recognizes the Pope as the supreme authority, adheres to Catholic tradition, and holds seven sacraments. Anglicanism has no central figure, allows more flexibility in liturgy and beliefs, and considers the Archbishop of Canterbury a symbolic leader. Both share common Christian beliefs.

Why are Catholicism and Anglicanism similar? Why do the traditions agree about baptism but disagree about communion? Do they largely agree or disagree about other doctrines and beliefs?

Do Catholics consider Anglicans Christians (and vice versa)? What are the most important moments in each tradition’s history? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Holy Bible
Why (and how) are Catholicism and Anglicanism similar? See below

Comparing the Catholic and Anglican Traditions: At a Glance

The Anglican Church originated in the 16th century during the English Reformation, separating from the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite this split, many traditions and practices were retained, resulting in similarities in liturgy, sacraments, and belief in the Trinity, while differing in areas like church governance and views on communion.

NameRoman Catholic ChurchAnglican Communion
SizeAround 1.3 billion membersApproximately 85 million members
Date Started1st Century AD16th Century AD (with the English Reformation)
FoundersJesus Christ, the ApostlesHenry VIII (political); Thomas Cranmer (theological)
Key BeliefsTrinity, Sacraments, Papal Authority, Apostolic SuccessionTrinity, Sacraments, via media (middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism)
Key PracticesMass, Confession, Prayers, the RosaryHoly Communion, Morning and Evening Prayer, Baptism
DivisionsLatin Church, 23 Eastern Catholic ChurchesDifferent provinces, such as the Church of England, the Episcopal Church (USA), etc.
Central LocationVatican City (historic center)Canterbury, England (spiritual center)
Sacred TextsThe Bible (including Deuterocanonical books), Catechism of the Catholic ChurchThe Bible, Book of Common Prayer

The Deuterocanonical books are seven texts in the Catholic Old Testament but not in the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic Church regards them as inspired and canonical, meaning they are considered authoritative. They are used in teachings and liturgy, reflecting the church’s belief in their significance.

Roman Catholic Church
What does each tradition believe about Jesus Christ? See below

Catholic and Anglican Beliefs: Similarities and Differences

Baptism is an example of a belief and practice that the Catholic and Anglican Church have in common. Both traditions view it as a sacrament of initiation, signifying entrance into the Christian faith.

Baptism is an initiation because it marks the beginning of a person’s spiritual journey within the church community, signifying cleansing from sin and a new life in Christ. It’s a shared rite that unifies these traditions in understanding and practice.

Sacred TextsThe Bible (including Deuterocanonical books), CatechismThe Bible, Book of Common Prayer
The TrinityBelief in one God in three Persons: Father, Son, Holy SpiritBelief in one God in three Persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit
SinOriginal sin inherited from Adam; personal sins requiring confessionOriginal sin; personal sins; emphasis on repentance
Person & Work of Jesus ChristFully human and divine; Savior; Redemptive death and resurrectionFully human and divine; Savior; Redemptive death and resurrection
SalvationBy God’s grace, through faith and good worksBy God’s grace, through faith; views on works vary
BaptismSacrament of initiation; infants and adultsSacrament of initiation; infants and adults
CommunionTransubstantiation; Real Presence of ChristVarious views, including Real Presence and Spiritual Presence
Holy SpiritThird Person of the Trinity; active in the Church and individual livesThird Person of the Trinity; active in the Church and individual lives
Church GovernmentHierarchical with Pope, Bishops, Priests, DeaconsEpiscopalian structure; Bishops, Priests, Deacons; varies by province
EschatologyBelief in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory; Second Coming of ChristBelief in Heaven, Hell; views on Purgatory vary; Second Coming of Christ

Unlike baptism, the Catholic and Anglican Church have different views on communion. See a comparison table below to compare and contrast their convictions on the doctrine.

Anglican Church
Do Catholics consider Anglicans Christians (and vice versa)? See below

Catholic Communion vs. Anglican Communion

Understanding the differences between Roman Catholic and Anglican views on communion reveals fundamental theological distinctions in these traditions.

It aids in ecumenical dialogue, fosters mutual respect, and helps individuals within these faiths to practice their beliefs with a deeper awareness of their own tradition’s unique interpretation of this sacrament.

Understanding of PresenceTransubstantiation: bread and wine become the actual body and blood of ChristViews vary, including Real Presence and Spiritual Presence; some may affirm transubstantiation, others a symbolic presence
Recipients of CommunionBaptized and confirmed Catholics in a state of grace; must observe fasting rulesGenerally, baptized Christians; policies may vary between provinces and congregations
Frequency of CelebrationTypically celebrated daily at MassVaries widely; often celebrated weekly, but can be less frequent
Role of ClergyOnly ordained priests or bishops may consecrateOrdained priests or bishops usually consecrate; some provinces allow deacons or lay ministers to distribute
Liturgy and RitualFollows a standardized liturgy from the Roman MissalLiturgy varies by province and can be found in the Book of Common Prayer or other authorized texts
Views on Sin and WorthinessMust be in a state of grace; confession may be required for those conscious of mortal sinApproach may vary; emphasis on repentance, but formal confession typically not required
Intercommunion with Other DenominationsGenerally not practiced with non-Catholic Christian communitiesSome provinces may practice open communion with other Christian denominations

In broad terms, Catholics and Anglicans recognize each other as Christians. Despite theological differences, both affirm the basic tenets of historic Christianity, such as belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. This mutual recognition underscores a shared identity within the broader Christian community.

Church Governance in Catholicism and Anglicanism

Knowing the differences between Roman Catholic and Anglican church governance illuminates their organizational structures and authority dynamics.

This understanding aids in ecumenical relations, enriches theological study, and helps believers navigate their faith’s hierarchy and decision-making processes, reflecting the unique identities of these Christian traditions.

HierarchyPope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, DeaconsArchbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacons; structure varies by province
Head of the ChurchThe Pope (Bishop of Rome)No central human authority; Archbishop of Canterbury is a symbolic leader
Decision-making BodyVatican councils, Synods; Pope has final authorityProvincial Synods or Conventions; decisions made at various levels of the church
Local AutonomyLimited; local bishops answer to the PopeConsiderable; provinces have substantial independence in governance
Role of LaityLimited in church governance, more involved at parish levelCan be involved in decision-making at various levels, including parish and diocesan
Selection of BishopsAppointed by the PopeVaries by province; often elected by clergy and lay representatives
Teaching AuthorityDoctrine determined centrally; Pope’s teaching considered infallible in certain conditionsMore dispersed; bishops and Synods have authority, but interpretations can vary
Interactions Between ProvincesUnified structure; all answer to RomeCommunion between provinces, but they operate independently
Clerical CelibacyRequired for most priests in the Latin ChurchNot generally required; varies by province

10 Important Events in Catholic and Anglican History

Understanding major events in Roman Catholic and Anglican history is essential for grasping the theological, cultural, and social influences of these traditions.

It helps in appreciating the richness of Christian thought and the ways these churches have shaped and responded to historical and contemporary challenges.

Catholic HistoryAnglican History
1. Establishment by Christ (1st Century AD)1. English Reformation (1534)
2. Council of Nicaea (325)2. Book of Common Prayer Introduced (1549)
3. Great Schism (1054)3. Elizabethan Settlement (1559)
4. Fourth Lateran Council (1215)4. King James Bible Published (1611)
5. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” (1274)5. Restoration of the Episcopacy (1660)
6. Protestant Reformation (1517)6. Formation of Methodist Movement (18th Century)
7. Council of Trent (1545-1563)7. First Lambeth Conference (1867)
8. Vatican I (1869-1870)8. Ordination of Women (20th Century, varies by province)
9. Vatican II (1962-1965)9. Gene Robinson’s Consecration (2003)
10. Canonization of Pope John Paul II (2014)10. Anglican Communion’s Covenant Adopted (2009)

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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