The word Anglican, a Medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English Church. Adherents of Anglicanism are called Anglicans. Anglicans found their faith on the Bible, traditions of the ancient Apostolic Church, Apostolic Succession, and writings of the Church Fathers. Anglicanism forms one of the branches of Western Christianity.
In the first half of the 17th century, the Church of England and associated episcopal churches in Ireland (Church of Ireland) and in England’s American Colonies were presented by some Anglican divines as comprising a distinct Christian tradition with theologies, structures and forms of worship representing a different kind of middle way, or via media, between Reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism – a perspective that came to be highly influential in later theories of Anglican identity, and was expressed in the description “Catholic and Reformed”. With a membership estimated at around 80 million members, the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian Communion in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
In accord with its prevailing self-identity as a via media or “middle path” of Western Christianity, Anglican sacramental theology expresses elements in keeping with its status as being both a church in the Catholic tradition as well as a Reformed church. With respect to sacramental theology, the Catholic heritage is perhaps most strongly asserted in the importance Anglicanism places on the Sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification and salvation as expressed in the church’s liturgy and doctrine.
Of the Seven Sacraments, all Anglicans recognize Baptism and the Eucharist as being directly instituted by Christ. The other five – Confession and Absolution, Matrimony, Confirmation, Holy Orders (also called Ordination) and Anointing of the Sick (also called Unction) – are regarded variously as full sacraments by Anglo-Catholics, many High Church and some Broad Church Anglicans.