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Who We Are

As members of the Church of Ireland we have a specific Christian identity. The following gives an idea of how we view ourselves and some of what makes us distinctive.

Irish and Universal

Did the Church of Ireland begin at the Reformation?
No - the Church of Ireland is that part of the Irish Church which was influenced by the Reformation, and has its origins in the early Celtic Church of St Patrick.

How is it that so many of the ancient church buildings of Ireland belong to the Church of Ireland?
Since the days of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century European states saw themselves as having a central role in the government of the Church. This church-state link was vigorously applied when the Normans came to Ireland in the 12th century. Bishops were required to do homage to the king for their lands, just like earls and barons, who were vassals of the crown. It was therefore accepted, both during and after the Reformation, that the crown should continue to exercise that authority over the church, in which it continued to play a central role. In this way, church property that existed at the time of the Reformation, buildings included, was retained by the reformed, established (state) Church of Ireland.

In the 19th century, at the time of the Disestablishment of the Church, its property was confiscated by the state. However, schools, churches and cathedrals were given back, and remain in the possession of the Church to the present day.

Is the English monarch head of the Church of Ireland?
No. At the time of the Reformation, the English crown (which had jurisdiction over Ireland) claimed to govern the Church of Ireland. For centuries the monarch held that position in the Church of Ireland as the official state Church.

However from 1871, when the Church of Ireland was disestablished, and ceased to be the state Church, the crown and government have had no authority or constitutional role in the Church in any part of Ireland.

Is the Church of Ireland under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury?
No. The Church of Ireland is a self-governing part of the Anglican Communion, which means that it is in communion with the See of Canterbury. But it is not under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of Ireland is led by the Archbishop of Armagh (Primate of All Ireland) and the Archbishop of Dublin (Primate of Ireland).

What authority has the Lambeth Conference over the Church of Ireland?
The Lambeth Conference (the Archbishop of Canterbury's ten yearly meeting of Anglican bishops and certain others in full communion) usually issues statements on major theological and moral issues, for the guidance of the various member Churches but they must be accepted by the individual Churches before they become effective. The Church of Ireland is governed only by the preamble and declaration to its own constitution which requires it to:

  • accept and unfeignedly believe all the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testament . . . as containing all things necessary to salvation
  • profess the faith of Christ as professed by the primitive church
  • maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry

Why is the Church of Ireland sometimes called the Anglican Church?
The Church of Ireland is sometimes called "Anglican" because it is part of an international fellowship of churches known as the Anglican Communion. This communion is called "Anglican" because many of these churches owe their origin to the missionary outreach of the Church of England (formerly known as Ecclesia Anglicana) and both morally and canonically have looked to Canterbury.

Each Church in the Communion is independent with its own pattern of synodical government, by bishops and representatives of the clergy and laity.

The bishops meet in conference, usually every ten years, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Any resolutions made by the conference, while in their own right carrying considerable weight, become operable in the different Churches only when they have been officially accepted by them. The struggle to maintain independence and interdependence in communion, challenges these churches to face the attendant issues of identity and authority.

Protestant and Catholic

Is the Church of Ireland Protestant or Catholic?
It is both Protestant and Catholic. For this reason it is incorrect to refer to members of the Church of Ireland as 'non-Catholic'.

The terms Protestant and Catholic are not really opposites.

There are Catholics who accept the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Often in consequence they are called Roman Catholics. But there are other Catholics who do not accept the Pope's jurisdiction or certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Some are called Protestant or Reformed Catholics. Among them are members of the Church of Ireland and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion.

It follows therefore that the terms 'Protestant' and 'Reformed' should be contrasted with 'Roman' and not with 'Catholic'.

The Church of Ireland is Catholic because it is in possession of a continuous tradition of faith and practice, based on Scripture and early traditions, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, together with the sacraments and apostolic ministry.

The Church of Ireland is Protestant, or Reformed, because it affirms 'its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship, whereby the Primitive Faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid.' (Preamble and Declaration to the Constitution of the Church of Ireland of 1870, 1.3)

So there are Catholics who are in communion with Rome and Catholics who are not. But all by baptism belong in the one Church of Christ.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. The Nicene Creed - said at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland.

How does the Church of Ireland differ from other Protestant Churches?
Churches which resulted from the sixteenth century Reformation, and from the subsequent divisions in these churches, although varying in their beliefs and practices, and not always in any official relationship with each other, are generally known as Protestant Churches.

The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Church in so far as it shares with these churches opposition to those innovations in doctrine and worship that appear contrary to Scripture and led to the Reformation.

However it differs from these churches in retaining elements of the pre-Reformation faith and practice which they have rejected or lost.

The Church of Ireland maintains a liturgical pattern of worship, observing the feasts and fasts of the Catholic liturgical year. It remembers the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints on special days. It retains many of the rites and ceremonies of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church.

The Church of Ireland has within its fellowship religious orders of men and women, under the traditional threefold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The Church of Ireland emphasises the importance of the Sacraments. It administers the two Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as the sacramental ministries of confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, absolution and healing. (Church of Ireland Revised Catechism)

The Church of Ireland has retained the structure of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church and is no stranger to words like parish, bishop, diocese, priest, sanctuary, confirmation, eucharist, synod and to all for which they stand.

As a result [of events which are commonly referred to as the Reformation] many communions, national and confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist the Anglican Communion occupies a special place. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, III, 13.

What is the difference between the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church?
The chief difference is that one Church is under the jurisdiction of the Pope and the other is not. This results in certain importance differences of belief and practice. However, it should be noted that the beliefs and practices held in common greatly outweigh those that separate the two Churches.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has, by divine right, jurisdiction over the universal Church, and that in certain circumstances his utterances are infallible. The Church of Ireland does not accept either of these teachings, and resists the claim of the Pope to rule over and speak for the universal Church.

Furthermore the Roman Catholic Church teaches that belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in her Corporal assumption, are necessary for salvation. These beliefs had for a long time been widespread in Catholic Christendom, but were regarded with varying degrees of certainty. However, within the last hundred and fifty years, the Roman catholic Church has pronounced them to be necessary for salvation.

The Church of Ireland teaches that neither Holy Scripture, nor the understanding of the Scriptures by the early Fathers of the Church, support these doctrines.

The Church of Ireland, as a Reformed and Protestant Church, doth hereby re-affirm its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship whereby the Primitive faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid, and which at the Reformation this Church did disown and reject. (Preamble and Declaration of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland 1870, 1.3)

The above information copyright ©1996 APCK