The word Anglican originates in Anglicana ecclesia libera sit, a phrase from the Magna Carta dated June 15, 1215, meaning "the Anglican Church shall be free". Adherents of Anglicanism are called Anglicans. As an adjective, "Anglican" is used to describe the people, institutions and churches, as well as the liturgical traditions and theological concepts developed by the Church of England.
As a noun, an Anglican is a member of a church in the Anglican Communion. The word is also used by followers of separated groups which have left the communion or have been founded separately from it, although this is sometimes considered as a misuse. The word Anglicanism came into being in the 19th century. The word originally referred only to the teachings and rites of Christians throughout the world in communion with the see of Canterbury, but has come to sometimes be extended to any church following those traditions rather than actual membership in the modern Anglican Communion.
Although the term Anglican is found referring to the Church of England as far back as the 16th century, its use did not become general until the latter half of the 19th century. In British parliamentary legislation referring to the English established church, there is no need for a description; it is simply the Church of England, though the word "Protestant" is used in many legal acts specifying the succession to the Crown and qualifications for office. When the Union with Ireland Act created the United Church of England and Ireland, it is specified that it shall be one "Protestant Episcopal Church", thereby distinguishing its form of church government from the Presbyterian polity that prevails in the Church of Scotland.
The word Episcopal is preferred in the title of the Episcopal Church (the province of the Anglican Communion covering the United States) and the Scottish Episcopal Church, though the full name of the former is The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Elsewhere, however, the term "Anglican Church" came to be preferred as it distinguished these churches from others that maintain an episcopal polity.
Anglicanism, in its structures, theology and forms of worship, is commonly understood as a distinct Christian tradition representing a middle ground between what are perceived to be the extremes of the claims of 16th-century Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran and Reformed varieties of Protestantism of that era. As such, it is often referred to as being a via media (or "middle way") between these traditions.
The faith of Anglicans is founded in the Scriptures and the Gospels, the traditions of the Apostolic Church, the historical episcopate, the first four ecumenical councils, and the early Church Fathers (among these councils, especially the premier four ones, and among these Fathers, especially those active during the five initial centuries of Christianity, according to the quinquasaecularist principle proposed by the English bishop Lancelot Andrewes and the Lutheran dissident Georg Calixtus). Anglicans understand the Old and New Testaments as "containing all things necessary for salvation" and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. Reason and tradition are seen as valuable means to interpret scripture (a position first formulated in detail by Richard Hooker), but there is no full mutual agreement among Anglicans exactly how scripture, reason, and tradition interact (or ought to interact) with each other. Anglicans understand the Apostles' Creed as the baptismal symbol and the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
Anglicans believe the catholic and apostolic faith is revealed in Holy Scripture and the Catholic creeds and interpret these in light of the Christian tradition of the historic church, scholarship, reason and experience.
Anglicans celebrate the traditional sacraments, with special emphasis being given to the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper or the Mass. The Eucharist is central to worship for most Anglicans as a communal offering of prayer and praise in which the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are proclaimed through prayer, reading of the Bible, singing, giving God thanks over the bread and wine for the innumerable benefits obtained through the passion of Christ, the breaking of the bread, and reception of the bread and wine as representing the body and blood of Christ as instituted at the Last Supper. While many Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist in similar ways to the predominant western Catholic tradition, a considerable degree of liturgical freedom is permitted, and worship styles range from the simple to elaborate.
Unique to Anglicanism is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the collection of services that worshippers in most Anglican churches have used for centuries. It was called common prayer originally because it was intended for use in all Church of England churches which had previously followed differing local liturgies. The term was kept when the church became international because all Anglicans used to share in its use around the world.
In 1549, the first Book of Common Prayer was compiled by Thomas Cranmer, who was then Archbishop of Canterbury. While it has since undergone many revisions and Anglican churches in different countries have developed other service books, the Prayer Book is still acknowledged as one of the ties that bind Anglicans together.