Anglo-Catholicism is the name sometimes given to the movement that emphasises the Catholic heritage of the Anglican Church. It was an outgrowth of the 19th-century Oxford Movement, which sought to renew Catholic thought and practice in the Church of England. The term Anglo-Catholic was first used in some of the writings of leaders of the Oxford Movement who, while valuing the positive aspects of the Reformation, wished also to demonstrate the historical continuity of the English (Anglican) Church with Catholic Christianity.
The Catholic Revival in the Church of England was primarily missionary in motivation. In addition to stressing Catholic elements and historical continuity in worship and theology, Anglo-Catholics have worked among the poor and unchurched and have attempted to renew the Church. Although their beliefs and activities have often been opposed by some Anglican Evangelicals, who stress the protestant heritage of Anglicanism at the expense of its fundamentally Catholic character, Anglo-Catholics have continued to be an important spiritual and intellectual force within the Anglican Communion.
Anglo-Catholics are sometimes called High Churchmen, in that they give a “high” place to the importance of the Church—its tradition and apostolic order, episcopal form of church government (with the historic orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacon), the sacraments and liturgical worship, and particularly its divine institution and spiritual nature. The term “High Church” is sometimes used derisively to mean an obsession with ritual and ceremony. But Anglo-Catholics only value ceremony insofar as it expresses and fosters reverence for God and the worship and sacraments by which we honour him and through which his grace may be received.
The term High Church was first used about the end of the 17th century to express this particular emphasis within the Church of England. Historically, however, High Church attitudes, like Low Church (Evangelical) attitudes, were evident within the Church of England from even before the time of Elizabeth I (1533–1603) and the so-called ‘Elizabethan Settlement’ (which sought to accommodate the reasonable aspects of the reformation within an essentially Catholic Church polity). The Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism renewed this emphasis within Anglicanism.