Walking with the Saints

Thomas Cramner

Archbishop of Canterbury, Liturgist, and Martyr, 1556

This coming Wednesday, March 20, we commemorate the life of Thomas Canmer. I am pleased that Thomas was on my day to “preach”!  He is, to me, the GREAT Reformer, along with Martin Luther, and other Lutheran reformers, as you can read in this bio.

Cranmer was associated with King Henry VIII, after meeting the King in 1529, he later became involved in the annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. King Henry VIII, upon the death of Archbishop Warham, appointed Cranmer to the See of Canterbury (still a Roman Catholic church), and he was consecrated on March 30, 1533. 

Henry had severed the link between the Church and Rome, but, had never permitted the renunciation of Catholic doctrine or ceremony. It fell upon his son, King Edward VI (1537-1553), who was crowned, at the age of nine…on January 28, 1547, to establish Protestantism in England with reforms that included the abolition of clerical celibacy and the MASS and the imposition of compulsory services spoken in English. Thomas Cranmer was the man! The translation and printing of the first Book of Common Prayer was in 1549 and a revision in 1552. 

After the death of Edward, changes came into place because of the succession to the throne of Queen Mary, his half-sister, a devout Roman Catholic.  It was not until the reign of Elizabeth I, the daughter of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Ann Boleyn, that the Church of England was reestablished.

Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake on March 21, 1556, by order of Queen Mary. His closing words were, “Forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, there my hand shall first be punished; for if I may come to the fire, it shall first be burned.”

Biography of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer was born at Aslockton in Nottinghamshire, England, on July 2nd, 1489. At fourteen, he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, where by 1514 he had obtained his BA and MA degrees and a Fellowship. In 1526, he became a Doctor of Divinity, a lecturer in his college, and examiner in the University. During his years at Cambridge, he diligently studied the Bible and the new doctrines emanating from the continental Reformation.

A chance meeting with King Henry VIII at Waltham Abbey in 1529 led to Cranmer’s involvement in the “King’s Affair” – the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer prepared the King’s defense and presented it to the universities in England and Germany, and to Rome.

While in Germany, Cranmer associated with the Lutheran reformers, especially with Andreas Osiander, whose niece Margarete he married. When Archbishop Warham died, the King obtained papal confirmation of Cranmer’s appointment to the See of Canterbury, and he was consecrated on March 30th, 1533. Among his earliest acts was to declare the King’s marriage null and void. He then validated the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Her child, the future Queen Elizabeth I, was Cranmer’s godchild.

During the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer had a free hand in reforming the worship, doctrine, and practice of the Church. Thomas Cranmer was principally responsible for the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549, and for the second Book, in 1552. The originality of the Prayer Book, apart from the felicitous translations and paraphrases of the old Latin forms, lay in its simplification of the complicated liturgical usages of the medieval Church, so that it was suitable for use by the laity as well as by the clergy. The Prayer Book thus became both a manual of common worship for Anglicans and a primary resource for their personal spirituality.

At Edward’s death, Cranmer subscribed to the dying King’s will that the succession should go to Lady Jane Grey. For this, and also for his reforming work, he was arrested, deprived of his office and authority, and condemned by Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII by Catherine, and a staunch Roman Catholic. He was burned at the stake on March 21st, 1556.

Cranmer wrote two recantations during his imprisonment, but in the end he denied his recantations, and died heroically, saying, “Forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, there my hand shall first be punished; for if I may come to the fire, it shall first be burned.”