Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Father of the English Reformation: Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer: A Reformation Day Tribute


Probably one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Protestant Reformation is Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 -- 21 March 1556). While the father of the Protestant Reformation is rightly Dr. Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546), the English Reformation has its own father, Thomas Cranmer. Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517 by nailing the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg castle door, criticizing the Roman Catholic practice of issuing indulgence. Luther claimed the practice was not only unbiblical but the motive for indulgences was fund raising and led to taking advantage of the poor.

Another Reformer, John Calvin (10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) led the Geneva branch of the Protestant Reformation. This summer the churches who attribute their theology to Calvin celebrated the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Finally, the Swiss branch of the Reformation was headed by Ulrich Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531) in Zurich. It would be the followers of Zwingli who eventually persuaded Archbishop Thomas Cranmer that the sacraments were symbolic and were in fact visible signs of God's Word preached and were intended to nourish true faith in the heart of the believer. What makes Cranmer so important to the English Reformation is his contribution to the 39 Articles of Religion and the final version of the Prayer Book of 1662, which one Swiss Reformed scholar has called Cranmer's Immortal Bequest. (Samuel Leuenberger).

I. What caused Thomas Cranmer to reject the Roman Catholic tradition and strike out on a mission to reform the English church? The answer to this question is a complicated one and perhaps a biographical sketch of the Archbishop's life will help to put the gradual move of Cranmer from Catholic to Protestant into the proper context. In particular the Anglo-Catholic disdain for Cranmer has significantly skewed his legacy because of their biases against the Protestant Reformation and the theological principles which caused it in the first place. For this reason even today if one does a google search on the internet, one will find only the Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica websites, which never even mention Cranmer's final views on the sacraments or his greatest achievement, the 1552 Book of Common, which is the primary basis for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still the official prayer book of the Church of England despite moves toward more Anglo-Catholic friendly services in The Alternative Service Book 1980.

Cranmer was born in meager circumstances in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England, July 2, 1489. When Cranmer's father, Thomas senior died, his mother, Anne Hatfield Cranmer, sent him off to Jesus College, Cambridge at age fourteen to be educated. Because of his academic abilities Thomas became a fellow at Jesus College in 1510 but he soon lost his fellowship because he fell in love with Joan Black, the daughter of the landlady of the Dolphin Inn where he was living. From this it is apparent that Cranmer did not intend to enter the ministry. Unfortunately, Joan died in childbirth during the first year of their marriage and since there was a grace period Cranmer was able to re-establish his fellowship at Jesus College. Because of his wife's death Cranmer was able to be ordained to the ministry in 1523.

II. There are many details which in the interest of brevity will be left out. However, by the providence of God Cranmer had become an Archdeacon under the reign of Henry the VIII. Henry, as most of you know, was in need of an heir and therefore sought a suitable wife for political purposes as was common in his day. When Henry's older brother Arthur died, Henry VII, Henry's father decided that he should marry his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, who was the daughter of the Spanish King Ferdinand II. The problem, however, was that Catherine had been previously married to Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother, which would have constituted incest since both Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 said a man should not marry his brother's wife.

Well, the story gets more interesting. Henry VII obtained a papal dispensation from Rome for the marriage to go ahead. The dispensation was granted on the basis of Deuteronomy 25:5 which said:

Deuteronomy 25:5 (ESV)

5 "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.1

The problem was that after Henry VIII ascended to the throne he was unable to produce a male heir. He and Catherine only produced one daughter, Mary Tudor I, who would in the end take the throne after Henry's death and usher in a Roman Catholic counter-reformation earning her the name, "Bloody Mary," because of all the Protestants she tortured and burned at the stake.

To make a long story short, Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon because she was unable to give him a male heir. Henry began to see this as a curse because he did not believe he should have married Catherine in the first place but did so only on his father's insistence and because of the papal dispensation. Henry read Leviticus 20:21 and concluded that he was cursed because of his marriage to Catherine. The verse says:

Leviticus 20:21 (ESV)

21 If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless.

So Henry began looking for theologians to support him in his efforts to get a divorce from Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn, which the Pope refused to do under military pressure from Charles the V in the Holy Roman Empire. By God's providence Henry had chosen Archdeacon Thomas Cranmer to assist him in the theological task to accomplish a political end during 1527-1533. Cranmer sided with Henry on this issue because clearly the marriage was unbiblical. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic pope offered bigamy as a solution and would have given a papal dispensation for Henry to have two wives, the second being Ann Boleyn.

III. But we ask again, what caused Cranmer to change from the Roman Catholic side to the Protestant side? No one really knows for sure. However, as early as 1520, just 3 years after Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle door, Cranmer was severely critical of Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone. So what caused Cranmer to change his views in 1532? We think a woman is to blame. But before you get upset with me let me explain!

Cranmer had been appointed as an ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire (now modern Germany) in order to win over the support of Charles V, which never happened. But Cranmer hoped to win the theological support of the Lutherans for Henry's case for a divorce. That never happened either, which in the end is why Cranmer's attempt to unify the Lutheran Reformers with the English Reformation via the Wittenberg Articles (1538) failed. It is also ultimately why the English Church never embraced Lutheran views on the sacraments.

But here is the interesting part. During Cranmer's travels in the Holy Roman Empire he visited Nuremberg and observed all the freedoms the Lutheran reformation had brought to that city. In particular he noticed that the Lutheran clergy were all married. While trying to persuade the Lutherans Cranmer won over one supporter, Andreas Osiander, and became good friends with him. Somehow this friendship led to Cranmer's being introduced to Margarete, the niece of Osiander's wife, Katharina. Well, one thing led to another and the rest is history. Cranmer secretly got married to Margarete, thereby violating his vow of celibacy! Some say that this is an indication that Cranmer's views were already evangelical but I have to say that I believe it was a woman who was to blame! Obviously, Cranmer missed married life. In the end, Cranmer decided to follow the advice of the Lutherans to their clergy to break their vows to celibacy and "sin boldly". In other words, they were free to marry.

One could reasonably argue that even though privately Cranmer was moving more toward an evangelical theology prior to 1532, the catalyst was his visit to the Holy Roman Empire and his face to face discussions with both Lutheran and Zwinglian reformers. After this point and in tandem with his work to achieve a divorce for Henry VIII based on biblical grounds, Cranmer was fully committed to the Protestant Reformation in England, though he had to move slowly since Henry himself remained mostly Catholic in his theology but only broke from Rome over political expediency.

IV. The plot thickens at this point. While Cranmer is still in Nuremberg the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, suddenly dies and Henry decides to appoint Archdeacon Cranmer as the new Archbishop and called for Cranmer to return to England. Some reports say that Cranmer delayed returning to England by as much as six months. Since even Henry would not have approved of his marriage Cranmer was reluctant to return and had to keep his marriage secret.

As early as 1536 Cranmer rejected the Catholic doctrine of confession in the presence of a priest and his views had changed from transubstantiation to the Lutheran view and finally to the Zwinglian view well before Henry VIII's death in 1547. He did not wish to be burned at the stake even though he was essentially in favor with Henry. After Henry died, however, Cranmer finally came out in public with his doctrine of the sacraments as symbolic rather than any idea of transubstantiation or real presence. In fact, his view on the sacrament as Zwinglian cost him his life under Bloody Mary, who hated him for helping her father divorce her mother, Catherine of Aragon.

The high point of Cranmer's contribution to the English Reformation was the 42 Articles and the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, although Tractarians and Anglo-Catholics consider this the low point of the history of the Church of England. One modern Lutheran scholar, John Stephenson, ("Wittenberg and Canterbury," Concordia Theological Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 2 & 3, April-July, 1984, pp. 165-184) laments the fact that for over 300 years the English Church rejected real presence and instead adopted the Reformed view of the sacraments. This would include Richard Hooker, who is often misidentified by Anglo-Catholics and high churchmen as supporting the doctrine of real presence. One would find it odd for a Lutheran to be complaining about the Reformed nature of the English Church up until the 19th century if it were not in fact true.

V. The real cause of the Protestant Reformation was a move by theologians in the Roman Catholic Church from medieval scholasticism to a new Christian humanism. Cranmer was therefore predisposed to reform simply on the basis of his training as a humanist theologian rather than a scholastic. Humanists insisted on reading Scripture from the plain text and to reject the earlier use of allegorical or spiritualized interpretations of the text to justify human traditions which were not actually in the Bible itself. This emphasis by Cranmer led him to ultimately reject all but two of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. He also rejected both the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation in the Lord's Supper and the Lutheran view of real presence.

This is still a major reason by the Reformed churches and the Lutheran churches are not in union. Even though the Reformed and the Lutherans are in unity on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the strong disagreement between Luther and the Calvinists and the Zwinglians on the Lord's Supper continues to this day. Against what Anglo-Catholic revisionists would say, the Church of England sided with Cranmer's view of the sacraments which was somewhat a mid-way view between Calvinist and Zwinglian. In other words, the true way we receive the body and blood of Christ is in the heart of the believer and by faith and not a real presence in the bread and wine.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer says this when the elements are distributed to the people:

THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

The genius of Cranmer was his 42 Articles of Religion published under the reign of Edward VI, though they were eventually edited by Archbishop Matthew Parker to the current 39 Articles of Religion. Even more importantly Article 29 was reinstated in 1571 which strictly forbids the Lutheran view of real presence:

Article XXIX

Of the wicked which do not eat the body of Christ, in the use of the Lord's Supper

The wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.

Even though Cranmer and the magisterial reformers like Luther still believed in appealing to the church fathers as a secondary authority, they rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine that apostolic succession gave the bishops of the church and church tradition equal authority with Holy Scripture and that the church had the sole right to interpret the Scriptures:

Article VI

Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." 
But an even greater genius of Cranmer was his ability as an editor and a translator. He successfully translated much of the Roman liturgy from Latin into English and edited the materials to reflect what he believed the Scriptures taught and what the church fathers really said when interpreted in light of Scripture rather than Roman Catholic tradition. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer became the basis of the finally approved 1662 Book of Common Prayer during the rule of Charles II. Cranmer was burned at the stake in 1556 by Mary Tudor but his was a lasting legacy. One Anglo-Catholic expert in liturgy, Gregory Dix, has grudgingly admitted that Cranmer was the first Reformer to teach the doctrine of justification by faith alone in the format of a formal liturgy or order of service. Over and over again in the communion service we are told that it is not on the basis of our "merits" (in other words, our good works) that we are accepted but rather on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life in our place. One example of this is the Prayer of Humble Access, which we read every communion service even in the 1979 Book of Revised Services. 
From the Prayer of Humble Access:
WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

For Cranmer the repeating of the same liturgy every week is a way to teach the Evangelical and Protestant faith. The genius of Cranmer is that he transformed the Roman Catholic liturgy into a Protestant liturgy so people would begin to memorize Scripture quotes and a Reformed understanding of justification, salvation, and the sacraments. Unfortunately, with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer before that, the Anglo-Catholic party has tried to corrupt the purity of Reformed worship by sneaking Roman Catholic doctrines back into the liturgy in underhanded ways. This is one reason why I prefer the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and use it for my morning and evening devotions. 

In closing, I would just like to read a few excerpts from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a tribute both to Cranmer and to the beauty of the language of the prayer book itself. Many of these are in use even today in traditional marriage ceremonies by other denominations. These are all either written by Cranmer or translated and edited by Cranmer from Latin into English:

Prior to receiving the communion Cranmer said these words:

YE that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.

The post communion prayer:

O LORD and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

From the marriage service:
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.
And finally, a couple of quotes to show Cranmer's view of the Lord's Supper was indeed symbolic. The first quote comes from the 1551 introduction to his treatise on the Lord's Supper and the other two are from the treatise itself:

Likewise in plain speech it is not true, that we eat Christ's body, and drink his blood. For eating and drinking, in their proper and usual signification, is with the tongue, teeth, and lips to swallow, divide, and chaw in pieces: which thing to do to the flesh and blood of Christ, is horrible to be heard of any Christian. . . p. 128.


Wherefore to all them that by any reasonable means will be satisfied, these things before rehearsed are sufficient to prove, that the eating of Christ's flesh and drinking of his blood, is not to be understand simply and plainly, as the words do properly signify, that we do eat and drink him with our mouths; but it is a figurative speech spiritually to be understand, that we must deeply print and fruitfully believe in our hearts, that his flesh was crucified and his blood shed, for our redemption. And this our belief in him, is to eat his flesh and drink his blood, although they be not present here with us, but be ascended into heaven. As our forefathers, before Christ's time, did likewise eat his flesh and drink his blood which was so far from them, that he was not yet born.

And finally, Cranmer's view of justification by faith alone is expressed in his comment that justification is a necessary doctrine of a true church:

Now they that think they may come to justification by performance of the law, by their own deeds and merits, or by any other mean than is above rehearsed, they go from Christ, they renounce his grace: Evacuati estis a Christo, saith St. Paul, Gal. v., quicunque, in lege, judificamini, a gratia excidistis. They be not partakers of the justice, that he hath procured, or the merciful benefits that be given by him. For St. Paul saith a general rule for all them that will seek such by-paths to obtain justification; those, saith he, which will not knowledge the justness or righteousness which cometh by God, but go about to advance their own righteousness, shall never come to that righteousness which we have by God (Rom. 10:1-4); which is the righteousness of Christ: by whom only all the saints in heaven, and all other that have been saved, have been reputed righteous, and justified. So that to Christ our only Saviour and Redeemer, on whose righteousness both their and our justification doth depend, is to be transcribed all the glory thereof.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer gave his life in the flames for these doctrines. Although an old man, he was tortured into submitting to Rome. But at the hour of his death he renounced his forced recantation with these words:

I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe in my heart.  When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn.

An eyewitness recounted what happened next:

And when the fire was lit around his feet, he leaned forward and held his right hand in the fire until it was charred to a stump. Aside from this, he did not speak or move, except that once he raised his left hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

1 The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


NewKidontheBlogg said...

Thanks for posting this information on Cranmer--good stuff.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thank-you, Carol. I got much of the information from Diarmaid McCullough's biography of Cranmer. It's over 600 pages long and is published by Yale University Press, 1996.

Charlie J. Ray said...

That's supposed to be Diarmaid MacCullough.

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