Friday, November 16, 2012

Father of the English Reformation

God Truly Worshipped, Thomas Cranmer and His Writings, ed. by Jonathan Dean and published by Canterbury Press is available in U.S. through WestminsterJohnKnox (
Cranmer was a scholar and teacher at Cambridge, and a Fellow of Jesus College for some years before he was caught up in discussions on ways to help King Henry VIII solve his problem of divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer mentioned casually to friends that the universities of Europe should be canvassed to see if they had ideas on how to solve the King’s "Great Matter." So Cranmer was sent to Europe to gather ideas and opinions and bring them back.

Cranmer was one of those who believed that the King was the supreme head of both the church and his kingdom, not the Pope. Cranmer held to his belief that this "supremacy was the vital theological foundation upon which the English Reformation" would be based. The supremacy of the King over the church, plus restoring the Scriptures as the central authority in the church became the two main focuses of Cranmer’s career.
After his return from Europe and as a reward for his efforts, Cranmer was given "the living" of a small church in Worcestershire. But, in 1532, after the death of Archbishop Warham of Canterbury, King Henry nominated Cranmer as successor. Once installed, and because of the supremacy factor, Cranmer granted the King the divorce he wanted from Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
Editor Jonathan Dean, who is Assistant Professor of Religion and a Fellow of the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action at Aurora University, Aurora, Ill., wrote of Cranmer, "No-one has ever written prayers like him; no-one has ever had a better grasp of the flow and beauty of a good liturgy. No-one has ever eclipsed him in shaping the vocabulary of the English speaking world, save perhaps Shakespeare."
This story of Cranmer’s life and ministry includes quotes from his written words; papers; letters; and excerpts from his book, Defences..., on his eucharistic theology, which was "eloquently expressed" and lives on in his most influential work, The Book of Common Prayer (1549 ff.).
After King Henry VIII died in January 1547, his son, Edward VI, was king for six years. Then Mary, the King’s daughter with Queen Catherine, and a Roman Catholic, came to the throne, turning everything back to the Pope’s rule of the church. During Mary’s reign, Cranmer was imprisoned, tortured, and forced to recant his beliefs. Many others also suffered, and were killed, usually by burning at the stake. Cranmer, after two years of vile treatment, was burned at the stake. He took back his recantation and said that the hand that signed those papers would burn first, and on March 21, 1556, he held his right hand into the fire first, as he had said he would.
—Lois Sibley