C is for Cranmer

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Thomas Cranmer brought the Reformation to England. He is best known for being a reformer, for being Archbishop of Canterbury, and for dying as a Martyr. His legacy lives on today, as some of his writings have been preserved and we can read what was important to him. His role is set in church history, but he also had a place in political history of his day.

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As a reformer, he wrote much to shift the view of the Eucharist from a Roman Catholic emphasis to a Biblical understanding. He extensively refuted the doctrine of transubstantiation. This is one of the issues that later in his life brought him persecution and ultimately death. He also believed strongly in the doctrine of predestination. In Article 17 of the Church of England he declared:

“Predestination to life, is the everlasting purpose of God,

whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us,

to deliver from curse and damnation, those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind.

As the godly consideration of predestination, and our election in Christ,

is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons,

so for curious and carnal persons to have continually before their eyes

the sentance of God’s predestination, is a most dangerous downfall.”

One of Cranmer’s most notable works is authoring The Common Book of Prayer, a litany used by the church. In it are many useful comments and indications of his theology. One particular statement is likely very familiar to us. In the marriage vows that he authored, we find the following words: “I take thee to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart.” How many times have we heard these words without thinking where they came from? They can be traced all the way back to his volume in 1549.

Thomas Cranmer was a theologian who changed the world.

Of particular interest is the manner in which he died for the cause of Christ – quite the dramatic display. In 1553, Cranmer was arrested by the Roman Catholic Church to be tried and ultimately executed. He was initially very strong in his faith. However, after months in prison with the threat of being burned at the stake, he eventually weakened. He was coerced into signing a document recanting his reformation beliefs. He was to be in line with the Roman Catholic Church. On March 21, 1556 he was taken from his prison cell and brought to the university church. It was there that he was to give a speech publicly recanting his prior faith. His conscience had taken hold of him and he was grieved for caving in to Catholic pressure. As he began his speech, something unexpected happened; Thomas Cranmer deviated from his script. To the dismay of his enemies, he refused to recant the true gospel. Instead, he bravely recanted his earlier recantations. He said words that have forever been a part of his legacy.

I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other thing that I ever said or did in my life:

and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth,

which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand

[which were] contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart,

[being] written for fear of death, and to save my life.” 

Cranmer went on to say that if he should be burned at the stake, his right hand would be the first to be destroyed, since it had signed those recantations. Then, just to make sure no one misunderstood him, Cranmer added this: “And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and anti-Christ, with all his false doctrine.” Of course, he was immediately dragged from the pulpit and brought to be to be burned at the stake. He did exactly what he said he would do. As the fire began to burn, he put his right hand into the flames to be burned first. As he died, he uttered prayerful words of pure faith. ““Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  We find his martyrdom to be inspiring, not because it was perfect, but because it was imperfect. He faltered for a time, but ultimately came back with even greater faith. We all fail in some way, but we must strive to finish well. When we fail. will we have the faith to get back up again and go on – even in the face of execution? Such is a vital message of Christianity. Perhaps we can all see our lives to some degree in the account of his death.

Therefore, Cranmer is remembered as a great reformer in England, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, as a great author who worked to restore a Biblical message to the church, and, ultimately, someone who laid down his life for the truth of the Gospel. There is much to motivate us in our modern culture by this man of God.

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What else do you know of Thomas Cranmer? We welcome your comments.

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