Monday, March 21, 2011

Thomas Cranmer, Bishop, Martyr, Liturgist: 21 March 2011

Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556)

Born 1489 in Notinghamshire, Cranmer followed a typical career of younger brother. Since his brother John inherited the family estate, Cranmer and his younger brother were prepared for lives as clerics. Fourteen years old, he came to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he took some eight years to earn his Bachelor of Arts. In 1515 he received his MA and became a fellow of Jesus College. He lost his fellowship after marrying, but regained it after his wife died. He received his Doctorate in Divinity in 1526, having gained Holy Orders in 1520. In June 1527 he met the king, whom he described as the kindest of princes.

From 1527 he became involved with the King’s divorce. During these proceedings, he met some of the continental reformers in 1531. In 1532 he was appointed ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire, and in travelling with the Emperor f rom area to area was able to see the reformation in action. In addition to meeting several reformers, he ended up marrying Ossiander’s niece. Sadly for him, he was unable to convince the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles to support King Henry’s annulment from Catherine (Catherine was Charles’ aunt).

In 1532, he was notified that he would be the next Archbishop of Canterbury and was so consecrated on the 30th of March of 1532. He continued to work on the king’s divorce, with the affair becoming more complicate due to Anne Bolyn’s pregnancy and her secret marriage to Henry VIII. Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage void, and the Pope excommunicated Henry and his advisors. Life was difficult for Cranmer as many of his bishops did not support him in this new role. His life also continued to be made difficult because of the King’s urgent desire for a male heir. He was also not particularly astute in dealing with the bishops.

Fifteen thirty six saw the publishing of the 10 Articles of religion which pleased and annoyed both sides of the debate. The Institution of a Christian Man was printed in response, but the king insisted on changes. Cranmer was the most vigorous in fighting against the King’s changes, especially relating to faith alone and predestination. From 1536 to 1544 there were many ups and downs involving Cranmer which he survived. In 1544 he printed the first legal services in Enlgish, being the Exhortation and the Great Litany, which is still found in many Anglican prayer books today (and indeed in the liturgy used by the diocese of La Porte). Fifteen forty-seven saw the introduction of the Book of Homilies to all parishes (4 written by Cranmer). As many of the reformers were suffering persecution, Cranmer invited them to England and put them to work training clergy. (Reina and Valera who composed the first Bible in Spanish were among these).

It is unknown just how much Cranmer actually wrote in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. His sources include the Sarum Rite, Hermann von Wied, Ossiander, Justus Jonas (and several other Lutherans), and Quiñones. What we do know is that he was the final editor of this and the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (not used because of Mary accession to the throne. In 1550 he printed an Ordinal, and in the same year: Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ , the only book actually printed in his own name. In 1552 he came out with the Articles of Religion.

After Mary took power, Cranmer was imprisoned and during the course of his imprisonment, recanted his Protestant faith. On the day of his death however, he recanted his recantations, and was burned at the stake, placing his right hand in the centre of the fire as a sign of repentance regarding the written recantations.

Cranmer’s greatest influence on the church was the Book of Common Prayer, which was the basis of all Anglican Books of Common Prayer into the 1960’s. His Eucharist also found its way into the Methodist liturgy, and his marriage and burial services are the base services of many denominations. The English used in his BCP has affected the English language as much as the language of the King James Bible and Shakespeare. His second work of genius was transforming morning prayer and evening prayer into something that could be used by any family or by individuals. His third act of genius was slow transformation, which produced a book which has lasted over 450 years.

Psalm 142 or 124
1 Corinthians 3:9-14
John 15:20--16:1

Collect: Heavenly Father, you granted to your Bishop Thomas Cranmer great gifts in ordering the worship and prayer life of the English people, and though he slipped led him to repent of his recantations. Grant that we would truly seek to worship you in the spirit of holiness, and be ready to give up our lives for you. This we ask through Yeshuah, who lives and reins and is worshipped with you and the Ruach haKodesh, one God in glory everlasting. Amen. (red)

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