Today is the commemoration of The Most Rev’d Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Cranmer was the architect of the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), and thus the primary influence on all Anglican liturgies that followed. His prose is still, though edited, found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (TEC), and the ordering of the daily offices, an effective combination of the Benedictine hours, remains the standard within the Communion. Examples of Cranmerian prose may be found in the Prayer of Humble Access (BCP 337) and the Postcommunion Prayer (BCP 339 & 366).
This morning, in honor of Archbishop Cranmer, Amy and I prayed the daily office using the form in the Book of Common Prayer 1549 (it may be found online here).
During the office, I was struck by the rubrics (printed instructions traditionally printed in red) that require the minister to say the Creed and Lord’s Prayer in a loud voice and in English. In the era of its use, the liturgy was just being introduced in English, and many of the people had not been catechized in the basics of the faith. It was good to read a reminder that a minister is to teach the faith (once delivered), and that liturgy is catechetical.
Now more on the Archbishop.
On this date in the year of Our Lord 1556, Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, burned him at the stake. According to the official publication of The Episcopal Church (Holy Women, Holy Men), the primary reason for his death was his subscription to Lady Jane Grey’s claim to the English throne over Mary’s. His reforming work seems to take second seat, thus grudgingly giving him a martyr’s death. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, describes his death as a martyr’s death at the stake. His Grace was known in a time of weakness after his arrest and imprisonment (which lasted three years) to have made two recantations of his reformed positions, however, he recanted those recantations and this led to his burning. During his final hearing, he stated:
Forasmuch as I am come to the end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life to come, either to live with my Master Christ for ever in joy, or else to be in pain for ever with wicked devils in hell, and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or else hell ready to swallow me up: I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, without any colour or dissimulation; for now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have said or written in the past.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And I believe every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Jesus Christ, His apostles and prophets, in the New and Old Testament.
And now I come to the great thing, which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth; which no here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand, contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life if it might be; and that is, all such bills and papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished there-for; for, may I come to the fire it shall be burned first.
After he was taken to the stake:
And when the wood was kindled, and the fire began to burn near him, stretching out his arm, he put his right hand into the flame, which he held so steadfast and immovable (saving that once with the same hand he wiped his face), that all men might see his hand burned before his body was touched. His body did abide the burning with such steadfastness, that he seemed to move no more than the stake to which he was bound; his eyes were lifted up into heaven, and he repeated “his unworthy right hand,” so long as his voice would suffer him; and using often the words of Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” in the greatness of the flame, he gave up the ghost.
I have heard it argued that Archbishop Cranmer was a great political operative, schemer, opportunist, and survivor, and that while he was a leader of the Reformation in England, it was impossible to know where he really stood. That may be true, but in the end, when it mattered most, His Grace , by the grace of God, found his courage, confessed the faith once delivered, and placed his trust solely in the Lord. May we be given the same courage in the day of decision.
The Collect for Thomas Cranmer
Merciful God, through the work of Thomas Cranmer you renewed the worship of your Church by restoring the language of the people, and through his death you revealed your power in human weakness: Grant that by your grace we may always worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006)