Thursday, July 26, 2012

3: Nicholas Ridley (ca 1500-1555), Bishop and Martyr

Nicholas Ridley ... one of the architects of the Anglican Reformation

Patrick Comerford

Nicholas Ridley (ca 1500-1555), Bishop of London, was one of the Oxford Martyrs burned at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary I for his theological teachings and for his support of Lady Jane Grey after the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

Nicholas Ridley was born ca 1500-1502 into a prominent family in South Tynedale, Northumberland, the second son of Christopher Ridley of Unthank Hall.

He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was admitted to Pembroke Hall, now Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1518. As a student, he distinguished himself with his proficiency in Greek. He was probably acquainted with Thomas Cranmer, who was then a Fellow at Jesus College, and Hugh Latimer of Clare College, and he belonged to a circle of young men attracted to the currents of reform inspired by the Continental Reformation.

Pembroke College, Cambridge ... Nicholas Ridley was elected a fellow in 1524, and later became Master of Pembroke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He graduated BA at Cambridge University in 1522. When he was elected a Fellow of University College, Oxford in April 1524, he declined the offer and instead accepted his election soon afterwards as a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

He received his MA (Master of Arts) degree at Cambridge in 1525, and was ordained priest soon after, acting as the agent of Pembroke College for the college churches in Tylney, Soham and Saxthorpe.

He went to the Sorbonne in Paris in 1527 for further education, and later attended lectures at the University of Louvain. After returning to Cambridge around 1530, he became the Junior Treasurer of Pembroke College.

Back in Cambridge he learned by heart the New Testament epistles in the Greek version produced by Erasmus, who had been Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and resident at Queens’ College from 1510 to 1515.

In 1533, Ridley became the Senior Proctor of Cambridge University, and paid many visits to London to protest against the threatened withdrawal of academic privileges.

At that time, there was significant debate about the Pope’s supremacy. Ridley, who became the University Chaplain and Public Orator in 1534, was well versed in Biblical hermeneutics, and signed a resolution at the university declaring: “That the Bishop of Rome had no more authority and jurisdiction derived to him from God, in this kingdom of England, than any other foreign bishop.”

Ridley received the degree Bachelor of Divinity (BD) in 1537 and was then appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer as one of his chaplains. On 13 April 1538, Cranmer made Ridley the Vicar of Herne in Kent in the Diocese of Canterbury. In Heme Vicarage, he first read the treatise by the ninth-century monk Bertram (Ratramnus) on the Lord’s Supper, De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, and began “to search more diligently and exactly” both the Scriptures and the writings of the Early Fathers more closely on the question of the presence of Christ in the sacrament.

But Ridley only gradually rejected the crucial doctrines of the old dogmas. Although he preached in 1539 against the Six Articles, he accepted at the time the doctrine of the corporeal presence, treated auricular confession as permissible, though unnecessary to salvation, and, by declining to marry, showed himself favourable to the principle of clerical celibacy.

In 1540, Ridley was elected Master of Pembroke College. That same year, he also received the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity) and became one of the King’s Chaplains, and he was appointed a prebendary or canon of Canterbury Cathedral a year later.

In 1543, Ridley was accused of heresy. His doubts about auricular confession, his alleged condemnation of some church ceremonies as beggarly, and his direction that the Te Deum should be sung in English rather than Latin at Herne Church were among accusations that he appears to have refuted to the satisfaction of the commissioners sent to examine him.

In all this Ridley had the support of Cranmer, and in 1545 he was appointed a prebendary of Westminster Abbey.

In 1545, Ridley was appointed a Prebendary of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1547, Ridley was appointed Vicar of Soham, a Pembroke College living, Then on 4 September 1547, he was consecrated Bishop of Rochester, with permission to hold in commendam, until Christmas 1552, his two vicarages and his two canonries.

In a sermon at Saint Paul’s Cross, Ridley attacked those who mocked the Sacrament, but gave no indication of his own views. However, from the day he became a bishop, Ridley was wholly absorbed in assisting Cranmer to consolidate the Reformation, so that it was said later: “Latimer leaneth to Cranmer, Cranmer leaneth to Ridley, and Ridley leaneth to his own singular wit.”

Shortly after moving to Rochester, he directed that the altars in the parish churches in the diocese should be removed, and tables put in their place to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In 1548, he helped Cranmer to compile and to edit The Book of Common Prayer.

At the end of 1548, Ridley was appointed one of the visitors for the visitation of Cambridge University, with the intent purpose of establishing Protestant principles on a firm basis in the university.

Great Saint Mary’s, the University Church in Cambridge … Ridley began his visitation to Cambridge with preaching in the church in May 1549 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The visitors did not arrive till May 1549, when Ridley opened the proceedings by preaching in the University Church. He next presided over three disputations between Protestant and Catholic champions on the subject of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and on 20 June 1549 pronounced a learned judgment in favour of the view of the reformed church. He repeated these opinions in a sermon preached in the university church ten days later.

Ridley differed from his fellow-commissioners as to the desirability of merging Clare College in Trinity Hall, and, although he carried his point, he was withdrawn from the commission before its work came to an end.

In 1549, Ridley was one of the commissioners appointed to investigated Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London. He concurred that they should be removed from office.

Ridley was translated from Rochester in April 1550, succeeding Bonner as Bishop of London. He moved quickly to suppress old ceremonies and liturgical gestures and replaced the stone altars in parish churches with wooden tables: “If we come to feed upon him, spiritually to eat his body, and spiritually to drink his blood (which is the true use of the Lord’s Supper), then no man can deny but the form of a table is more meet for the Lord’s board than the form of an altar.”

As Bishop of London, he also he played a major part in the vestments controversy, involving John Hooper, a former Cistercian monk, who had been exiled during the reign of King Henry VIII, and had returned to England in 1548 from the churches in Zurich, where he had been influenced by Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger.

When Hooper was invited to give a series of Lenten sermons before the king in February 1550, he spoke against Cranmer’s 1549 ordinal, in which the oath mentioned “all saints” and required newly-elected bishops and those attending the ordination ceremony to wear a cope and surplice. In Hooper's view, these requirements were vestiges of Judaism and Roman Catholicism, which had no biblical warrant, and he argued that they were not used in the Early Church.

Hooper was summoned before the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Privy Council, whose primarily concern was whether Hooper was willing to accept the royal supremacy, which was also part of the oath for newly ordained clergy.

Hooper gave sufficient reassurances, and was appointed Bishop of Gloucester. However, he declined the office because of the required vestments and the invocation of the saints in the oath.

The king accepted Hooper’s position, but the Privy Council did not. He was called before the Privy Council on 15 May 1550 and a compromise was reached. Vestments were to be considered a matter of adiaphora or res indifferentes (“things indifferent” rather than a matter of faith), and Hooper could be ordained without them at his discretion, but he had to accept that others could wear them.

Hooper was confirmed in his new office once again before the king and council on 20 July 1550. But the issue was raised once again, and Cranmer was instructed that Hooper was not to be charged “with an oath burdensome to his conscience.”

Cranmer assigned Ridley to consecrate Hooper as bishop. However, Ridley would only use the ordinal as prescribed by Parliament. Ridley may have felt upstaged by Hooper’s role in securing a former Augustinian church in London for use by Jan Laski and Continental Protestant refugees outside Ridley’s diocesan jurisdiction.

The debate about Hooper’s consecration dragged on for months without resolution. Ridley insisted on maintaining order and authority. In a letter written in Latin on 3 October 1550, Hooper laid out his argument contra usum vestium.

Hooper argued that vestments should not be worn as they are not indifferent, nor is their use supported by scripture. He contended that church practices must either have express Biblical support or be things indifferent, approval for which is implied by scripture. Furthermore, an indifferent thing, if used, causes no profit or loss.

Ridley replied in English, saying that indifferent things do have profitable effects, which is the only reason they are used.

Ridley rejected Hooper’s insistence on biblical origins and pointed out that many non-controversial practices are not mentioned or implied in scripture. Ridley denied that Early Church practices are normative for the present situation, and linked such primitivist arguments with the Anabaptists.

Where Hooper argued about the priesthood of all believers, Ridley said it did not follow from this doctrine that all Christians must wear the same clothes.

For Ridley, on matters of indifference, one must defer conscience to the authorities of the church, or else “thou showest thyself a disordered person, disobedient, as [a] contemner of lawful authority, and a wounder of thy weak brother his conscience.”

For Ridley, the debate was about legitimate authority, and not about the merits of vestments themselves. He warned Hooper of the implications of an attack on English ecclesiastical and civil authority and of the consequences of radical individual liberties, while reminding him at the same time that it was Parliament that established the “Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England.”

The weaknesses in Hooper’s arguments, Ridley’s laconic and temperate response, and Ridley’s offer of a compromise no doubt turned the Privy Council against Hooper, who also lost the support of Heinrich Bullinger, Martin Bucer and other reformers, although Jan Laski remained a constant ally.

In mid-December 1550, Hooper was put under house arrest. During that time he wrote and published A godly Confession and protestacion of the Christian faith. But this publication, his persistence his theological views, and his violation of the terms of his house arrest, led to Hooper being placed in Cranmer’s custody at Lambeth Palace on 13 January 1551. From Lambeth Palace he was sent to Fleet Prison on 27 January.

On 15 February, in a letter to Cranmer, Hooper submitted to consecration in vestments. He was consecrated Bishop of Gloucester on 8 March 1551, and later preached before the king in vestments.

On 2 February 1553, Cranmer was ordered to appoint John Knox as Vicar of All Hallows’ Church, London, placing him under the authority of Ridley. Knox returned to London in order to preach before the king and the court in Lent but then refused to take up his new parish.

Like Latimer and others, he spoke out against the social evils of the time, attributing the “sweating sickness” that plagued London to divine punishment for covetousness, and condemning the rapacity of the nobility.

Ridley was disquieted by the greed of Edward VI’s courtiers and their raids on church property, which he argued had contributed to the spread of poverty throughout England. That same year, in a sermon before the king in Westminster, Ridley pleaded with Edward VI to give some of his empty palaces over to the city to house homeless women and children. Owing to Ridley’s suggestion, King Edward VI founded no less than 16 grammar schools, including Christ’s Hospital, on the site of Grey Friars’ Church, near Newgate Market, as well as Saint Bartholomew's Hospital, in Smithfield, and Bridewell Royal Hospital, later known as King Edward’s School, Witley.

In 1553, Ridley was nominated as Bishop of Durham, but he was never able to move there following the death of King Edward VI. While the young king lay seriously ill, Ridley signed the letters patent giving the throne to Lady Jane Grey, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk. On 14 July 1553, he preached a sermon at Saint Paul’s Cross in London, in which he described that Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth as bastards and argued that the succession of Mary would be disastrous to the religious interests of England.

But the support for Lady Jane Grey’s claims collapsed. When it was obvious Lady Jane’s cause was lost, however, Ridley went to Framlingham to ask Queen Mary’s pardon, but at once he was arrested. He was sent to the Tower of London, along with Latimer, the Duke of Suffolk and others, while Bonner was reinstated as Bishop of London. Throughout February 1554, the political leaders of the supporters of Jane were executed, including Jane herself.

Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On 8 March 1554, Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer were sent to Bocardo prison in Oxford to stand trial for heresy. On 17 April 1554, Ridley was brought into the Divinity School at Oxford. There, in the presence of a large, noisy and hostile audience, he was invited to defend his faith. His chief opponent was Dr Richard Smith, canon of Christ Church, who was aided by 11 other theologians, including Nicholas Harpsfield, Owen Oglethorpe, President of Magdalen College, Oxford, Dr William Glyn, President of Queens’ College, Cambridge, and Thomas Watson, Master of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln.

Hugh Weston, Rector of Lincoln College, acted as moderator, but the theological disputation was in reality a heresy trial. At the end of the day’s debate, Ridley was declared a heretic. Three days later, he was brought before royal commissioners sitting in Saint Mary’s Church, and, on refusing to recant, was excommunicated.

On 30 September 1555, in accordance with a new commission from Cardinal Pole, three bishops, White, Brookes and Holyman, summoned Ridley to stand trial under new statutes on the capital charge of heresy. John Jewel acted as notary to Ridley.

He acknowledged the truth of the chief charges which accused him of denying the presence of the natural body of Christ in the Eucharist after the consecration, or the existence in the mass of a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead. He was directed to write out his opinions at length.

The University Church of Saint Mary, Oxford, where Ridley’s his language was declared blasphemous (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The court met the next day in Saint Mary’s Church, Oxford, and, after examining Ridley’s written defence, the judges declared his language blasphemous and unfit to be recited. He was sentenced to the greater excommunication, and on 15 October was formally degraded in the mayor’s house by Bishop Brookes and Marshall, vice-chancellor of the university. Immediately afterwards, Ridley was handed over to the mayor for punishment.

Ridley, who had been elected Master of Pembroke College in 1540, sent his last message to the college from Oxford as he awaited death: “Farewell, Pembroke Hall, of late mine own College, my cure, and my charge ... In thy orchard (the walls, buts, and trees, if they could speak, would bear me witness), I learned without book almost all Paul’s Epistles, yea and I ween all the canonical Epistles, save only the Apocalypse. Of which study, although in time a great part did depart from me, yet the sweet smell thereof, I trust, I shall carry with me into heaven: for the profit thereof I think I have felt in all my lifetime ever after; and I ween of late (whether they abide there now or no I cannot tell) there were who did the like.”

In a letter to the prisoners, Ridley wrote: “Why should we Christians fear death? Can death deprive us of Christ, which is all our comfort, our joy, and our life? Nay, forsooth. But contrary, death shall deliver us from this mortal body, which loadeth and beareth down the spirit, that it cannot so well perceive heavenly things, in the which so long as we dwell, we are absent from God ... Let us not then fear death, which can do us no harm, otherwise than for a moment to make the flesh to smart; for that our faith, which is surely fastened and fixed unto the Word of God, telleth us that we shall be anon after death in peace, in the hands of God, in joy, in solace, and that from death we shall go straight unto life ... let us comfort our hearts in all troubles, and in death, with the Word of God: for heaven and earth shall perish, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.”

The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of St Giles’ near Baliol College in Oxford ... Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake near this spot on 16 October 1555 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ridley and Latimer were burned at the stake at Broad Street outside Balliol College in Oxford on 16 October 1555. Cranmer was taken to a tower to watch the proceedings. Ridley burned extremely slowly and suffered a greatly. Ridley’s final words before the fire was lit were: “Heavenly Father, I give thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to a profession of thee even until death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver the same from all her enemies.”

Ridley’s brother-in-law foolishly put more faggots on the pyre to speed Ridley’s death, but they caused only Ridley’s lower parts to burn. Latimer is supposed to have said to Ridley: “Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

In the flames, Ridley cried out with a loud voice in Latin: “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: Lord receive my spirit,” and then he repeated these words in English.

Ridley is remembered as one of the principal architects of The Book of Common Prayer and of the Forty-two article, leading to the later Articles of Religion or 39 Articles. He preached frequently and on many great state occasions. However, his reputation as a preacher must be accepted on hearsay, for but all that has survived are reports of his sermons.

Legislation was passed in the Elizabethan Parliament in 1559 reinstating Ridley and describing him as “that famous and notable member of the Church of God … of great learning, integrity of life and sincerity of doctrine.”

Ridley’s stance on uniformity in worship during the vestments’ controversy with Hooper became the model of Reformed Anglicanism and was confirmed in the preface “Of Ceremonies” in the second Book of Common Prayer and was reiterated later in the writings of Richard Hooker.

Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer are known as the Oxford Martyrs. They are commemorated by the Martyrs’ Memorial near the site of their execution, erected in 1841.

Ridley Hall, Cambridge … founded in 1881 and named in honour of Nicholas Ridley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A chair he once owned is in the Chapel of Pembroke College. A path on the north side of the Bowling Green in Pembroke College is still known as Ridley’s Walk.

In 1881, Ridley Hall, Cambridge, was founded in his memory for the training of Anglican priests. Ridley College, a private school, was founded in St Catherine’s, Ontario, in 1889. Ridley College was founded as a theological college in Melbourne in 1910.

Nicholas Ridley is remembered alongside Hugh Latimer in the calendar of the Church of England and many member churches of the Anglican Communion on 16 October.

Remembering a martyr ... the Latin dedication at Ridley College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like thy servants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in thy fear, die in thy favour, and rest in thy peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in your fear, die in your favour, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Select bibliography:

Maurice Betteridge, ‘Ridley, Nicholas,’ pp 190-19, in Alister E McGrath (ed), The SPCK Handbook of Anglican Theologians (London: SPCK, 1998).
Mark D. Chapman, Anglican Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2012).
(Revd) Henry Christmas (ed), The Works of Nicholas Ridley (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1841).
Sidney Lee, ‘Nicholas Ridley,’ Dictionary of National Biography, vol 48, pp 286-289.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (London: Yale University Press, 1996).
HCG Moule, Bishop Ridley on the Lord’s Supper (London: Seeley and Co, 1895).
Stephen Neill, Anglicanism (London: Penguin, 3rd ed, 1965). F. Procter and WH Frere, The Book of Common Prayer, With a Rationale of its Offices (London: Macmillan, 1965).
JG Ridley, Nicholas Ridley (London: Longman, Greens and Co, 1957).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2: Hugh Latimer (ca 1485-1555), Oxford Martyr and Reformation preacher

Hugh Latimer (?1485-1555) ... Oxford Martyr who died alongside Nicholas Ridley

Patrick Comerford

Hugh Latimer (ca 1485-1555) is one of the three Oxford Martyrs of Anglicanism – alongside Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley – and was one of the principal promoters of the Reformation in Tudor England.

In theology, Latimer was never a clear thinker, and there were times when it seemed he hardly knew himself what he believed. Yet, Latimer was the outstanding English preacher of the Reformation. His sermons against ecclesiastical abuses led to several trials for heresy, but no proof could be established against his orthodoxy. Latimer had little interest in refined details of doctrine; instead, his zeal was concentrated on the moral life of Christian clergy and people. He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and Bishop of Worcester before the Anglican Reformation, and later chaplain to King Edward VI. In 1555, under Queen Mary, he was burnt at the stake, becoming one of the three Oxford Martyrs of Anglicanism.

Latimer was born into a family of yeoman farmers in Thurscaston, Leicestershire. But his date of birth date is unknown, although contemporary biographers, including John Foxe, placed the date somewhere between 1480 and 1494.

An only boy who grew up with six sisters, he started school at the age of four, but little else is known of his childhood.

The chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge, where Hugh Latimer was an undergraduate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He was a student at the University of Cambridge, and Venn says he was probably at Peterhouse, where he was a pupil of Dr John Watson. He said later that while he was a student he was not unaccustomed “to make good cheer and be merry.” But at the same time he was a punctilious observer of the most minute rites of his faith and later described himself at time as being “as obstinate a Papist as any in England.”

Clare College, Cambridge ... Hugh Latimer was elected a fellow of Clare College while he was still an undergraduate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

While he was still an undergraduate, Latimer he was elected a fellow of Clare Hall, now Clare College, on 2 February 1510. He received the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA) later that year, he proceeded MA in April 1514 and he was ordained priest in Lincoln on 15 July 1515.

During his early years as a priest, Latimer was a zealous Catholic, opposing the Lutheran opinions and he was a bitter opponent of the movement for an English Reformation.

A plaque at Chetwynd Court, King’s College, Cambridge, marking the site of the White House Tavern where Latimer would join those who discussed Reformation ideas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1521, Reformed-minded thinkers at Cambridge began discussing Luther’s writings at the White Horse Inn, which came to be called “Little Germany.” Those who met at the White Horse Inn would later include Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Barnes, Prior of the Austin Friars in Cambridge and future martyr, Thomas Bilney, who would change Latimer’s views about the Reformation, Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, Miles Coverdale, translator of the Bible and future Bishop of Exeter, Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Tyndale, Bible translator, Nicholas Shaxton, later Bishop of Salisbury, and John Bale, later Bishop of Ossory, and would later include Hugh Latimer.

The Church of Saint Edward King and Martyr, close to King’s College, where many of the Cambridge reformers preached (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Many of the group in the White Horse had been influenced by a new translation of the New Testament by Erasmus and by the ideas of Luther. Many of them also preached at the Church of Saint Edward King and Martyr, close to King’s College, Cambridge. The church played a unique role in the early days of the Reformation, and the church was closely associated with the Austin Friars, whose priory stood on the site of Corpus Christ College. The North Chapel of the church had been built for the use of Trinity Hall and the South Chapel for the use of Clare Hall (now Clare College).

Meanwhile, Latimer was nominated in 1522 to the positions of university preacher and university chaplain. He was one of 12 priests licensed by Cambridge University to preach in any part of England, and he was also appointed to carry the silver cross of the university in processions.

Latimer continued with his theological studies and received the degree Bachelor of Divinity in 1524. The subject of his public disputation for the degree was a defence of the Pope’s authority and a refutation of the new ideas of the Reformation emerging from the Continent, in particular the opinions of Philip Melanchthon, who would later become the leading Reformer in Germany after the death of Martin Luther in 1546.

“At last,” said those who heard his words, “England, nay Cambridge, will furnish a champion for the church that will confront the Wittenberg doctors, and save the vassal of our Lord.”

However, their optimism was short-lived. After his oration his friend Thomas Bilney, one of the group that met regularly at the White Horse Inn, came privately to Latimer in his study. He recognised Latimer’s honesty and sincerity and asked if he might be allowed to make a private confession of his own new-found faith.

Latimer was convinced by Bilney’s testimony. Later, reflecting on his sudden conversion, Latimer acknowledged: “To say the truth, by his confession I learned more than before in many years. So from that time forward I began to smell the word of God, and forsook the school-doctors and such fooleries.”

He soon became the most popular preacher of his day and one of the leading spokesmen for the Reformation. His homely practical sermons were strikingly simple, yet powerful and challenging. He joined the group of reformers at the White Horse Inn and began to preach publicly on the need for a translation of the Bible into English. This was a dangerous move as the first translation of the New Testament by William Tyndale had recently been banned.

At the Midnight Mass in Saint Edward’s in Christmas 1525, Robert Barnes preached what was probably the first openly evangelical sermon preached in a church in England, proclaiming the Gospel and accusing the Church of many heresies. Saint Edward’s thus claims to be “the cradle of the Reformation” in England.

Hugh Latimer’s pulpit in Saint Edward’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hugh Latimer was among the other reformers who preached regularly at Saint Edward’s. Some of the sermons he preached there have been preserved, and the pulpit from which he preached is still in use.

In 1526, Robert Barnes was forced to make a recantation, and in 1527 Bilney incurred the displeasure of Wolsey and was forced to make humiliating penance for his offences.

Great Saint Mary’s Church, the University Church of Cambridge ... Latimer confronted Bishop West in a sermon here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Bishop of Ely, Dr Nicholas West, decided to come to hear him preach in Great Saint Mary’s, the University Church in Cambridge. On seeing the bishop enter the church, Latimer boldly changed his theme to a portrayal of Christ as the pattern for priest and bishop. The bishop professed his “obligations for the good admonition he had received,” but informed the preacher that he “smelt somewhat of the pan.”

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ... part of the college site was once the Priory of the Austin Friars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Latimer was prohibited from preaching in the university or in any pulpit in the Diocese of Ely. However, the pulpit of the Augustinian Friars in Cambridge – now part of the site of Corpus Christ College – was outside episcopal control. There Robert Barnes was the prior, Myles Coverdale, translator of the Bible, had joined the community in 1523, and Desiderius Erasmus had been close to the community while he was at Queens’ College, Cambridge, from 1511 to 1514.

In early 1528, Latimer was called to answer for his opinions before Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who admonished Latimer but gave him a special licence to preach throughout England.

Wolsey fell out of favour with Henry VIII the following year when he failed to expedite the annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In December 1529, Latimer preached his two “sermons on the cards,” which caused a turbulent controversy in the university. At the same time, however, it was reported to the king that Latimer favoured the cause of the king’s divorce, and he was invited to preach before Henry in Lent 1530. The king was so pleased with the sermon that after it “he did most familiarly talk with him in a gallery.”

Secure in Henry VIII’s protection, Latimer wrote a famous letter on the free circulation of the Bible, a letter remarkable for what Froude justly calls “its almost unexampled grandeur,” and for its striking repudiation of the aid of temporal weapons to defend the faith, “for God,” he says, “will not have it defended by man or man’s power, but by his Word only, by which he hath evermore defended it, and that by a way far above man’s power and reason.”

Latimer left Cambridge in 1531 when, on the nomination of the king, he became the Vicar of West Kington, near Chippenham in Wiltshire. Later that year in London, he preached a sermon that exasperated Bishop John Stokesley of London and in the January following Latimer was summoned to answer before the bishops in the consistory.

In March 1532, he was brought before convocation, and was censured, excommunicated and imprisoned. But through the intervention of the king he was released after voluntarily signifying his acceptance of all the articles except two, and confessed he had erred not only “in discretion but in doctrine.”

Bristol Cathedral ... Latimer’s preaching in the city caused a disturbance in 1533 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After the consecration of Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, Latimer’s fortunes changed completely. A commission appointed to inquire into the disturbances caused by his preaching in Bristol severely censured his opponents. When the bishop prohibited him from preaching in his diocese, Cranmer gave him a special licence to preach throughout the province of Canterbury.

In 1534, Henry VIII formally repudiated the authority of the Pope. Latimer began to advise Cranmer and Cromwell on a series of legislative measures, and he became royal chaplain to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn that year.

In September 1535, he was consecrated Bishop of Worcester, in succession to Geronimo Ghinucci, an Italian absenteeand one of four Italian bishops who had been placed in the diocese, one after another. In Worcester, Latimer promoted reformed teachings and iconoclasm, and supported Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. As Bishop of Worcester, and at the insistence of Thomas Cromwell, he preached the final sermon before the Franciscan friar John Forest was burned at the stake on 22 May 1538 for denying the royal supremacy.

When he opposed Henry VIII’s Act of the Six Articles in 1539, Latimer was forced to resign his bishopric, was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and was then confined to the precincts of the palace of the Bishop of Chichester.

After the attainder of Cromwell, little is known of Latimer until 1546, when – because of his connections with the preacher Edward Crome – he was summoned before the council at Greenwich, and committed once again to the Tower of London.

The Latimer window in Saint Edward’s Church, Cambridge

Henry VIII died before Latimer’s final trial could take place, and the general pardon at the accession of Edward VI brought his liberty. During the next six years, he lived with his friend, Thomas Cranmer, continuing to play his part as a major figure in the English Reformation.

Latimer declined to resume his see, despite a special request from Parliament, and in January 1548 he again began to preach, with more effectiveness than ever and with crowds thronging to listen to him both in London and throughout England. Perhaps his best-known sermon from this time is ‘Of the Plough.’

He became a court preacher until 1550, and then served as chaplain to Lady Jane Grey’s step-grandmother, Catherine Duchess of Suffolk.

Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, shortly after Edward VI’s sister, Mary I, came to the throne in 1553, Latimer was summoned to appear before the council at Westminster. On 14 April 1554, commissioners from the papal party, including Edmund Bonner and Stephen Gardiner, began to examine Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, former Bishop of London, and Thomas Cranmer, former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Latimer, hardly able to sustain a debate at his age, responded to the council in writing. He argued that the doctrines of the real presence of Christ in the Mass, transubstantiation, and the propitiatory merit of the mass were unbiblical. The commissioners tried to demonstrate that Latimer did not share the same faith as eminent Fathers, to which Latimer replied: “I am of their faith when they say well ... I have said, when they say well, and bring Scripture for them, I am of their faith; and further Augustine requireth not to be believed.”

Latimer believed that the welfare of souls demanded he stand for the Protestant understanding of the gospel. The commissioners also understood that the debate involved the very message of salvation itself, by which souls would be saved or damned.

After the sentence had been pronounced, Latimer added: “I thank God most heartily that He hath prolonged my life to this end, that I may in this case glorify God by that kind of death.” To which the prolocutor replied: “If you go to heaven in this faith, then I will never come hither, as I am thus persuaded.”

The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of St Giles’ near Baliol College in Oxford ... Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake near this spot on 16 October 1555 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Latimer was burned at the stake on 16 October 1555, alongside Nicholas Ridley, onetime Bishop of London, outside Balliol College in Oxford. As the flames rose, he is said to have said to Ridley: “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”

It was said he “received the flame as it were embracing it. After he had stroked his face with his hands, and (as it were) bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died (as it appeared) with very little pain or none.”

Five months later, Thomas Cranmer was also burned at the stake at the same place in Oxford on 21 March 1556. Of almost 300 people burned during Mary’s reign, the most famous are the Oxford martyrs. The Martyrs’ Memorial in the city centre, near the site of their execution, commemorates the “faithfulness unto death” of these three martyrs.

Latimer and Ridley are honoured together in the calendar of the Church of England and in the Episcopal Church (USA) on 16 October. A square, Latimer Square, is named after the man and is located in central Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Latimer room in Clare College, Cambridge, is named after him. Latimer’s pulpit can still be seen in Saint Edward’s Church in Cambridge, where there is a window to his memory. The Chaplain of Saint Edward’s is the Revd Dr Fraser Watts, who is also the Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Science in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Queens’ College.

Latimer’s Statue on the facade of the Divinity School, the University of Cambridge


Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like thy servants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in thy fear, die in thy favour, and rest in thy peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in your fear, die in your favour, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Select bibliography:

Allan G. Chester, Hugh Latimer: Apostle to the English (New York: Octagon Books, 1978).
Harold S. Darby, Hugh Latimer (London: Epworth Press, 1953).
Tom Freeman, ‘Text, Lies and Microfilm,’ Sixteenth Century Journal XXX (1999).
James Gairdner, ‘Latimer, Hugh,’ Dictionary of National Biography vol 32, pp 171-179.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (London: Yale University Press, 1996).
Stephen Neill, Anglicanism (London: Penguin, 3rd ed, 1965). Susan Wabuda, ‘Latimer, Hugh (c.1485–1555),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

1: Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556): author of the Book of Common Prayer

Thomas Cranmer … his legacy includes The Book of Common Prayer, the Collects and the 39 Articles

Patrick Comerford

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was the leading figure of the Anglican Reformation and the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and – for the initial years of her reign – Mary I. Richard Schmidt calls him the “Father of the Prayer Book.”

Cranmer is popularly remembered for his role in the divorces and marriages of Henry VIII, but his legacy as an Anglican theologian is to be found in The Book of Common Prayer, The Articles of Religion or the 39 Articles, and in many of the prayers we continue to use and to adapt to this day, including the Collects, the Litany and the offices.

Politically, Cranmer helped build the case in favour of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which was a crucial event in bringing about the separation of the Church of England from union with the Papacy. He supported the principle of Royal Supremacy, and as Archbishop of Canterbury he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical formulations of the Church of England at the time of the Anglican Reformation.

During the reign of Henry VIII, Cranmer introduced few changes that could be regarded as radical, due to power struggles between religious conservatives and reformers. However, he succeeded in publishing the first officially authorised vernacular service, the Exhortation and Liturgy.

With the accession of Edward VI to the throne, he had greater freedom in promoting reforms. He compiled an edited the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer. With the assistance of Continental reformers, he developed doctrinal standards which were disseminated through The Book of Common Prayer, the Homilies and other publications.

After Edward VI died and Mary I succeeded, Cranmer was jailed and tried for treason and heresy. Under He made several recantations, and appeared to be reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church. However, on the day of his execution, he dramatically withdrew his recantations, and died at the stake.

Jesus College, Cambridge ... Thomas Cranmer was a student here and later a fellow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thomas Cranmer was born in 1489 in Aslockton, Northamptonshire, the son of Thomas and Agnes (Hatfield) Cranmer. His older brother, John, inherited the family farm, while Thomas and his younger brother Edmund studied for a clerical career.

At the age of 14, two years after the death of his father, Thomas Cranmer was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied logic, classics and philosophy. At Cambridge, he started collecting mediaeval books on philosophy and theology, and he kept this collection for the rest of his life.

It took him eight years to complete his BA, and for his master’s degree he spent three years studying the continental humanists Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (Jacob Faber) (1455-1536) and Erasmus. He received his MA in 1515, and was elected a Fellow of Jesus College.

Sometime after receiving his MA, Cranmer married his first wife Joan, and had to resign as a Fellow of Jesus College. But when Joan died in childbirth, Jesus College reinstated him as a fellow and was ordained priest before 1520. By then, the University of Cambridge had named him as one of its preachers, and he received the degree Doctor of Divinity in 1526.

The Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge ... Cranmer’s fellowship was restored after the death of his first wife (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the time, Cranmer, who admired Erasmus, may have had an early antipathy to Martin Luther. The Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, give Cranmer his first diplomatic appointment in a minor at in the English embassy in Spain. On returning from Spain in June 1527, Cranmer met Henry VIII for half an hour, and later described him as “the kindest of princes.”

Henry VIII had married Catherine of Aragon in 1509 and their daughter Mary, later Mary I, was born in 1516. But the king had no son and male heir, and he asked the Vatican to annul his marriage. Wolsey approached Cranmer and asked him to work on the annulment proceedings.

In 1529, in a discussion at Waltham Holy Cross with Stephen Gardiner and Edward Foxe, Cranmer suggested putting aside the case in Rome and asking theologians throughout Europe for their opinions. Foxe co-ordinated the research and two documents were produced, Collectanea Satis Copiosa (The Sufficiently Abundant Collections) and The Determinations, which provide historical and theological arguments that the king had supreme jurisdiction in his realm.

Simon Grynaeus was the first Continental reformer Cranmer came into contact with. Grynaeus lived in Basel and was a follower of the Swiss reformers Zwingli and Oecolampadius. In 1531, he visited England, offering his services as an intermediary between the king and the Continental reformers. Cranmer and Grynaeus struck up a friendship that eventually led to Cranmer’s contacts with the Strasbourg and Swiss reformers.

In January 1532, Henry VIII appointed Cranmer as his ambassador to the court of the Emperor Charles V. In that office, Cranmer visited the Lutheran city of Nuremberg, where he learned at first-hand about the Reformation. In July, he married his second wife, Margarete, a niece of Andreas Osiander, one of the leading reformers in Nuremburg.

However, during this mission, Cranmer failed to persuade Charles V to accede to his proposals for the annulment of the marriage of the emperor’s aunt, Catherine of Aragon, and Henry VIII. As he was accompanying the Emperor in Italy, Cranmer received a royal letter dated 1 October 1532 appointing him Archbishop of Canterbury, following the death of Archbishop William Warham.

Until then, Cranmer had held only minor positions in the Church of England and he had never been a bishop, so his appointment to Canterbury was surprising. King Henry was already showing a romantic interest in Anne Boleyn, and it is said that Cranmer’s appointment to Canterbury was secured by her family. Cranmer arrived back in England in January 1533, the Papal Bulls affirming his appointment arrived on 26 March, and he was consecrated archbishop on 30 March in Saint Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster.

Meanwhile, Cranmer was still working to secure the annulment of the king’s marriage. The proceedings acquired greater urgency when Anne became pregnant. Henry and Anne were secretly married on 24 or 25 January 1533 in the presence of a handful of witnesses, but Cranmer did not learn of the marriage for another fortnight.

In the weeks and months that followed, the king and the archbishop worked on the annulment of the king’s first marriage. Cranmer began his court hearing on 10 May, inviting Henry and Catherine of Aragon to appear. Gardiner represented the king, while Catherine did not appear, nor did she send a proxy. On 23 May, Cranmer issued a judgment that the marriage was against the law of God, and also issued a threat of excommunication if the king did not stay away from Catherine.

Legally, Henry was now free to marry and on 28 May Cranmer validated the marriage of Henry and Anne. Three days later, on 1 June, he crowned and anointed Anne as queen.

On 9 July, Pope Clement VII provisionally excommunicated Henry and his advisers, including Cranmer, unless he repudiated Anne by the end of September. But Henry kept Anne as his wife and on 7 September she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth. Cranmer baptised the child immediately and was one of her godparents.

It is difficult to assess how Cranmer’s theological views evolved since his Cambridge days. There is evidence that he continued to support humanism, he renewed Erasmus’s pension, and in June 1533, John Frith was condemned to death for denying the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist after Cranmer failed to persuade him to change his views.

Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

By 1534, Cranmer was gradually replacing the old guard in the Province of Canterbury with men who followed the new thinking, such as Hugh Latimer. He intervened in disputes, supporting reformers to the disappointment of conservatives who were anxious to maintain the link with Rome.

Cranmer was not immediately accepted by the bishops within his province. When he attempted a canonical visitation, he had to avoid places where a bishop might challenge his authority. He had difficult encounters with several bishops, including John Stokesley, John Longland and Stephen Gardiner, who objected to Cranmer’s assumed powers, arguing the Act of Supremacy did not define his role.

In response, the king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, assumed the office of the Vice-Gerent or the deputy supreme head of ecclesiastical affairs and created a new set of institutions giving clear structures to the royal supremacy.

Anne suffered a miscarriage with a son on 29 January 1536, and the king soon began to reflect on the biblical prohibitions that had dissolved his marriage with Catherine of Aragon and started to show an interest in Jane Seymour. When he had commissioned Cromwell to prepare the case for a divorce, Cranmer was not aware of the plans.

When Anne was sent to the Tower of London on 2 May, Cranmer wrote to the king, expressing his esteem for her. On 16 May, he saw her in the Tower and heard her confession; on the following day, he pronounced her marriage null and void; two days later, Anne was executed.

Cromwell’s actions had brought the reforms under the control of the king, and the promulgation of the Ten Articles was the first attempt to define the beliefs of the Church. The first five articles showed the influence of the reformers by recognising only three of the seven sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist, and Penance. The second five articles concerned images, saints, rites and ceremonies, and purgatory, with phrasing that reflected the views of the traditionalists. By 11 July, the Ten Articles had been subscribed to by Cranmer, Cromwell, and the Convocation or general assembly of the clergy.

A series of uprisings in the northern England in autumn 1536, known as the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace,’ posed a serious threat to Henry’s policies, with Cromwell and Cranmer the main targets of the protests. But, while Cromwell and the king worked to quell the rebellion, Cranmer kept a low profile.

The Bishops’ Book was published in late September 1537. However, at the time Henry was more preoccupied with the pregnancy of Jane Seymour, who died on 24 October 1537 shortly after giving birth to a male heir, the future Edward VI. After her funeral, he sent his amendments to The Bishops’ Book to Cranmer and others for comment. A debate ensued on issues, including justification by faith and predestination.

Lambeth Palace ... Cranmer’s official London residence as Archbishop of Canterbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, at Henry’s invitation, the German Lutheran reformers sent a delegation to England in May 1538. They met the king, Cromwell, and Cranmer, but the theological discussions that followed in Lambeth Palace dragged on over the summer, with major differences on clerical celibacy, withholding the chalice from the laity, and private masses for the dead. The Germans finally left on 1 October without any substantial progress.

In early 1539, the reformer Philipp Melanchthon wrote to Henry, criticising his continuing support of clerical celibacy. Yet another German Lutheran mission arrived in England in April. Later that month, Cranmer was present when Parliament met for the first time in three years.

The House of Lords set up a committee to examine six questions that would become the basis of the Six Articles. They affirmed doctrines such as the real presence, clerical celibacy and private confession. As the Act of the Six Articles came before Parliament, Cranmer moved his wife and children, who had been kept hidden, out of England. When Parliament passed the Act at the end of June and Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Shaxton, who had been outspoken in their opposition, were forced to resign as bishops.

But by September, Cranmer and Cromwell were back in favour, and the king asked the archbishop to write a new preface for The Great Bible, an English translation published in April 1539 under Cromwell’s direction.

At the same time, Cromwell was planning a marriage between Henry and a German princess, Anne of Cleves, who became his fourth wife. When Henry married her reluctantly on 6 January 1540, Cranmer officiated at the wedding. But the marriage was never consummated, she was never crowned queen, and the marriage was annulled on 9 July by Cranmer and Gardiner.

The marriage was also the undoing of Thomas Cromwell, who was executed on 28 July, the same day Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, a first cousin of Anne Boleyn. But Cranmer soon accused Catherine of adultery, and she was executed on 13 February 1542.

In 1543, in the so-called “Prebendaries’ Plot,” several clergy, including Stephen Gardiner’s nephew, Germain Gardiner, accused Cranmer of misdeeds, dating back to 1541. Another blow came with the publication in May of a new edition of The King’s Book which was more conservative in doctrine than The Bishops’ Book. Yet another blow was struck when Parliament passed the Act for the Advancement of True Religion, abolishing “erroneous books” and restricting the reading of the Bible in English to those of noble status. In the weeks that followed, many reformers were examined and forced to recant or go to prison.

Although Cranmer moved against the ringleaders in the “Prebendaries’ Plot,” he was arrested at the end of November. But the king asserted his trust in the archbishop, and many of the leaders were jailed.

The first officially authorised English-language service was published on 27 May 1544. This was the Exhortation and Litany, a processional service of intercession that survives to this day with minor modifications in The Book of Common Prayer. The traditional litany had a series of petitions invoking the saints, but Cranmer thoroughly reformed it.

New legislation was introduced in the House of Commons to curb the effects of the Act of the Six Articles and the Act for the Advancement of True Religion. In 1546, there was one last effort to challenge the reformers, targeting several reformers identified with Cranmer, and some were even burnt at the stake. However, the balance was soon tipped, and Germain Gardiner was accused of treason and was executed.

Cranmer showed his grief for the dead king by growing a beard

Cranmer was at Henry’s death bed on 28 January 1547, gripping the king’s hand instead of administering the traditional last rites. He showed his grief for the dead king by growing a beard, although the beard was also interpreted as a sign of his break with the past. He was one the executors of the king’s will that nominated Edward Seymour as Lord Protector and welcomed the boy king, Edward VI.

It is not known when Cranmer’s family returned from their Continental exile to England, but soon after the accession of Edward VI Cranmer publicly acknowledged their existence.

In July 1547, Cranmer issued a series of injunctions ordering the removal of images from churches. Each parish in England was instructed to acquire an English Bible and a copy of Erasmus’ Paraphrases. Each parish was also told obtain a copy of the Homilies, a book of 12 sermons, including four by Cranmer.

Cranmer’s Eucharistic views had already moved from traditional Catholic teaching, and he was further influenced by a letter from Martin Bucer in November 1547 which denied transubstantiation, and an epistle supposedly written allegedly by Saint John Chrysostom, Ad Caesarium Monachum – although that is now widely believed to have been a forgery. When Bucer and Paul Fagius were expelled from Strasbourg in March 1549, Cranmer invited them to England, promising them places in English universities.

Cranmer realised the need for a uniform liturgy for the Church of England and began a series of meetings that would eventually produce The Book of Common Prayer. The first meetings took place in Chertsey Abbey and Windsor Castle in September 1548. Then followed a four-day debate on the Eucharist in the House of Lords in December 1548, when Cranmer revealed the degree to which he had changed his thinking on the doctrine of the Real Presence and believed that the Eucharistic presence is spiritual.

Parliament sanctioned the publication of The Book of Common Prayer after Christmas. It also passed the 1549 Act of Uniformity, and legalised clerical marriage. The Book of Common Prayer came into use on 9 June 1549. But the ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ spread from Devon and Cornwall to other parts of England, with demands for the restoration of the Six Articles, the return of Latin for the Mass, the distribution of only the consecrated bread to the laity at Holy Communion, the restoration of prayers for souls in purgatory, and the reopening of the monastic houses.

Cranmer denounced the wickedness of the rebellion in a letter to Edward VI, and he vigorously defended the official Church line from the pulpit of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

The ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ resulted in Seymour losing office as Lord Protector and being sent briefly to the Tower of London. Cranmer used the opportunity to move his former chaplain, Nicholas Ridley, from being Bishop of Rochester to being Bishop of London.

The Ordinal, the liturgy for the ordination of priests, published in 1550, drew on Martin Bucer’s draft and created three services for ordaining deacons, priests and bishops. The same year also saw Cranmer’s publication of his Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, his first full-length book, setting out the Eucharistic theology within The Book of Common Prayer. In his preface, he compared “beads, pardons, pilgrimages, and such other like popery” with weeds, which were transubstantiation, the real presence, and the sacrificial nature of the Mass.

The ‘Vestments Controversy’ began with John Hooper, who had recently returned from Zurich and openly criticised The Book of Common Prayer and The Ordinal and objected to the use of ceremonies and vestments. When Hooper was appointed Bishop of Gloucester in 1550, he refused to wear the required vestments. Cranmer and Ridley stood their ground, Hooper was jailed, and he finally conceded before he was consecrated in 8 1551. The Ordinal was used at his consecration and Hooper preached before King Edward VI in his episcopal robes.

Seymour was arrested at the end of 1551 and he was executed on 22 January 1552. Meanwhile, more church property was being appropriated by the state. However, Cranmer continued to work on revising canon law, revising The Book of Common Prayer, and formulating of a statement of doctrine, although his bill revising canon law was defeated in the House of Lords.

His revisions of The Book of Common Prayer included new words for use at the administration of the Holy Communion, new rubrics allowing the use of any kind of bread and allowing the curate to use any remaining bread or wine; and the removal of prayers for the dead. The so-called “Black Rubric” – allowing kneeling at Holy Communion, despite objections from John Knox, who was then living in Newcastle – also explained that kneeling did not imply adoration.

The Act of Uniformity 1552 authorised the new Book of Common Prayer, and specified that it was to be used exclusively from 1 November 1552. However, the final version was not officially published until almost the last minute.

The Forty-Two Articles were published in May 1553, claiming the authority of the king and the agreement of Convocation, although Convocation had not given its approval. Cranmer was given the task of securing subscription to the articles by the bishops, although many of them opposed them.

But the course of politics was changing with Edward VI’s illness and death. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer conducted Edward VI’s funeral according to the rites of The Book of Common Prayer. But with Mary’s accession to the throne, the reforming bishops were removed from their dioceses one-by-one, while conservative bishops were restored to their old positions. Cranmer’s wife, Margarete, fled to Germany, while his son was entrusted to his brother, Edmund Cranmer, who also took him to the Continent.

Cranmer denied he had authorised the use of the Mass in Canterbury, declaring: “All the doctrine and religion, by our said sovereign lord king Edward VI is more pure and according to God’s word, than any that hath been used in England these thousand years.”

In September 1553, he was sent to the Tower, where he joined Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. On 13 November 1553, Cranmer and four others were tried for treason. He was found guilty and condemned to death. On 8 March 1554, the Privy Council sent Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer to prison in Oxford to face a second trial for heresy. His last surviving letter was written from prison to Peter Martyr, who had fled to Strasbourg: “I pray that God may grant that we may endure to the end!”

His trial opened on 12 September 1555. Under questioning, he admitted to everything he was charged with, but denied any treachery, disobedience, or heresy. When Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake on 16 October, Cranmer was taken to a tower to watch their deaths. On 4 December, he was removed from office as Archbishop of Canterbury. A week later, on 11 December, he was taken from jail and placed in the house of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where he was treated as a guest and engaged in academic debates about papal supremacy and purgatory.

In the first of many recantations, Cranmer submitted to the authority of the king and queen at the end of January or in mid-February and recognised the Pope as head of the Church. On 14 February 1556, he was deprived of holy orders and sent back to prison. The date for his execution was set for 7 March.

In a further recantation, Cranmer repudiated all Lutheran and Zwinglian theology, fully accepted Catholic theology, including papal supremacy and transubstantiation, and said there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church. He announced his joy of returning to the Catholic faith, asked for and received sacramental absolution, and attended Mass, receiving Holy Communion. His final recantation on 18 March was a sweeping confession of sin.

The University Church of Saint Mary, Oxford, where Thomas Cranmer preached his final sermon on 21 March 1566 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the pulpit of Saint Mary’s, the University Church in Oxford, on Saturday 21 March 1556, he opened with a prayer and exhorts the people to set their minds on God and the world to come, to obey the queen, and to love one another, and he called on the rich to be generous to the poor, But he ended his sermon totally unexpectedly, and deviating from his prepared script he renounced his earlier recantations and dramatically and defiantly said his hand would be punished by being burnt first. He then said: “And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.”

He was pulled from the pulpit and taken to very same place where Latimer and Ridley had been burned at the stake six months earlier. As the flames rose around him, he placed his right hand into the fire and cried out: “This hand hath offended.” His dying words were: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

Cranmer is commemorated in the calendar of many provinces of the Anglican Communion on 21 March, the anniversary of his death.

The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of St Giles’ near Baliol College in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Elizabeth I succeeded Mary as queen, she restored the Church of England under her own religious settlement. The Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer was basically Cranmer’s 1552 edition, but without the “Black Rubric.”

In the Convocation of 1563, The Forty-Two Articles, which had never been adopted by the Church of England, were altered, particularly in the area of Eucharistic doctrine, and became The Thirty Nine Articles.

Cranmer’s legacy

Thomas Cranmer’s memorial in the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Cranmer’s greatest concerns were the maintenance of the royal supremacy, the diffusion of reformed theology and practice and designing corporate worship to encourage a lively faith. But he is a complex and contradictory character, whose opinions changed throughout his career, shifting his theological ground many times over the course of his lifetime.

Cranmer may have lacked the virtues of Thomas a Becket or Sir Thomas More, but his death showed something of a martyr’s grace. Many biographers overlook the many times that Cranmer betrayed his own principles. For some, he compromised too much and too often, even before his execution; but for others, he is a martyr of the Reformation.

However, Cranmer is also remembered for his contribution to English language and of cultural identity, and The Book of Common Prayer is one of the major contributions to English literature.

It is a language of devotion that is rich and deeply meaningful and that has shaped the spiritual vocabulary of Anglicans for generations. Here we have Christian memory and collective recollection.

Think of phrases such as:

“Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry ways …”

“… that we should not dissemble or cloke them …”

“… an humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart …”

“Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as many as are here present …”

“We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep …”

“We have left undone those things which we ought to have done … and there is no health in us …”

“… a godly, righteous and sober life …”

“… that we surely trusting in thy defence …”

“… we fall not into sin, neither run into any kind of danger …”

“…for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory …”

Someone I know claims to have known twin sisters called Grace and Gloria.

Or the one I was puzzled by when I first heard it as a child, without the comma being emphasised:

“… that both, or hearts …”

What? Only two hearts? Among so many?

“We do not presume …”

“Draw near with faith …”

“Prevent us, O Lord, …”

“Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest …”

The Book of Common Prayer is Cranmer’s single greatest legacy to Anglicanism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Cranmer was the editor of The Book of Common Prayer and shaped the overall structure of the book. We know his sources included the Sarum Rite, and the writings of Continental Reformers. But how much of The Book of Common Prayer is Cranmer’s own composition?

He condensed the eight daily offices of the Benedictine monastic tradition into the two daily services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and the so-called ‘Prayer of Saint [John] Chysostom’ is an indication of his wide appreciation of patristic sources.

Schmidt summarises Cranmer’s achievements in The Book of Common Prayer in six areas:

1, He gave the people the liturgy in their own language;

2, He promoted good preaching;

3, He simplified public worship;

4, He engaged the laity in the worship of the Church;

5, He provided a common liturgy throughout England, where in the past there was a multitude of variations;

6, He modified, altered and changed the theological emphasis of the Eucharist.

One of the true treasures that Cranmer has given us is the Prayer of Humble Access, perhaps the first of Cranmer’s own compositions to feature in the Anglican liturgy. It first appeared in the 1548 Order of the Communion, designed to prepare the laity for regular, weekly reception of Holy Communion under both kinds. The Prayer of Humble Access has no continental sources, and all the evidence suggests that it is Cranmer’s original work, drawing on phrases or concepts in the Greek Orthodox Liturgy of Saint Basil, four Gospel passages (Matthew 8: 5-13; Matthew 15: 21-28; Mark 7: 28; John 6: 53-56), two Gregorian collect (851 and 1327) that had been printed at the end of the 1544 litany, and the writings of Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, Part 3, Question 74, Article 1).

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, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford says of Cranmer’s Collects:

There is little doubt we owe him the present form of the sequence of eighty-four seasonal collects and a dozen or so further examples embedded elsewhere in the 1549 services: no doubt either that these jewelled miniatures are one of the chief glories of the Anglican liturgical tradition, a particularly distinguished development of the genre of brief prayer which is peculiar to the Western Church. Their concise expression has not always won unqualified praise, especially from those who consider that God enjoys extended addresses from his creatures; but they have proved one of the most enduring vehicles of worship in the Anglican Communion.

Cranmer in his own words:

Cranmer’s 1549 Book of Common Prayer is a foundational document for Anglican liturgy and a priceless part of English-speaking Christianity. His unique gift of blending theological substance with simple, humble, and moving clarity makes the Collects essential not only to the English liturgy but also to the pastoral tradition of the church.

These prayers still remain a deep source of inspiration for Christians enmeshed in the everyday trials and testings of life.

Almighty God unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified; receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy congregation, that every member of the same in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly service thee; through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Merciful God, who has made all men, and hatest nothing that thou has made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels and heretics, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word: and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and forever. Amen.

Lord, make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy name: for thou never failest to help and govern them whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast love. Grant this through Jesus Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Select bibliography:

The Works of Thomas Cranmer (1886, 2 vols).

Paul Ayris and David Selwyn (eds) Thomas Cranmer: Churchman and Scholar (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1993).
C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Grand Rapids Michigan and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999).
GW Bernard, The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church (London: Yale University Press, 2005).
Mark D. Chapman, Anglican Theology (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2012). Charles C Hefling, Cynthia L Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
Jasper Ridley, Thomas Cranmer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962).
Richard H. Schmidt, Glorious Companions, Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality (Grand Rapids Michigan and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002).
Henry John Todd, The Life of Archbishop Cranmer (2 vols, London: Gilber and Rivington, 1831).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.