Friday, September 2, 2011

Obscure Heroes of the Reformation - Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer was born on July 2, 1489. He was from an ancient family in Lincolnshire. Very little is known of his infancy and childhood.

He was admitted into Jesus College in Cambridge where he attained a Master of Arts. While there he married a relative of the innkeeper’s wife. This was generally considered to be a hinderance to his future preferment. He suffered much malicious rumors against him due to his marriage. Cranmers’s wife died very early, after which he returned to his studies. He returned to his studies with such fervor that he was soon made a Fellow of the college, despite the fact that widowers were generally denied this honor.

Cranmer remained at the college until the plague broke out, which forced the students to leave the university. At this time he became a private tutor to some gentleman’s sons.

During this time, Rome was agitated by the divorce of King Henry and Katherine. Rome and Henry were engaged in a power struggle. Henry was convinced that Rome wanted to first divorce England of all its wealth before she granted the marital divorce.

It so happened that one of Henry’s courtiers came into Cranmer’s company during this time. During their conversations, the subject of divorce came up. Cranmer informed the courtier that the easiest way for Henry to get what he wanted was to stop playing the Pope’s games and appeal directly to Scripture. Since the king’s marriage was unlawful to begin with, it could be annulled. When word of this reached Henry, he sent for Cranmer. After diligently teaching in the most principal universities in Europe, Cranmer was appointed archbishop of Canterbury.

Cranmer flourished at Canterbury, endearing the people to himself by his grave and pious demeanor. He was held in high regard during all of Henry VIII and Edward VI’s reign. When Mary came to the throne, however, things changed. Mary had Cranmer accused of heresy and sent him to Oxford, where he was to engage in some disputations, which were merely ruses to trump up charges against him on theological grounds. Cranmer was charged with heresy, found guilty by the papist judges and sentenced to death at the stake on March 21, 1556.

His legacy lives on within the Church of England through the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles an Anglican statement of faith derived from his work.

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