Cranmer In My Heart....
Father of all mercies,who through the work of thy servant Thomas Cranmer didst renew the worship of thy Church and through his death didst reveal thy strength in human weakness: strengthen us by thy grace so to worship thee in spirit and in truth that we may come to the joys of thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
It is unpleasant to think that in history we have to take sides. Since we think we have so much more insight now than the actors did back then, we would like to overlook that our predecessors sent others to death over things that we find trivial. In some more extreme circumstances, we can even usurp the past and interpret it according to our own comfortable prejudices. We can cherry-pick what we like and leave what we do not like to rot on its branch. Is this an honest approach? That is a very difficult question.
Thomas Cranmer was a coward. He was also a royal hack who did some rather unscrupulous things. He was not even an original scholar. He did, however, die a heroic death.... or so we can believe. Either those who burned him were in the right to do so and he was reaping what he sowed, or he died a martyr. Either his resistance of Roman authority was legitimate or he deserved to be burned at the stake as a heretic and schismatic. Either he died within the true Church in the flames, or he died outside of the bosom of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and Roman Church.
Cranmer of course was not an Anglican Pope. He was not a "founder" by his own admission. He was, however, the one who got the ball rolling for a Church that was both Catholic and Reformed. The great Divines who came after him until the Oxford Movement and beyond would not question his basic project. To do so would make the whole edifice fall. Cranmer was either a hero on that dreadful day in March 1556 or he died one of the worst enemies of the Church of Christ who has ever lived. There is, I think, no third option. You have to take sides.
As the flames lept up, he stretched out his right hand, saying with a loud voice, "This hand has offended," and held it steadfastly in the fire until it was burnt to ashes.
Thomas Cranmer by Albert Pollard, p. 383
Does this mean he was infallible? No. Does this mean we cannot question him? Of course not! You cannot, however, say that he was in the wrong on this day. If you can say this, you need to swim the Tiber and now, regardless of the consequences. You cannot be a Papalist and an Anglican, that just does not make sense. You cannot say that Roman doctrines and practices are absolutely true and necessary for salvation and still remain outside of the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. If, in all of the factions left in the traditional Anglican and independent Catholic world, there has to be one stand that we can all agree on, it must be this: we may strongly suspect we are right, but we do not know that we are right. Therefore, we cannot commit ourselves to a system that claims that it is the only right way to believe in Christ. Cranmer must thus be a martyr for us, if only a very flawed one.
He called out [from the flames], " I see Heaven open and Jesus on the right hand of the throne of God."
-Thomas Cranmer by Jasper Ridley, p. 408
Since my encounter with traditional Anglicanism, I have put off many of the ideas of what I thought was necessary to be believed by an "apostolic" Christian. My encounter with High Churchmen, Low Churchmen, Protestants and Anglo-Catholics has shown me that maybe I do not know what the criterion for being in the True Church is anymore. All I know is where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is in their midst. Sure, there are lots of other things that I know are important, but how important?
I have posted on this blog that Cranmer was a radical Protestant. Even if this is true, so what? He believed some questionable things. He did some less than ethical political moves. He almost committed himself to some propaganda he did not believe in. But he loved Christ. I remember from MacCullough's biography two touching episodes. One was when Cranmer attended Henry VIII on his death bed and said only to the dying king to put his trust in Christ. There were no grandiose rituals or platitudes, only trust, and nothing else. The other is a little less religious. It was before Cranmer's execution when the condemned man was trying to have the friar assure him that his estates would be passed on to his son. Cranmer then broke down in sobs when thinking about the young boy, and MacCullough comments that the friar remained cold to this display of emotion, never having experienced the visceral love of a father. Cranmer was a human being who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. And he was a martyr. That has to mean something. It does for me.