Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer
I keep coming across the story of Thomas Cranmer, the reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, who is considered the 'Father of the Prayer Book', in reference to the Common Book of Prayer, the writing of which he oversaw in its first printing of 1549, then in its first revision in 1552. On March 21, 1556 he was burned at the stake outside St. Mary's Church in Oxford.

Writes Richard H. Schmidt in his book Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality, "When the wood was kindled and the flames began to leap up around him, he stretches out his right hand into the fire, crying 'This is the hand that offended!' Nor does he withdraw his hand from the flame until first it, then the archbishop himself, are consumed."

Imprisoned for three years by Queen Mary, who restored the Catholic liturgy in the Church of England, he had recanted the protestant theology which the Book of Common Prayer had introduced. But in his final moments, while reading a prepared speech which was supposed to complete his humiliation, he departed from the text, attempting to reaffirm his Protestant beliefs before he was dragged out of the pulpit for execution.

Only by reading stories such as these do I gain a sense of the powerful faith that moves men like Thomas Cranmer. Christopher Dryden traces his spiritual lineage directly to the archbishop, and prays that if a moment ever comes when he must prove his faith, he will be be able to. Anna Armstrong is the test he faces, and like his spiritual forebear, he wavers. This inner conflict between his duty as a priest and his love for Anna will become intolerable for him as the story develops, and like Thomas Cranmer, he will end up showing himself to be entirely human.

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