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1489—1556

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, an important figure during the Reformation in England, friend and counsellor of Henry VIII, was born on July 2, 1489. He was sent to Cambridge at the age of fourteen, where he entered Jesus College. He was made a fellow of his college in 1510. It must be considered a mere accident that transferred Cranmer from the quiet seclusion of university life to the din and bustle of the Court of his King. Cranmer's opinion on the validity of Henry's marriage with Catharine of Aragon was reported to the King, and his views being entirely favorable to the King, dispensing, moreover, with the appeal to Rome, Henry sent for Cranmer with the well-authenticated summons: “I will speak to him. Let him be sent for out of hand. This man, I trow, has got the right sow by the ear.” Cranmer was now ordered to devote himself entirely to this question of divorce. He was to draw up a treatise defending the position he had taken by arguments from Scripture, the fathers, and decrees from general councils. He then was ordered to plead and defend his arguments before the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. But he was soon sent to plead before a higher tribunal. The King, still hoping to obtain the consent of Pope Clement VII to his plans of divorce, sent Cranmer to Rome. His visit, however, bore no practical results. He went on a similar mission as ambassador to the Emperor Charles V, achieving no greater success with this monarch than with the Pope. During his stay in Germany Cranmer met the German theologian, Osiander, whose niece he married early in 1532. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. During the succeeding years Cranmer invalidated successively the marriages of Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Catharine Howard. Cranmer thus became the tool of Henry and involved in the most scandalous transactions of his reign. He renounced his allegiance to Rome in 1535, and in 1548 was at the head of the commission appointed to compose the English prayer-book. He was persuaded by Edward VI to sign the patent which conferred the crown on Lady Jane Grey to the exclusion of Mary and Elizabeth, and on the accession of Mary he was committed to the Tower for treason. He was tried subsequently for heresy, and in spite of many recantations (which he repudiated at the stake) he was burned at the stake, March 21, 1556. Cranmer used his great influence with the King to the spread of the English Bible among the people, being himself a profound scholar of the Scriptures. In the midst of the many difficulties around him and the controversies that engaged him, Cranmer found time to devote himself to theological speculations. On the subject of his “Defence of Transubstantiation,” he became involved in animated discussions with the Bishops of Winchester and the Catholic theologian, Richard Smith. To Cranmer, as one of the eminent prose writers of his time, this tribute has been paid by a distinguished writer and critic on English literature: “His compositions are characterized, if not by any remarkable strength of expression or weight of matter, yet by a full and even flow both of words and thought. On the whole Cranmer was the greatest writer among the founders of the English Reformation.” Cranmer's speech at the stake has a peculiar pathos of its own and a sincerity that is at once eloquent and convincing.

SPEECH AT THE STAKE

OOD people, I had intended indeed to desire you to pray for me; which because Mr. Doctor hath desired, and you have done already, I thank you most heartily for it. And now will I pray for myself, as I could best devise for mine own comfort and say the prayer, word for word, as I have here written it.

[And he read it standing; and afterwards kneeled down and said the Lord's Prayer, and all the people on their knees devoutedly praying with him. His prayer was thus:]

O Father of heaven; O Son of God, redeemer of the word; O Holy Ghost, proceeding from them both, three persons and one God, have mercy upon me, most wretched caitiff and miserable sinner. I, who have offended both heaven and earth, and more grievously than any tongue can express, whither then may I go, or whither should I fly for succor? To heaven I may be ashamed to lift up mine eyes; and in earth I find no refuge. What shall I then do? shall I despair? God forbid. O good God, thou art merciful, and refusest none that come unto thee for succor. To thee, therefore, do I run. To thee do I humble myself saying, O Lord God, my sins be great; but yet have mercy upon me for thy great mercy. O God the Son, thou wast not made man, this great mystery was not wrought for few or small offences. Nor thou didst not give thy Son unto death, O God the Father, for our little and small sins only, but for all the greatest sins of the world, so that the sinner return unto thee with a penitent heart, as I do here at this present. Wherefore have mercy upon me, O Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. For although my sins be great, yet thy mercy is greater. I crave nothing, O Lord, for mine own merits, but for thy Name's sake, that it may be glorified thereby, and for thy dear Son, Jesus Christ's sake.

[Then rising, he said:]1

All men desire, good people, at the time of their deaths,” to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace that I may speak something, at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified. First, it is an heavy case to see that many folks be so much doted upon the love of this false world, and so careful for it, that for the love of God, or the love of the world to come, they seem to care very little or nothing therefor. This shall be my first exhortation. That you set not overmuch by this false glozing world, but upon God and the world to come; and learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St. John teacheth, that the love of this world is hatred against God. The second exhortation is that next unto God you obey your King and Queen willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging, and not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God, knowing that they be God's ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God's ordinance. The third exhortation is, that you love altogether like brethren and sisters. For, alas! pity it is to see what contention and hatred one Christian man hath towards another; not taking each other as sisters and brothers, but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt him, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with that man, although he think himself never so much in God's favor. The fourth exhortation shall be to them that have great substance and riches of this world, that they will well consider and weigh those sayings of the Scripture. One is of our Saviour, Christ himself, who sayeth, It is hard for a rich man to enter into heaven; a sore saying, and yet spoken by him that knew the truth. The second is of St. John, whose saying is this, He that hath the substance of this world and seeth his brother in necessity, and shutteth up his mercy from him, how can he say he loveth God? Much more might I speak of every part; but time sufficeth not, I do but put you in remembrance of these things. Let all them that be rich ponder well those sentences; for if ever they had any occasion to show their charity they have now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victuals so dear. For though I have been long in prison, yet I have heard of the great penury of the poor. Consider that which is given to the poor is given to God; whom we have not otherwise present corporally with us, but in the poor.

* This speech is recorded in “The fortitude, exclaiming as he held out his Memorials " by John Strype, 1693. # hand for the flames to consume it,

Cranmer was dragged to the stake “This unworthy hand! this unworthy opposite Baliol College on March 21, hand! ” 1556, and met his death with the utmost

And now, for so much as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without color or dissimulation; for now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.

First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and every article of the catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Christ, his apostles and prophets, in the Old and New Testaments.

And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience, more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life; and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand, contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be; and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand since my degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall 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.

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