21 March 2013

With the Saints in Lent (37): Thomas Cranmer, 21 March

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

Patrick Comerford

Archbishop Justin Welby is being enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury today [21 March 2013]. Today, one of his predecessors, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), is commemorated as martyr with a lesser festival in the calendars of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, and many other member churches of the Anglican Communion.

Thomas Cranmer 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 by Henry’s deathbed 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.


Father of all mercies,
who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer
renewed the worship of your Church
and through his death
revealed your strength in human weakness:
by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in truth
and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Advocate,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Isaiah 43: 1-3a; Psalm 119; II Timothy 2: 8-15; John 10: 11-15.

Post-Communion Prayer:

God our Redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened
by the blood of your martyr Thomas Cranmer:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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).

Tomorrow, 22 March: Thomas Ken.

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