Today we remember the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, killed this day in 1556 under Queen Mary. Cranmer was the first Archbishop of Canterbury of the reformed Church of England and the original author of the Book of Common Prayer. The 1662 BCP we have today is really simply a revision of his majestic 1552.
Foxe relates the circumstances of his death. Cranmer had initially recanted his protestant beliefs and was nevertheless imprisoned. While in prison he regained the courage that had previously left him with the result that when he was finally brought out for a show trial prior to execution where he was due to once more confess his faults, things did not go quite according to plan:
The church was crowded with persons of both persuasions, expecting to hear the justification of the late apostasy: the Catholics rejoicing, and the Protestants deeply wounded in spirit at the deceit of the human heart. Dr. Pole, in his sermon, represented Cranmer as having been guilty of the most atrocious crimes…
During the sermon Cranmer wept bitter tears: lifting up his hands and eyes to heaven, and letting them fall, as if unworthy to live: his grief now found vent in words: before his confession he fell upon his knees, and, in the following words unveiled the deep contrition and agitation which harrowed up his soul.
“O Father of heaven! O Son of God, Redeemer of the world! O Holy Ghost, three persons all one God! have mercy on me, most wretched caitiff and miserable sinner. I have offended both against heaven and earth, more than my tongue can express. Whither then may I go, or whither may I flee? To heaven I may be ashamed to lift up mine eyes and in earth I find no place of refuge or succor. To Thee, therefore, O Lord, do I run; to Thee do I humble myself…”
Then rising, he said he was desirous before his death to give them some pious exhortations by which God might be glorified and themselves edified. He then descanted upon the danger of a love for the world, the duty of obedience to their majesties, of love to one another and the necessity of the rich administering to the wants of the poor. He quoted the three verses of the fifth chapter of James, and then proceeded, “Let them that be rich ponder well these three sentences: for if they ever had occasion to show their charity, they have it now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victual so dear.
“And now forasmuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life past, and all my life to come, either to live with my master Christ for ever in joy, or else to be in pain for ever with the wicked in hell, and I see before mine eyes presently, either heaven ready to receive me, or else hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith how I believe, without any color of dissimulation: for now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have said or written in times past.
“First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, etc. And I believe every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Savior Jesus Christ, His apostles and prophets, in the New and Old Testament.
“And now I come to the great thing which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth, which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be; and that is, all such bills or papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire it shall first be burned.
“And as for the pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.”
Not quite the confession that Pole was looking for. Cranmer was taken to be burned at the stake.
Then were the glorious sentiments of the martyr made manifest; then it was, that stretching out his right hand, he held it unshrinkingly in the fire until it was burnt to a cinder, even before his body wa sinjured, frequently exclaiming, “This unworthy right hand.”
His body did abide the burning with such steadfastness that he seemed to have no more than the stake to which he was bound; his eyes were lifted up to heaven, and he repeated “this unworthy right hand,” as long as his voice would suffer him; and using often the words of Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” in the greatness of the flame, he gave up the ghost.
The collect for today,
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. Amen.
image: John Foxe online