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Thomas Cranmer



Thomas Cranmer 1489-1556

Archbishop of Canterbury 3 December 1533 to 4 December 1555, though Edward VI died on 6 July 1553 and Cranmer was already imprisoned by 14 September 1553

You shall not have intercourse with your brother's wife, for that would be a disgrace to your brother.

Leviticus 18:16


If a man marries his brother's wife and thus disgraces his brother, they shall be childless because of this incest.

Leviticus 20:21

When brothers live together and one of them dies without a son, the widow of the deceased shall not marry anyone outside the family; but her husband's brother shall go to her and perform the duty of a brother-in-law by marrying her. The first-born son she bears shall continue the line of the deceased brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel. If, however, a man does not care to marry his brother's wife, she shall go up to the elders at the gate and declare, 'My brother-in-law does not intend to perform his duty toward me and refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel.' Thereupon the elders of his city shall summon him and admonish him. If he persists in saying, 'I am not willing to marry her,' his sister-in-law, in the presence of the elders, shall go up to him and strip his sandal from his foot and spit in his face, saying publicly, 'This is how one should be treated who will not build up his brother's family!' And his lineage shall be spoken of in Israel as 'the family of the man stripped of his sandal.'

Deuteronomy 25-5-10


But for the memory of the fratricidal, internecine War of the Roses (circa 1455-1485) leading up to his father's coronation in 1485 as the first Tudor King of England, Henry VIII might very likely have failed to garner and maintain the support he needed in order to relentlessly pursue his personal project to have a male heir. Henry, although intelligent, learned and cultured -- might have been regarded as nothing more than the hypocrite and megalomaniacal lecher he was. But the country actually was afraid of what would come to pass on his death if Henry failed to have a son. So the drama progressed:

16 December 1485 Catherine of Aragon is born;
19/20 September 1486 Arthur is born;

26 March 1489, by the Treaty of Medina del Campo the two-and-a-half year old Arthur was betrothed to the Spanish Catherine of

28 June 1491 Arthur's younger brother Henry, later Henry VIII, is born;
4 November 1501 Arthur meets for the first time Catherine of Aragon -- youngest daughter of the monarchs of just united Spain,
  Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon-- for the first time;
14 November 1501 Arthur and Catherine of Aragon marry; the 15 year old Arthur and the nearly 16 year old Catherine the spend
  night together and are husband and wife for the next 20 weeks until unexpectedly they both become sick; and on
2 April 1502 Arthur dies, while Catherine survives the same sickness;
21 April 1509 Henry VII dies and Henry VIII becomes King of England;
11 June 1509 Henry VIII marries his brother Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon, now Queen Catherine of England.
  on 18 February 1516 Mary, later Mary I, was born, their only child to survive to adulthood although Catherine bore Henry 6 children;
In 1521 the learned Henry VIII, who had been the second son and was in his youth preparing for a life in the Church, publishes the
  book that he had started work on in 1518, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, The Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which Henry dedicated to the then-reigning Pope Leo X. A refutation of Martin Luther's works as heretical, Henry's treatise, as the name suggests, defended very ably all of the sacraments, including the sacramental nature of marriage, and it also defended the supremacy of the Pope. For this work Pope Leo X conferred on Henry the title of Fidei Defensor or Defender of the Faith, one of histories greater ironies, given Henry's later life. Continuing the sardonic irony, English and later British Monarchs through the present Elizabeth II have continued to use this honorific title, on the back of a decree of Henry's sycophantic Parliament in 1544;
25 January 1533 she being already pregnant, Henry VIII marries in secret Anne Boylen, there having been another slightly earlier
  and also secret ceremony. So prayerfully and earnestly concerned was Henry and were his advisor-facilitators -- (some of) the theologians at Cambridge and others -- to discern the will of God within the seemingly contradictory (although of necessity reconcilable) passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy quoted above, that he took for wife, as they sanctioned him to do so, the younger sister of his former adultery partner, Mary Boylen. At this date Henry was not yet divorced from Catherine even by the schismatic bishops he himself appointed, so Henry added bigamy to adultery at this time. On
23 May 1533 Henry finally did succeed in having his almost 24-year long marriage with Catherine declared to be null by his bishops,
  during which nullity of a marriage Catherine had born him six children, although only Mary survived. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, his marriage to Anne declared valid by those bishops, or that bishop. Their only child to survive, later Elizabeth I, was born on 7 September 1533;
In November 1534 Henry made himself the "supreme head" of the "Church of England" (note, not the Church in England, but the

Church of England) through the Act of Supremacy enacted by Henry's Parliament. (Later to be known as the First Act of Supremacy; the Second Act of Supremacy was instituted by Elizabeth I in 1558, in which she made herself Supreme Governor as opposed to Supreme Head of the Church of England, a meaningless change, which did though placate those who were concerned that a woman could not be the supreme head of their church.) This act continues in force to this day. Although this had been seen coming since the Autumn of 1529, the Statute in Restraint of Appeals of 1533 having been a key event, now The break with the Catholic Church was complete. The Treasons Act, also of 1534 made it treasonous and punishable by death to deny the King's claims to be the head of the Church. The repercussions of these acts could hardly be overstated. Later constitutional provisions throughout Christendom mandating the separation of the Church from the State -- such as the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution -- came about because of Henry's hubris.

But Henry and his advisor-facilitators can hardly be blamed for taking this move. After all, it was firmly rooted in so holy and unimpeachable authority as Martin Luther (1483-1546). The Fifth (or Fourth) Commandment means that each Christian's duty to honor his father and mother extends also to the king, making the king the supreme authority in the Church! "Disobedience is a sin worse than murder, unchastity, theft, dishonesty, and all that goes with them ... For even when the government commits an injustice ... God wants the government obeyed, without treachery or deception." Martin Luther - Treatise on Good Works. And see the Bishops' Book from England in 1537 and also much later Questions 63-65 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and commentaries thereto.

So understanding the meaning to be taken from Holy Scripture could not possibly be entrusted to the successors to the Apostles chosen by God, the bishops of the whole world gathered together in council with the leadership of their Protos, the Bishop of Rome. No, instead religious matters are to be understood, disputes resolved within each country by that country's temporal king, as for example Henry's 9- to 15-year old boy, Edward VI, from his third "wife", Jane Seymour. Sarcasm aside, what is the outcome which will logically and obviously flow from this absurd proposition? That Christian understanding will not consist of eternal and immutable truth but rather it will change from place to place and from time to time, following the ever-changing direction of the political winds of the day or decade? This result was predicted at the time, and it has come to pass. There is not one Protestant faith, but 30,000. But of course I digress from this timetable of our Dramatis Personæ and our heros

6 July 1535 Sir Thomas More — who had been Henry VIII's long time friend and his Chancellor from 1529 to 1532 and who was

was known to and admired by all Christendom, the most important man in the English realm after the King — was beheaded for refusing to sign an oath (More just remained silent) denying the authority of the Pope and recognizing Henry's authority as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. In the Church Saint Thomas More was beatified in 1886 and canonized in 1935 and declared in 2000 the heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians. Please pray for us Saint Thomas, holy Saint of God! To his honor and memory, the play Sir Thomas More was written from 1591 to 1593 as a collaborative effort of Anthony Munday, Henry Chettle and William Shakespeare (and possibly other collaborators).

To give credit where it is due, to their credit in 1980 the Church of England declared Saint Thomas More to be a Saint and Hero of the Christian Church. Saint Thomas More, "... A man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons." -Robert Whittinton in 1520 (see www.catholiceducation.org/articles/politics/pg0078.html)-

1536 to 1541 Henry VIII dissolved 825 monasteries and their religious communities and confiscated their property. Already from
  early in 1534 Henry and his clerical cohort had been so morally outraged at the selling of Papal dispensations (to forgive sins to become exempt from the application of a specific Canon law), that they passed a Parliamentary act providing that only Archbishop of Canterbury could sell these dispensations, and he must transfer 2/3 of the profits to the king! 8 June 1536 the Act of Suppression passed Parliament, a first step, providing for the closure of all monasteries worth less than £200 per annum (a bit less than half of the total number), their properties to be placed at the King's disposal. Their was a certain internal consistency to this move, as the monasteries owed allegiance to their parent houses outside the territory of England and ultimately to the Pope. The real reason was money and a lot of it.
19 May 1536, less than four months after her third miscarriage, King Henry had Queen Anne's head cut off, and she died from her
  injuries. After all, she had also failed to produce a son who survived for Henry;
7 January 1536 Catherine of Aragon dies at the age of 50;
1538 During a conference at Lambeth Palace among Anglican bishops and invited German theologians — George von Boyneburg, Francis Burkhardt, and Friedrich Myconius — some English clerics, including Prince-Bishop of Durham Cuthbert Tunstall and Bishop of London John Stokesley opposed Lutheranism and its Confession of Augsburg, hoping instead that a break with Rome would mean a union with the Orthodoxy of the Greeks. Cranmer wanted union with the Protestants and Cranmer was eventually to prevail, though in the immediate case Henry VIII dissolved the conference.
28 January 1547 Henry VIII, five additional "wives" and 2 historically undisputed mistresses and uncounted other partners-in-
  adultery later, dies. He is succeeded by his nine-year-old sickly son, now Edward VI, who himself dies at the age of 15 on 6 July 1553. In order to keep a Protestant on the throne and the lands confiscated from the monasteries in their names, a couple weeks of tom-foolery by the nobles ensues, lead by the soon-to-be decapitated Duke of Northumberland, his son, Guildford Dudley, and Guildford's newly-wed wife, Lady Jane Grey, and the whole council. Jane is crowned queen, and she "reigns" for 9 days. The population of England does not support this plot. The reader can guess from this how much support the English people had for the now twenty-year-old Church of England which had been imposed on them on pain of death. Mary was able to raise an army of 30,000, huge by the standard of the times, within days.
  Portrait of Edward VI as a Child, painting c. 1538, by Hans Holbein the Younger
  Portrait of Edward VI as a Child, painting c. 1538, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 – 1543).
And what a great arrangement – unquestionably god ordained – that this spoiled little boy would be the arbiter of the content of the Christian faith, that he is divinely ordained to define what is dogma, what error!
At Edward's coronation Cranmer again confirmed Edward's Royal Supremacy, that this boy was the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
19 July 1553 the usurpers' plot finally collapses and Catholic Queen Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII,
  assumes the throne."Bloody Mary" as the Protestants enjoyed afterward dubbing her, spared the lives of the people who had just tried to murder her: Lady Jane Grey, the nine-days "Queen", and her young husband, Lord Guildford Dudley (a younger son of Edward I's chief minister, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland), although convicted of the treason that they had obviously just commited, were spared on Mary's orders. Such clemency would have been unheard of under her two Protestant predecessors, her father Henry VIII and her half-brother Edward, during whose reigns people were executed for the slightest imagined treason. Jane and Guildford were later executed only after their supporters (including her father) tried unseating Mary a second time during Wyatt's rebellion. After this there were about 300 executions under Mary's rule, and the details were not pleasant, mostly burnings at the stake.

More amazing even than the clemency first shown to Lady Jane and the council was that shown to the man who had for decades been Mary's chief enemy, making her life miserable for the previous twenty-five years, the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. Putting aside religious questions, Cranmer had directly participated in the plot to put Lady Jane on the throne, capital treason. But when the brief usurpers' plot was put down and Mary ascended the throne, she took no action against Cranmer, Christian forgiveness unheard of under the Protestants and their now 35-year-old religion. Cranmer even presided over the funeral service of Edward, using the prayer book which he had written! Cranmer was only ordered imprisoned after he persisted in making statements such as: "... all the doctrine and religion, by our said sovereign lord king Edward VI [the 9 to 15-year old boy] is more pure and according to God's word, than any that hath been used in England these thousand years."

After being repeatedly sentenced to death, Thomas Cranmer recanted in March of 1556 from his allegiance to the heresies of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. He made repeated statements that he fully accepted Catholic theology and ecclesiology including papal supremacy and transubstantiation. As such, though it is true that he was under extreme stress at the time of his recantations, he can not be considered to be a "martyr" to Protestantism and/or Anglicanism, even if such a concept could be said to be meaningful.. All martyrs are under extreme external stress, a hallmark of martyrdom. On the actually day of his execution, 21 March 1556, perhaps at the actual hour, Cranmer recanted from his recantations with blasphemous and heretical statements about the Church, proving conclusively that, in addition to being no martyr, he was also no penitent. Still, the guy did show some guts in sticking his hand into the flames as he had promissed to do an hour earlier.

17 November 1558, Mary died and was succeeded the same day by her half sister, Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and
  Anne Boylen (the latter having been beheaded by the former on 19 May 1536). Elizabeth had been brought up in the just-created "Protestant" faith. This she could not renounce and also retain her thrown, for to renounce the English Reformation and return to the Church would mean that Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon was invalid. This divorce had been approved by the newly-appointed-by-Henry Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury (and former house chaplain of the Boylen family) Thomas Cranmer, but it was rejected by the body of earlier English bishops and the Pope. If the divorce from Catherine was invalid then Henry's marriage to Anne Boylen was also invalid and Elizabeth was a bastard and not eligible for the throne. Well, we do not have to guess which way Elizabeth chose. She died unmarried and childless after a reign of 44 years, and the Tudor Dynasty came to an end — Henry VIII's chief dread came to pass. Although Elizabeth was an extraordinarily astute statesman, the Great and Golden Elizabethan Age is remembered because of the accomplishments of builders and musicians and especially poets and dramatists, the most important of whom by far, William Shakespeare, was a crypto-Catholic. Elizabeth was no patron of the arts. She left behind an economy in severe decline, rising prices and falling standards of living, due in part to her crony practices of granting monopolies to her hangers-on. Her chief accomplishments were staying on the throne until her own natural death and further ossifying the dis-unity of the Church. On her death, her throne passed to the son of the cousin whose head she had cut off on 8 February 1587, the Catholic but incompetent Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth avoided making this move during Mary's 20 year imprisonment. Elizabeth hoped that one of her subordinates would poison or otherwise kill Mary, so that she, Elizabeth, could deflect from herself responsibility and blame for the act, resenting greatly that none would. The reader can conclude for her- or himself in what esteem such a leader is to be held. So on
24 March 1603 on the death of the 69 year old Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland, the Protestant son of Catholic Mary Queen of
  Scots, became also James I of England. This is the same Prince James to whom the Authorized or King James Version, English-language translation of the Bible is dedicated and after whom the colony of Jamestown in Virginia was named. On James' death on
27 March 1625, his son Charles I became king, King of England, King of Scotland and "King of Ireland", and Charles, who did not much care for Calvinism, ruled until his head was cut off on 30 January 1649.

Now of course this chronology could be brought down to the 21st Century, but from the perspective of Christian unity — or in the case, dis-unity — the above time line adequately summarizes the decisive events. During those years the die was cast. But was not the most important individual almost entirely left out of this drama? True he was not as interesting a subject for a dramatization as were Henry or Anne or Elizabeth. But has not Thomas Cranmer in many ways had the most lasting impact, or at any rate been second only to Henry?