Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury


Today we celebrate Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1556).  One of my seminary professors once commented, as we look back to John Wesley as our spiritual father, we ought to look to Thomas Cranmer as a spiritual grandfather.

Cranmer was the major force in the English Reformation, and the person to whom thanks is due (in Christ!) for the Book of Common Prayer (in its variety of forms). Cranmer was primarily responsible for the very first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and its first revision in 1552. In his development of the BCP, Cranmer followed closely the medieval forms of worship, especially the Old Sarum rites.

The 1662 BCP, which is still in use in the Church of England, as well as other Anglican provinces, and which is considered the standard by which all other Prayer Books are gaged, was a revision of Cranmer's previous work.

Especially important for Wesleyan-Anglicans, John Wesley, in the preface to his own edition of the (1662) BCP (viz., The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America), says, "I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England. And though the main of it was compiled considerably more than two hundred years ago, yet is the language of it, not only pure, but strong and elegant in the highest degree."

Thomas Cranmer was born in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire on July 2, 1489. He earned his B.A., M.A. & a Fellowship from Jesus College, Cambridge, and became a Doctor of Divinity, a lecturer in the same school. Cranmer was highly influenced by the Lutheran reformers. King Henry the Eighth, with confirmation from the Pope, appointed Cranmer to the See of Canterbury, and he was consecrated Archbishop on March 30, 1533.

When Queen Mary the First took the throne, as a staunch Roman Catholic, she had Cranmer arrested due to the protestant reforms he had implemented in the English Church. On March 21, 1556, Thomas Cranmer, along with other church leaders, was burned at the stake.

Thomas Cranmer has and continues to influence countless Christians in their spiritual formation and lives through the Book of Common Prayer, and all who use a version of the Book of Common Prayer or a liturgy that has been influence by one of the Prayer Books owe an immeasurable debt to Thomas Cranmer.

Even non-liturgical Nazarenes owe an immense debt to Cranmer. Our own ritual for the Lord's Supper in our Manual (Book of Discipline), until our last General Assembly, was an abbreviated form of the Methodist Episcopal ritual, which came from Wesley's Sunday Service, which was a version of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Even more important, Wesley's understanding of holiness was, in many ways, shaped and supported by the liturgy of the Anglican Church, and the Collect of Purity at the beginning of the Communion service (and found as #58 in our Sing to the Lord hymnal, has been said to encapsulate our understanding of holiness:

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

For more information on Thomas Cranmer, I commend to you the Episcopal Church's Lesser Feasts and Fasts - 1997, For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations Second Edition (OSL), and the "Introduction" to James' printing of The First English Prayer Book.  For an much more detailed study of Cranmer, see God Truly Worshipped: A Thomas Cranmer Reader by Jonathan Dean, and Diarmaid MacColloch's Thomas Cranmer: A Life.

Let us give thanks to God for Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury!

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