Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember a giant of the Anglican Reformation: Thomas Cranmer.

It is the 2nd of July 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Today, we bring you a “Mt. Rushmore” figure in the history of the Protestant Reformation, which first begs a question:

Why is it that ever since some folks carved out four heads on a mountain in one of the Dakotas, we have to have a “top four” for everything? Nevertheless, my “Mt. Rushmore” of the Protestant Reformation would likely include Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and Zwingli—although I could be persuaded to swap Zwingli for another.

Luther and Calvin, you know- but what about Cranmer? If you are on the Anglican or Episcopal variety, you might be more familiar with him. He is a giant- if not THE giant of the English Reformation, a curious affair that we will run into next week with the excommunication of Henry VIII.

But it was on this, the 2nd of July in 1489 in Nottinghamshire, that Thomas Cranmer was born, and the future of the church in England would be forever altered. Cranmer was “late Medieval English middle class”- so landowners and college and the clergy could be expected for their children. Thomas attended the newly formed Jesus College, Cambridge, and graduated in 1511. By 1526, he would have taken his doctorate and come to the attention of the King on account of his specialty: Canon law.

King Henry had married Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow. The pope at the time, Julius II, personally sanctioned the otherwise illegitimate marriage because he believed peace could be achieved by bringing together the English and Spanish crowns.

But Cranmer, a Canon (church) law expert, believed that a levitical law contravened the Pope’s dispensation. The Old Testament seemed unclear, with two supposed contradictory injunctions for a widow who had married into the family.

Cranmer’s initial call was for the question to be debated among theology faculties across Europe. But the Pope, who was contending with Emperor Charles V, whose Aunt was Catherine—Henry’s wife—would not grant this annulment.

There are competing stories and arguments, and we should note that the Boleyns were patrons of Cranmer—and it was Anne Boleyn whom Henry wanted to marry, and Cranmer, as Archbishop of Canterbury, ultimately annulled the marriage to Catherine in favor of Anne.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, he put an indelible stamp on the new Anglican Church with his work on the Ten Articles and the Bishops Book- these projects, a confession of faith, a Bible, and liturgy would come to fruition under Cranmer with the 42 Articles, the production of an early authorized Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer.

Cranmer’s work on the Book of Common Prayer has left a mark on the English language—anyone who has been to a wedding has likely heard Cranmer’s injunction, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”

We pray in Cranmer’s words when we ask, "By thy great mercy, defend us from all perils and dangers of this night,” or are encouraged to “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” And when we confess, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” This is all Thomas Cranmer.  

He would become the chief theological advisor to Henry’s son, Edward VI, and was the engine behind the Anglican Church in these early years. He was the godfather of Henry’s daughter Elizabeth, but before she would ascend the throne, it was her half-sister Mary who came to power and arrested and imprisoned Cranmer in the Tower of London for treason and heresy. He would recant his Protestant views only to double-recant having given a sermon wherein he was forcibly removed from the pulpit.  

A giant in the English Reformation—the Man on the Reformation Mt. Rushmore for the Anglican Communion—Thomas Cranmer died in 1556. Born on July 2nd, 1489, he was 66 years old.  


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and 2 Corinthians 9:

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of July 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose Mt. Rushmore would be himself and the Jonas Brothers- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who preferred Mt. Rushmore before the carvings- the beauty was unpresidented. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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