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Mar 30 Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation

Today in 1533 Thomas Cranmer was consecrated as the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster, London . Todays pod looks at his unlikely rise, how his theology changed during the reign of three monarchs and then his execution at the hands of Queen Mary.

Although the consecration was both valid and licit as far as the Pope was concerned, historians now consider this as the start of the English Reformation. It was an ecclesial office that he would occupy for the reigns of Henry VIII and his children, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary I. The appointment had been secured by the family of Anne Boleyn, who was being courted by Henry who was seeking an annulment from his wife of 16years Catherine of Aragon. When Cranmer's promotion became known in London, it caused great surprise as Cranmer had previously held only minor positions in the Church. Henry VIII personally financed the papal bulls necessary for Cranmer's promotion to Canterbury and the bulls were easily acquired because the papal nuncio was under orders from Rome to please the English in an effort to prevent a final breach. Cranmer was consecrated as a bishop on 30th March in St Stephen's Chapel, in the Old palace of Westminster, by John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln; John Vesey, Bishop of Exeter; and Henry Standish, Bishop of St Asaph. He would be succeeded by Cardinal Pole as the last Roman Catholic archbishop of Canterbury.

Under Henry's rule, Cranmer did not make many radical changes in the Church, but when Edward came to the throne, Cranmer was able to promote major reforms. He wrote and compiled the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, a complete liturgy for the English Church. With the assistance of several Continental reformers to whom he gave refuge, he changed doctrine or discipline in areas such as the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, the role of images in places of worship, and the veneration of saints. However the climate dramatically changed after the accession to the throne of Henry’s daughter, the Catholic Mary I. Cranmer was put on trial for treason and heresy. Imprisoned for over two years, he made several recantations and apparently reconciled himself with the Catholic Church. While this would have normally absolved him, Mary wanted him executed, and, on the day of his execution, he withdrew his recantations, to die a heretic to Catholics and a martyr for the principles of the English Reformation. During Cranmer's tenure as the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England.

At the age of fourteen, Cranmer had been sent to the newly created Jesus College, Cambridge. It took him eight years to reach his Bachelor of Arts degree following a curriculum of logic, classical literature and philosophy. During this time, he began to collect medieval scholastic books, which he preserved faithfully throughout his life. For his master's degree he studied the humanist Erasmus. (see pod of Feb 1 ) He finished the course in three years and shortly after receiving his Master of Arts degree, he was elected to a Fellowship of Jesus College and he married a woman named Joan. Although he was not yet a priest, because of the marriage he was forced to forfeit his fellowship, resulting in the loss of his residence at Jesus College. To support himself and his wife, he took a job as a reader at Buckingham Hall, but sadly Joan died during her first childbirth, Jesus College showed its regard for Cranmer by reinstating his fellowship. He began studying theology and by 1520 he had been ordained, the university already having named him as one of their preachers. Not much is known about Cranmer's thoughts and experiences during his three decades at Cambridge. A study of his marginalia reveals an early antipathy to Martin Luther and an admiration for Erasmus

In mid-1529, Cranmer stayed with relatives in Waltham Holy Cross to avoid an outbreak of the plague in Cambridge. He came to the attention of Henry VIII, who was staying nearby. The king and his councillors found Cranmer a willing advocate for Henry's desired divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He helped build the case for the annulment of the marriage, which would become one of the causes of the separation of the English Church from union with the Holy See. Cranmer was appointed the resident ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. As the emperor travelled throughout his realm, Cranmer had to follow him to his residence in Regensburg. He passed through the Lutheran city of Nuremberg and saw for the first time the effects of the Reformation. Here he met Margaret Osiander, the niece of a Lutheran reformer, who he married. While Cranmer was following Charles through Italy, he received a royal letter dated 1 October 1532 informing him that he had been appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury, following the death of archbishop William Warham.


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