Select Memoirs of the Reformers
Thomas Cranmer, a man of distinguished learning and capacity, Archbishop of Canterbury.
THE celebrated subject of this memoir was the son of Thomas Cranmer, Esq. whose family came into England with William the conqueror. He was born at Arselacton in Nottinghamshire, on the 2d June 1489; was rather unfortunate in his schoolmaster and primary education; and his father dying while he was very young, his mother, when he had arrived at the age of fourteen, had him placed at Cambridge, where he spent his time, for eight years, to very little purpose, entangled amongst the dark riddles of Dun Scotus, and other celebrated questionests. He then commenced the reading of Faber, Erasmus, and other good Latin authors, for four or five years, till, urged by the controversies of the times, he applied himself to the study of the scriptures for three years together. Having thus acquired a considerable acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, he turned his attention to general reading, which embraced good writers, both ancient and modern. He was but a slow reader, but careful to mark whatever he read, seldom perusing a book without the pen in his hand. He married before he had taken orders, by which means he lost his fellowship in Jesus’ college; but his wife dying in childbed about a year thereafter, such was the favorable opinion entertained by his fellow collegians for his talents and deportment, that they unanimously readmitted him to his fellowship. On this occasion his gratitude was such, that he rejected a fellowship in cardinal Wolsey’s new college, notwithstanding that the salary was much more considerable, and the path to preferment more open through the influence of the cardinal, choosing rather to remain with his old associates, who had given him so singular a mark of their friendship and affection. In 1523 he commenced doctor of divinity. Being in his thirty-fourth year, and in great esteem for theological learning, he was chosen divinity lecturer in his own college, and appointed by the university for one of the examiners of such as took their degrees in divinity. These candidates he examined principally from the scriptures; and finding many of them grossly ignorant of divine revelation, he rejected them, as unqualified to teach others what themselves did not understand, advising them to a close and careful study of the sacred oracles before they applied for their degrees, that they might not disgrace the profession of divinity, by their ignorance of that book wherein the knowledge of God and the ground of true theology were alone to be found. Some hated him for his strictness on this point, considering it as a novel invention, while the more ingenious afterwards thanked him, in a public manner, for having been the means of giving them the true method of improvement in the knowledge of religion.
During his residence at Cambridge, the question of the king’s divorce was agitated in the schools; but the plague breaking out in the university, Cranmer retired to Waltham Abbey, where accidentally meeting with Gardiner and Fox, the one the king’s secretary, and the other his almoner, Cranmer strongly recommended the method that had been suggested by Wolsey, namely, to refer the question of divorce to the decision of our own and foreign universities, which he considered the shortest and safest method, and that which would afford the best grounded satisfaction to the conscience of the king. On hearing Cranmer’s remarks on this subject, the king said that Cranmer had got the sow by the right ear, and immediately sent for him to court, where observing his gravity, modesty, and learning, he resolved to cherish and promote him. Accordingly the king made him his chaplain, gave him a good benefice, and had him nominated for archdeacon of Taunton. By his majesty’s orders he drew up a paper, wherein his own judgment on this delicate point was stated at large, with the reasons on which it was founded; which opinion be defended in the public school at Cambridge by such solid arguments, that many of the opposite party came over to his opinion, particularly he converted five of six doctors who had previously given in a contrary opinion to the king.
In the year 1530, Cranmer was sent to Paris to dispute on this subject, also to Rome and other foreign parts. At Rome he gave in his book, containing his opinion on the merits of the case,. to the pope, and offered to defend the same in a public disputation; but after several appointments for that purpose, none appeared publicly to oppose him, while, in private, he forced them to confess that the marriage was evidently contrary to the law of God. To get clear of his arguments with a good grace, the pope constituted him penitentiary general of England, and so dismissed him. In Germany his reasoning was admitted as conclusive by many learned men, who, before they heard Cranmer, were of a different opinion, particularly he so effectually convinced the famous Osiander, that he declared the king’s marriage unlawful in his treatise of incestuous marriage, and drew up a form, which was sent over to England, setting forth the manner in which the king’s process ought to be managed. Before he left Germany, Cranmer was married to Osiander’s niece, whom, when he returned, he left with her friends till 1534, when he sent for her privately.
In August 1532 archbishop Warham departed this life; and the king conceiving Dr. Cranmer to be the most proper person to succeed him. in the see of Canterbury, wrote to hasten him home, without mentioning the cause. But Cranmer, guessing at his intention, and desirous to decline the station, moved slowly, iu hopes the place might be filled before his arrival. To decline preferment was a crime with which the clergy of that age were so seldom chargeable, that his majesty considered Cranmer a man of very different principles from the generality of his order. This tended to raise his merit still higher in his opinion; and finding at last that the king would not admit of the excuses his modesty induced him to make, he found himself under a kind of necessity to undertake the weighty charge.
Few men could be less acceptable at Rome than Cranmer; yet the pope, unwilling to come to a rupture with Henry, sent no less than eleven bulls to complete the character of his favorite archbishop. The first, which was addressed to the king, promotes him to the see of Canterbury on the king’s nomination; by the second, addressed to himself, notice is given of his promotion; the third absolves him from all censures; the fourth was sent to the suffragans; the fifth to the dean and chapter; the sixth to the clergy of Canterbury; the seventh to all the laity; the eighth to all who held lands of the see, requiring them to acknowledge him as archbishop; by the ninth, his consecration is ordered by taking the oath in the pontifical; by the tenth, the pall was sent him; and by the eleventh, the archbishop of York, and bishop of London, were ordered to put it on. These bulls Cranmer received, according to custom, but immediately surrendered them to the king, because he would not acknowledge the pope’s power to confer ecclesiastical dignities in England, which he considered the sole right of the king. He was consecrated March 30th, 1533; and seeing there were some things in the oath of fidelity to the pope which were seemingly inconsistent with his allegiance to the king, he made a public protestation, that he took the oath in no other sense than that in which it was reconcilable to the laws of God, the just prerogative of the king, and the statutes of this kingdom. The same protestation was made before he took another oath to the pope at his receiving the pall; and the protonotary was ordered to make a public instrument of both, and have it signed by the persons there present.
The first service Cranmer did for the king, was the pronouncing of his sentence of divorce from Queen Catherine, on the 23d May. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and the bishops of London, Bath, and Lincoln, being joined with him in the commission for that purpose. The queen, neither appearing in person or by proxy, after three citations, was declared contumax. The depositions relative to the consummation of the marriage with prince Arthur, together with the conclusions of the provinces of York and Canterbury, and the opinions of the most noted canonists and divines in favor of the divorce, were then read; and the archbishop, with the unanimous consent of the rest of the commissioners, pronounced the marriage between the king and queen Catherine null, and of no force from the beginning, and declared them separated and divorced from each other, and at liberty to engage with whom they pleased. On the 28th of May he held another court at Lambeth, in which he confirmed the king’s marriage with Anne Boleyn.
Alarmed at these proceedings, the pope, by a public instrument, declared the divorce null and void, and threatened Cranmer with excommunication, unless he would revoke all that he had done therein; upon which the archbishop appealed from the . pope to the first general council lawfully called; and sending the appeal to Bonner, under his seal, desired him and Gardiner to acquaint the pope with it in any way they considered the most expedient.
On the 7th September the new queen was delivered of a daughter, who was baptized on the Wednesday following, and. named Elizabeth, for whom the archbishop had the honor to stand godfather.
When the supremacy came under debate, the archbishop answered all the arguments, urged in defense of the papal authority, with such force and perspicuity, and rebutted the claims of Rome so satisfactorily from the word of God, and the universal consent of the primitive church, that the Roman jurisdiction was abolished by full consent of parliament and convocation. The king, whose supremacy was now almost as generally admitted in England as the pope’s had formerly been, began to look on the monasteries with a jealous eye. These establishments he considered, by their privileges of exemption, were naturally engaged to the see of Rome, and would serve the pope as a body of reserve, to support his claim in all future quarrels on the right of supremacy. This was, no doubt, a reason for their dissolution consistent with the soundest policy, though it is doubtful whether it was not strengthened by other motives not altogether so patriotic: Be that as it may, Cranmer was consulted on the occasion, and approved of the resolution; but proposed that part of the revenues of the monasteries should be applied to augment the number of bishoprics, that the bishops might have it more in their power to perform their several duties, according to the word of God and the primitive practice. He hoped also, that from these ruins schools might be erected in every diocese, under the inspection of the bishops, for the use and advantage of the whole diocese. But these noble suggestions were all defeated by the unchristian avarice and hypocritical management of some courtiers, who, neither fearing God, nor regarding the good of the community, sacrilegiously raised their own fortunes from the spoils, of the church.
When queen Anne Boleyn was sent to the tower, in consequence of a fit of jealousy on the part of the king, Cranmer, who was greatly concerned for her misfortune, did every thing in his power to assist her in her great distress. He wrote a consolatory letter to Henry, in which, after recommending an equality of temper, he puts him in mind of the many and great obligations he lay under to the queen, and endeavored to restore him to good humor and feelings of compassion; but neither this, nor a letter written by the queen herself in the most moving terms, made the least impression on his relentless heart. Her ruin was predetermined; and after Cranmer had declared her marriage with the king null and void, in consequence of her confession, that a preengagement existed between her and the earl of Northumberland, she was tried in the tower, and executed on the 19th of May 1536.
In 1537, Cranmer, with the joint authority of the other bishops, set forth the famous book, called The Erudition of a Christian Man. It was drawn up for a direction to the bishops and clergy, and formed an important step towards the after reformation. There the universal power and pastorship of the bishop of Rome is declared to have no foundation whatever in the word of God. The church of England is declared to be as truly apostolic and catholic as that of Rome or any other church; and all churches are therein declared to be equal in dignity, power and privilege, all built on the same foundation, governed, guided, and conducted by the same spirit, and equally entitled to the hope of a glorious immortality. The superstitious notions of the people respecting the ceremonies of the church are censured; the invocation of saints is restrained, and the remission of sins, grace and future happiness, are announced to be beyond their power to procure, and must therefore be applied for to God only. Justification is there set forth to be by the merit of Christ only; and the pope’s pardon, and masses for the dead, are declared of no use in relieving souls from purgatory, concerning which we have no certainty from revelation. This was doing much toward a more perfect reformation, whenever providence should afford an opportunity.
Cranmer had long meditated a new translation of the scriptures; he had often solicited his majesty on this subject, and at last obtained a grant to have them translated and printed. And so soon as the copies came to the archbishop’s hand, he sent one to the lord Cromwell, desiring him to intercede with his majesty, that his subjects might have the privilege of using the scriptures without constraint; which Cromwell did, and the king readily acquiesced. Accordingly, injunctions were forthwith published, requiring that an English bible of the largest size should be procured for the use of every parish church, at the expense of the minister and churchwardens, and prohibiting all discouragement of the people in the reading of these scriptures, or of hearing them read. The book was received with universal joy. Those who possessed the means, purchased copies; the poor attended in crowds to hear it read, and many aged persons learned to read, that they might be enabled to peruse it themselves.
In 1539, Cranmer, and the other bishops who favored the reformation, fell under the displeasure of the king, because they could not be persuaded to give their consent, in parliament, that the revenues of all the monasteries should be bestowed on the king. They had been prevailed upon to consent, that all the lands, which his predecessors had bestowed on these foundations, should return to the crown, but the residue they insisted should be applied to the erection of hospitals, schools, and other charitable foundations. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and the rest of the popish faction, availed themselves of this promising opportunity to insinuate themselves into the king’s favor, by their hypocritical flattery, and to incense him against the opposing party; and their conduct, on this occasion, has been considered, by many, as the cause of introducing the six bloody articles, whereby it was death to speak against transubstantiation, or defend the communion in both kinds, the marriage of the clergy, private masses, or auricular confession. The archbishop argued boldly in the house for three days together, and that so strenuously, that though the king was obstinate in passing the bill, yet he desired a copy of his reasons against it, and showed no resentment to his opposition. The king endeavored to persuade him, since he could not consent to the terms of the act, that it would be better to withdraw from, the house; but after decently excusing himself, he told his majesty, that he considered himself obliged, for the exonerating of his own conscience, to remain and show his dissent. When the bill passed, he entered his solemn protest against it, and soon after sent his wife privately off to her friends in Germany. The king, who loved him for his probity and courage, sent the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, together with the lord Cromwell, to acquaint him with the esteem he had for him, notwithstanding his opposition to the act in question.
In 1540 the king issued a commission to the archbishop, and a select number of bishops, to explain some of the principal doctrines of religion. The bishops drew up a set of articles favorable to the old popish superstitions, and meeting at Lambeth, vehemently urged the archbishop to publish them, it being the will and pleasure of the king; but neither by fear or flattery could he be induced to give his consent, notwithstanding that his friend, the lord Cromwell, was in the tower, and his own favor with the king supposed to be daily on the decline; but went in person and expostulated with his majesty, insomuch that he joined with Cranmer against the other bishops, and the book of articles was drawn up and passed according to his own mind.
In this year a large folio copy of the English bible was published, with an excellent preface, written by the archbishop, and every parish commanded to provide one by the ensuing allhallowtide, under the penalty of forty shillings a month till they had so provided. The people were charged not to dispute about it, nor disturb divine service by reading during the mass, but to read it with reverence and humility for their instruction. Six of these great bibles were set up in different places iu St. Paul’s; but Bonner, ever inimical to the instruction of the people, posted up an hypocritical admonition beside them, that none should read them with vainglory or corrupt affections, or draw multitudes about them when they read: But such was the public anxiety, that crowds gathered about those who read; and such as had strong voices used to read them aloud, in succession, from morning till night. Parents now began to send their children to school; the people began to open their eyes and perceive the absurdity of the Romish doctrines and superstitions, which they could nowhere find in the bible. Bonner finding that the people were likely soon to become wiser than their teachers, and that if some measures were not adopted to prevent the circulation of these heretical notions, the church would be in imminent danger. So deeply was he impressed with this idea, that he posted a fresh advertisement, threatening to remove the bibles if the people continued to make so scandalous an use of this privilege; and owing to the grievous complaints that he and his coadjutors made on this head, the use of the scriptures was much restrained.
After the fall of Cromwell, Cranmer could easily perceive bow the malignant spirit of his adversaries watched for an opportunity to work his ruin, and therefore prudently retired, with a design of living with all the privacy that the duties of his station would permit. But Gardiner, his implacable enemy, having procured Sir John Gostwick to accuse him in parliament, as one who encouraged novel opinions, .and whose family was a nursery of heresy and sedition; in consequence of which accusation, several lords of the privy council moved to commit him to the tower till the matter should be examined. The king, perceiving that there was more malice than truth in the charge laid against the archbishop, under the pretence of diverting himself on the water one evening, ordered his barge to be rowed to Lambeth side; and Cranmer, being informed of the royal approach, went out to pay his respects, and invite the king to his palace. The king called him into the barge, and ordered him to sit beside him, where his majesty apprised him of his danger from the malevolence and craft of his enemies; but assuring him of the confidence he had in his talents and integrity, he dismissed him with an approving smile. In the meantime, his adversaries pressed the king to send him to prison, and oblige him to answer to the charge of heresy. To their solicitations the king at last gave way, with the intention, however, of learning who were chiefly concerned in this conspiracy, and to what lengths they intended to push their animosity against him. Having so far succeeded in his design, he sent a gentleman of his bedchamber, at midnight, to fetch Cranmer to the palace, where he informed him how he had been importuned, and that he had so far complied. The archbishop expressed his willingness to have the matter sifted to the bottom, as he Was conscious of nothing that he had done contrary to the laws; but the king convinced him that he was wrong, and that against a conspiracy so powerful, innocence would be an unavailing ground of defense; but suggested a plan of more hopeful dependence. Tomorrow, said the king, you will be sent for to the privy council, and ordered to prison; upon this you must request, that seeing you have the honor to be one of the board, you may be admitted into the council, and the informers against you brought face to face; and if then you cannot clear yourself of the charges brought against you, you are willing to go to prison. If this reasonable request be denied you, appeal to me, and give them this sign that you have my authority for so doing. Here the king took a ring of great value from his finger, and giving it to the archbishop, dismissed him.
Next morning the archbishop was summoned to the council, and when he arrived, was refused admittance into the council chamber. Dr. Butts, one of the king’s physicians, having heard how he had been treated, came to countenance him, and found him in the lobby amongst the footmen. The doctor soon acquainted the king how hardly Cranmer had been used; and his majesty, incensed that the primate of all England should be so unhandsomely treated, sent an order to admit him; which was no sooner done, than he was saluted with the weighty charge of having infected the whole nation with heresy, and accordingly commanded to the tower till the charge was thoroughly investigated. Cranmer requested them to produce their informers, and allow him to defend himself; but finding that to these terms they would on no account submit, he appealed to the king, and produced the ring; which put a stop to their unreasonable proceedings. When they came before the king, after reprimanding them, with cutting severity, he expatiated on the fidelity and integrity of Cranmer, and dwelt on the many obligations he lay under to him for his faithful and upright services, and charged them, if they had any affection for himself, to express it by their love and kindness to his particular friend the archbishop. Cranmer, having thus escaped the snares laid for his life, never showed the least resentment to his enemies, and henceforward had such a share of the royal favor, that none of them would hazard a second attempt against him during the life of Henry. ‘Cranmer has been blamed by many for his lenity towards the restless abettors of the Romish superstition, whereby it was thought the faction were encouraged to engage in fresh attempts against him.
But now the archbishop, finding the juncture somewhat more auspicious, began to reason down the cruelty and the absurdity of the act of the six articles in the parliament house, pressing for at least a, mitigation of its severity; by which he made such an impression on the king and the temporal lords, that they agreed to an amendment, by which the act was considerably moderated.
Soon after this, the king, preparing for an expedition against France, ordered a litany to be said for a blessing on his arms; the archbishop prevailed upon him to have it said in English, seeing the service performed in an unknown tongue made the people careless about attending the church. This, with the prohibition of some superstitious customs, touching vigils and the worship of the cross, was all that the reformation had gained during the reign of Henry, the intended reformation of the canon law having been suppressed by the craft of bishop Gardiner, under the pretence of important reasons of state; besides, the king, towards the latter end of his reign, had taken a strong predilection for the Roman superstition, and used to frown to silence all who proposed measures in any way pointing towards a reformation.
On the 28th January 1546, Henry VIII. departed this life, and was succeeded by his son Edward, who was godson to Cranmer, and had been educated by men favorable to the reformation. Cranmer was one of those whom the late king bad nominated for his executors, and who were to manage the government till Edward should arrive at eighteen years of age. The late king, whose manifold vices and irregularities was charged to the protestants by the popish party, died in the Roman faith; and, in his will, had left six hundred pounds per annum to defray the expense of masses for his soul, with provision for four solemn obits every year; but Cranmer had influence enough to lay the order aside, notwithstanding his solemn charge for its execution.
On the 20th of February the coronation of king Edward was solemnized at Westminster Abbey. The ceremony was performed by Cranmer, who addressed the young king in an excellent speech; in which, after censuring, with singular severity, the papal encroachments on the power and prerogatives of princes, with a declaration, that the solemn ceremonies of a coronation add nothing to the authority of a prince, whose power is derived immediately from God, he went on to instruct the king of his duty, and exhorted him to follow the example of good Josiah, by regulating the worship of God, suppressing idolatry, executing justice, repressing violence, rewarding virtue, relieving the necessities of the poor, and punishing the violators of the laws. The whole of this speech, which is too long for insertion, had such influence on the young monarch, that he resolved on a royal visitation, for the purpose of reforming religion, and rectifying the disorders of the church. The visitors were divided into six circuits, and every division had a preacher, whose business it was to preach down superstition, .and predispose the people for receiving the meditated alterations. To make the impressions of their doctrine more lasting, and the doctrines themselves more uniform, the archbishop was anxious to have some homilies composed, that might, in a plain perspicuous manner, instruct the people in the grounds of true religion, and at the same time correct the errors and superstitions that so universally abounded. On this point he consulted the bishop of Winchester, and requested his countenance and assistance; but the bishop had very different ends in view, and in place of assisting Cranmer, wrote to the protector to crush the reformation in its infancy. Cranmer, perceiving that Gardiner was obstinate and untractable, proceeded in his design without his concurrence, and published the first book of Homilies, principally composed by himself, and soon after had a translation of Erasmus’ Paraphrase on the New Testament placed in every church, for the instruction of the people.
On the 5th of Nov. 1547, a convocation was held at St. Paul’s, which the archbishop opened with a speech, wherein he put the clergy in mind of the necessity and importance of studying the scriptures, and conducting themselves by that unerring rule, in throwing off the corruptions and encroachments of the Roman church. But the terror of the act of the six articles, which still remained in force, alarmed the majority; which Cranmer reporting to the council, prevailed with them to have it repealed. In this convocation the communion was ordered to be administered in both kinds to the people, and the lawfulness of the marriage of clergymen affirmed by a. great majority.
In the latter end of January Cranmer wrote to Bonner, charging him to forbid, throughout his diocese, the ridiculous processions, which, in the days of popery, were usually kept on candlesmasday, ashwednesday, and on palmsunday, .and to forward the notice of said prohibition to the neighboring bishops, that these foolish processions might be everywhere abandoned. During this year the archbishop’s catechism was published, entitled, A short instruction in Christian Religion, for the singular profit of children and young people; and also a Latin treatise of his on Unwritten Verities. From the catechism, it is plain he had now recovered himself from the extravagant notions which he formerly indulged for the regal supremacy; for there he asserts the divine commission of bishops and priests, enlarges on the efficacy of their spiritual censures, and longs for the restoration of the primitive penitentiary discipline.
In 1550, Cranmer published his Defense of the true and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ. He had, by the aid and advice of bishop Ridley, overcome the strong prejudices he so long labored under in favor of transubstantiation; and in this treatise refuted the absurdity of the notion, both by reason, scripture, and common sense. The popish party were much alarmed at the publication of this treatise, and soon after produced two answers, the one by Dr. Smith, and the other by bishop Gardiner: The archbishop triumphantly defended his book against both his antagonists in the opinion of all impartial readers, It was afterwards translated into Latin by Sir John Cheke, and highly esteemed by many learned foreigners, for the great knowledge therein exhibited, both of scripture and ecclesiastical antiquity. Another important step, in the progress of the reformation, was the publishing of the forty-two articles of religion, which, with the assistance of bishop Ridley, Cranmer drew up, with a desire to preserve and maintain the unity and purity of the church. These articles were revised by several other bishops and learned divines, and after their corrections, enlarged and farther improved by Cranmer, and agreed to in convocation 1552, and published both in Latin and English 1553.
Some time in the late reign, Cranmer had formed the design of reviewing and purging the old canon law from its popish corruptions, and bad made some progress in the work; but the king was prevailed upon to discountenance the whole design by the artifice of Gardiner, and others of the old school. In this reign, however, he resumed his design, and procured a commission from the king, for himself and other learned divines and lawyers, diligently to examine the old church laws, and to compile such a code as they considered most useful and expedient for the ecclesiastical courts, and most conducive to good order and discipline. The archbishop pressed forward this subject with vigor and alacrity; and, with the aid of his brother commissioners, had a fair copy ready for presenting to the king, when the death of this beloved monarch blasted this great undertaking, and prevented its confirmation. The book, however, was afterwards published, in 1571, by archbishop Parker, under the title Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum.
Edward was now far gone in a consumption, not without suspicion of having been so reduced by the operation of slow poison; and finding himself approaching his end, he began to consider the propriety of settling the succession. He had been persuaded, by the artifice of the duke of Northumberland, to exclude both his sisters, and bequeath the crown to lady Jane Gray, who was married to the duke’s son. Northumberland, knowing the strong attachment of Edward to the principles of the reformation, dwelt on the imminent danger to which the protestant .cause would be exposed under the government of the princess Mary, and that there remained no alternative but a protestant succession, or a restoration of popery, with all its accumulating evils; but it appeared afterwards that the duke was a rank papist even at the time lie thus misled the unsuspicious monarch. It was in vain that Cranmer opposed this change of the succession by every argument. The duke had deceived the king; he and his agents kept up the deception, and the will being made, it was subscribed by the council and the judges; and Cranmer, at last giving up his own opinion to that of the heads of the law, reluctantly subscribed the instrument.
On the 6th July 1553, Edward the VI. departed this life; and the archbishop having subscribed the king’s will relative to the succession, considered himself, in conscience, bound to support the lady Jane; but her short-lived power was soon over, the people deserted her claim, and that of the princess Mary was universally acknowledged. Soon after her succession, a report went abroad that Cranmer, on purpose to ingratiate himself with the new queen, had offered to restore the Latin service, and that, as a proof of his sincerity, he had already said mass in his cathedral church of Canterbury. To clear himself of this scandalous aspersion, the archbishop published a notice, in which he declares the whole to be a false and malicious imputation, and offers to defend the liturgy of the church of England against all or any who chose to take up the cause of the popish hierarchy, in a public disputation. This challenge fell into the hands of his enemies, who sent a copy of the same to the queen’s commissioner, and Cranmer was immediately sent for, and examined concerning it. Cranmer acknowledged it to be his, but complained that it had stolen abroad without his knowledge in a very imperfect condition: That his intention was to have it reviewed and corrected, and after having affixed his seal, to have it posted on all the church doors of London, particularly St. Paul’s. This bold and extraordinary answer so enraged his enemies, that in a few days he was committed to the tower, there to remain till the queen’s pleasure was known concerning him. Some of his friends, who foresaw the peril to which he should be exposed, advised him to consult his safety by retiring to the continent; but, considering the dishonor it would reflect on the cause he had espoused, and so strenuously defended, should he desert his post at a crisis so replete with danger, he chose rather to hazard his life than give such obvious cause of scandal and offence.
The parliaments of those days were composed of men of easy principles, who could yield to any thing that seemed agreeable to the royal will; accordingly Cranmer was attainted, about the middle of November, and adjudged guilty of high treason, and his see declared vacant. Cranmer wrote a very submissive letter to the queen, humbly acknowledging his fault in signing the king’s will, acquainting her majesty, at the same time, how strenuously he had labored to prevent it; and that he had only yielded in consequence of the unanimous voice of the lawyers, which he conceived were better judges of the constitution than himself. The queen had already pardoned many who had been much more deeply engaged in lady Jane’s usurpation, so that Cranmer could not, with any appearance of justice, be denied; of course the treason was forgiven him; but, to gratify the malice of Gardiner, and the queen’s implacable resentment for her mother’s divorce, orders were issued to proceed against him on the score of heresy.
The tower, at this time, was so crowded with prisoners, that Bradford, Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, were all confined in the same apartment, for which they thankfully acknowledged the goodness of God, in thus affording them an opportunity of conversing together, reading and comparing the scriptures, confirming themselves in the truth, and in mutually exhorting one another to steadfastness in professing, and patience in suffering, for the same. In April 1554, Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, were removed from the tower to Oxford, to dispute with some select persons of both universities. At his first appearance in the public schools, Cranmer had three articles offered him to subscribe, in which the corporeal presence of Christ in the sacrament was asserted, and the mass declared to be a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead. These tenets he rejected as utterly false, and promised to give them his answer in writing; accordingly he drew it up, and when he was brought again to the disputation, he delivered the writing to the prolocutor, Dr. Weston. The disputation commenced at eight in the morning, and continued till two in the afternoon, during which time the archbishop maintained his cause, with great learning and fortitude, against a multitude of insolent and clamorous antagonists. Three days after this he was again brought forth to oppose Dr. Harpsfield, who was to respond for his degree in divinity. Here Cranmer so clearly demonstrated the gross absurdities, and inextricable difficulties, attending the doctrine of transubstantiation, that Weston himself, though a remarkable bigot, could not help dismissing him with commendations.
On the 20th April Cranmer was brought before the queen’s commissioners, and refusing to subscribe, was pronounced an heretic, and had the sentence of condemnation read out against him. Cranmer told them that their sentence was unjust, and from their partial decision he appealed to the judgment of the only wise God, by whom, he trusted, he would be received into his heavenly kingdom and glory. After this his servants were dismissed, and himself put under close confinement. In the latter end of this yea? a popish convocation did him the honor to cause his book on the sacrament to be burnt, in company with the English bible and the book of common prayer. In the meantime, Cranmer passed his solitary hours in vindicating his book on the sacrament from the objections of bishop Gardiner.
In 1555 a new commission from Rome arrived at Oxford to try the archbishop for heresy, the former sentence being void in law, inasmuch as the pope’s authority had not then been reestablished in England. On the 12th September they met at St. Mary’s church; and being seated at the high altar, commanded the archbishop to be brought before them. Cranmer paid all due respect to the queen’s commissioners, as they represented the supreme authority of the nation, but absolutely refused to pay any regard to the pope’s legate, lest he should appear to acknowledge the authority of the pope. Brooks, in a long oration, exhorted him to consider from whence he had fallen, and return to his holy mother, the Catholic Church, and by his example of repentance, reclaim those his past errors had misled.
Dr. Martin opened the trial in a short speech, in which he stated the charges laid against him, namely, perjury in respect to his oath to the pope, incontinence in regard to his marriage, and heresy on account of the exertions he had made in promoting the reformation. The archbishop defended himself against these charges, by proving that the pope’s jurisdiction in England was an usurpation, contrary to the natural allegiance of the subject, the fundamental laws of the country, and the original constitution of the Christian church; and, in the conclusion of his defense, he boldly charged Brooks with perjury, in sitting there by the pope’s authority, which he had sworn to renounce. Brooks endeavored to retort the charge on the archbishop, by stating that he had seduced him to take the oath in question. This, however, Cranmer told him was notoriously false, as the pope’s supremacy had been renounced by archbishop Warham, his predecessor, who sent the question to the universities for their opinion; which opinion was, that the supremacy was vested by God in the king and not in the pope: That this document had the university seal affixed to it; and that Brooks himself had subscribed the same, and therefore wronged him by asserting that he had in any way seduced him. This repulse had the effect of covering Brooks with shame and confusion, insomuch, that having no better answer at hand, he cried out, “We came here to examine you, and now you begin to examine us.” In the meantime, that Brooks might have leisure to recover himself, Dr. Story began to. rail at the archbishop, in a very indecent manner, for rejecting the authority of his judge, and moved Brooks to demand a direct answer to the crimes of which he had been accused; with certification, that if he still continued to deny the authority of the pope, and decline answering to the charges brought against him, they would, without a moment’s farther delay, proceed to sentence him. And after a short conversation between Dr. Martin and the archbishop, relative to the supremacy and the eucharist, his answer was peremptorily demanded. Cranmer replied to each charge distinctly, in answers so copious, so clear, and confounding to his adversaries, that Brooks was under the necessity of making another harangue, to remove, if possible, the impression his defense had made on the minds of the people. This oration of Brooks was utterly unbecoming the gravity of a bishop. It consisted in scurrility and unchristian railings, together with shameful and sophistical misapplications both of the scriptures and the writings of the fathers. Brooks having done his best to turn the minds of the spectators against the archbishop, he was then cited to appear at Rome, to answer before the pontiff, within fourscore days. Cranmer said he should be very willing to go to Rome and vindicate the reformation, even before the pope, providing the queen would suffer him to travel so far.
When Dr. Martin asked him who was head of the church of England, Cranmer replied, “Christ, who is the head of the whole body of the catholic church, is also the head of the church of England, which constitutes one of the members of that universal body.” Martin again demanded, “Whether he had not declared king Henry head of the church?” “Yes (said Cranmer), head of all the people of England, as well ecclesiastical as temporal.” “What! (says Martin), and not the head of the church?” “No (replied the archbishop), for Christ alone is head of his church, and of her faith and religion.”
In February 1556 Bonner and Thirlby were appointed to degrade the archbishop; and having arrived at Oxford for that purpose, he was brought before them; and after having read their commission from the pope, Bonner insulted him in a bitter, malevolent, and most unchristian like oration, for which he was often rebuked by bishop Thirlby, who had been Cranmer’s particular friend, and could not avoid shedding many tears on the occasion. In the commission from the pope, it was declared that Cranmer’s cause had got an impartial hearing at Rome: That the evidence on both sides had been candidly examined, and that Cranmer’s advocate was allowed to make the best defense for him that he could. On the reading of this part of the paper, Cranmer could not forbear crying out, “Good God, what a tissue of lies: That I, who have been confined in close prison, and not permitted to bring forward any evidence, or allowed counsel to defend my innocence here at home, could procure witnesses, and appoint my counsel at Rome! This lying process is so ignorantly and insultingly wicked, that God will, no doubt, punish such audacity even in this life.” When Bonner had finished his invective, they proceeded to degrade him; and to make him appear the more ridiculous, the, Episcopal habit they then put upon him was made up of sackcloth and party colored rags. The archbishop drew from his sleeve a written appeal, which he delivered to the bishops, telling them, at the same time, that he was not sorry, and thought it no disgrace to be thrust out of their church, even with all their superstitious pageantry: that the pope had no authority over him, and that he appealed to the next general council. Having thus degraded him, they dressed him in a threadbare beadle’s gown, and put a townsman’s cap, on his head, and so consigned him over to the civil magistrate.
While Cranmer continued in prison, no expedient was left untried that seemed calculated for winning him over to the Romish religion. Many of the most eminent divines in the university resorted to the prison daily; if by any means they might restore him to the mother church: The more conspicuous he had been as a leader in the reformation, the more exceedingly anxious were they to bring him off; or failing, to ruin his reputation for ever with his friends and adherents: But their best endeavors were in vain, he was not to be shaken by all the terrors they could conjure up, even the inhuman cruelty exercised towards his dear and affectionate associates, Ridley and Latimer, only seemed to strengthen his resolution of resistance even unto blood. But the papists, finding the more they evil entreated him, the bolder and more inflexible he became; this suggested the propriety of attempting his fidelity by flattery, and a hypocritical profession of friendship. Accordingly, they removed him from prison to the lodgings of the dean of Christ church, where they treated him with the greatest civility and respect; made him large promises of the queen’s particular favor; that he would be restored .to his former dignity, with an accumulation of honors and preferment if he would only recant. And here we have an astonishing demonstration, both of the inflexible firmness and imbecility of the human character; we have here also an evidence, that insult, and every species of unnecessary severity, tends to fortify the human mind in its resolution of resistance. We have no reason to believe, that had Cranmer been subjected to continued insult, scurrility, and abuse, similar to that with which Bonner and Brooks had formerly abused him, he would ever have made such a dishonorable sacrifice and shipwreck of his profession. But a soft answer breaketh the bone; men are sometimes easily led, whom no man, or body of men, could drive. But to do the archbishop justice, he was most ingeniously led into this grand error; which the progress of the plot, laid for his disgrace, will sufficiently manifest. The copy of his recantation ran thus; “Forasmuch as the king’s and queen’s majesties, by consent of their parliament, have received the pope’s authority in this realm, I am content to submit myself to their laws herein, and to take the pope for the chief head of this church of England, so far as God’s laws, and the laws and customs of this realm, will permit.
In this paper, which was presented to Cranmer for his subscription, his enemies had left a door of escape for the conscience of the archbishop, whom they seemed to leave at liberty to examine the pope’s authority by the laws of God, and also by the laws and customs of the realm, and acquiesce or reject according as he found the pope’s authority corresponding, or otherwise, with these rules; and there is a strong probability, that Cranmer believed that this was all that was required of him; but his hypocritical flatterers only wanted to break in upon his fidelity, arid conquer his opposition by degrees. The queen and her council were not satisfied, it was not sufficiently explicit, and another paper, in fewer words, but more comprehensive, was sent down; which was again considered ambiguous; and a third succeeded the second, and so on to the sixth, which was drawn up in terms so strong and comprehensive, that nothing remained to be added. In this sixth recantation, the worshipping of angels, saints, relics, pilgrimages, purgatory, and, in short, all the errors and absurdities of the Romish religion, are acknowledged. This paper Cranmer subscribed on the 18th of March, under the apprehension, that he should not only save his life, but also reap the benefit of the many liberal promises which these deceivers had given him, quite unconscious that the writ was already signed that doomed him to the stake in three days thereafter, namely, the twenty-first of the same month, and that Dr. Cole was sent to Oxford to prepare a sermon for the occasion. The day before his execution, Cole visited him in prison, whither, when they had obtained their purpose, they had again removed him, and asked him if he still stood firm in the faith he had subscribed; to which he returned a satisfactory answer. The next morning Cole visited him again, exhorted him to constancy, and gave him money to distribute amongst the poor as he saw occasion. Soon after he was brought to St. Mary’s church, and placed on a low scaffold opposite to the pulpit, and Dr. Cole began his sermon. Here the doctor labored to find reasons to justify the execution of Cranmer, notwithstanding that he had recanted under a promise of forgiveness. In the close of his discourse, Cole addressed himself particularly to the archbishop, exhorting him to bear up, with courage, against the terrors of death; and having the example of the thief on the cross before him, not to despair, since, like him, though late, he was now restored to the bosom of the catholic church, and to the profession of the true apostolic faith. Cranmer, who had the first notice of his intended execution from Cole’s sermon, was horrorstruck at the thought of the mean duplicity, and unparalleled cruelty of his enemies. Transactions, in every respect so base, unworthy, and disgraceful, that devils themselves would be ashamed to acknowledge. The agony, the bitter anguish and perplexity of his soul, were past description. During the sermon he wept incessantly, sometimes lifting his eyes towards heaven, sometimes casting them down to the ground in the most pitiable dejection. When it was ended, he was called upon to make a confession of his faith, and give the world the satisfaction of his dying a good catholic. Accordingly, he kneeled down, and prayed to the following effect: “O Father of heaven; O Son of God, Redeemer of the world; O Holy Spirit proceeding from both, have mercy on me, a most wretched and miserable sinner. I, who have inexpressibly offended both against heaven and earth, whither shall I go, or where shall I fly for help. To heaven I am ashamed to lift up mine eyes; and on earth I find no refuge—What then shall I do? Must I therefore despair? God forbid. O thou good and merciful God, who rejects nope who fly to thee for succor, to thee I fly, to thee I resign myself, in thee I confide. O Lord my God, my sins are many and great; yet, according to the abundance of thy goodness, have mercy on me. O God the Son, thou wast not made man for few or small offences only, neither, O God the Father, didst thou give thy Son for our smaller transgressions, but also for the greatest sins of” the whole world, so that the sinner return unto thee with a penitent heart, as I do in this hour of extremity. Therefore, O Lord, take pity upon me, for though my sins are great, yet thy mercy is still greater. I crave nothing, O Lord, for my own merits, but for thy great name’s sake, and for the sake of thy dear Son, in whose words I conclude. Our Father, etc.
Prayer being ended, he rose from his knees, and made a confession of his faith, beginning with the creed, and concluding, he said, “I also believe every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Jesus Christ, his apostles and prophets, both in the Old and New Testament. I am well aware of the duty I owe to my sovereign, and the laws of my country; which duty I sincerely recommend to all present; but I am also aware, that this duty extends no farther than to submit to their commands, and suffer, with unresisting patience, whatever hardships they choose to impose upon me, while a higher authority commands, and a superior duty obliges me to speak truth on all occasions, and not basely relinquish the holy doctrines which the Almighty has revealed to mankind, to direct their way through the maze of this life, and animate their hopes of a future and more glorious existence. And now, continued the archbishop, I come to the most important concern of my whole life, and that which troubles my conscience inexpressibly more than any thing I have ever said or done; that is, the insincere declaration of faith to which I had the weakness to consent, and which the fear of death alone extorted from me; which declarations, I take this opportunity, with the most unequivocal sincerity, in presence of this assembly, publicly to renounce, as articles signed by my hand contrary to the conviction and fixed belief of my heart, and written under the terrors of death, in the hopes of saving my life; which miscarriage of mine I most sincerely repent; and reckoning that the terrors of death, and all the excruciating tortures of the fire, are nothing compared with the conscious feelings of my ingratitude and haze infidelity towards my God and Saviour, that now rankle in this disconsolate and agonized bosom, I am ready to seal with my blood, these doctrines, which I firmly believe, were communicated from heaven; and this unworthy right hand, that has betrayed my heart, may I come to the fire, shall first suffer the forfeit of its offence.” Having thus surprised the audience, who had no suspicion of a contrary declaration, he was admonished not to dissemble. “Ah! (said he), from a child I have hated falsehood, and been a lover of simplicity; nor, till beset with the terrors of death, and seduced by the promises of hypocritical men, who conspired against my honor and my life have I ever dissembled.” Thus disappointed, the popish crowd were enraged to madness, and Cranmer was torn from the stage, and, with marks of enthusiastic fury, hurried to the place of his execution over against Baliol college. Here he put off his clothes in haste; and standing in his shirt, without shoes, was chained to the stake, amid the insults of his enemies. But Summoning up all the powers of his mind, he endured the scorn, as well as the torture ‘of his punishment, with matchless fortitude. He stretched out his hand into the flame, without betraying, either by his countenance or motions, the least appearance of weakness, or even of feeling, and held it in the flames till it was entirely consumed. His thoughts seemed wholly occupied on his former fault; he called aloud several times, this hand has offended; and satisfied at last with the atonement it had made, Ms countenance became serene, insomuch, that when the fire attacked his body, he seemed quite insensible of his outward sufferings; whilst the energies of his soul, comprest together within itself, seemed to repel the fury of the flames.
Thus perished, at Oxford, by means of a most artful and hypocritical deception, a flagrant and Jesuitical breach of promise, and the rage of disappointed bigotry and blinded, zeal, to the everlasting disgrace both of the doctrines and dignitaries of the Romish church, Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, in the sixty-seventh year of his age; and though by no means exempted from the faults and frailties incident to our nature, yet was he a very remarkable and highly deserving man. His inquiries after truth were made with singular candor, while the changes he contemplated were conducted with caution, and prosecuted with unrelinquishing perseverance. He considered the Romish church a very corrupt and superstitious community, from the tyranny, the errors, and abominable superstitions of which, it was the duty of every Christian to withdraw, and to do this, whatever might be the consequence. But conceiving that conviction was an indispensable prerequisite to conversion, he chose to convince the people by arguments drawn from scripture, reason, and even from common sense, rather than force them, by the severity of sanguinary laws, to adopt a religion they did not understand, and in this way to open the eyes of the people to the truths of primitive Christianity, and lead them, as willing converts, to the faith of the reformation.
With this view, Cranmer labored himself, and encouraged others to write, preach, and hold public disputations on the controverted points of faith, that he might establish the truth in the understanding and affections of the people; and, considering the powerful opposition that withstood his best endeavors, his success was certainly great. Even under the boisterous reign of Henry VIII., though always retarded, and often arrested in his reforming career, he never relinquished his purpose in despair, but continued to do whatever still remained in his power, patiently waiting for more propitious opportunities; as we have seen in the affair of the act of the six articles, which, for three successive days, he strenuously opposed in parliament, and failing, lodged his solemn protest against it; and on the first opportunity, finding it impossible to obtain a repeal of that tyrannical enactment, he seriously set about mitigating its severity, which he happily effected. The whole tenor of his conduct, from his first embracing the reforming doctrines, gives evidence of his hearty zeal in that cause, which renders his melancholy misgivings the more surprising. Owing to the irresistible force of prejudice, and earned away with the current of public opinion, which few men, even of the greatest characters have ever been able wholly to forego, Cranmer is also chargeable with consenting to some acts of blood, even under the mild reign of Edward the VI.; and by his counsel constraining that young prince to a very reluctant acquiescence. This was equally lamentable and surprising, as his whole conduct points him out as a person naturally mild and humane, and by no means cruel and vindictive. The goodness of his nature, and the generosity of his sentiments, appear conspicuous in his endeavors to save the life of Sir Thomas More and bishop Fisher, who, whatever might be their other virtues, were implacable enemies, and cruel persecutors of the protestants, of whom he was considered the principal leader. He also protested in parliament against the attainting of the duke of Norfolk, his most inveterate enemy.
Upon the whole, he was a man of distinguished learning and capacity; his life was adorned with candor and sincerity, benevolence, and all those virtues that serve to make a man amiable and useful in society. His moral qualities procured him universal respect; and his inflexible fortitude, manifested at the stake, has so wiped off his reproach, that after every deduction that reason and justice requires, he will be acknowledged as one of the most illustrious characters in the ecclesiastical history of England.
Of Cranmer’s printed works we consider it “unnecessary to give a formal list. His mind is essentially interwoven with the articles, homilies, liturgy, and general spirit of the church of England, which furnish him with an eulogy, to which no addition is requisite. We shall shortly mention such of his works as still remain in manuscript.—1st, Two large volumes collected from the scriptures, the primitive fathers, the later doctors and schoolmen, the first containing 545, and the second 559 pages; they refer principally to the controversies with Rome, viz. The seven sacraments, invocation of saints, images, relics, of true religion and superstition, the mass,, prayer, the Virgin Mary, etc.; these are in the King’s library.—2d, The lord Burleigh had six or seven volumes more.—3d, Dr. Burnet mentions two other volumes which he had seen, supposed now to be done, 4th, several letters in the Cotton library.