The Burning of Thomas Cranmer. From Foxe‘s Book of Martyrs.
Of all the Christian martyrs, Thomas Cranmer is the one I identify with most. As Archbishop of Canterbury he attempted with others to “reform the English Church to the utmost of our ability and give our labour that both its doctrines and laws will be improved after the model of holy scripture.”
Under threats and imprisonment by Queen Mary, however, who stripped him of his title, he went through frequent and agonizing reappraisals, recanting and un-recanting his faith in “faith alone” many times. On October 16, 1555, he was taken to a tower to watch Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who had stood firm at the cost of their lives, burn as heretics. I can imagine how appalling it was for Cranmer to watch his friends be cremated alive and think, “That would have been me!” And then, “That SHOULD have been me!”
Six months later he renounced all his recantations and went to the stake himself.
I identify with his shrinking back, his fear, his agony of indecision, his sense of guilt, and I identify with his determination to make up for cowardice when he followed his friends in death. By this time Bloody Mary was determined to take his life regardless. He had nothing more to lose by standing for his convictions. But for me, his humanness makes his clear-headed resolve all the more brave.
Jerry and I have stood soberly on the very spot–in the middle of St. Giles Street in Oxford, marked by what looks like a manhole cover–where all three martyrs were burned alive.
From Wikipedia on Thomas Cranmer: “. . . the date of Cranmer’s execution was set for 7 March. . . Cranmer repudiated all Lutheran and Zwinglian [Reform] theology, fully accepted Catholic theology including papal supremacy and transubstantiation, and stated that there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church. He announced his joy of returning to the Catholic faith, asked for and received sacramental absolution, and participated in the mass.
“Cranmer’s burning was postponed and under normal practice of canon law, he should have been absolved. [Queen] Mary, however, decided that no further postponement was possible. His last recantation was issued on 18 March. It was a sign of a broken man, a sweeping confession of sin.
“Cranmer had three more days to live. He was told that he would be able to make a final recantation but this time in public during a service at the University Church. He wrote and submitted the speech in advance and it was published after his death. At the pulpit on the day of his execution, he opened with a prayer and an exhortation to obey the king and queen, but he ended his sermon totally unexpectedly, deviating from the prepared script.
“He renounced the recantations that he had written or signed with his own hand since his degradation and as such he stated his hand would be punished by being burnt first. He then said, ‘And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.’ He was pulled from the pulpit and taken to where Latimer and Ridley had been burnt six months before.
“As the flames drew around him, he fulfilled his promise by placing his right hand into the heart of the fire while saying ‘that unworthy hand’ and his dying words were, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.'”