Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) is famous for at least two things. First, he was the Archbishop of Canterbury to Henry VIII, and he is responsible for the Common Book of Prayer. He was also a man of evangelical sympathies and a martyr of the church.
Evangelical Christianity was making headway around the time Cranmer became a priest in 1520. While Cranmer was a Roman Catholic priest, he was influenced by it, and after helping Henry VIII obtain his divorce, it was evident that Cranmer was becoming of evangelical sympathies. When Anne Boleyn, who had evangelical sympathies of her own, was condemned to be executed on trumped up charges, Cranmer attempted to help her. In 1535, Cranmer wrote to Arthur Plantagenet, one of Henry's uncles, telling him that:
"the very papacy and the see of Rome," is to be detested, since papal laws have "suppressed Christ"; they have set up the pope as "a god of this world"; and they have "brought the professors of Christ into such an ignorance of Christ."
When Henry died in 1547, Cranmer crowned Henry's only son, Edward, whose reign thought short lived, was committed to maintaining the Protestant beginning which his father started. It is during Edward's reign that Cranmer produced The Common Book of Prayer, which the basis for reformed Protestant worship.
Cranmer was also determined to get the English Bible into the hands of the people. Michael Haykin quotes J.I. Packer with regard to this:
To make the Church of England a Bible-reading, Bible-loving church was Cranmer's constant ideal.
Haykin comments further:
The ultimate fruit of this Bible-reading, Bible-loving church was Puritanism, and, of deep interest to this writer, the Calvinistic Baptist movement.
Before Edward's death, Cranmer was instrumental in ensuring that the line of succession stay away from both of his half-sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry's sister Mary, and it was she whom Edward had the succession directed. Mary, referred to typically as "Bloody Mary" prevented that by gaining access to the throne herself and having Grey executed. Mary's reign was brutal and bloody, and ultimately discredited Roman Catholicism. Protestant sympathies were not active on the throne again until Mary died and Elizabeth took the throne. Mary, however, aware of Cranmer's participation with Edward, had him arrested and sent to the Tower of London in 1553.
During his incarceration, Cranmer was tortured and subject to brainwashing at the hands of a Spanish inquisitor, Juan de Villa Garcia. Cranmer was forced to sign a recantation of his beliefs. When he was sent to be burned at the stake, he did a turnabout, and speaking forth, he acknowledged and repented his recantation. His shame at having signed the force recantation is evident in some of his final words:
And now I come to the great thing that so much troubleth my conscience, more than anything that ever I did or said in my whole life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth; which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand, contrary to the truth which I thought in my head, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, it might be; and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with my hand since my degredation: wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished therefore; for, I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.
Cranmer was pulled down from the platform in an effort to silence him. He ran to the fire with Villa Garcia chasing after him, trying to get him to recant again. When Cranmer was chained to the stake, and the fires lit, he put his right hand into the flame so that all would see that his hand was burned before his body touched.
I liked how Haykin ends this chapter:
The account of Cranmer's martyrdom is not one of unbroken triumph, but, of victory being snatched out of the jaws of defeat. In some respect, Cranmer appears a very ordinary man, one with no taste for violent death. But in his final hours God's grace enabled him to endure to the end, and we see that what Cranmer had tuaght as an evangelical - namely, that salvation is wholly the Lord's work - is shown to be true in his final hours.
Wow. May we all stand firm for our faith in the face of less trying circumstances than Cranmer's. These days, our faith may land us in situations where we are unpopular, lose prestige, or garner criticism. None of us yet are chained to the stake. Let us stand firm like Cranmer.