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Friday, August 18, 2017
Date Posted:

Thomas Cranmer - Faithful Unto Death By Fire

Dr Paisley’s Message at a BCPCC Service in St Stephen’s Crypt, House of Commons to mark the 450th Addiversary of the Martyrdom of the Archbishop of Centerbury, Thomas Cranmer on 16 March, 2006.
Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley

The martyrs of the Protestant Reformation at the hand of persecuting Rome, under the Tudor Bloody Mary, were not at all well constructed and special heroes because of any natural strength and ability which they possessed. 

They were men and women of like passions as all of us are, and their weaknesses surfaced from rime to time.

 The martyrs were what they were, not by human nerves of steel, but by the enablement and power of God.

This was illustrated never so openly and forcibly as in the behaviour of Cranmer himself.  We would do well to note the following narratives.

With his fellow Bishops in their inquisitional examination, Cranmer stood firm He was consequently condemned, degraded and sentenced to be burnt to death. 

The historian Strype pays this eloquent description of Cranmer.

‘The name of this most reverend prelate deserves to stand upon eternal record; having been the first Protestant archbishop of this kingdom, and the greatest instrument, under God, of the happy Reformation of this Church of England: in whose piety, learning, wisdom, conduct, and blood, the foundation of it was laid.  And therefore it will be no unworthy work to revive his memory now, though after an hundred and thirty years and upwards.  I pretend not to rite a complete narrative of his life and death, that being scarce possible at such a distance of time, and in the want of full intelligence and information of the various matters that passed through his hands, and the events that befell him. All that I attempt by this present undertaking is, to retrieve and bring to light as many historical passages as I can, concerning this holy prelate; by a careful and long search, not only into printed books of history, but the best archives, and many most precious and inestimable manuscripts that have fallen into my hands.’

It has been rightly said that if the secret of the sixteenth century Reformation in Europe is to be learned, we must first learn what took place in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  The fourteenth century threw across the darkness of Europe some flashes of penetrating light which were harbingers of greater light to come.

While Mohammedanism gained here and there, there was a promise of a more real emcipation in the future.

Learning somewhat revived, and John Wycliffe’s voice was heard, and his poor preachers with the Holy Bible sowed the precious seed and much of it fell on good ground.

Wycliffe was a bold preacher. He sent forth droves of ininerant preachers and the circulation of the Holy Scripture had an effect which no human calculation can estimate. His followers were called Lollards.  It was claimed every other man in England was converted to Lollardrey.

The English King and Parliament had started to withstand the dictatorship of Rome.  All appeals to the Pope and Rome were outlawed, which ‘touched the King, his crown and realm.’  It was the beginning of a ‘No Popery’ crusade which would eventually bring about the liberty of Protestantism. 

The arrogance of Pope Urban II to command Edward III to recognise him as the supreme monarch of England and pay his feudal tribute to Rome lit a fire of resistance which Rome could not put out. 

Stirred by Wycliffe the nation declared ‘England belongs not to the Pope: the Pope is a man subject to sin but Christ is the Lord of Lords, and this Kingdom is held directly and solely of Christ alone.’

The conqueror of Crecy taught the Pope a salutary lesson.

The Fifteenth Century

The fifteenth century was marked by further progress to religious liberty, and the breaking of the papal chains.  The power of the Pope in the nation was diminished even more.

The burning of John Huss stoked the fire already burning against Rome as did also the martyrdom of his contemporary and colleague Jerome of Prague. The condemnation of Wycliffe by the same Council of Constance was climactic.

The fall of Constantinople and the scattering of the books of learning across Europe added to the momentum.  The invention of printing greatly speeded the spread of the ‘new learning.’ 

In England there was religious as well as political change.  The monastic friars became a challenge to the secular clergy.  The bitter hostility between them smoothed the way in the next century to the suppression of monasteries by Henry VIII.

Of the printing of the Mazarin Bible, Hallam eloquently comments:

‘We may in imagination see this venerable and splendid volume leading up the crowded myriads of its followers and imploring as it were a blessing on new art by dedication of its firstfruits to the service of Heaven.’

Rebellion against the dogmas of Rome increased.  Claydon of London was imprisoned for four years in the Fleet Prison for having a book which stated that the Pope was the Antichrist.  Eventually he was burned at Smithfield.

Learning spread.  Three new colleges were added to Cambridge and three to Oxford.  Eton College was founded and a new Divinity School and Public Library were opened in Oxford.

So much for the preparation of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The Sixteenth Century

Then came the sixteenth century.  Rome claimed it was marked by the Grand Schism.  We know it was firebranded by the Great Reformation.

Froude, the historian, describes the change of the sixteenth century with great eloquence and pathos:

‘A change was coming over the world, the meaning and direction of which even still is hidden from us, a change from era to era.   The paths trodden by the footsteps of ages were broken up; old things  were passing away, and the faith and the life of ten centuries were dissolving like a dream.

‘Chivalry was dying; the abbey and the castle were soon together to crumble into ruins; and all the forms, desires, beliefs, and convictions, of the Old World were passing away, never to return.

A new continent had risen up beyond the Western Sea.  The floor of heaven, inlaid with stars, had sunk back to  an infinite abyss of immeasurable space; and the firm earth itself, unfixed from its foundations, was seen to be but a small atom in the awful vastness of the universe.  In the fabric of habit in which they had so laboriously built for themselves, mankind were to remain no longer.

‘And now it is all gone ‑ like an unsubstantial pageant faded; and between us and the old English there lies a gulf which the prose of the historian will never adequately bridge.  They cannot come to us, and our imagination can but feebly penetrate to them.  Only among the aisles of the Cathedrals, only as we gaze upon their silent figures sleeping on their tombs, some faint conceptions float before us of what those men were when they were alive; and, perhaps, in the sound of church bells, that peculiar creation of the mediaeval age which falls upon the ear like the echo of a vanished world.’

The purifying river of truth began to run deeply all through society.  Social life was changed. Family life was changed.  Teaching life was changed.  School life was changed.  Country life was changed.  Town life was changed.  City life was changed.  Government life was changed.  Palace life was changed.  Throne life was changed.  Religious life was changed. Industrial life was changed.  Moral life was changed. 

In fact, as the Reformation came closer the clergy sank lower and lower, and a marked change for the better became perceptible among the laity.

The people were soon demanding different standards from the clergy.

The Consistory Courts, established in the middle ages with the lofty aim of suppressing sin as well as crime, had become deeply corrupt and grossly oppressive.  Tireannous they were in the hands of ecclesiastics, but they were rendered odious by the distinctions in punishment inflicted on lay and spiritual offenders.

The grossest moral profligacy in a priest was passed over with indifference and so far from exacting obedience to a higher standard than she required of ordinary persons, the Church extended her limits under fictitious pretexts as a sanctuary to lettered villainy.

Wolsey, whose own immorality was deeply reprehensible, told the Pope that ‘Priests, both secular and regular, were in the habit of committing atrocious crimes, for which, if not in orders, they would have been promptly executed.’ 

Brothels were kept in London for the especial use of priests.  Froude quotes an instance in which the Consistory Court punished an offence against itself by excommunication, and yet the same Court dismissed the confessed incest of a priest with the fine of a few shillings.  Perhaps a stronger proof could not be given of the evil character of the mass of the clergy than in the fact that men besought their executors in their wills to try to find priests of virtuous character to sing masses for them, begging that if their own priests were not virtuous others might be obtained. 

This deep corruption of the professed teachers of morals and religion must be ranked as one of the most powerful provocations of the Reformation. 

Henry VIII
So little had the Romish faith inculcated Christian practice that the statutes of the realm at this period give evidence of national dishonesty in general dealings, in quality, measure, and weight.  Sir Thomas More says, that in the reign of Henry VII ‘thieves were hanged so fast that there were sometimes twenty on a gibbet, and one could not wonder enough how it came to pass that since so few escaped, there were yet so many thieves left robbing in all places; Hollingshed says that 72,000 thieves were hanged in Henry VIII’s reign. 

In the Sixteenth century London was only the size of two country towns and yet that Roman Catholic London swarming with priests and intolerance of heresy was less moral than the whole of London today.

‘One of the priests of history Michelet said, “History never releases her slaves.  He who has once drunk of that sharp strong wine goes on drinking it, even to the end.” 

History does have her priests who minister in her temples and convey her messages to the world.  She has also her slaves who do her humbler work ‑ temple sweepers as Ephesus of old was to the great goddess Diana.  They do it willingly ‑ ay and very often they do it because they cannot

help it.  An impulse they cannot resist drives them on” - Alcock.

No English Reformer has been more attacked than Cranmer the First Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.  His work helped to establish Bible Protestants in the Church of England and his Papish enemies whilst he lived and since he died have done everything to undermine his integrity impeach his sincerity, slander his treachery and revile his person.

- continued next time

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