Today the Episcopal Church commemorates the Oxford Martyrs — Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, bishops burned at the stake together under the Roman Catholic Queen Mary in 1555, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, burned at the stake in 1556.
As James Kiefer writes on the Lectionary Page, Latimer’s last words at the stake are well known: “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.” Latimer and Ridley bore enduring witness to the power of Christ’s transforming love, cheerfully joining their suffering to his.
Cranmer was trapped between his Protestant beliefs and his understanding that the monarchy in England was ordained by God. Ordered to submit to the Roman Catholic obedience — and to the Pope — by Queen Mary, he finally signed a letter of submission, but she didn’t believe he was sincere. When he was sent to the stake, he said, “I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn.”
The primary work of Cranmer’s hand, the Book of Common Prayer for which he was largely responsible, stands as his enduring witness. Nearly 465 years after its first printing, it is still the means by which Anglicans shape our lives of prayer and Scripture reading, celebrate our common life in Christ around the Communion table, mark the seasons of our human life and death, and make ourselves “ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us” (BCP 247).
Collect of a Martyr
Almighty God, who gave to your servants Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 246)