Tag Archives: Cranmer

A reason for the hope that is in us

Anchor for the Soul – Allyson Johnson


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)


Richly usable words

Thomas Cranmer’s phrases echo through English literature and popular culture.

From “God Talk: The Book of Common Prayer at 350” — a literary appreciation by James Wood in The New Yorker:

“A grand sonority (with the characteristic Cranmerian triad of ‘all holy desires,  all good counsels, and all just works’) gives way to a heartfelt request: please defend us from enemies, so that we may ‘pass our time in rest and quietness.’ It’s interesting to compare the original Latin of this old prayer, which  appeared in the Sarum Missal: ‘Tempora sint tua protectione tranquilla‘ can be roughly translated as ‘May our time under thy protection be tranquil.’ In a fourteenth-century English primer, it was translated into English, and the prayer was now that ‘our times be peaceable.’ But Cranmer has made the plea smaller and closer at hand. In the Book of Common Prayer, the language seems not to refer to the epoch (our time) but to something more local (my days); and tranquillity and peace have become the comfier ‘rest  and quietness.’”

Wood draws a conclusion that I would not when he says, “the words persist, but the belief they vouchsafe has long gone.” He does go on, however, to say that “the words are, in the absence of belief, as richly usable as they were three hundred and fifty years ago.”

I hope, for my part, that you will find your belief strengthened by the “richly usable” words of our Book of Common Prayer, and especially by the canticles, collects, and prayers of the Daily Office.

A Collect for Peace

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior (BCP 123).