Thomas Cranmer

leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury

Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556) was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary I. He helped build the case for the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which was one of the causes of the separation of the English Church from union with the Holy See. Along with Thomas Cromwell, he supported the principle of Royal Supremacy, in which the king was considered sovereign over the Church within his realm.

Thomas Cranmer

During Cranmer's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England and published the first officially authorized vernacular service, the Exhortation and Litany


  • There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.
    • Preface to the BCP, B. Cummings (Editor), The Book of Common Prayer, the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (OUP 2011), Page 4
  • My duty towards my neighbours is to love them as myself. And to do to all as I would they should do to me. To love, honour and succour my father and mother. To honour and obey the King and his ministers. To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters. …. To hurt nobody by word or deed. To be true and just in all my dealing. To bear no malice or hatred in my heart. To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil speaking, lying and slandering. To keep my body in temperance, soberness and chastity. Not to covet or desire others’ goods. But learn and labour truly to get my own living, and to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.
    • Catechism, Ibid, p.61, (text somewhat modernised)
  • For two sundry sorts of people, it seemeth necessary that something be said in the entry of this book by the way of a preface, whereby hereafter it may be both the better accepted of them which hitherto could not well bear it, and also the better used of them which heretofore have misused it. For truly some there are that be too slow and need the spur, some other seem too quick, and need more of the bridle; some lose their game by short shooting, some by overshooting; some walk too much on the left hand, some too much on the right. In the former sort be all they that refuse to read or to hear read the scripture in the vulgar tongue; much worse, they that also let or discourage the other from the reading or hearing thereof. In the latter sort be they which by their indiscrete speaking, contentious disputing, or otherwise by their licentious living, slander and hinder the word of God most of all.
    Neither can I well tell whether of them I may judge the more offender: him that doth obstinately refuse so godly and goodly knowledge, or him that so ungodly and so ungoodly doth abuse the same. And as touching the former, I would marvel much that any man should be so mad as to refuse in darkness, light; in hunger, food; in cold, fire. For the word of God is light.
  • In the midst of life we are in death.
  • I commend thy soul to God, and thy body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.
    • Order for Burial of the Dead, B. Cummings (Editor), The Book of Common Prayer, the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (OUP 2011), Page 82
  • Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their death, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their death, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified. ….. I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no one, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt that person, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with them, although they think themselves never so much in God's favour.
  • It is not also taught you in Scripture, that you should desire St. Rock to preserve you from the pestilence, to pray to St. Barbarra to defend you from thunder or gun-shot, to offer St. Loy an horse of wax, a pig to St. Anthony, a candle to St, Sithine. But I should be too long, if I were to rehearse unto you all the superstitions that have grown out of the invocation and praying to saints departed, wherewith men have been seduced, and God's honour given to creatures.
    This was also no small abuse that we called the images by the names of the things, whom they did represent. For we were won't to say, "This is St. Ann's altar ;"-"My father is gone a pilgrimage to our Lady of Walsingham;"-" In our church St. James standeth on the right hand of the high altar." These speeches we were wont to use, although they be not to be commended. For St. Austin in the exposition of the 113th Psalm affirmeth, that they who do call such images, as the carpenter hath made, do change the truth of God into a lie. It is not also taught you in all Scripture.
    Thus, good children, I have declared how we were wont to abuse images, not that hereby I condemn your fathers, who were men of great devotion, and had an earnest love towards God, although their zeal in all points was not ruled and governed by true knowledge, but they were seduced and blinded partly by the common ignorance that reigned in their time, partly by the covetousness of their teachers, who abused the simplicity of the unlearned people to the maintenance of their own lucre and glory. But this be profitable, for if they had, either Christ would have taught it or the Holy Ghost would have revealed it unto the Apostles, which they did not. And if they did, the Apostles were very negligent that would not make some mention of it, and speak some good word for images, seeing that they speak so many against them. And by this means Anti-christ and his holy Papists had more knowledge or fervent zeal to give s godly things ad profitable for us, than had the very holy saints of Christ, yea more than Christ himself and the Holy Ghost. Now forasmuch, good children, as images be neither necessary nor profitable in our churches and temples, nor were not used at the beginning in Christ's nor the Apostles' time, nor many years after, and that at length they were brought in by bishops of Rome, maugre emperors' teeth; and seeing also, that they be very slanderous to Christ's religion, for by them the name of God is blasphemed among the infidels, Turks, and Jews, which because of our images do call Christian religion, idolatry and worshiping of images: and for as much also, as they have been so wonderfully abused within this realm to the high contumely and dishonor of God, and have been great cause of blindness and of much contention among the King's Majesty's loving subjects and are like so to be still, if they should remain: and chiefly seeing God's word speaketh so much against them, you may hereby right well consider what great causes and ground the King's Majesty had to take them away within his realm, following here in the example of the godly King Hezekias, who brake down the brazen serpent, when he saw it worshiped, and was therefore praised of God, notwithstanding at the first the same was made and set up by God's commandment, and was not only a remembrance of God's benefits, before received, but also a figure of Christ to come. And not only Hezekias, but also Manasses, and Jehosaphat, and Josias, the best kings that were of the Jews, did pull down images in the time of their reign.
  • Now the nature of man being ever prone to idolatry from the beginning of the world, and the Papists being ready by all means and policy to defend and extol the mass, for their estimation and profit; and the people being superstitiously enamored and doted upon the mass (because they take it for a present remedy against all manners of evils); and part of the princes being blinded by papistical doctrine part loving quietness, and loth to offend their clergy and subjects, and all being captives and subjects to the antichrist of Rome; the state of the world remaining in this case, it is no wonder that abuses grew and increased in the church, that superstition with idolatry were taken for godliness and true religion, and that many things were brought in without the authority of Christ as purgatory, the oblation and sacrificing of Christ by the priest alone; the application and appointing of the same to such persons as the priests would sing or say mass for, and to such abuses, as they could devise; to deliver some from purgatory, and some from hell (if they were not there finally by God determined to abide, as they termed the matter); to hallow and preserve them that went to Jerusalem, to Rome, to St. James in Compostella, and to other places in pilgrimage; for a preservative against tempest and thunder, against perils and dangers of the sea, fora remedy against murrain of cattle, against pensiveness of the heart, and against all manner of affliction and tribulation

Quotes about Thomas Cranmer

  • Thomas Cranmer shaped the Church of England by his life, his death and his writing. Not only his liturgical style, but Cranmer's personal witness and martyrdom have left a profound impress on the Anglican consciousness. No one who has read or heard of how Cranmer, at the stake, put his right hand in the flames saying that the hand that had offended, signing retractions that he did not in his heart believe, should be the first to suffer, can ever forget it.
    • Paul Avis, 'The Book of Common Prayer and Anglicanism: Worship and Belief', in Stephen Platten and Christopher Woods (eds.), Comfortable Words: Polity and Piety and the Book of Common Prayer (2012), p. 148
  • There is little doubt that the Prayer Books are Cranmer's personal legacy to the Church. Though he did not act alone, the final form of the text comes from his own hand.
    • Paul Avis, 'The Book of Common Prayer and Anglicanism: Worship and Belief', in Stephen Platten and Christopher Woods (eds.), Comfortable Words: Polity and Piety and the Book of Common Prayer (2012), p. 148
  • [E]ven those who will not go as far as claiming Cranmerian authorship for the collects outright have agreed that the balance of probability lies very much towards establishing him as the translator of a number of Latin collects of the Sarum rite for the new Prayer Book, and the composer of collects for occasions where no model existed, or where the existing model was not adopted. Otherwise, it becomes very difficult to explain their consistency of style, their economy of expression, and in the case of those that are translations or adaptations of Latin originals, their skilful negotiation between two languages, and their deft adjustments of content to conform to Reformation doctrinal precepts.
    • Bridget Nichols, 'Introduction', to Bridget Nichols (ed.), The Collect in the Churches of the Reformation (2010), pp. 9-10
  • Cranmer was the master, or rather the creator, of English liturgical style, because he had apprehended the nature of worship. To serve the purposes of worship he brought the resources of the scholar: appreciation of the fine composition of liturgical Latin; knowledge of the rules of rhythm and clausula; facility and felicity in translation; a feeling for the meanings of words. With such resources, and moved by a profound religious sincerity, Cranmer made of English a liturgical language comparable with Latin at its best.
    • Edward Craddock Ratcliff, 'The Liturgical Work of Archbishop Cranmer', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 7 (1956), reprinted in E. C. Ratcliff, Liturgical Studies, eds. A. H. Couratin and D. H. Tripp (1976), p. 199
  • "The ink of the scholar", so runs an Arabic proverb, "is of more worth than the blood of the martyr." The proverb is true of Cranmer. In his liturgy he bequeathed to the newly reformed English Church an instrument of worship which was to ensure to it a principle of life, and which also, in its remarkable combination of the traditional with the contemporary, of the old with the new, was to be not the least important factor in imparting to Anglican Christianity its distinctive stamp.
    • Edward Craddock Ratcliff, 'The Liturgical Work of Archbishop Cranmer', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 7 (1956), reprinted in E. C. Ratcliff, Liturgical Studies, eds. A. H. Couratin and D. H. Tripp (1976), p. 199
  • [P]erhaps Cranmer's most remarkable achievement as a liturgist, considering its subsequent influence, was the Order for Morning and for Evening Prayer.
    • Charles Smyth, The Church and the Nation: Six Studies in the Anglican Tradition (1962), p. 55
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