In the early-to-mid 1500s, Thomas Cranmer was the personal chaplain to King Henry VIII and the archbishop of Canterbury, the highest position in the Church of England. At a time when Protestantism was being celebrated and embraced in England, Cranmer was a political and spiritual ally. Cranmer was instrumental in England’s rejection of papal rule and in getting William Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible placed in every church.
Though chained to the pulpit, the Bible was available for anyone to come and read God’s word in their own language.
Cranmer was such a friend to the Reformation that he tried to assure that a Protestant would take the crown after the death of King Henry VIII and his young and sickly son, Edward VI. Cranmer endorsed Lady Jane Grey (the young nine-day queen), but her half-sister Mary was crowned instead.
Bloody Mary, as she has become known, wanted to reverse all of the Reformation strides that had taken place in England. She was especially angry with those who had defiantly acted against her and her mother, Catherine.
Cranmer and many others were arrested and urged to profess themselves once again faithful children of the Roman Catholic Church. After much ridicule and suffering, Cranmer wrote letters that recanted (gave up) his Protestant faith. In spite of his humiliation, Queen Mary still wanted him to die for his previous words and actions.
On the day of his execution (he was to be tied to a pole and burned alive), Cranmer was allowed to address the crowd. Since he had already renounced his Protestant faith, what he said was a great surprise to all.
Cranmer said, “Now I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other… in my life… I wrote things against the truth, because I was afraid I would be killed. I now here renounce and refuse these things as written with my hand contrary to the truth which I believed in my heart… My hand has offended in writing contrary to my heart; therefore, my hand shall be burned first.”
Echoing the words of Stephen (the biblical martyr) in the book of Acts, Cranmer said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” On March 21, 1556, at the age of 67, Thomas Cranmer was burned alive as an enemy to the crown and the Roman Catholic Church.
Cranmer reminds us that we too may serve Christ with a less-than-perfect witness. But, we may all decide this day to serve Him well.
God help us all to live for His glory, and may He make us all faithful servants to the end.