Feb 24, 2023

Thomas Cranmer


Courage and cowardice can exist in the same person. I can attest to it. I alternate between a wimp and a Braveheart. I recognize a similar tendency in Thomas Cranmer (1489-1566), a leader of the Protestant Reformation. He orchestrated the writing of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, still the primary worship resource for Anglican churches. Under pressure from Queen Mary’s henchmen, Cranmer signed a statement renouncing many of the Protestant convictions that had defined his ministry. The queen (Bloody Mary) wanted him dead but first wanted him to announce his recantation publicly. He was led from prison to St. Mary’s Church to deliver his recantation. He carried the script of his approved remarks yet had also tucked a revised speech in the lining of his coat. He began as expected but deviated to read from his revised speech and renounce his earlier recantations, “I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other thing that I ever said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth, which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand [which were] contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, [being] written for fear of death, and to save my life.” He said further if he should be burned at the stake, his right hand would the first to be destroyed, since it had signed his recantation. Then, for good measure, he denounced the pope. His enemies rushed forward, carried him away and burned him at the stake. He offered his right hand to the flames with the words, “the hand hath offended” and prayed at the last, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” It was courage when it counted.  We join together in a prayer of confession from The Book of Common Prayer edited by Cranmer:

Almighty God and most merciful Father, we have erred, and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. O God have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those that are penitent. According to your promises declared to all people through Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, most merciful Father, for his sake; that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life. To the glory of your holy name. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.