An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Cranmer, Thomas

(July 2, 1489-Mar. 21, 1556). First Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Reformation. He was born in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England. Cranmer received his B.A. from Jesus College, Cambridge University, in 1511. In 1520 he was ordained priest and selected as one of the university preachers. Around 1521 he began to be influenced by Lutheran ideas and became antipapal. When King Henry VIII was seeking the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Cranmer suggested that the king refer the issue to the professors at the universities. Henry was impressed with this idea. In 1531 Cranmer was named ambassador to the imperial court of Charles V with the task of making contact with the German Lutherans and getting their support for the annulment. While in Germany he met the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander and married Osiander's niece, Margaret. Henry named Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope Clement VII consented. Cranmer was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on Mar. 30, 1533. One of Cranmer's first official acts came on May 25, 1533, when he formally stated that Henry's marriage to Catherine was null and void. As archbishop he was the author of the first Anglican Prayer Book (1549). He was the leader in moderate doctrinal reform as expressed in the Ten Articles of 1536 and the Bishops' Book of 1537. Under King Edward VI (1547-1553), he continued as a leader of the Reformation. With the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, Cranmer's Protestant policies fell into disfavor. On Nov. 13, 1553, he was deprived of his office as archbishop. In 1556 he was accused of high treason and handed over to the state for execution. He recanted, but the prospect of death restored both his faith and his dignity. He renounced his recantation and reaffirmed his opposition to papal power and the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the stake he steadfastly held his right hand in the fire until it was consumed. He did this because his right hand “had offended” by signing the recantation. The BCP of 1549, revised in 1552, stands as the greatest achievement of his genius. Cranmer is commemorated along with Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on Oct. 16.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.