Thomas Cranmer Essay - Critical Essays

Diarmaid MacCulloch

Thomas Cranmer

The history of the Reformation in England could be seen as the extended story of the willful squabbling of the Tudor family. In a simplistic retelling we have Henry VIII leading his nation out of the Catholic Church to obtain a divorce; his son, Edward VI, piously carrying the Reformation even further; Mary, Henry’s daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, determined to return the island kingdom to the faith of Rome; and finally Elizabeth, Henry’s second daughter by the second of his six wives, restoring a sort of stability after this period of confusion.

This simplistic story leaves out many of the more interesting and influential figures of the Tudor age, among them Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and chief architect of the Church of England. Long remembered mainly as a martyr to the Protestant cause, Cranmer was a towering figure of his time. He was largely responsible for the strategy which finally won Henry his divorce from Catherine and it was under his guidance that the English church began to find a middle way between the extremes of the continental Protestant Reformation and the reaction of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. His story is an important one and Diarmaid MacCulloch tells it well.

As MacCulloch notes in his extensive biography, among Cranmer’s most lasting contributions were his words. A master of English prose, Cranmer’s BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER (1549) helped shape the development of literary style in English, just as his knowledge of theology and abiding faith helped determine the course of English religious life. Today, those of other denominations, even other faiths, still feel the influence of this English cleric of centuries past.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Century. CXIII, December 11, 1996, p. 1231.

New Statesman and Society. IX, June 14, 1996, p. 46.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, December 15, 1996, p. 7.

The Spectator. CCLXXVI, May 18, 1996, p. 38.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 24, 1996, p. 3.

The Wall Street Journal. September 12, 1996, p. A12.