2 July 1489 – Birth of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

Thomas CranmerOn this day in 1489, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I, was born in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England.

Thomas Cranmer is known for:

  • His work on Henry VIII’s Great Matter, the annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
  • His “Ten Articles” which were published in summer 1536 and which defined the beliefs of the new Church of England.
  • Crowning Anne Boleyn
  • His role in the 1549 Act of Uniformity and the Book of Common Prayer
  • Being deprived of his office and being burned at the stake for heresy in 1556 by Mary I
  • Being one of the Oxford Martyrs, along with Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

You can read more about Thomas Cranmer in the following articles:

If you want to know even more about Thomas Cranmer, I’d highly recommend Thomas Cranmer: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch.

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4 thoughts on “2 July 1489 – Birth of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury”
  1. Thomas Cranmer’s is the (unlawful Claire tells us) execution by fire that really gets to me.Don’t know why – his age, his frailty? What I don’t understand is why christians burned heretics. Is it a Biblical law? Is it simply a terrible punishment? Is it a purgation of the spirit through flame? Does anyone actually know? How could men be both humanists and so utterly inhumane?

  2. The idea of heresy in Christianity doesn’t appear until the end of the second century, via Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. It was he who established the idea of the One True Church. Heresy appears to have been the man’s singular obsession; he composed at least five volumes on the subject. Those works made clear that salvation without the Church was impossible. Those who disagreed were to be condemned as heretics and either exiled or preferably executed. His arguments were apparently quite persuasive, as the Emperor Constantine readily agreed to not only the concept of heresy but also the punishment this new crime warranted.

    In the late fourth century, Emperor Theodosious I expanded on Constantine’s law. The new rule was for all true citizens to embrace the title of Catholic and practice only the religion of Catholicism. To break this law was to declare yourself legally insane, with the punishment meted out with “Divine Judgment.” A few decades later, Saint Augustine taught that the “demented” heretic had absolutely no rights or protection under the law. He believed that it was in the best interests of everyone, both the heretic and society at large, to demand the law be compulsory and to do so with “great violence” was justified entirely on Biblical grounds. The text he referred to was the Gospel of Luke, chapter 14, verses 16-23. During Augustine’s lifetime, the laws and punishments for heresy were strengthened greatly. In the sixth century, Emperor Justinian became rather notable for his frequent and severe persecution of heretics, who were forbidden certain jobs (including public office), forbidden free assembly and stripped of citizenship. He was content to banish them for a number of years, but towards the end of his reign his treatment of heretics led Pope Leo to praise him for the use of torture and execution.

    I’m unsure as to when burning became the go – to method of ridding a town of a heretic, who was seen as the equal to a leper. It is known that burning was recommended by Saint Thomas Aquinas as the “truly virtuous” method of execution. If he had a Biblical basis for that belief, I am unaware of it and would be interested in knowing. As I am not a Catholic, I am not as well-versed on the works of the various saints. I am hoping Clare will know the answer to this puzzle.

    But as to your second question…I have no answer. I, like you, cannot fathom how one can believe oneself to be a humanist, and show such intolerance and cruelty to their fellow humans for the crime of disagreeing with you. I don’t think I will ever understand it.

    1. I just realized that my post could be read as making assumptions re: Clare’s religion or beliefs, and I certainly did not intend to be so presumptuous. Please accept my apologies.

  3. Thanks so much Angel Singer for lots of interesting links to follow on this really difficult subject – esp. St. Thomas Aquinas’ ‘truly virtuous’ method of execution (shudder). What happened to Matthew 5:44, “LOVE your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
    Had Queen Mary ‘forgiven’ Cranmer, we would be calling her ‘The Blessed Queen’ and not ‘Bloody Mary’! What a thought!

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