This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 21 -- Feast of Saint Thomas Cranmer

Cranmer on The Tudors
I'm wandering far from my Papist flock with this one.  Sorry, guys. Or rather, mea culpa.  I'll get back in line soon.

Even when I try to be positive about the sainthood of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, I find it problematic.  Cranmer is a deal-maker, and at times an oath-breaker.  They were perilous times he lived in, and he rode the waves as best he could.  That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of one's nomination for canonization, but honesty comes first. 

Cranmer came to the attention of King Henry VIII due to his belief that the King's first marriage violated the commandment against marrying one's brother's widow.  A papal dispensation for Young Hank's marriage was insufficient for an ambitious priest like Cranmer.  He was a junior staffer in the delegation that went to Rome to argue for an annulment; when that failed, his arguments on the subject helped build the case for the Anglican separation from the Roman Catholic Church. 

No bees in this smiley fella's biretta
Of course, marriage law in particular was bee in his biretta throughout his life.  In 1522, Cranmer was expelled from Jesus College, Cambridge, where he had been studying to become a priest.  His offense?  He had secretly married the tavernkeeper's daughter, Joan.  Since priests have vows of celibacy, he seemed to have jumped career tracks without telling his academic adviser. The fact that he had been ordained a priest two years prior to getting married did not appear to be as big a deal to him as it did to everyone else.   Joan's death the following year during childbirth allowed him to go back to school and finish his Doctorate of Divinity. 

How did that handsome devil become this guy?
In 1531, Father Cranmer was sent to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor as a trade representative.  Once again, he got secretly married.  I guess the best you can say about a priest like him is that he married the girls, at least. 

A year later, the Archbishop of Canterbury (William Warham) died and the Boleyn clan, eager to get Anne married to Henry, pushed for Cranmer's appointment.  Henry was happy to oblige his beloved Anne and even paid the costs of the papal bull announcing the appointment.  Thomas Cranmer had never even ministered to a parish and now he was in charge of the whole English Church.  Henry and Anne were married in secret by someone else, but the new Archbishop attended to the legalities of both the divorce and the wedding.  Further, he baptized Anne's daughter Elizabeth and served as her godfather.  And yet when Fat Hank trumped up some charges against Queen Anne and ordered her head lopped off, Cranmer said nothing and did less. 

Eventually all this caught up with him.  The news about his wife and children made the rounds, but as the King was the Head of the Church, he had cover for a little while.  Eventually, Mary Tudor made it to the throne.  As the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Hank's first wife, she had an axe of her own that needed grinding.  The Roman Church was invited back into England and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was stripped of his office, clapped into prison, and eventually burned at the stake.  He is said to have recanted his Protestantism in prison, but when he got to the pulpit for a public recantation, he called the Pope "Christ's enemy" and "the Anti-Christ." 

I'll give him two things at least.  First, he had guts enough to pull a Barlaam when he got to the fire.  He put his right hand in and burned it to a stump to show his resolution.  Second, he compiled the Book of Common Prayer while he was still archbishop.  Given who else is in this canon (hagiomajor, not the Anglican list of saints), that last point alone is enough for a spot here. 

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