Why Cranmer Would Have Approved of The Oxford Martyrs’ Memorial

May 18, 2018 by

by Julian Mann, VOL:

How many British national newspaper journalists apart from Peter Hitchens would be willing and able to write so knowledgeably about the sixteenth-century Protestant martyrs burned at the stake in Oxford? Surely not very many.

Mr Hitchens’s highly educative piece about the English Protestant martyrs in First Things, the magazine for the New York-based Institute on Religion and Public Life, certainly achieved its purpose. It showed the moral difference between the Protestant Christians martyred under Mary Tudor and the Jesuit fanatics executed for high treason under Elizabeth Tudor. But his portrayal of the conduct in the fire of persecution of respectively Bishop Hugh Latimer, burnt at the stake in 1555, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, burnt in 1556, calls for a rejoinder for the sake of a more complete picture of the Church of England’s theology as expressed in its historic formularies, namely its 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal and 39 Articles of Religion.

Stylishly as usual, Orwell Prize winner Mr Hitchens wrote: ‘I usually salute the actual site of the burnings as I pass (bicycling in Oxford), though mainly in memory of Thomas Cranmer, rather more to my liking than Latimer or Ridley, because he really wasn’t very brave. Cranmer had been made to watch the deaths of his old friends, so he knew exactly what to expect and fear. He was reduced to ashes in the same place (then a bleak and squalid ditch) some time later. He had weakly recanted, then found out that Queen Mary wanted him burned to death anyway. She had not forgiven Cranmer’s part in annulling her mother’s marriage and making her illegitimate in the eyes of the law. Faced with this act of spite, this political, equivocal old cleric at last found his courage. I find Cranmer’s hesitant and initially cowardly response to persecution and threats much easier to sympathize with than Latimer’s self-assured militancy.’

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