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Bitesize Biography – Thomas Cranmer

By Colin Hamer
August 2012 | Review by Stuart Fisher

Synopsis

Thomas Cranmer, one of the Reformation's most famous martyrs, can accurately be described as the architect of the Church of England, and consequently, of the worldwide Anglican communion. Despite this, compared with other key figures of the Reformation, little has been written about him in recent years. This omission is both remarkable and understandable: remarkable, because undoubtedly Crammer's involvement in England's break with the historic Roman Church was crucial - a break which formed the foundation for the freedom of the gospel in England for the next 450 years; understandable, because his was no dramatic conversion loved by story tellers - rather he undertook a life-time journey away from the Roman sacramental system to an understanding that heaven was the gift of God to all those whom he loves. And, despite the fact that we are all fallen men and women, we so often want to see our heroes as giants, able to cope with every situation life throws at them without faltering - Cranmer was not such a man. This book looks to assess his life from the perspective of a 21st century evangelical Christian - that is someone who accepts the Bible as the final authority on what God requires of men and women in this life. It is a term that Cranmer, as he neared his famous, dreadful, and glorious end, would have been happy to have applied to himself.

  • Publisher: Evangelical Press
  • ISBN: 978-0-85234-773-7
  • Pages: 128
  • Price: 5.99
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Book Review

Bitesize Biography – Thomas Cranmer
Colin Hamer
Evangelical Press
128, £5.99
ISBN: 978-0-85234-773-7
Star Rating: ***

Colin Hamer has done a great service to the Christian public in making this book available. It is part of the excellent series, ‘Bitesize Biographies’. Little is available on the life of Cranmer, apart from Jasper Ridley’s rather dated biography and the magisterial but distinctly academic classic by Mac Culloch. The author freely draws from this book producing a biography that is bite size, readable and accessible to a wider public.

This book helpfully outlines the life and work of Cranmer, the first truly protestant Archbishop, and his contribution to the English Reformation. Cranmer occupied a unique place being referred to as the architect of the Church of England. It has, however, often been a criticism levelled at Crammer that he compromised and prevaricated when crucial decisions were needed. It is for this reason that he has often been sidelined in the role call of great Reformation heroes. Whilst there is an element of truth in this charge, his importance to the transformation in the English Church cannot be overlooked or minimised.

While writing in a warm and sympathetic way about his subject the author also brings out his clear weaknesses. The result is a balanced and helpful portrait of Cranmer and his times. Understanding his times may be a second reason why Cranmer is so little appreciated. Working with the most difficult boss imaginable, King Henry XVIII, Crammer was able to drive through a series of negotiated reforms without antagonising his capricious master and quite literally losing his head. Even to the end at the king’s death bed there was warmth in their relationship. Cranmer may have been just the right man for the job. A stronger more fiercely principled man may have antagonised the king beyond repair, a weaker man too submissive. Even so this was a man who worked tirelessly, slowly growing in his understanding of the faith and who in the end sealed his blood with the ultimate sacrifice at the stake.

In this study the man Cranmer, warts and all is brought to life and the complicated religious/ political landscape is explored by a skilful guide. For those unfamiliar with the period it is at times hard work, but perseverance will bring its fruit. It is a vital period of history that every Christian should attempt to be familiar with and the study of this little book would be a good starting place.

 

 

Stuart Fisher  Bournemouth

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