Friday, October 15, 2010

Feast Day of Ridley, Cranmer, and Latimer (October 16th)

I have been asked to be a contributor on topics of Anglican moral theology and history on another blog and facebook page. The problem with the new way Facebook is doing its group pages, all the Admins appear to be the same person. As such, I am writing my blurb about the Feast Day of Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, who share a feast day on the Anglican Calendar of Saints for October 16th. I will upload this page to the other Facebook blog page, and we will see how that works, which is why I am posting this a day early.

I have always been somewhat baffled as to why Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer all get crammed into one feast day given their prominence as English Reformers, when we have feast days on the calendar devoted solely to people like Robert Grosseteste and Wulfstan (who I have to look up on their respective days to refresh my memory on). I won't even get into the bizarre gumbo of new saints the Episcopal church is trying to push through buckshot in the Holy Women, Holy Men trial calendar.

I do, perhaps, understand the pairing of Latimer and Ridley, who were colleagues that were both burned at the stake side by side under the Counter-Reformation zealotry of Henry VIII's daughter, Mary I ("Bloody Mary"), when she ascended to the throne of England. Cranmer was burned at the stake about six months later. Ridley was for a time the personal chaplain to Cranmer and then to Henry VIII himself, before becoming a bishop for a time. (See drawing depiction)

Latimer and Ridley made their names as Protestant theologians in Cambridge. They later took positions in Oxford, where they died. I have a few pictures from my time in Cambridge concerning them both. The following is Latimer's pulpit at St. Edward, King and Martyr's parish church in Cambridge. The parish ironically now known for having a Goth Eucharist (I kid you not. I went once just to see what the hoo-hah was about, and it was truly bizarre. Copious amounts of incense in the dark with a guy in a leather cassock walking about. It was like Taize gone horribly wrong.)


Ridley was known to preach at St. Mary's the Greater, which is right across the courtyard from the famed King's College-Cambridge. That church is seen here:
(There is also a Little St. Mary's in Cambridge, which is higher than the Pope's ear liturgically is where I attended when I was there, about 4 blocks south on Trumpington. Little St. Mary's is where George Washington's grandfather was vicar in the early 1700's, and he still lies in the churchyard.)

Ridley was known as quite the theological liberal at the time, being loudly Protestant. Ironically, the other Anglican seminary in Cambridge (I attended Westcott House) is known as Ridley Hall, and is now known as the conservative, "happy clappy" Evangelical Anglican seminary. I believe the Ridley draft of the current Anglican Covenant originated at Ridley Hall. I can only guess what Ridley thinks of all that.

Latimer and Ridley are probably most famously known for what Latimer is claimed to have said to Ridley as they were being tied to the stake, ""Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out." With the Church of England in membership free fall and all the travails going on currently in the Church of England and with the rise of militant secularism in England, I sometimes wonder if Latimer got it wrong. I hope not, but the jolly old C of E could certainly use a revival. 


Thomas Cranmer on the other hand is a hard character to gauge historically. Cranmer was, of course, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, and largely Henry VIII's rubber stamp. Henry VIII died in 1547. Henry VIII was actually quite conservative theologically and liturgically in his own weird way. In fact, when Henry VIII died, if you went to church most anywhere in England on the Sunday thereafter, you would have seen a medieval Latin mass. The only difference being that somewhere in the church there was suppose to be an English bible chained to a wall or desk somewhere for people to read if they wished. The first prayerbook by Cranmer didn't come out until 1549, and then another even more Protestant edition came out in 1552. 


So, it is historically unclear what Cranmer actually believed theologically on some of the burning theological questions of the Reformation, particularly the Eucharist and justification, etc. Obviously, he was Protestant of some sort, but he had to, probably for political reasons, always play his cards close to his vest. His first prayerbook was quite catholic in theology and liturgy. The second, known as the Edwardian prayerbook, was much more Protestant because King Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) had been raised as a staunch Protestant of the almost Calvinist model. One could argue that Cranmer's second prayerbook was catering to the whim of the monarch (as was Cranmer's wont) and not actually his own personal theological views. Was he more Catholic, or was he more European style Protestant? I am not even sure if he knew precisely. 


During his imprisonment by Mary I, he even recanted most of his Protestant beliefs at the end, only to recant his recantation at the very, very end, claiming he died as a Protestant at the stake, proclaiming,  "I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." Twisted historical irony gave Cranmer his wish, if you care to read the accounts of his burning. 


Cranmer was a genius at language and translation and liturgy. He largely came up with the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, much of his original wording is still in our current prayer book, slightly modernized to current English usage. (Although Rome will never admit this, the Vatican is releasing a new translation of the Roman Mass that I think will go into general usage in the US around Advent of next year. The new translation is supposedly closer to the original Latin. If you compare it to the language that Cranmer translated into English the first prayerbook almost 500 years ago, the text of the canon of mass is nearly identical.) Anglicans familiar with such things as the Post Communion Prayer or the Collect for Purity and quite a few of the Sunday collects are familiar with Cranmer's liturgical work, as he wrote all of those pretty much on his own or by combining various Latin texts. We largely know Cranmer's theology through the language of the Book of Common Prayer, as he didn't write copious amounts of actual theological discourses. 


The fact that we still worship from a Book of Common Prayer is testament to Cranmer's genius. At the very least, Cranmer believed that worship should be done in common and by normal, everyday people, not just the "professionals," i.e. monks, nuns, and priests. The fact is that the historical riches of the Anglican way are largely because of the things that Latimer and Ridley and Cranmer set in motion for future generations to build upon. So, let us give thanks on the feast day of Ridley, Cranmer, and Latimer, that we gave examples "constant in faith and zealous in witness," and that, "like your servants, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

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