Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I thank God for Thomas Cranmer

Yesterday was the day we Protestants remembered one of our favoured saints. No, wait, that doesn't read quite right.

Yesterday was the day we Catholic [Anglicans] remembered one of our favourite Protestant saints. Also, no, wait, that doesn't read quite right.

Let's try again. The middle way. Yesterday was the anniversary of Thomas Cranmer's death.

I thank God for Thomas Cranmer.

There are many things we can name about TC with thankfulness: his example, his humility, his ability, his survivability (until that fateful day).

But perhaps one thing stands out with Thomas Cranmer: he had a way with words. Wordsmith. Poet. Liturgist. He did things with words which few have done. Namely, written words which have been used, said, cited, repeated, and, still, in the face of updates and revisions, used, said, cited, and repeated for nearly 500 years.

Here is C. S. Lewis on Cranmer:

First he notes:
"Thomas Cranmer's great achievements as a translator are sunk in the corporate anonymity of the Book of Common Prayer." 
Secondly he observes his deficiency, apart from the Prayer Book achievement:
"the finished product, except in the Prayer Book, is so severely utilitarian that we might not have suspected any conscious concern for style in the author." 
Thirdly he highlights his clarity:
[Writing about his Homilies] "They aim neither at subtlety nor eloquence. Cranmer's only concern is to state an agreed doctrine with the least possibility of misunderstanding ... there is hardly a single sentence that leaves us in doubt of its meaning."
[pp. 194-95, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (OUP, 1954)]

So Cranmer gave expression to the newly reformed faith of the Church in England as it became the Church of England. Expression through liturgy. Exposition through doctrine. Memorable words, clear sentences.

What is our faith as Christians if not a matter of words, words which tell the truth, words which proclaim good news. Words which tell us both how we might live and what we might die for, without regret or being in vain.

Cranmer gave us Anglicans the words we needed to express our distinctive faith even as that faith was continuous with the faith received through Scripture and the ancient fathers.

I thank God for Thomas Cranmer!


Anonymous said...

Not sure Cranmer was a poet, if by poet you mean someone who can write good poetry. The ability to strike out poetic images or to write rhythmical prose doesn't make you a poet - writing poems does. Are there any convincing Cranmerian examples?
C S Lewis is another who produces some beautiful imaginative passages in his prose (see Out of the Silent Planet for some of the descriptive writing) but whose pen turns into a stun gun when it comes to poetry.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
Fair point! I am using the word "poet" in the sense that Cranmer cared for words, wrote with cadence and rhythm, and expressed himself beautifully, in a way that would not be done justice if we called him a master of prose. I am particularly thinking of his ability in writing prayers when using the word "poet" but I am not aware of his writing any "poems."

Bryden Black said...

whose pen turns into a stun gun when it comes to poetry - Rhys

Now; there's a spray from a Sten Gun

Father Ron said...

Did any of you Evangelicals remember Cranmer's Prayer Book with a Celebration of the BCP Eucharist? We did, at SMAA, on his day in our N.Z. lectionary.