New Oxford Review: ”
Thomas Cranmer: Archbishop of Canterbury, charter member of the Church of England, chief author of the elegantly written Book of Common Prayer, and ringmaster of Henry VIII’s marital three-ring circus; convicted of treason but spared by the new Catholic queen so she could try him for heresy; burned at the stake in 1556. Some have called him a hero, some a villain.
After Henry VIII’s death and the crowning of the boy Edward VI in 1547, Cranmer was one of the overseers of what Diarmaid MacCulloch calls a religious revolution of ruthless thoroughness which was designed to destroy one Church and build another. And yet, as MacCulloch emphasizes, the church we have come to know as Anglican was not at all what Cranmer had in mind, if by Anglican we mean a via media between Protestantism and Catholicism: Cranmer would have violently rejected such a notion: how could one have a middle way between truth and Antichrist?
MacCulloch has written a readable and compelling life of this controversial figure in the crooked and ambiguous English Reformation. MacCulloch is a Lecturer in Church History at Oxford and an ordained deacon of the Church of England (who informs his readers that he retains a wary affection for the Church of England which has shaped my own identity). Having uncovered a number of new facts about Cranmer’s career and thought, he has concluded that those who told the hero-narrative generally distorted fewer elements of the evidence than those who told the villain-narrative and he acknowledges his admiration for the way in which [Cranmer] struggled to a final gesture of certainty in his last hour.”