12 September 1555 A.D. ST. MARY’S, OXFORD: Cranmer’s Trial Begins
A few of our musings drawn from Bromiley, G.W. Thomas Cranmer: Archbishop and Martyr, pp.102ff. London: Church Book Room Press, 1956.Cranmer’s Trial.
There would be lengthy proceedings against Thomas Cranmer in the the month to come, 1 and 16 Oct 1555. All in due time. Latimer and Ridley would be tried on 1 Oct 1556 and flamed 16 Oct 1555.To date, Cranmer still had the “pallium,” the symbol of Papal authority. By the end of it all, he’d, of course, lose that as well as the other Romanist vestments, more symbols of this-that-the-other to authorities of this-that-the-other.
During the trial, Cranmer would remark: (1) “I have been done with all that gear for a long time” and (2) “They were all made over in Cheapside.” But, authority was imputed to the vestments, then like now for Tractarians. Vestments have always been a big deal for the romantic aesthetes and Tractarians. But, we digress momentarily.Cranmer was to be tried “by the Papacy itself.” By turns, the Crown turned him over to the Pope, the Pope turned Cranmer over to his Prefect, the Prefect turned Cranmer over to other bishops and, in time, after the official convictions, the Churchmen would hand Cranmer back to the civil authorities so Cranmer could be flamed.
(1) The Sovereigns, Mary 1 and Philip 1, initiated the proceedings “in the Papal courts.”
(2) The Pope himself delegated his own authority to the “Prefect of the Inquisition.”
(3) The Prefect, according to his turn, put the matter in the hands of the bishop of Gloucester, the Dean of St. Paul’s, and the Archdeacon of Canterbury.
(4) We insert the following. Obviously, there had been some personnel swaps to the episcopal bench and leadership positions since Mary’s enthronement—e.g. Bishop Bonner (fresh from his 4 years in jail under Cranmer) replaced Bishop Ridley in London, Bishop Brooks replaced Bishop Hooper in Gloucester, etc. This inquiry needs expansion and documentation. Meanwhile, 100s of English Reformed Churchmen, including Bishops, e.g. Guest and Coverdale, had fled to the Continent. But, under Mary, there were new episcopal sheriffs in town.
(5) One notable swap is the new Archdeacon of Canterbury. Under Thomas Cranmer, Tom’s brother, John Cranmer was the Archdeacon of Canterbury. Prof. Bromiley does not name the new Archdeacon, but it is hardly conceivable that John participated in the trial of his brother, Thomas. On information and belief, we believe John Cranmer fled to the Continent (at his brother’s suggestion since he’d advised others to flee), survived the Marian reign, saw his brother’s reforms reinstituted (largely), and may have been in Geneva. We believe John died on the Continent. These details need further documentation.
(6) Bishop Brooks of Gloucester (Hooper's old diocese) arrived in/at Oxford in early September 1555.
(7) Laughably, Bishop Brooks cited a summons for Thomas Cranmer to appear in Rome within 80 days. Yet, this was “farcical” since he was not allowed to go and was held in the Bocardo Prison. A mere technicality, as it were, although this added to the show—the charge of contumacy.
(8) On 12 September 1555, Brooks opened the case at St. Mary’s, Oxford.(9) Cranmer refused to recognize the Pope’s delegate and indicated he would only reply only to Mary 1’s proctors, Marty and Story. That implied an acceptance of the Royal proctors, but not the Roman ones. It was a shot at Papal powers.
(10) There were three charges. First, the charge of adultery (violated his vow of celibacy). Secondly, the charge of perjury (renunciation of a vow of obedience to the Papacy). Thirdly, the charge of heresy (denial of transubstantiation). The heart of the attack was Cranmer’s “rejection of Papal Supremacy.”
Cranmer was “obviously guilty” on Romanist assumptions. On Romanist assumptions, the proctors handily won.
For Cranmer, the “medieval law of celibacy had no validity.” Churchmen could marry. Tom had married two times.
For Cranmer, transubstantiation (and the Lutheran view of ubiquitarianism) had no “scriptural or patristic foundation.” After all, he’d written A Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Our Savior Christ: With a Confutation of Sundry Errors ... Approved by the Consent of the Most Ancient Fathers (available at: http://www.amazon.com/Defence-Catholic-Doctrine-Sacrament-Savior/dp/1592447775/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442060877&sr=8-1&keywords=thomas+cranmer+catholic+doctrine.) Further, he and Ridley had inserted the “Black Rubric” in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer was merely defending a position that took him years to settle.
For Cranmer, the oath to the Papacy was an invalid one. Therefore, there was no validity to the charges of adultery and perjury charge.On these issues, Prof. Bromiley does not like Dr. Dean’s perspective. Bromiley sees a “sinister ring” to Deane’s claim that Cranmer’s “case was vulnerable enough from a forensic standpoint” (Deane, 229). Deane—rather shallowly—believes there may have been one legitimate complaint: the oath of obedience to the Pope.
We would insert the following as a matter of logic. If one take a vow to unlawfully kill his neighbor, that vow should and must be broken. There are times when some vows should be broken. Hence, Deane’s complaint is problematic.Also, countervailingly, had not Bishop Brooks of Gloucester, the man now conducting the trial, also taken a similar oath to Henry VIII as Supreme Head? Or, what of Stephen Gardiner and others, supporters of Romanist dogma but without Papal oversight in England? Didn’t these Romanists break their vows too? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. More work is need in evaluating the Bromiley v. Dean analyses of the trial.
Bishop Brooks submitted the “findings to Rome for the Pope himself to decide.” Meanwhile, Cranmer went back to Bocardo Prison, but was “not idle.” He made a bold appeal to Mary 1 (PS, II, 447-454). Cramer used the Royal Supremacy (e.g. Henry, Edwardian oaths of allegiance) in his own defense. He demonstrated that “national sovereignty and Papal Supremacy were irreconcilable.” Papal Supremacy was “without any justification in Scripture.” As expected, this won’t be influential with Mary or her supporters.
Prof. Bromiley offers an historical aside. In time, over decades and centuries, “one after another, even the Roman Catholic countries, have had to repudiate the open, practical and judicial authority of the Papacy.” One might think of the American Revolution or the French Revolution. Yet, on Bromiley’s view, it is “none the less serious now that it is concealed.” The fundamental impulse of Romanism since these days (and before) was been imperialism and domination.
But, in 1555, the “fanatical Queen”—to use Bromiley’s terms—could not see this. And, she did not foresee this historical development of the separation of church and state. But, we see a seminal idea in Cranmer’s thinking while using the Bible to support it (something of a reverse from his Henrician and Edwardian days).
For Cranmer, an “incompatible allegiance” made the charge of “perjury an empty one.” This is overlooked by Cranmer critics who “make sport of his loyalty oath at a time when he was obviously violating another” (Deane, 231). Cranmer was aware of the dilemma. Cranmer wanted the “right” authority. Cranmer was committed “wholeheartedly” to national sovereignty with Scriptural bases in the OT, NT and Romans 13. What was good at one time, was now bad at this time.
As for the Lord’s Supper debate, it was the “Scriptures but also the early Church.” It is noteworthy that Cranmer was a Reformed Churchman here. If proven otherwise, he affirmed: “I never was not will be so perverse to stand willfully in mine own opinion” (PS, II, 453-454).
Cranmer’s last short letter to Mary from the prison: “I am kept here from company of learned men, from books, from counsel, from pen and ink.” That’s agony for a scholarly man like Cranmer. Tyndale suffered similarly during his imprisonment in Belgium—no books, ink or paper.In about 34 days to come, Latimer and Ridley will be reduced to ashes (16 Oct 1555). Pity poor Cranmer will be forced to watch the burnings from the top of the Bocardo Prison.
Cranmer will be forced to undergo future humiliations, degradiations and then death on 21 Mar 1556, some five months later.
But, for now, we remember 12 September 1555 A.D., the day the Oxford trials began at St. Mary’s.