Cranmer’s stress in this Collect is a major aspect of his thinking about Holy Scripture, namely its utterly vital importance as a touchstone of truth and wisdom as well as its unique usefulness as a means of grace. Here those who came to worship in the Reformed Church of England were being invited to learn the Bible and meditate on its life-giving riches that they might derive from this meditative reading the patience and comfort, i.e. strength, to embrace God’s salvation in Christ.
As a Calvinistic Baptist I owe a significant debt to early Anglicanism. My seventeenth-century forebears learned much of their Reformed theology from Reformed ministers in the Church of England and it was in the heart of that body that they were nurtured on the spirituality of the Reformation. And in the earliest days of that state Church no figure exercised as great an influence as Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), the first Reformed Archbishop of Canterbury.
Kenneth Brownell, an American who is pastoring in London, England, has argued that Thomas Cranmer’s influence on the English-speaking Protestant world has been greater than any other figure except his contemporary John Knox (c.1513–1572), and the eighteenth-century preachers George Whitefield (1714–1770), John Wesley (1703–1791) and Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). “Few men,” Brownell writes, “did more to shape English Protestant spirituality and to drive into the soul of a nation the fundamentals of Protestant Christianity.”
The Reformed Archbishop
Cranmer was born on July 2, 1489. His early schooling was not entirely satisfactory, but that did not prevent him from entering Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1503 at the age of 14. Here Cranmer was in his element. He was, as Brownell reminds us, “fundamentally an academic.” Or as Geoffrey W. Bromiley has put it: “To look at Cranmer is to see first the face of a scholar.” He became one of the most learned men of his age. His reading knowledge of foreign languages, both ancient and modern, included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as French, Italian and German. In 1510 or 1511 Cranmer was elected a Fellow of Jesus College after having taken his B.A. degree there. And it was around 1520 that he became a priest.
Evangelical Christianity came to Cambridge around the very time that he became a priest. During the early 1520s the Protestant cause was centred around meetings at the White Horse Inn in Cambridge led by such figures as Robert Barnes (c.1495–1540) and Thomas Bilney (c.1495–1531), both of whom died as martyrs. But there is no evidence at all to place Cranmer among this group of early Reformers. In 1532 Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
Cranmer served Henry VIII faithfully as his Archbishop. He was a strong supporter of royal supremacy throughout his career. “He believed,” in the words of historian Jasper Ridley, “that his primary duty as a Christian was to strengthen the power of the King.” Disobedience to a royal command was only permissible if carrying out the command involved a violation of one of God’s laws. His view of church government was thus thoroughly Erastian. By the mid-1530s, though, Cranmer had become an Evangelical in his sympathies.
The last years of Henry’s reign—Henry died early in 1547—were a see-saw battle between the traditionalists and Evangelicals. But when Henry died in 1547, he left the Evangelicals, especially in the person of Edward Seymour (1500–1552), the Duke of Somerset, the uncle of his son, the future King Edward VI (1537–1553), in an unassailable position to take over the reins of government.