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REVIEW OF THE LIFE OF CRANMER. The Life of Archbishop Cranmer. By Charles W. La Bas, M. A., professor in the East India College, Herts, and late fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. In two volumes, 18mo.
Every thing connected with that convulsive'struggle which terminated in the prostration of the pope's supremacy, and the establishment of the Protestant doctrine, excites a deep and lively interest in the minds of all the friends of civil and religious rites and privileges. Even the low murmurings which preceded that event are heard with a sort of sorrowful delight. When we read of the bold attempts of such choice spirits as Huss and Jerome, to emancipate their countrymen from their civil and spiritual thraldom, we instinctively tremble for their fate; but when we follow them to the prison in which they were perfidiously incarcerated, and learn their final doom, our indignation is roused against the inhuman wretchès who would be guilty of such acts of treachery and cruelty; and we cannot but wish success to a cause so righteous in itself, so beneficial to mankind in its results, and which called forth such recklessness of the principles of justice and humanity to suppress it. It is not possible, indeed, to read the history of those eventful times, without feeling the excitement of indignation against those merciless tyrants who violated their plighted faith to defeat the efforts of these godly men who were instrumental in sowing the seeds of the reformation. And while we look with abhorrence at those who thus smote their fellows because they dissented from them in matters of faith, our sympathies are instinctively awakened in behalf of the righteous sufferers themselves, and the cause in which they labored, bled, and died. Their example teaches us how to live, and how to quench the fiery darts of the enemy. Hence a faithful account of their sufferings, is among the most instructive records which are bequeathed to us. And among those who contributed largely to secure to us the blessings of religious liberty, stands pre-eminently the archbishop of Canterbury.
In his life we have, in general, an exemplification of all those Christian virtues which distinguish the well informed and energetic Christian—while in the life and conduct of his enemies we have, in dark and solemn contrast, all the hateful features of human nature,
Vol. VII.-- January, 1836. A
exhibiting themselves in the most condemnable forms, against truth, against God and his Church, and against his pious followers. It is true that in the archbishop we shall discover some spots of human infirmity, some dark clouds of error, which lead us to lament that human nature cannot be more perfect, that the judgment is always liable to err, and that the light of truth rises gradually upon the mind and upon the world.
But whatever of human infirmity may be discoverable in the conduct of Cranmer, the general virtues of his character, the amenity of his disposition, the dignity of his deportment, and his ardent attachment to truth, when contrasted with the intriguing, the haughty, the cruel, and the refined wickedness of his enemies, set him off to the greatest advantage, and make him appear as one of the brightest luminaries of the age in which he lived. Whenever, therefore, we praise God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, we should remember that Archbishop Cranmer was one of those honored in. struments whom God employed for its achievement. Though long since dead, he yet speaketh.
From the volumes before us, we shall endeavor to present our readers with such an outline of his character, and of those important transactions in which he was engaged, as may enable them to form a proper estimate of his worth, and to appreciate the value of those virtuous exertions which rendered him so eminently useful in his day and generation.
It appears that Thomas CRANMER was born at the village of Astarton, Nottingham county, England, July 2, 1489—and that his lineage may be traced to a follower of William III., the celebrated Norman conqueror. Though he lost his father early in life, at the age of fourteen he was placed by his mother at Jesus College, Cambridge, of which he was elected fellow in 1510 or 1511. The course of study prescribed in the college at that time, though it might be defective in imbuing the mind with the most useful branches of knowledge, was nevertheless calculated to habituate the intellect to close thought, to sharpen the faculties, and to prepare him in after life for supplanting the dominion which the schoolmen so long and so injuriously exercised over the department of theology.
Before he attained the age of twenty-three he married, which of course obliged him to relinquish the emoluments of his fellowship. Losing, however, his wife in about one year after his marriage, the widower was generously restored to his forfeited fellowship, and thus reinstated to the privilege of continuing his theological studies without interruption. This circumstance shows the high estimation in which Cranmer was held by the rulers of the college, as nothing but the most liberal construction of its statutes could have placed a widower on the list of its fellows. In 1523 he received the degree of doctor of divinity, being only thirty-four years of age. “Soon after which," says his biographer,
" He was appointed to the divinity-lectureship in his own college, and, in the university, to that of public examiner in theology. The latter of these offices demanded of him no ordinary exercise of integrity. He had then been long devoted to the study of the sacred volume; and his attention to it was sufficiently notorious to acquire for him the truly honorable, though at that time somewhat invidious, appellation of scripturist. The justice with which this title was ascribed to him was, much to their dissatisfaction, frequently experienced by those who were desirous of proceeding in divinity. Whatever might be their accomplishments in the scholastic erudition, it never was accepted by Cranmer as a passport to their degree, if not accompanied by a competent knowledge of the Bible. The candidate, in such cases, was uniformly rejected by him, and admonished to dedicate some years to the examination of that book which alone could instruct him in the grounds of his faith and hope. The resentment excited by his inflexible adherence to this great principle, it may easily be imagined, was often deep and violent; more especially among the friars. But the wisdom of it was, in many instances, abundantly justified by the grateful testimony of the disappointed candidates themselves, several of whom were known, in after life, to express their cordial thanks for the firmness which compelled them to the attainment of a better knowledge than the schools could teach them."
It has been often very justly remarked, that individuals who have become eminent in society have owed their elevation more to the force of circumstances beyond their own control than to any remarkable genius which they possessed, or to any ambitious design to push themselves into notoriety. This is unquestionably true of every good man. He is so far from wishing to court the public gaze, or to raise himself upon the pinnacle of fame, that he seeks rather to hide himself from observation, and shrinks from that sort of notoriety which exposes him to the eye of a scrutinizing multitude. It should be remarked, how. ever, that those circumstances which contribute to the elevation of an individual from the vale of obscurity, must find a suitable object to operate upon. To improve an opportunity, or to take advantage of occurring circumstances, requires that maturity of judgment and promptness of action which can be found only among men of strong intellectual powers and of industrious habits. Added to these qualifications there must be an intense desire to acquire and to do good, to enable a man to turn every thing to the best account, to make it subserve the interests of truth and righteousness.
A novice cannot seize hold of an important thought and give it expansion. A thousand apples might have fallen in the presence of a multitude, among whom there was only one Newton to infer the laws of gravitation from this common occurrence. The war of the French revolution might have continued on to desolate the kingdoms of Europe, in all its violent and destructive rage, and a hundred
brave generals might have looked on with trepidation, mixed with hope and dismay, had there not been a genius like Bonaparte to avert its progress, give it another direction, and finally to control the troubled and discordant elements which, by their perpetual collisions, were sweeping prosperity and peace from the earth. The pope might have deluded and deluged the world to this day with the sale of indulgences in the presence of a thousand pious souls who were destitute of the genius, the energy, and the intrepidity of Luther. He was eminently fitted to check and to turn back this overflowing food of ungodliness; and hence, quite contrary to his design and expectations, he became the honored instrument of creating a new era in the annals of Christianity, no less famous for the reformation which was effected in the principles and conduct of mankind, than it was for marking the progress of the human mind in its emancipation from intellectual and spiritual thraldom. A similar remark may be made of John Wesley. Though ardently devoted to the cause of his Divine Master, he thought to have buried himself in the shades of Oxford; but as his talents, his activity, and the depth of his piety eminently fitted him for such a work, he was called forth into the open field of theological warfare, and he evinced on all occasions his qualifications to meet the circumstances of the times, to grapple with the monster of iniquity, and to vanquish, with the strong arm of truth, the serpentine errors which had insinuated themselves into the Church. And to mention one more instance illustrative of the point under consideration-had Columbus been a less penetrating genius, less assiduous in his endeavors to overcome the obstacles which were thrown in his path of discovery, or less patient in enduring the contradictions of ignorant and narrow contracted enemies, the invention of the mariner's compass would never have led him to the discovery of America. He was every way fitted to take advantage of the improved state of geographical knowledge for the enlargement of the boundaries of the civilized world.
These remarks have been elicited by noticing the circumstances which first brought Cranmer prominently into public notice, and recommended him particularly to the attention of Henry VIII., king of England. That our readers may understand this matter fully, it is necessary to give some of the incidents of this king's life and actions, not related in the volumes before us, previously to his becoming acquainted with Cranmer. Henry had married the widow of his brother; and whether from disgust at her character and conduct, or from real scruples of conscience as he pretended—though from his future conduct it seems quite evident that conscience had but little to do in the casehe had come to a determination to repudiate the queen, and to give his hand to another, namely, to Ann Boleyn, daughter of the earl of Wiltshire. That he might have the appearance, at least, of acting in this business in conformity to the usages of law, the king applied to the pope for a divorce from the woman with whom he had lived in wedlock about twenty years. Impatient at the delays which accompanied this application, and desirous of conciliating the good opinion of mankind in relation to this extraordinary step, Henry instituted consultations among the learned bodies of Europe, both in his own dominions and on the continent, in respect to the lawfulness of separating himself from his brother's widow, and espousing another more in accordance with his desires.
Such was the nature of this question, that it created an absorbing interest, and every one was anxious, either to elicit information from others or to express his own opinion. Among others Cranmer, whose judgment was highly respected in the circle of his acquaintance, was consulted. When the subject was broached to him he protested that it was entirely new to his thoughts, and he therefore requested time for deliberation. In the mean time he suggested that the question ought to be determined by the word of God, and not merely by human authority, and hence, that the opinion of learned clergymen should be diligently sought. His words were speedily repeated to the king himself, who was so much pleased with his suggestions that he instantly exclaimed, “Where is this Doctor Cranmer? I perceive that he hath the right sow by the ear.” Measures were immediately adopted to introduce Cranmer to the king. And as an instance of his modesty, and a proof of what we have already said of the reluctance with which men of merit suffer themselves to be brought into public notoriety, Cranmer complained bitterly of the officiousness of those who had thus involved him in this intricate affair ; but his remonstrances were unavailing, and he was brought into the presence of the king; and in obedience to his orders he laid aside all other business for a season, that he might give himself up to a more thorough investigation of this very delicate and intricate subject.
It is not our design to follow the king through all the mazes of this intricate affair, in which so many interests were involved, and the consequences of which shook most of the kingdoms of Europe, but more especially prostrated the power of the pope in the kingdom of Great Britain. To effect the object the king had in view without an open rupture with the pope, he sent Cranmer to Rome to confer with his holiness, and, if possible, to obtain his consent to the intended dissolution of his marriage. His efforts, however, were unsuccessful. He could obtain nothing but fair speeches and vexatious delays. After his return from the court of Rome, he was sent by Henry, to effect the same object, to Germany. The following account of his efforts there, and of the elevation of Cranmer to the archiepiscopal see, we give in the language of his biographer :