Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thomas Cranmer's Early Years: Jesus College, Cambridge

Pollard, Albert Frederick. Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906.
      A few notes and interpolated musings. (The indents/page edges are sovereign and unwieldy.)

      Cranmer was called an “ostler,” an “hostler” or “tapster” perhaps, an “elbow-bender with ales” or an innkeeper of sorts at the Dolphin Inn, an inn close to Jesus’s College.  This might be an imputation by a bigot against marriage or a social slight from a hostile source.  But, be that as it is.  Even poor Elizabeth 1 was habituated to this ill-advised view of married clerics. In any event, it’s not a flattering term.  He married Joan, a niece of the owner-mistress of the Inn. But, by statute, as a married man, he had to withdraw as a Fellow at Jesus. 

During the 12-month period of his “dis-fellowship,” he was a “common reader” and “divinity lecturer” at Buckingham College in 1515, a school that existed from 1428-1542 and a school that would later morph into Magdalene College.  His wife and child died in childbirth. 

In 1516, Cranmer was “re-elected” to Jesus’s College. Age 27.

        Of interest, Erasmus was at Queens’ from 1510-1515 and was a daily lecturer for the University at large.  He was the Lady Margaret Lecturer in Divinity.  At the time, Erasmus noted that a “change had come over the atmosphere of Cambridge.”[1]  The scholasticism was giving “way to literature and the Bible.”

        After Erasmus left Cambridge and repaired to the Continent, he published the NT Greek edition in 1516.  By 31 October 1517, Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were nailed to Wittenberg’s door.  They went Europe-wide in academic centers. Pollard avers that this time-frame dates Cranmer’s inaugural, diligent and systematic examination of the Scriptures.

        Here is an interesting portrait of Cranmer.  Inescapably, he’s been acquainted with the stirrings of the Reformation. A biographer says of Cranmer in this early period:

"Then he considering what great controversy was in matters of religion (not only in trifles but in the chiefest articles of our salvation), bent himself to try out the truth therein: and, forasmuch as he perceived that he could not judge indifferently in so weighty matters without the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (before he were infected with any man’s opinions or errors) he applied his whole study three years to the said Scriptures. After this he gave his mind to good writers both old and new, not rashly running over them, for he was a slow reader; for he seldom read without a pen in his hand, and whatsoever made either for one part or the other of things being in controversy, he wrote it out if it were short, or at the least, noted the author and the place, that he might find it and write it out by leisure; which was of great help to him in debating matters ever after.  This kind of study he used till he was made Doctor of Divinity which was about the thirty-fourth of his age.”[2]

In summary of these insights:  (1) Cranmer gets his doctorate at age 34 or in 1523, (2) great substantial theological controversies exist, Cranmer knows of them and is determined to investigate them, (3) these matters are “substantial” and not “trifles,” (4) he “bends” (an interesting term) himself to learn of them, (5) he studies “Scriptures” for three years, (6) he studies new and old authors, (7) he reads slowly, and (8) he takes diligent notes. Cranmer, a proto-Reformer and proto-Puritan, involved with Continental matters, is in the making.  Time to drain the dirty bath water without tossing the baby out with the wash.

       A few general and personal characteristics are noted about Cranmer’s person.  He is a man of “immense industry.”  Or, more largely, it is noted:

He had in his favour a dignified presence, adorned with a semblance of goodness, considerable reputation for learning, and manners so courteous, kindly and pleasant, that he seemed like an old friend to those whom he encountered for the first time. He gave signs of modesty, seriousness and application.[3]

While we require other documentation, this viewpoint tends to be confirmed by other writers…even to Cranmer’s end:  studious, widely read, diligent note-taker, Bible student, polite, forgiving, and ever-cautious.

      Soon after his “re-election” to fellowship at Jesus in 1516, age 27, he becomes a lecturer in divinity.  In 1520, age 31, he was ordained, but two other duties emerged: a Cambridge “university preacher” and a candidate examiner of postulants to orders (and he was demanding, particularly as to Bible knowledge). In 1524, age 35 and now Dr. Cranmer, Cardinal Wolsey offered him a “canonry,” or, the term, title and office of “canon” at Cardinal College, Oxford.  “Canons” are chosen for this because of eminence in learning and character. Cranmer turned it down.

        It should be noted that in 1521, when Cranmer was age 33 and near completion of his doctoral studies, the “White Horse Inn” (WHI) was gaining a reputation as “Little Germany” full of English “Germans,” as it were, discussing Continental developments.  “Luther” was the subject.  By 1521, Luther had been "excommunicated" by Rome and was under the imperial ban of the Holy Roman Emperor.  By 1522, Luther's Bible in German is on the streets.  As for the WHI, Tyndale and Coverdale, Bible translators, were involved.  England’s racy prophet, old Hugh Latimer, was involved.  Some of England’s early martyrs were involved: Bilney, Barnes, Crome, and Lambert.  Other proto-Reformers and proto-Puritans were involved also: Matthew Parker (Elizabeth 1’s first archbishop of Canterbury), Nicholas Shaxton, John Rogers and John Bale.[4]  We infer that it was near-wise impossible that Cranmer was not aware of these developments. But details and questions emerge.

        By 1525, the “High Steward of Cambridge” was busy giving root canals, as it were, to these errors.  Called “vagaries” by Pollard.  By 1528, sterner measures were being taken and “recantations” were sought.

        Also, by 1525, at age 36, Cranmer is privately praying “for the abolition of papal power in England.”  That’s really not a new issue, since Wycliffe and Lollards had fought this battle.  So had Anselm and Thomas a Becket in earlier centuries.  But, now Luther is on the loose in Germany and Cranmer knew it. was washing ashore in the English Channel and in English ports (books).

      But, as we watch Cranmer, he was the “very reverse of an enthusiast,” was a “slow reader,” always took “painful hesitant steps,” and had “no burning zeal.”  He was a scholar.  Later, he would be a Reformer.

    God willing, more to come.

[1] Erasmus, Epistolae, cxlviii.
[2] “Narratives of the Reformation” (Camden Society), 3.  Available at:
[3] Pollard cites this quote from Ed. Gairdner’s, Bishop Cranmer’s Retcantacyons, 3. Gairdner is allegedly available at:  However, it costs $532.00 and is beyond our reach.
[4] Elton, Geoffrey Rudolph.  England under the Tudors: Third Edition. (Routledge, 1991), 111.  Available at:

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