Thomas Cranmer: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch - review by Philip Caraman

Philip Caraman

A Model Protestant

Thomas Cranmer: A Life


Yale University Press 692pp £29.95 order from our bookshop

At the end of this massive, balanced and without doubt enduring biography of Thomas Cranmer the reader is still left wondering what he really believed. A small clue to his final theological position is given by the two portraits of the Archbishop among the numerous illustrations in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book: in the earlier portrait by Holbein he is clean-shaven in compliance with the orders of Henry VIII, whereas in the later painting at Lambeth he wears the long beard favoured by Martin Bucher, Bullinger, Zwingli and the other German and Swiss doctors who were his main influence in fashioning the reformed church in England. In fact, no English influence is traceable in his numerous writings. No doubt he was a learned and plodding scholar and well-read in the Fathers of the Church. This made him a match for his interrogators in his trials for heresy. But in this thoroughly documented book, he appears as a man of fumbling intellect, never confident in any position he might take up. At best, it could be said that this was due to his readiness to see the other point of view. He was thirty years at Cambridge without his religious views being known.  Cranmer was used by Wolsey in 1539 to sound out the Continental universities for their opinion on the validity of the King’s marriage to Catherine when the annulment proceedings under Campeggio had stalled in London. He used the occasion to establish his first contacts with the Continental Reformers. Three years

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