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.  

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,