Category Archives: Commemorations

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, 1556

Thomas Cranmer was the principal figure in the Reformation of the English Church and was primarily responsible both for the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and for its first revision in 1552, as well as for the first version of the Articles of Religion.

Cranmer was born at Aslockton, Nottinghamshire on July 2, 1489. At fourteen he entered Jesus College, Cambridge where by 1514 he had obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees and a Fellowship. In 1526 he became a Doctor of Divinity, a lecturer in his college, and examiner in the University. During his years at Cambridge, he diligently studied the Bible and the new doctrines emanating from the Reformation in Germany.

A chance meeting with King Henry the Eighth at Waltham Abbey in 1529 led to Cranmer’s involvement in the “King’s affair” – the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer prepared the defense of the King’s cause and presented it to the universities in England and Germany, and to Rome.

While in Germany, Cranmer became closely associated with the Lutheran reformers, especially with Osiander, whose daughter he married. When Archbishop Warham died in 1532, the King obtained a papal confirmation of Cranmer’s appointment to the See of Canterbury, and Cranmer was consecrated on March 30, 1533. Among his earliest acts was to declare the King’s marriage null and void. He then validated the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Her child, the future Queen Elizabeth the First, was Cranmer’s godchild.

Cranmer’s sincere belief in the king’s supremacy in all matters, civil and ecclesiastical, was the mainspring of his political actions. This explains in part his gradualism and his seeming compromises with the king in church reform; and it finally led to his undoing.

The only public liturgical reforms of any consequence in Henry’s reign were the king’s order that an English Bible be placed in every church, and the publication in 1544 of the English Litany, drawn up by Cranmer at the king’s request during wartime. However, as is clear from recent scholarly research, Cranmer’s liturgical ideas were well-formed by the end of Henry’s reign, and he had already done much work in reforming the breviary and the mass.

In the reign of King Edward the Sixth, Cranmer had a free hand in reforming the worship, doctrine, and practice of the Church, leading to the publication of the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, which would come to be the defining text of Anglicanism. At Edward’s death the archbishop unfortunately subscribed to the dying King’s will that the succession should go to Lady Jane Grey, the king’s Protestant cousin, rather than to Mary, his Catholic sister. For this, and for his reforming work, he was arrested, deprived of his archbishopric, and imprisoned on the orders of Queen Mary the First, daughter of Henry the Eighth by Catherine of Aragon, and a staunch Roman Catholic who aimed to restore the English Church to papal obedience and who blamed Cranmer personally for the annulment of her mother’s marriage to Henry.

Cranmer was subjected to daily interrogations during his long confinement in the Tower. He wrote two recantations of his supposedly heretical doctrines during his imprisonment, but at the end, during a sermon given immediately prior to his execution, he recanted his recantations. He died heroically, saying, “forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for if I may come to the fire, it shall first be burned.” This he did at Oxford on March 21, 1556.

from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with amendments

The Collect

Father of all mercies, who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer renewed the worship of your Church and through his death revealed your strength in human weakness: by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in truth and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom: through Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.


The Collect is adapted from the propers provided for the commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Reformation Martyr, in the Church of England’s Common Worship.

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William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645


Elevated to the see of Canterbury in 1633, William Laud had already been King Charles’ principal ecclesiastical adviser for several years beginning when Laud was serving first as Bishop of Bath and Wells and then as Bishop of London. Born in 1573, after the Church of England’s reformed character had been established by the Elizabethan Settlement, he was the most prominent of a new generation of churchmen who disliked many of the ritual practices which had developed during the reign of Elizabeth the First (many of which began during the reign of her younger brother, Edward VI), and who were bitterly opposed by the Puritan party in the Church of England.

Laud believed the Church of England to be in direct continuity with the medieval Church, and he stressed the unity of the Church and State, exalting the role of the king as Supreme Governor of the Church. He emphasized the ministerial priesthood and the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, and caused consternation by insisting on the reverencing of the altar, returning it to its pre-Reformation position against the east wall of the church, and hedging it about with rails. (During Edward’s reign, and Elizabeth’s, altars had been removed, and simpler communion Tables set lengthwise – long axis oriented east-west – in the chancel of the church. Those who intended to take communion would move from the nave into the chancel at the offertory, and the priest or bishop would preside at the eucharist, standing on the north side of the Table.)

As head of the courts of High Commission and the Star Chamber, Laud persecuted Puritans and was abhorred for the harsh sentencing of some of the prominent members of the party. His identification with the unpopular policies of King Charles, his support of the Bishops’ War against Scotland in 1640 (triggered, in part, by Charles’ and Laud’s attempt to impose an English prayerbook on the Church of Scotland), and his efforts to make the Church independent of Parliament, made him widely disliked. He was impeached for treason by the Long Parliament in 1640, and finally beheaded on January 10, 1645.

Laud’s reputation remains controversial to this day. Honored as a martyr and condemned as an intolerant bigot, he was compassionate in his defense of the rights of the common people against the landowners. He was honest, devout, loyal to the king and to the rights and privileges of the Church of England. He tried to reform and protect the Church in accordance with his convictions – though these attempts at reform were marred by his treatment of those who strenuously disagreed with him theologically and liturgically. In many ways he was out of step with the views of the majority of his countrymen, especially in his espousal of royal Stuart views of the “Divine Rights of Kings”. The historian Nicholas Tyacke rates Laud as one of the greatest of the Archbishops of Canterbury, not giving him complete approval, but recognizing that his contribution to the future of the English Church was of major importance.

Writing in the Church Quarterly Review in 1945, A.W. Ballard stated that

As far as doctrine was concerned Laud carried on the teaching of Cranmer and Hooker. He held that the basis of belief was the Bible, but that the Bible was to be interpreted by the tradition of the early Church, and that all doubtful points were to be subjected, not to heated arguments in the pulpits, but to sober discussion by learned men. His mind, in short, like those of the earlier English reformers, combined the Protestant reliance on the Scriptures with reverence for ancient tradition and with the critical spirit of the Ranascence.

Laud made a noble end, praying on the scaffold: “The Lord receive my soul, and have mercy on me, and bless this kingdom with peace and charity, that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them.”

The prayer for the Church on page 816 in the Book of Common Prayer (1979), added to the American Prayer Book in 1928, was written by Archbishop Laud. It was first published in A Summarie of Devotions (1677), adapted from his manuscripts. The original version of the prayer reads:

Gracious Father, I humbly beseech Thee for Thy holy Catholic Church, fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purge it; where it is in error, direct it; where it is superstitious, rectify it; where anything is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is in want, furnish it; where it is divided and rent asunder, make up the breaches of it; O Thou Holy One of Israel. Amen.

taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with additions, including from
Fathers and Anglicans: The Limits of Orthodoxy (Arthur Middleton, Gracewing 2001) and Commentary on the American Prayer Book (Marion J. Hatchett, Harper San Francisco 1995)

The Collect

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servant William Laud, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The propers for William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, Bishop in South India and Evangelist, 1945

The first Indian bishop of the Anglican Church in India, Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah was born in 1874 in a small village in one of the most economically deprived areas of South India (now in the state of Andrha Pradesh), the son of Thomas Vedanayagam, an Anglican priest, and Ellen, a woman with a deep love and understanding of the holy Scriptures. Samuel became a YMCA evangelist at nineteen and secretary of the organization throughout South India only a few years later. He saw that, for the Church in India to grow and to bring ordinary Indians to Jesus Christ, it had to have indigenous leadership. He helped create the Tinnevelly-based Indian Missionary Society in 1903, and was a co-founder of the National Missionary Society of India, an all-India, Indian-led agency founded in December 1905. At the age of thirty-five he was ordained to the presbyterate, and three years later (December, 1912) he was consecrated as the first bishop of the new Diocese of Dornakal, with eleven bishops of the Anglican Church in India participating in the liturgy at St Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta. Bishop Azariah was the first Indian to be consecrated a bishop in the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

As bishop, his work moved from primary evangelism to forwarding his desire for more Indian clergy and the need to raise their educational standards. By 1924, the ordained leadership of the Diocese of Dornakal included eight English-born priests and fifty-three Indian clergy. Bishop Azariah was also an avid ecumenist and one of the first to see the importance, indeed the necessity, of a united Church to mission and evangelism (a passion that would be taken up by others in India, like the missionary Lesslie Newbigin). Azariah died on January 1, 1945, two years before the inauguration of the united Church of South India.

In The History of Nandyal Diocese in Andhra Pradesh, Constance Millington writes,

Azariah had two great priorities in his work: evangelism and the desire for Christian unity.

He understood evangelism to be the acid test of Christianity. When asked what he would preach about in a village that had never heard of Christ, Azariah answered without hesitation: ‘The resurrection.’ From a convert he demanded full acceptance of Christianity which would include baptism and which could therefore include separation from family and caste. He claimed that Christianity took its origin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outburst of supernatural power that this society manifested in the world.

Azariah recognised that because four-fifths of Indian people live in villages, for the Church to be an indigenous one it must be a rural Church. He was constantly in the villages, inspiring and guiding the teachers, clergy and congregations. He blamed the missionaries for not training people in evangelism, and thought their teaching had been mission centred instead of Church centred, and he pleaded with missionaries to build up the Indian Church. Much of the Christian outreach in his area was among the outcast people. Gradually as Christianity spread amongst the villages, the social situation began to change, the Christian outcasts gaining a new self-respect as they realised their worth in the eyes of God.

Azariah considered that one of the factors that hampered evangelism, and possibly the deepening of the spiritual life of the convert, was the western appearance of the Church in both its buildings and its services. As early as 1912 he has visions of a cathedral for the diocese to be built in the eastern style, where all Christians could feel spiritually at hom regardless of their religious background and race. Building was delayed because of the Great War in Europe, but finally his dream was realised when the cathedral of The Most Glorious Epiphany was consecrated on January 6, 1936. The building is a beautiful structure embodying ideas from Christian, Hindu and Moslem architecture. Its dignity and spaciousness create a very different effect from that of the nineteenth and twentieth century Gothic churches and furnishings scattered elsewhere in India. (N.B. For a description of the Cathedral Church of the Epiphany in Dornakal, see here. Also scroll up to the preceding page at this site for a description of Bishop Azariah’s indigenization of the liturgy.)

If evangelisation of India was Azariah’s first priority, the second was that of Church unity. He was the two as inter-related. He believed that a united Church was in accordance with the will of God, ‘that we may all be one’, and he also believed that a United Church would be more effective for evangelism. Addressing the Lambeth Conference in 1930 he pleaded:

“In India we wonder if you have sufficiently contemplated the grievous sin of perpetuating your divisions and denominational bitterness in these your daughter churches. We want you to take us seriously when we say that the problem of union is one of life and death. Do not, we plead with you, do not give us your aid to keep us separate, but lead us to union so that you and we may go forward together and fulfil the prayer, ‘That we may all be one.'”

Bishop Samuel is commemorated in the sanctoral calendars of the Anglican Church in North America and the Church of England on January 2.

prepared from material in Celebrating the Saints (compiled by Robert Atwell), A History of the Church of England in India (The Rt Revd Eyre Chatterton), and others

The Collect

God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Samuel Azariah to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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John Wycliffe, Presbyter and Bible Translator, 1384

John Wycliffe (also Wycliff or Wyclif), born c. 1330, was born in Yorkshire and educated at Oxford University. Fellow of Merton College in 1356 and Master of Balliol College circa 1360-1, he served a rector of Fillingham and later of Ludgershall and of Lutterworth (the latter two until his death in 1384). He was in the service of the Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, and of Edward’s brother, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, from 1371, serving as an envoy and propagandist.

Wycliffe made his reputation early as a philosopher. Reacting against the prevailing scepticism of Oxford thought, which divorced natural and supernatural knowledge, he returned to the philosophical realism of Saint Augustine and Robert Grosseteste. From the beginning his philosophy was religious in character, and it was fed by a sense of the spiritual sterility of skepticism. As a theologian he sought inspiration in the Scriptures and the Fathers rather than in the speculations of medieval Scholasticism, and he fulfilled his doctoral obligations at Oxford by an unprecedented, if unoriginal, series of lectures conmmenting on the entire Bible. His growing repugnance for the religious institutions of his time led to his gradual elaboration, on the basis of his philosophy, of a concept of the Church which distinguished its eternal, ideal reality from the visible, “material” Church, and denied to the latter any authority that did not derive from the former. His idea that the clergy, if not in a state of grace, could lawfully be deprived of their endowments by the civil power, its own authority dependent on being in a state of grace (De Civili Dominio, 1375-60), was condemned in 1377 by Pope Gregory XI. In his De Ecclesia, De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae, and De Potestate Papae (1377-8), Wycliffe maintained that the Bible, as the eternal “exemplar” of the Christian religion, was the sole criterion of doctrine, to which no ecclesiastical authority might lawfully add, and that the papal authority was ill-founded in Scripture. In the later De Apostasia he denied, in violent terms, that the religious (monastic) life had any foundation in Scripture, and he appealed to the government to reform the whole order of the Church in England. At the same time in De Eucharistia he attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation as philosophically unsound and as encouraging a superstitious attitude to the Eucharist. Wycliffe’s eucharistic doctrine was that the bread remained, and that Jesus was truly present in the bread, though in a spiritual and not a material manner.

These published doctrines gradually lost him substantial support in Oxford and reduced his following to a small but loyal group of sholars, along with a number of friends at court (he was protected from ecclesiastical censure three times in his later years by Gaunt and by the Black Prince’s widow). His eucharistic doctrine was condemned by the Univerity in 1381, and Wycliffe’s public refusal to comply in his Confessio created a scandal. The Peasants’ Revolt, popularly though erroneously attributed to his teaching – particularly his teaching on authority and grace – magnified the scandal, and a wide range of his teachings and followers (though not Wycliffe himself) were condemned by Archbishop William Courtenay at the Blackfriars Council in 1382. Wycliffe retired to Lutterworth, where he revised his polemics and produced a series of pamphlets attacking his enemies. After his death from a stroke on December 31, 1384, the continued activity of his disciples, who as they gathered strength among the less educated became known as Lollards, led to further condemnations of Wycliffe’s doctrines in 1388, 1397, and finally at the Council of Constance in 1415. In 1428 Wycliffe’s remains were removed from consecrated ground and burned, and the ashes were cast into the River Swift.

Wyliffe’s philosophical influence at Oxford was considerable for at least a generation, though his later influence in England as a whole is less clear. However, his philosophical and theological writings exercised an influence on Czech scholars, especially Jan (or John) Hus, the Bohemian priest and preacher in Prague who was condemned as a heretic by the same Council of Constance as condemned Wycliffe. (Hus was convicted and burned for his heresy.) Many of Wycliffe’s writings survive only in Czech manuscripts.

Outside the field of philosophy Wycliffe’s ideas were not original and can be compared with similar views of contemporary European reformers. His importance lies in his role in propagating his ideas. Wycliffe was an energetic preacher in Latin and in English, as his surviving sermons show. Furthermore, Wycliffe proposed the creation of a new order of Poor Preachers who would preach to the people from an English Bible.

The first English versions of the entire Bible are the two associated with Wycliffe’s work, made by translating the Latin Vulgate between 1380 and 1397. It is unknown what part of the work of translation was done by Wycliffe himself, but Wycliffe certainly inspired the project, including the making of the second version after his death in 1384. Both versions were made by scholars who were his immediate disciples: Nicholas Hereford, largely responsible for the first version; and John Purvey, Wycliffe’s secretary, for the second version, completed in 1397.

The modern-day Wycliffe Bible Translators, named in his honor, are committed to translating the Bible into all languages spoken around the world.

Wycliffe is commemorated on December 31 in the Calendars of the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the (Anglican) Church in Wales; and in that of The Episcopal Church on October 30.

compiled from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church,
and the preface to the New English Bible

The Collect

O Lord, God of truth, whose Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path: We give you thanks for your servant John Wycliffe, and those who, following in his steps, have labored to render the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people; and we pray that your Holy Spirit may overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that Christ, the living Word, may transform us according to your righteous will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The image of Wycliffe is taken from the website of St Mary’s Church in Lutterworth and is of a late eighteenth century portrait of Wycliffe that hangs in the church.

The Collect is taken from James Kiefer‘s hagiographical website.

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Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr, 1170

Born in London of a wealthy Norman family, Thomas was educated at Merton Abbey and at Paris. He was a financial clerk for a while and then joined the curia of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, notable for the quality of its personnel and the skill of their legal expertise. He was sent to study law at Bologna and Auxerre; after being ordained deacon, he became archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154. In this position he was notably successful and was used by Theobald as a negotiator with the Crown. When Henry II succeeded to the throne of England in 1154, he chose Thomas, at Theobald’s suggestion, as Chancellor of England in 1155. Thomas’ close friendship with the young king, his employment on embassies and on military expeditions in which he actually led his troops in battle, apparently presaged a brilliant future in the political sphere. His personal efficiency, lavish entertainment and support for the king’s interests – even, on occasion, against those of the Church – made him a quite outstanding royal official.

In 1162, Henry, expecting the same relationship to continue, obtained his election as Archbishop of Canterbury. But from this time Thomas deliberately adopted an austere way of life and immediately, to the king’s annoyance, resigned the chancellorship. However, the hairshirt, discipline, vigils, and maundies which he adopted did not end his previous determination. In character he was sensitive and intransigent, ready in speech and thorough in action.

Now that he was archbishop, through no choice of his own, Thomas was determined to carry through, at whatever cost, what he saw as the proper duties of his state. These included the paternal care of the soul of the king, tactlessly presented by his friend of yesterday in a way which caused considerable annoyance. Thomas also opposed Henry in matters of taxation, on the claims of secular courts to punish ecclesiastics for offences already dealt with by church courts, and most important, on freedom to appeal to Rome. A long and bitter struggle ensued, and neither king nor archbishop would give way. At a council in Northampton Thomas, nearly alone, withstood royal claims of money owing the king from the days of Becket’s chancellorship and appealed to the pope. He then escaped to France.

His exile lasted over six years, during which time he lived first in the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny and later at Sens. Both sides appealed to Pope Alexander III, who tried hard to find an acceptable solution. But the dispute grew in bitterness. Henry was bent on Becket’s ruin, while the archbishop used ecclesiastical censures against the king’s supporters among the higher clergy and even attempted to obtain an interdict of England. Thomas came to believe that deeper issues of principle were at stake in the dispute: the claims of Church and State, ultimately of God and Caesar.

Although peace was eventually patched up in 1170 and Thomas returned to his diocese, the reconciliation was superficial. In defiance of the rights of Canterbury, Prince Henry had been crowned, and Becket answered by excommunicating the bishops most closely concerned. In a rage Henry asked his courtiers who would rid him of “this turbulent priest”. Four barons took the king at his word. After an altercation with Becket, they murdered him in his own cathedral. Although he had not always lived like a saint, he died like one, commending his cause to God and his saints, accepting death “for the name of Jesus and for the Church”.

The news of his death shocked Christendom. Miracles were soon reported at his tomb, his faults were forgotten, and he was hailed as a martyr for the cause of Christ and the liberty of the Church. He was canonized in 1173, and his relics were translated in 1220. Representations of his martyrdom rapidly appeared all over Europe and beyond: early examples survive not only from France and Germany, but also from Iceland, Sicily, and even Armenia. At Canterbury Thomas more or less replaced the following of earlier local saints by the popularity of the pilgrimage, which soon became one of the most important in Europe. The Pilgrims’ Way, from London or Winchester to Canterbury, can still be traced. The stained glass windows that depict it at Canterbury are a rich source for many details of medieval life, and Chaucer immortalized its practice and its personnel in the Canterbury Tales. The great 16th century Catholic humanist Erasmus later attacked several elements of the cult and Henry VIII destroyed the shrine, ordering all mention of his name in liturgical books to be erased.

In recent years his commemoration has been restored to the sanctoral calendars of Anglican Churches.

adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church: Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The icon supra is taken from the Sacra Domus Nazarena weblog.

The Becket Panel of Wymondham Abbey “depicts Saint Thomas Becket and eight scenes from his life [from his archiepiscopal consecration to his martyrdom]. It was painted by Father David Hunter, a former chaplain at Wymondham Abbey, and was given by him to the parishioners of Wymondham Abbey in thanksgiving for 900 years of Christian witness here in this place.”

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Richard Baxter, Pastor and Teacher of the Faith, 1691

after Robert White,painting,(1670)

Born in 1615 at Rowton, Shropshire, Richard Baxter was largely self-educated. He studied first at the free school of Wroxeter, next under the nominal tutelage of Richard Wickstead, Chaplain at Ludlow Castle, and finally in 1633 under the patronage of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels. In disgust at the frivolity of the Court of King Charles the First he returned home to study divinity, particularly the medieval Scholastic theologians. In 1634 he came into intimate contact with two devout nonconformist divines, who awakened his sympathies for the positive elements in dissent.

In 1638 he was ordained by John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester, and in 1639 nominated assistant minister at Bridgnorth, where he remained for two years, increasing his knowledge of the issues between nonconformity and the Church of England. After the promulgation of the Et Cetera Oath (an oath of conformity henceforth to the polity of the Church of England, “by archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, et cetera, as it stands now established”) in 1640, he rejected belief in episcopacy (the ministry of bishops) in the form extant in England at the time.

In 1641 he became curate of the incumbent of Kidderminster (meaning that he became assistant priest to the rector or pastor there), where among a population of hand-loom workers he continued to minister with remarkable success until 1660. So far as possible he ignored the differences between presbyterians, episcopalians, and congregationalists, and secured cooperation among the local ministers in common pastoral work. In the early part of the Civil War he temporarily joined the Parliamentary Army as a chaplain. A champion of moderation, he was opposed to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 (the agreement which bound together the Churches of England and Scotland and eliminated episcopacy) and also disliked Oliver Cromwell’s religious views. After the Battle of Naseby (June 14, 1645) he became chaplain to Colonel Edward Whalley’s regiment, seeking to counteract the sectaries and to curb republican tendencies. On leaving the army in 1647 he retired for a time to Rous Lench, where he wrote his devotional classic, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (1650).

In 1660 he played a prominent part in the recall of King Charles the Second to England and was appointed a chaplain to the King, but his dissatisfaction with episcopacy led him to decline Charles’ offer of the bishopric of Hereford. He took a prominent part at the Savoy Conference (1661), at which English bishops and Presbyterian divines gathered for review and revision of the Book of Common Prayer. Baxter prepared his “Reformed Liturgy” for the conference, and he presented there his “Exceptions” to the Book of Common Prayer. Because he would not take an oath to conform to the new Act of Uniformity in religion, Baxter, along with several hundred other nonconforming ministers, was removed from his living (pastorate) in 1662. Between 1662 and 1687 the nonconforming ministers endured legal persecution and were not permitted to hold any ecclesiastical office or living. Baxter died on December 8, 1691.

Baxter left nearly 200 writings, which breathe a spirit of deep unaffected piety and reflect his love of moderation. The Reformed Pastor (1656) illustrates the great care he took in his pastoral administration. He also wrote several hymns, among them “Ye holy angels bright” and “He wants not friends that hath Thy love”.

adapted from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and other sources

The Collect

Heavenly Father, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Richard Baxter, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace enter that everlasting rest which you have prepared for all those who set their hope on Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The image of Baxter is after a painting by Robert White (1670).

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Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397

Ambrose was born at Trier, the son of the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul. Following education at Rome and a traditional administrative career, he practiced in the lawcourts and in due course was appointed governor of Aemilia-Liguria, with his seat at Milan. On the death in 373 or 374 of Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan, Ambrose became involved in the election of his successor as a mediator between the battling factions of Arians and catholic (orthodox) Christians. The election was an important one in the struggle between the adherents of Nicene orthodoxy and the adherents of the Arian heresy because of the significance of the provincial capital city in northern Italy.

Ambrose exhorted the nearly riotous mob to keep the peace and to obey the law. The Milanese laity of both sides suddenly raised the cry, “Ambrose shall be our bishop!” Though brought up in a Christian family, Ambrose was not yet baptized, but was still a catechumen. After initial resistance, he accepted his popular election to the episcopate of the city, was baptized and ordained bishop on December 7. He devoted himself to the study of theology, perhaps under the guidance of Simplicianus, who later succeeded Ambrose as bishop of Milan.

Ambrose rapidly won renown as a defender of Nicene orthodoxy against Arianism and as a great and respected churchman. He wrote straightforward, practical discourses to catechize his people in such matters of doctrine as baptism, the Trinity, the eucharist, and the Person of Christ. About baptism, Ambrose wrote: “After the font (of baptism), the Holy Spirit is poured on you, ‘the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, and the spirit of holy fear'” (De Sacramentis 3.8).

Apart from De Sacramentis, his most notable work is De Officiis Ministrorum, a treatise on Christian ethics, based on Cicero, with special reference to the clergy. Knowledge of Greek enabled him to introduce much Eastern theology into the West. He also wrote on ascetical subjects and did much to encourage monasticism and the veneration of martyrs in northern Italy. His persuasive preaching was an important factor in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo.

In his dealings with the Roman emperors of his day, Ambrose asserted a remarkable degree of authority. He persuaded Gratian to refuse a hearing to those who objected to the removal of the Altar of Victory from the Senate House at Rome and threatened ecclesiastical sanctions against Valentinian the Second if he restored it. He excommunicated Theodosius for a massacre of several thousand citizens of Salonika (Thessalonika) in 390, forcing the emperor to do public penance for the slaughter. With equal strength he asserted the independence of the Church from imperial control, refusing to cede a basilica to Valentinian’s Arian protégés and protesting against the action of the Gallic bishops in involving Maximus in the execution of Priscillian as a heretic in the year 386.

Ambrose was also a skilled hymnodist, introducing antiphonal chanting to enrich the liturgy of the Church of Milan. It was through his influence that hymns became an integral part of the liturgy of the Western Church. Those hymns universally attributed to him include Veni redemptor gentium (“Come, thou redeemer of the earth”, “Savior of the nations, come”), the hymn for the first vespers of the Nativity (on Christmas Eve) in the Sarum Use, as well as three other hymns for the daily office. Hymns also attributed to him by later Benedictine editors include Splendor paternae gloriae (“O splendor of God’s glory bright”), Aeterna Christi munera (“The eternal gifts of Christ the King”), and O lux beata Trinitas (“O Trinity of blessed light”).

A meditation attributed to him includes these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”

prepared from material in Lesser Feasts and Fasts
and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

The Collect

O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, are published on the Lectionary page website.

The icon of Saint Ambrose of Milan is from Aidan Hart’s gallery of Western Orthodox saints and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

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Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, c. 342

Very little is known about the life of Nicholas, except that he was the bishop of Myra, on the southwestern coast of Asia Minor in what is now Turkey, and that he suffered torture and imprisonment during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. It is possible that he was one of the bishops attending the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 (though he is not in any of the early lists of bishops present at the Council). Tradition holds that he was a defender of orthodoxy against Arianism. According to one legend, he was censured by the emperor Constantine after he dealt Arius a blow to the head during a session of the Council of Nicaea, his patience having been sorely tried by Arius’ behavior during the Council.

He was honored as a saint in Constantinople by the late sixth century by the Emperor Justinian, who in 580 dedicated a church to Nicholas in that city. His veneration became immensely popular in the West after the supposed removal of his body to Bari, Italy, in the late eleventh century (the three ships in which his relics were brought from Myra to to the seaport of Bari play a role in the Christmas carol, “I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day in the morning”). In England almost 400 churches were dedicated to Nicholas, and there have perhaps been more churches and chapels dedicated to him throughout the world than to any other saint.

Nicholas is famed as the patron of Russia and Greece, the guardian of virgins and poor maidens, the protector of travelers, sailors, and merchants. He is also the patron of many towns and cities, including Bari, Venice, Freiburg, and Galway. In modern times he is perhaps best known as the protector and benefactor of children. One of the best known of the legendary narratives which demonstrate Nicholas’ love for God and for his neighbor is the story of his provision of dowries for three unmarried young women. The story is told that the father did not have money sufficient for their dowries, so on three successive nights Nicholas threw a bag of money through an open window, thus providing dowries for the man’s three daughters and probably saving them from lives of shame and prostitution.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints,
and the New Book of Festivals & Commemorations (Philip H. Pfatteicher, Fortress Press 2008)

The Collect

Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

The icon of St Nicholas of Myra was written by Helen McIldowie-Jenkins and is reproduced here with her generous permission.

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Channing Moore Williams, Missionary Bishop to China and Japan, 1910

Bishop Williams, a Virginia farmer’s son, was born in Richmond on July 18, 1829, and was brought up in financially straitened circumstances by his widowed mother. He attended the College of William and Mary and the Virginia Theological Seminary.

Ordained deacon in 1855, he offered himself for work in China, where he was ordained priest in 1857. Two years later, he was sent to Japan and opened work in Nagasaki. His first convert was baptized in 1866, the year he was chosen bishop for both China and Japan.

After 1868, he decided to concentrate all his work on Japan, following the Meiji Restoration that restored imperial rule to Japan and lead to great social and political changes that opened Japan to renewed contact with the Western world. Relieved of his responsibility for China in 1874, Williams made his base at Edo (now Tokyo), where he founded a divinity school, later to become St Paul’s University. At a synod in 1887 he helped bring together the English and American missions to form the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Holy Catholic Church of Japan, when the Church there numbered fewer than a thousand communicants.

Williams translated parts of the Prayer Book into Japanese, and he was a close friend and warm supporter of Bishop Samuel Isaac Schereschewsky, his successor in China, in the latter’s arduous work of translating the Bible into Chinese.

After resigning his jurisdiction in 1889, Bishop Williams stayed in Japan to help his successor there, Bishop John McKim, who was consecrated in 1893. Williams lived in Kyoto and continued to work in the opening of new mission stations until his return to America in 1908. He died in Richmond on December 2, 1910.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty and everliving God, we thank you for your servant Channing Moore Williams, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of China and Japan. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The propers for Channing Moore Williams, Missionary Bishop to China and Japan, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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Nicholas Ferrar, Deacon, 1637

A native of London, in 1605 Nicholas Ferrar entered Clare Hall, Cambridge, where he was one of the most brilliant of his generation. In 1610 he was elected a Fellow. Leaving the damp air of Cambridge in 1613 because of ill health, he entered the service of the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King James the First and wife of the Elector Palatine Frederick V. Within a month of arriving on the Continent, he decided to leave the Princess’ service and spent the next five years traveling widely, visiting the Netherlands, Austria, Bohemia, and other German principalities, Italy and Spain, learning to speak Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. He studied at Leipzig and at Padua, where he undertook studies at the famous medical school. In the course of his travels he met Reformed, Lutherans, Anabaptists and Roman Catholics, including Jesuits and Oratorians, as well as Jews, broadening his religious education. Returning to England in 1618 after a vision that he was needed at home, he was employed by the Virginia Company, becoming Deputy Treasurer in 1622. Shortly before the dissolution of the Company in 1624, he was elected to Parliament, but the contemporary politics and his religious aspirations determined him to give up the career which he had begun.

In 1625 he settled at Little Gidding, an estate in Huntingdonshire, and was joined there by his immediate family and a few friends and servants who together established a common life. In 1626 Ferrar was ordained deacon by Bishop William Laud, and under Ferrar’s direction this household lived a life of prayer and work. They restored the derelict church near the manor house, became responsible for services there, taught many of the local children, and looked after the health and well-being of the people of the neighborhood. A regular round of prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer was observed (there was always a member of the household at prayer), along with the daily recitation of the whole of the Psalter. The members of the household community became widely known for fasting, private prayer and meditation, and for writing stories and books illustrating themes of Christian faith and morality. The community’s piety and ideals, thoroughly biblical and founded on the Prayer Book, were warmly approved by the Bishop of Lincoln. King Charles the First visited Little Gidding and was greatly impressed by their life. (One of the activities of the Little Gidding community was the preparation of harmonies of the Gospels, one of which was presented to the King by the Ferrar family.) Nicholas Ferrar died on December 4, 1637.

The community did not long survive Nicholas Ferrar’s death, having incurred the hostility of the Puritans, who contemptuously called it a “protestant nunnery”. But Nicholas’ brother John and sister Susanna Collett kept up the life of prayer and work established at Little Gidding until their deaths in 1657. The memory of the religious life at Little Gidding was thereafter kept alive, principally through Izaak Walton’s description in his Life of George Herbert: “He (Ferrar) and his family…did most of them keep Lent and all Ember-weeks strictly, both in fasting and using all those mortifications and prayers that the Church hath appointed…and he and they did the like constantly on Fridays, and on the vigils or eves appointed to be fasted before the Saints’ days; and this frugality and abstinence turned to the relief of the poor….”

The community at Little Gidding was not a religious community in a conventional sense. They did not live according to a formal Rule and no vows were taken. They were instead more strictly a Christian household ordering their common life by the Book of Common Prayer according to early 17th century High Church principles.

The life of the Little Gidding community inspired T.S. Eliot, who gave the title, “Little Gidding”, to the last of his Four Quartets.

The Collect

Lord God, make us worthy of your perfect love; that, with your deacon Nicholas Ferrar and his household, we may rule ourselves according to your Word, and serve you with our whole heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Nicholas Ferrar, Deacon, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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