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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
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.
George Herbert was born in 1593, a member of an ancient family, younger brother of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, a philosopher and poet. The younger Herbert received his education at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where his classical scholarship secured him a Fellowship in 1614. He became Public Orator of the University in 1620, bringing him into contact with the Court of King James the First. Marked by his success for the career of the courtier, the death of King James and the influence of his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, led him to study divinity, and in 1626 he took holy orders. In 1630 he was ordained to the presbyterate and was persuaded by (then Bishop) William Laud to accept the rectory of Fugglestone with Bemerton, near Salisbury, where in humble devotion to duty he spent the rest of his life.
Herbert is portrayed by his biographer Izaak Walton as a model of the saintly parish priest. Unselfish in his devotion and service to others, Walton writes that many of Herbert’s parishioners “let their plow rest when Mr Herbert’s saints-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotion to God with him.” His most famous prose work, A Priest in the Temple; or The Country Parson describes a well-balanced ideal of the English parish priest. Herbert portrays the parson as a well-read divine, temperate in all things, a man of duty and prayer, and devoted to his flock, providing a model for future generations of clergy.
On his deathbed, Herbert entrusted his collection of poems entitled The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar. The poems received their publication in 1633, after Herbert’s death. Two of his poems are well known hymns: “Teach me, my God and King” and “Let all the world in every corner sing”. Herbert was a man of deep Christian conviction and remarkable poetic gifts, with a mastery of both meter and metaphor. The grace, power, and metaphysical imagery of his poetry would influence the poetry of Henry Vaughn, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as the hymns of Charles Wesley. Herbert himself described his poems as “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could submit mine to the will of Jesus my Master; in whose service I have found perfect freedom.”
No poem better captures that meaning than this one, rich with eucharistic meaning and entitled, “Love”:
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Our God and King, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; 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 George Herbert, Priest, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, the Venerable Bede tells of an elderly lay brother, a herdsman named Caedmon, in the abbey of Streonæshalch at Whitby, presided over by the abbess Hilda (died 680, commemorated November 18). Though there must have been many before him, Caedmon is the first poet in English whose name is known to us, as he is also the first known Christian poet in the English language. One source suggests that Caedmon may have been of British origin, as his name is likely an Anglicization of the Cymric, Cadfan.
The Venerable Bede writes that at social entertainments, when Caedmon saw the harp coming towards him, meaning that it was soon to be his turn to play and to sing, he would leave the table and return home.
“Having done so at a certain time, and gone out of the house where the entertainment was, to the stable, where he had to take care of the horses that night, he there composed himself to rest at the proper time; a person appeared to him in his sleep, and saluting him by his name, said, “Caedmon, sing some song to me.” He answered, “I cannot sing; for that was the reason why I left the entertainment, and retired to this place because I could not sing.” The other who talked to him, replied, “However, you shall sing.” “What shall I sing?” rejoined he. “Sing the beginning of created beings,” said the other. Hereupon he presently began to sing verses to the praise of God, which he had never heard, the purport whereof was thus : We are now to praise the Maker of the heavenly kingdom, the power of the Creator and his counsel, the deeds of the Father of glory. How He, being the eternal God, became the author of all miracles, who first, as almighty preserver of the human race, created heaven for the sons of men as the roof of the house, and next the earth. This is the sense, but not the words in order as he sang them in his sleep; for verses, though never so well composed, cannot be literally translated out of one language into another, without losing much of their beauty and loftiness. Awaking from his sleep, he remembered all that he had sung in his dream, and soon added much more to the same effect in verse worthy of the Deity” (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book IV).
Next morning Caedmon told the steward of the gift that he had received, and the steward conducted him to the abbess who, “in the presence of many learned men”, ordered Caedmon to tell his dream and to repeat the verses. All present concluded that “heavenly grace had been conferred on him by our Lord.” Thereafter, Caedmon put to verse any passage of Scripture expounded to him by the learned abbess and brethren, and Hilda made Caedmon a lay brother among the monks of the abbey, ordering that he should be taught the whole of sacred history.
“Thus Caedmon ‘ keeping in mind all he heard, and as it were chewing the cud, converted the same into most harmonious verse; and sweetly repeating the same, made his masters in their turn his hearers. He sang the creation of the world, the origin of man, and all the history of Genesis : and made many verses on the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and their entering into the land of promise, with many other histories from holy writ; the incarnation, passion, resurrection of our Lord, and his ascension into heaven; the coming of the Holy Ghost, and the preaching of the apostles ; also the terror of future judgment, the horror of the pains of hell, and the delights of heaven; besides many more about the Divine benefits and judgments, by which he endeavoured to turn away all men from the love of vice, and to excite in them the love of, and application to, good actions; for he was a very religious man, humbly submissive to regular discipline, but full of zeal against those who behaved themselves otherwise; for which reason he ended his life happily”, ibid.
At the end of what Bede describes as a moderate (not life-threatening) illness, Caedmon perceived that death was near and asked to receive the eucharist. Having received communion in his hand, he asked whether all the brethren were in charity with him and free from anger. Replying that they were and asking whether he were in the same state towards them, Caedmon replied, “I am in charity, my children, with all the servants of God.” Taking communion, he marked himself with the sign of the cross, laid his head upon his pillow, and died.
Bede writes, “Thus it came to pass, that as he had served God with a simple and pure mind, and undisturbed devotion, so he now departed to his presence, leaving the world by a quiet death; and that tongue, which had composed so many holy words in praise of the Creator, uttered its last words whilst he was in the act of signing himself with the cross, and recommending himself into his hands, and by what has been here said, he seems to have had foreknowledge of his death.”
Caedmon was commemorated on February 11 at Whitby. He is commemorated on this day in the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada.
None of Caedmon’s poems has survived, save the nine lines recorded by the Venerable Bede in Latin and in several Old English versions among the Latin manuscripts of the Ecclesiastical History extant. The text below is from one of those manuscripts, with Michael Alexander’s translation following (from The Earliest English Poems, Third Edition, Penguin Books, 1991).
Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder; swa he wundra gehwæs
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend:
þa middangeard moncynnes Weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, Frea ælmihtig.
Praise now to the keeper of the kingdom of heaven,
the power of the Creator, the profound mind
of the glorious Father, who fashioned the beginning
of every wonder, the eternal Lord.
For the children of men he made first
heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.
Then the Lord of mankind, the everlasting Shepherd,
ordained in the midst as a dwelling place,
Almighty Lord, the earth for men.
Almighty God, you gave to your servant Caedmon singular gifts of rendering the holy Scriptures in verse, that the people of your Church at Whitby might be instructed in the faith and give praise to your holy Name: Stir up the hearts of your people, that they may joyfully sing your praises in this life and the life to come; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
An audio file of Caedmon’s Hymn (in Old English) may be found at the website for the Norton Anthology of English Literature (scroll down to find the file).
The icon Creation: Saint Caedmon’s Hymn is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.
Paul, or Saul as he was known until he became a Christian, was a Roman citizen, born at Tarsus, in present-day Turkey. He was brought up as a devoted Jew, studying in Jerusalem for a time under Gamaliel, the most famous rabbi of the day. Describing himself, he said, “I am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1).
A few years after the death of Jesus, Saul came in contact with the new Christian movement, and became one of the most fanatical of those who were determined to stamp out this “dangerous heresy”. Saul witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He was on the way to Damascus to lead in further persecution of the Christians when his dramatic conversion took place.
From that day, Paul devoted his life completely to Jesus Christ and especially to the conversion of Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles describes the courage and determination with which he planted Christian congregations over a large area of the land bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
His letters, the earliest of Christian writings, reveal him as the greatest of the interpreters of Christ’s death and resurrection, and as the founder of Christian theology. He writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). His treatment throughout his letters of a theology in which Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the hope of Israel and the climax and fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham and renewed at Sinai, and his breathtaking rewriting of Israel’s central confession that the Lord God is One to include Jesus as that one Lord, is nothing less than brilliant.
Paul describes himself as small and insignificant in appearance: “His letters are weighty and strong,” it was said of him, “but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He writes of having a disability which he had prayed God to remove from him, and quotes the Lord’s reply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore Paul went on to say, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul is believed to have been martyred at Rome in the year 64, during the persecution under the emperor Nero. As a Roman citizen, he would have been executed by decapitation.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
[Paul said to King Agrippa] “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
[Jesus said to the twelve] “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).
The icon is a fragment from a 13th century Roman fresco.
In the third century, many young men turned away from the corrupt and decadent society of the time, and went to live in deserts or mountains, in solitude, fasting, and prayer. Antony of Egypt was an outstanding example of this movement, but he was not merely a recluse. He was a founder of monasticism, and wrote a rule for anchorites.
Antony’s parents were Christians, and he grew up to be quiet, devout, and meditative. When his parents died, he and his younger sister were left to care for a sizable estate. Six months later, in church, he heard the reading about the rich young ruler whom Christ advised to sell all he had and give to the poor. Antony at once gave his land to the villagers, and sold most of his goods, giving the proceeds to the poor. Later, after meditating on Christ’s bidding, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” he sold what remained of his possessions, placed his sister in a “house of maidens,” and became an anchorite (solitary ascetic).
Athanasius of Alexandria, who knew Antony personally, writes that he spent his days praying, reading, and doing manual labor. For a time, he was tormented by demons in various guises. He resisted, and the demons fled. Moving to the mountains across the Nile from his village, Antony dwelt along for twenty years. In 305, he left his cave and founded a “monastery”, a series of cells inhabited by ascetics living under his rule. Athanasius writes of such colonies: “Their cells like tents were filled with singing, fasting, praying, and working that they might give alms, and having love and peace with one another.”
Antony visited Alexandria, first in 312, to encourage those suffering martyrdom under the emperor Maximinus; later, in 335, to combat the Arians by preaching, conversions, and the working of miracles. Most of his days were spent on the mountain with his disciple Macarius.
He willed a goat-skin tunic and a cloak to Athanasius, who said of him: “He was like a physician given by God to Egypt. For who met him grieving and did not go away rejoicing? Who came full of anger and was not turned to kindness?…What monk who had grown slack was not strengthened by coming to him? Who came troubled by doubts and failed to gain peace of mind?”
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God; 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 Antony, Abbot in Egypt, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
There are many legends but little known history regarding Kentigern. All the sources are from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Most are from the northern part of Britain, where Kentigern’s evangelistic and pastoral ministry took place. The sources contain various folkloric elements which are considerably older than the eleventh century, but which have no clear historical value (including in one source a confrontation with the druid Merlin). From these traditions we may with some assurance of historicity assume that Kentigern was the son of a British prince (perhaps Owain of Rheged) and of illegitimate birth. Under his nickname Mungo (meaning “darling”) was educated by Bishop Serf at Culross and became a monk in the austere Irish tradition. He later traveled to the northern British kingdom of Strathclyde (Stratclut), in what is now southwestern Scotland, where he was ordained bishop by another Irish missionary bishop. He continued the work of Saint Ninian in preaching the Gospel to the people in the vicinity of Dumbarton, the capital of the kingdom of Strathclyde, and established a religious foundation near Dumbarton, around which the city of Glasgow later grew. Persecuted by the pagan king Morcant Mwynfawr, Kentigern fled to Cumbria (in the kingdom of Rheged) for some time. On the accession of Morcant’s brother, king Riderch Hael the Generous, he was summoned back by the already-baptized king to continue his work of evangelism among the Britons of Strathclyde. Kentigern likely lived to the age of 85, and he died and was buried at his religious foundation at Glasgow. His relics are claimed by Glasgow Cathedral.
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Kentigern, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of northwestern Britain. 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, now and for ever. Amen.
Kentigern, Missionary Bishop, is commemorated on his traditional feast day of January 13 in the Calendars of the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church. He is commemorated on January 14 in the Kalendar of the Church in Wales as well as that of the Anglican Church in North America, so as not to conflict with the commemoration of Hilary of Poitiers.
The icon of Saint Kentigern is from Aidan Hart’s gallery of Western Orthodox saints and is reproduced here with his generous permission.