Must Be Free to Critique

Today the church honors three British Bishops, all ceremoniously executed by English royalty for their opposition to decisions of the monarch: Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester; and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of Rochester.

The most familiar to most, Bishop Cranmer, was instrumental in crafting the language that would end up in the Book of Common Prayer, a compendium that Ridley helped commission. All three were influenced by the Reformation movement in Germany, with Cranmer even marrying the daughter of Andreas Osiander.

Bp. Cranmer’s scholarly work shaped how Christianity became expressed in the English-speaking world.

Bp. Latimer, known for pithy and homey sermons that packed a punch, was zealous in speaking against corruption in the church. He was made Bishop of Worcester, but resigned his see over Henry VIII’s policies. He, unlike Cranmer, did not believe the Reformation’s goals were noble.

Bp. Ridley, however, did believe in the Reformation movement in Britain, and pushed them as Bishop of Rochester.

All three took part in the Oxford disputations against Roman Catholic theologians…and that’s where things really went wrong.

With Queen Mary’s accession to the throne, these Protestant Bishops who refused to recant their theology, would all lose their lives in the political struggles of the day. Queen Mary, a staunch and rigid Roman Catholic, would have none of it

Cranmer was burned at the stake in 1556.

Latimer and Ridley were thrown in the Tower of London and executed together on this day in 1555. Latimer’s last words to Ridley, as they were led to be burned at the stake, were “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England that shall never be put out.”

Latimer ended up being correct.

These Bishops are a reminder for me, and for the whole church, that when ideas about a “national religion” get batted around, or when any sect tries to impose their religious beliefs on an entire people, things go poorly.

The (literally) shining example of these three imperfect humans is testament to this.

A church must be free to critique the state, and to do that it can’t be in the pocket of the state.

-historical bits taken from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-stained glass from, ironically, St. Mary’s Church in Melton, known as the “Oxford Martyrs”

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