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The Oxford Martyrs and GAFCON - Bart Gingerich

The Oxford Martyrs and GAFCON

by Bart Gingerich
October 17, 2013

Yesterday, all self-respecting Anglicans raised a glass to the Oxford Martyrs, brave souls of whom the world was not worthy. After the gradual dissolution of the relationship between the Church of Rome and the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII, clergy also began to institute such corrections that became known as the English Reformation. Liturgist Thomas Cranmer was consecrated the 83rd Archbishop of Canterbury, allowing for moderate reform to continue (only 2 bishops left their posts after the break). When Henry's son Edward VI acceded to the throne, the Church moved in an increasingly Protestant direction. Two low churchmen rose to prominence at the time: Hugh Latimer (a court preacher) and Nicholas Ridley (eventual Bishop of London). Ridley was famous for his moderating influence, holding Continental Reformation excesses at bay while correcting what he saw as grievous abuses.

When King Edward VI fell mortally ill from a lung infection, he named Lady Jane Grey, great-granddaughter of Henry VII, as the next monarch through his will. The Privy Council, which included Cranmer, signed off on the document. The Protestant leaders, of course, were scrambling to keep Edward's Roman Catholic half sister Mary from assuming the crown. This contradicted the much stronger Third Succession Act, which granted succession rights to both Mary and her half-sister Elizabeth. Mary quickly gathered a military force of Roman sympathizers and was granted the monarchy. She immediately executed political opponents and began to hunt down religious leaders. This was an age when people died and killed for their faith. Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer were incarcerated in Bocardo prison to stand trial at Oxford.

Starting April 1554, papal party commissioners began an examination of the trio. The aged Latimer had to send his defense in writing. Ridley, with John Jewel as his notary, stood trial in person. Both Latimer and Ridley were summarily condemned to death by burning, with Cranmer forced to watch from the prison tower. Ridley suffered greatly since he burned slowly. He is said to have exclaimed, "Lord have mercy upon me. I cannot burn..Let the fire come unto me, I cannot burn." Famously, Latimer evidently turned to his compatriot to say, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Cranmer would be executed 5 months later. He had been imprisoned in solitary for seventeen months. Under duress by authorities secular and religious, Cranmer signed recantations of his earlier positions. Queen Mary demanded he still serve as an example and ordered him to make a public recantation before an execution at the stake. He submitted a manuscript ahead of time, but, on the 21st of March, abandoned the script by renouncing his recantations that he had signed and written. "And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine," he concluded. Immediately, he was pulled from the pulpit and committed to the flame. He thrust "that unworthy hand" that signed his recantations into the fire as final defiance against his cowardice.

These days, it's hard to find such characters and attitudes as these in the West. Broadchurch latitudinarianism, so enthralled by the Enlightenment and relevance, has been converted by the culture. Many ecclesiastical leaders gingerly coax the orthodox and revisionists to get along, all in a spirit of niceness. After all, the Precious Moments Jesus they worship requires a Hegelian synthesis of contradictory positions. The Lambeth Conference, which tried to bring radical figures from the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada together with orthodox leaders from the rest of the world, represents the apotheosis of such attitudes.

Standards-aside from the right political sentiments-must be dropped. This denudes what used to be the world's most educated clergy of their intellect and their ability to spread and pass on the deposit of faith.

In this context of anything goes, Anglicans across the world and especially in the Global South have rejected the spirit of the age. They still hold to such old-fashioned approaches as having Scripture, tradition, and reason be the guides for doctrinal matters. So shamefully impolite and uncooperative. They dare enforce absolutes and limits, for that is what a commitment to the truth demands of us. How inconvenient and inflexible. And in the unity of truth, these Anglicans will soon meet together in Nairobi at GAFCON. May their orthodox catholic naughtiness light yet another candle in this dark world.


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