UU Minute #37

Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer

In 1534, England’s Henry VIII maneuvered parliament into declaring him, “Head of the Church in England,” independent of Papal authority. Yet there was no change in doctrine, liturgy, or practice – at least, not at first. Protestant ideas gradually began infiltrating the Church of England from Protestant refugees flocking into England, which Henry was obliged to welcome because, having alienated his Catholic allies, he was now dependent on fostering alliances with Protestant powers.

After Henry’s death in 1547, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was keen to bring Protestant Reform to the Church of England. He invited Protestant scholars from the mainland – which is what brought Bernardino Ochino and Lelio Sozzini (Laelius Socinus) to England, where they met each other.

Cranmer produced the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer in 1549, reflecting a significant shift toward Protestant theology. In keeping with the Protestant doctrine that salvation was by faith alone, Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer removed from its source material any idea that earned merit contributed to salvation – and the Protestant doctrine of predestination is implicit throughout the prayer book.

The Catholic Queen Mary’s reign began in 1553, and revoked Cranmer’s liturgy. At that very time – the 1550s – over in Transylvania, Queen Isabella was content to be a Catholic ruler of a Protestant kingdom tolerant of both Protestant and Catholic – but not England’s Queen Mary. She tried hard to return England to the Catholic fold. Nearly 300 religious dissenters were burned at the stake.

But Parliament resisted Mary as they could, and when her 5-year reign ended, Elizabeth I re-established the Church of England as independent from Rome, and reinstated worship based on Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

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