Book Notice: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer

Leslie Williams
Emblems of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016.
Available at

Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the tumultuous reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I.

In this short biography, Leslie Williams provides a great overview of the life and significance of Thomas Cranmer, particularly how he contributed to the Reformation of England. His contribution to the prayer book shaped Christian faith in the English-speaking world for centuries.  Two things stand out from the book. First, Williams offers a line that I think would make a great essay topic for students of the English Reformation: “Nothing Cranmer wrote or preached was as convincing as his death.” Discuss that one in class. Second, I really liked Williams’ conclusion to the book as well:

Once again, in the twenty-first century, the Anglican Church is divided. Some of the same issues are at stake: the authority of Scripture, the nationalism versus an international church, interpretation of tradition, and questions of polity. The Anglican Communion finds itself between two difficult and diametrically opposed beliefs, trying to reconcile a gospel of love and inclusivity with the biblical injunctions. Heroes in this day and age are hard to come by. But Cranmer, caught between two irreconcilable absolutely – a sovereign who demanded that all her subjects belong to a church he couldn’t accept, and his own belief that the sovereign was to be obeyed at all costs – was a heroic figure, a man who lost his life but not his legacy. In the end, Cranmer held fast to the authority of the Bible, the early church traditions, and his personal belief in Jesus Christ. He stands at the stake, his hand in the flames; and over 450 years later he remains the symbol of a true faith worth dying for.

A great read for any Anglophile or anyone interested in the history of Anglicanism.

I hope Williams does Ridley next!


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