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If you have not heard of Cranmer then you really ought to check him out.

I do not mean Thomas Cranmer, the sixteenth century English politician and Archbishop of Canterbury who did Henry VIII’s bidding and was largely responsible for the process of transforming England from a Catholic into a Protestant country. You might say he campaigned for the power of State over Religion.

In fact, he is an interesting character study. Priests, in that pre-Protestant era were not allowed to marry. Of course many of them got up to “monkey business”, including popes with their batteries of “nephews”! But Cranmer actually married, although he had to keep it a secret for 14 years. By all accounts he was very devoted to his wife and she to him.

Cranmer paid for his support of Protestantism with his life. When Henry VIII’s Catholic daughter, Mary Tudor, “Bloody Mary”, came to the throne, she tried to reverse the reforms and Cranmer was put on trial. To try to save his life he recanted. Something Jews, too, often had to do in those religiously barbaric days. It didn’t help. As he was about to be executed, he defiantly recanted his recantation. So I guess whether he is a hero or not depends, as always, on whose side you are on.

If you have seen the television series The Tudors, you saw him portrayed as a weasel, a toady, a snake. I guess the writers had an agenda. But to many he represents that long and slow move towards Anglican openness and tolerance that many admire.

Nowadays the Anglican Church gets a bad rap for being so open-minded that it hardly stands for anything (as Cole Porter put it, “anything goes”). And I have to admit that I have often written negative pieces about the moral relativism of its archbishops, its tendency to face all directions simultaneously, and the intellectual indefensibility of its divines sitting in the parliamentary House of Lords and voting on matters they ought, by rights, not to.

Their lily-livered cowardice in refusing to stand up and protest Islamic attempts to roll back freedom of conscience and practice in the UK is one of the reasons why the fight for European cultural integrity has all but been abandoned. Nothing typifies the weakness of a liberal, middle-of-the-road position more than Anglicanism does, which, in part, is why more extreme sectors like the African Anglicans are breaking away to move closer to their Charismatic rivals and why charismatic churches in the UK are doing so much better than the Anglican establishment. Yet for all that, as the church fragments and Anglicans and Episcopalians slide gently towards irrelevance, I have to say I regret the loss.

As demonic, defiant, religious banshees scream and howl for their gods to punish nonbelievers, it is such a shame that the old tolerant C of E is nowhere to be seen. I recall the good old days of the CND marches fifty years ago, which were civilized, gentlemanly demonstrations. Vicarly marches from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square, where children were able to amble alongside adults with not a fear in the world. Nowadays you would have to be a child abuser to take one along to demonstrations of the aggressive savages who now typically posture and threaten for the right to oppress others.

Do not be misled into thinking that all C of E vicars were all tolerant, ineffectual, bumbling nonentities like the ones Jane Austen likes to describe. In 1754 when Parliament passed the Jew Bill, giving Jews equal rights, it was the Clerics of the C of E who led the opposition, with silly charges that Jews would insist that all Englishmen get circumcised and be forced to give up pork, that led to the bill being repealed and another hundred hears wait until equality was achieved, at least on paper. In 1975 I was invited to ‘say grace’ at a meeting of top English headmasters and five Anglicans headmasters walked out in protest at what they perceived as a threat to the religious integrity of their organization. So the fact is that the Church of England’s record is hardly perfect. But there have been, as indeed there are everywhere, some very significant exceptions; during the Second World War, Anglican archbishops were amongst the only churchmen to publicly take a stand against the extermination of the Jews.

I have gone into this long, apparently irrelevant excursion because of another Cranmer. He of the blog.

Because if you want to see why, despite everything I have written, I have a very soft spot for the C of E, it is because of men like him. Read what he writes. You will not find a more balanced, sensitive, and open Christian view of the world than his. And when the Talmud talks about the Pious of the Nations having a place in the World to Come, I reckon he’ll be right up there with the other least expected candidates for our version of sainthood.

9 thoughts on “Cranmer

  1. OK R,R.

    How “soft” ….
    is your “spot”…
    for Benjamin Disraeli?
    who had an even greater affection for the Anglican Church

    Diocese of Gibralter – top left corner, but still quite east of Canterbury – you’ll need wellies.

  2. Actually I am a fan of Dizzie, despite his father having taken him out, so to speak. Still, everyone else still thought of him as a Jew, poor bloke. In the end he turned the disadvantage of his heritage (in the eyes of others) into a positive feature, and Queenie loved her pet oriental!!!

  3. Hi,

    I’m not religious at all, (an atheist) but would like to ask how you, as a rabbi, can reconcile your view on gay marriage with what is written in the Torah, specifically Leviticus.

    I’m not trying to stir anything up, as I don’t care if gays marry or cohabitate, I’d just like to hear your view on what I have written above.


    Marc Eckstein

  4. There are two issues here, the civil and the religious.

    I strongly approve of democratic libertarian societies where individual choice is recognized so long as it has no negative impact on others. Interestingly, religion flourishes best where it is separated from the state and being religious is entirely a matter of personal conscience. Therefore I do not believe the state should interfere in matters of marriage, which I perceive as a religious issue, but should allow any civil partnership between consenting adults.

    Homosexuality was forbidden by the Torah in the context of a pagan world where anything associated with pagan religions was abhorrent and that applied to any expression of sexuality the Torah did not approve of. Just as problematic for the modern mind is the Torah command to kill the Canaanite tribes.

    The Oral Law recognizes that the laws dealing with pagans needed to be modified to suit changing conditions. Originally all the benefits of Israelite ‘citizenship’ were restricted to the citizenship of the Children of Israel. Privileges such as charity, residence, and equality in civil law were extended by the Torah to any non-Jew who rejected Paganism and adopted the Seven Noachide Commandments. But over time this was extended to include the pagan ‘stranger’ and by Talmudic times this became the norm, to ensure good relations. So on certain levels the Torah is sensitive to changing times and circumstances.

    The Torah, as a general manual, lays down certain ideals–marriage rather than celibacy or sexual free-for-all, having children rather than not. But that does not mean one is punished if one does not get married or have children, as some, rabbis in the past (admittedly only few we know of) did. Certainly homosexuality is not the ideal. It is not the same as a heterosexual union with the possibility of intercourse leading directly to having children and fulfilling Divine Commands. Non-observance is not the ideal either.

    Premarital sex is forbidden, too, yet everyone recognizes the reality of a world in which marriage is postponed well beyond puberty. But so long as matters are kept on a personal level there is absolutely no way in which a homosexual person of either gender should be victimized, discriminated against, or excluded. After all, no synagogue I know of imposes an adultery test before appointments or honors. Does this mean they approve of adultery? Of course not.

    The issue is indeed an issue if one campaigns to change Jewish ideals. No campaign to suggest homosexuality is preferred to heterosexuality as a lifestyle will ever gain approval, any more than a suggestion that one ought to “marry out” will. But Orthodoxy increasingly accepts reality so long as it is not challenged to alter its own value system.

  5. I don't know if there is anything to this. In researching possible origins of my father's last name, "Moorman," I met a gentleman on the internet who shared that last name. He was English and Jewish, and told me that his family had been expelled from Spain, and recruited by Henry VIII to come to England and dismantle the Catholic churches as the English would have been uncomfortable dismantling what, until very recently, had been their houses of worship. I have a possible ancestor, born on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, c. 1520, first name Robarte. His son seems to have intermarried with the Quakers. The family remained on the Isle of Wight and Quaker until the mid-17th century and then immigrated from England to various places–my branch to Niedersachsen, near the Holland border, where they stayed until the mid-19th century. They seem to have converted to Roman Catholicism soon after moving to continental Europe. I plan to have my brother take a genetic test to see if I can find Iberian/North African/Sephardic roots.

    There are some other odd things, which are probably not related. Quite a few family names don't belong to anyone presently living in Germany. And in one place, the groom took the bride's last name. The groom was named Ihlendorf. The bride was named Moorman. If this hadn't have happened, I would be an Ihlendorf today.

  6. There has been so much assimilation/integration of Jewish blood into the English population that the story of your Jewish antecedents sounds perfectly plausible. However no Jews ( other than those who had converted to Catholicism) were invited into Britain by Henry VIII. He had wanted rabbis to come over to argue with those who objected to his move to annul his wedding to Catharine of Aragon. his maariage was a Levirate one going back to biblical times. European Jews had decided to abandon the custom. But oriental Jews still adhered to it and he had invited rabbis from Venice. But then he was told he could not because Edward III's ban was still in effect. So I don't give any credence to the story of Jews coming to dismantle the Monasteries. That, I am afraid sounds like an old anti Semitic trope. Only after Cromwell could Jews officially come in and then against the objections of both the Church and the Merchants. It would take another two hundred years ( and a failed "Jew Bill") until they were accepted equally.
    Either way welcome to our fraternity however remote the connection!

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