Thomas Cranmer vs. Thomas the Apostle

Welcome to the opening matchup of Lent Madness XV! If you’re a veteran Lent Madness participant, welcome back! If you're joining us for the first time, we’re delighted you’re along for this wild, saintly ride! And if you're just penitential-curious, check out the About Lent Madness tab on the website to find out what all the fuss is about.

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But mostly, we encourage you to read about the 32 saints participating in this year’s edition of Lent Madness (download the FREE Digital Saintly Scorecard), faithfully cast your (single!) vote on the weekdays of Lent, and add your comments to the great cloud of participating witnesses that gathers as the online Lent Madness community each year.

To celebrate the 15th year of Lent Madness, all 16 first round matchups are themed battles. Some will be obvious, some less so. For instance, today it's the Thomas Throwdown as Thomas Cranmer faces Thomas the Apostle.

But enough of this idle chatter. It's time to cast your very first vote of Lent Madness 2024! We’re glad you’re all here. Now get to it!

Thomas Cranmer

If you have taken to heart the prayer to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the holy scriptures that are written for our learning, or felt in awe in considering how in Holy Communion “we continually dwell in [Christ] and he in us,” you can thank Thomas Cranmer for these memorable turns of phrase.

Born in 1489, Cranmer undertook studies at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was ordained. There he first came into extended contact with the text of holy scripture and the thought of the Continental Reformation. By 1529, when it was becoming clear that Pope Clement VII would not grant an annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Cranmer, convinced of the superiority of the King over the pope in purely English matters, worked eagerly to sway learned opinion on Henry’s behalf. When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died in 1532, Henry swiftly arranged for Cranmer’s elevation to the see of Canterbury.

Upon becoming archbishop, Cranmer became the king’s chief instrument in asserting Royal Supremacy over the church in England. He annulled Henry and Catherine’s marriage in 1533 (later pronouncing similar judgments on marriages to Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves) and he agreed with Parliament’s Act of Supremacy in 1534 which split the Church in England from the Roman Church.

Yet Cranmer was also his own man, devoted to the reformation of the English church. Together with Thomas Cromwell, he supported the first widespread dissemination of the Bible in English. After Henry’s death, during the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer achieved his greatest legacy and highest ambition –-to revise Church services into a “tongue understanded by the people.” He published the Great Litany in English in 1544, and his embrace of the ideas of the Continental Reformation ultimately led to the production of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and its subsequent 1552 revision. It was his intense devotion to the English Reformation that would ultimately be his undoing.

Upon the accession of Mary I, a staunch Roman Catholic, to the crown following a nine-day power struggle, Cranmer was accused of treason and heresy, and was arrested and held inhumanely. The stress of his captivity led to deep depression and two recantations of the doctrines he once prized. At his martyrdom, however, he renounced his recantations, and when burned at the stake in Oxford in 1556, he put his hand into fire, proclaiming “this hand hath offended.”

It is to that hand that Anglican churches worldwide owe the masterful prose and poetry and essentially scriptural spirituality that infuse the Book of Common Prayer, guiding us in prayer to this day.

Collect for Thomas Cranmer
Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

— David Sibley

Thomas the Apostle

Thomas is simply named as a member of the 12 in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel of John, however, takes special interest in Thomas. And the disciple does not always look so great.

In John 11:16, when Jesus wants to return to Judea to mourn his friend Lazarus, Thomas sarcastically remarks, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” In John 14:5, during Jesus’s last meal with his friends, Thomas expresses confusion about Jesus’s plain teaching.

Perhaps most notoriously, Thomas refuses to believe the reports of the disciples when they announce that Jesus was raised from the dead. In John 20:25, Thomas famously says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (Though, to be fair, he only wanted what the other disciples already got to experience.)

Whatever beef the author of the Gospel of John may have had with Thomas, his assaults on Thomas’s character were effective. It probably does not help that Thomas’s name was attached to a collection of Jesus’s sayings that some would deem heretical. The image of “doubting” Thomas, the heretic, persists.

Such a view however, overlooks some of Thomas’s amazing triumphs. Shortly after expressing his desire to see the resurrected Christ for himself, Thomas makes one of the strongest Christological affirmations in the entire New Testament when, upon touching the resurrected Christ’s wounds, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Thomas also became one of early Christianity’s greatest champions. He took the gospel all the way to India. His bold proclamation was accompanied by many miracles. Several early Christian texts bear his name and recount his exploits. The Acts of Thomas tell of his many adventures spreading the gospel (if you vote him into the next round, I promise to share some of the juicier tales). The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (which is really mostly about Jesus’ childhood) is essential reading, and really, the Gospel of Thomas is worth careful study too. That his name is attached to so many early Christian texts betrays his importance to the nascent movement.

Thomas was killed in India, either by a spear or at the hands of some angry priests (maybe angry priests with spears!). His feast day is celebrated on December 21 in the Episcopal Church. His story is often told on the second Sunday of Easter.

Collect for Thomas the Apostle
Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP)

David Creech


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260 comments on “Thomas Cranmer vs. Thomas the Apostle”

  1. Anne Boleyn was “divorced” in that she was charged with several “crimes” she was not guilty of- treason, incest, and adultery. Whatever you think of Henry’s divorces from Catherine and Anne of Cleves, his treatment of Anne was deeply misogynistic. He got sick of his new wife, so he murdered her. That his court went along with it and gave it a veneer if justice and sanctity, to me, far outweighs the poetry Cranmer wrote. He was an important reformer, but he worshiped human power more than Christ’s. I implore you all not to vote for someone who was so loyal to such a capricious man, especially when the alternative is one of the Apostles who was clearly an important figure in the early church.

  2. Anne Boleyn was “divorced” in that she was charged with several “crimes” she was not guilty of- treason, incest, and adultery. That Cranmer would go along with these misogynistic lies and provide ecclesiastical cover for them is reprehensible.

    1. Apologies for the double comment- the page crashed and reloaded and I didn’t realize it went through more than once.

  3. Tom C had me at “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest!” One of my favorite collects. His prose is poetic, right up to that day at the stake in Oxford when he put his pen hand in the flames.

    And David Creech, lighten up on Thomas the Apostle. I don’t hear sarcasm, only deep love for Jesus in his “let’s go too” speech—love that moved to a whole new dimension when he (maybe) touched the risen Christ.

  4. Good morning, Lent Madness folks! Good to see the celebrity bloggers back. I think I voted for Thomas the Apostle this morning (had a little computer trouble), as I don't think I can see this page without a valid vote. But it was a tough decision, as the Book of Common Prayer is so central to our worship. Let the games begin!

  5. I didn't get to vote but the website says thank you for your vote. I really don't want to get disqualified from Lent Madness on day 1. I want to vote for Thomas the Apostle, but guess I'll have to give up that vote for Lent!

  6. I couldn’t vote from email. I went to the website and proved that I wasn’t a robot! Then it said, “vote not allowed.”

  7. The captcha robot thing kicked me out. Have no idea if I voted once, twice, not at all. Hope tomorrow is better.

  8. I’ll wait to vote till later today, so the technical kinks of LM’s first day are worked out. It’ll give me time to consider each Thomas, whjich is a tough choice to begin XV LM. Love John Cabot’s beginning limerick! Till then.

  9. What an invidious choice! Voting for Thomas the Apostle purely to find out more about what he got up to in the next round...

  10. What an invidious choice! Voting for Thomas the Apostle purely to find out more about what he got up to in the next round...

  11. Finally got in on iPad. I don’t remember the captchas from years past. Not a fan.
    But I finally was able to cast a vote that was accepted. Whew.

  12. Although I do greatly esteem the Thomas who put our church services into a language I have always understanded, and also did his best to keep Henry VII from killing his wives by annulling those marriages, I must give my vote to the Thomas who heard Jesus say "When you make the two into one, when you make the inner like the outer, and the upper like the lower, when you make male and female into a single one so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female....then you will enter the Kingdom."

  13. I voted for Cranmer. My church's adult forum had a wonderful presentation on lhim this past Sunday by one of our longtime members.Having only been involved with the Episcopal Church for the past 10 years I have come to treasure the BCP.
    Its tough though.Both are superbchoices!

  14. Was voting through FB site and couldn't. Ended up going direct from website. Hard decision between the two but finally went with Thomas the Apostle who speaks to my many theological doubts.

  15. I love both Thomases. I went with Cranmer because the richness of his spirituality has been such a vital part of my life, and I am comforted to see that doubts and fears can still be a part of such great witness. We do not strive for perfection. We strive for faithfulness, and Thomas got there in the end.

    1. Oh how funny! I actually used Gertrude and her cats as an example of what a person might base their vote on when I was explaining LM to a friend. Thanks for the verification! Lol!

  16. For some reason, I'm not allowed to vote (it keeps saying "vote not allowed") but as a baptized and confirmed Anglican, I'd have voted for Thomas Cranmer.

  17. This whole bracket was tough. I chose Thomas the Apostle because he reminds us that you can return even after doubting and questioning your faith which I have done many times.

  18. I am thrilled that Lent Madness has begun! I was thrilled to learn that Thomas Cranmer wrote those beautiful prayers in our BCP! I also am delighted to learn that he also was rather instrumental in breaking away from the Roman church. He made so many contributions to our liturgy.

    All that being said and his significant contributions to the Anglican faith, Thomas the Apostle gets my vote. Thomas represents a huge segment of the faith /spiritual community! How many of us have wanted proof? How many of us have struggled with ‘The Mystery’? His evangelism took him to India! He was able to speak his experience and his doubt to others. He had an understanding of all doubters…. Then and now! I recall a story about Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas; this may be incorrect; if so, I apologize! Jesus was a young boy and playing outside. He and his friend had a disagreement. So, Jesus ‘killed him’. When Jesus went inside his mother asked where his friend was. Jesus told her what he did. She sent back outside and told him to bring his friend back! Jesus really was so human! I am sure there is someone in Lent Madness land that is able to correct this story… My vote is still for Thomas The Apostle!

  19. I've always felt a kinship with Thomas the Apostle, because I too struggle with doubt. If Thomas could confront Jesus with his doubt, surely God hears my struggles. So my vote today went with Thomas the Apostle. Plus I really want to hear some of those juicy stories!

  20. I cannot cast a ballot on line or on Facebook. Selection will not respond. I see that others are having this problem as well. Will keep trying.
    Love Lent Madness. Look forward to it every year.
    Blessings and Peace.

  21. Your "Verify" screen isn't working for this old lady. The photos are fuzzy and I can't resolve whether there is or is not a bicycle/motorcycle/microscopic sized piece of a . . . so it won't let me vote.

  22. This was a toughie, but in the end I voted for Thomas the Apostle, in part because I serve in a church by that title, but also because I have been much inspired by a book entitled Wounded Lord which argues that we best understand John's gospel from Thomas' perspective (hope the book review is ok here).

  23. My school in Little Rock, Arkansas enjoys LM a lot! But we are experiencing some voting difficulties. Many of us are not being allowed to vote/ being told “Thank you for voting” before we can cast a vote.