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Archbishop Cranmer – 10 years of religio-political edification and enlightenment

 

Ten years ago today, on 21st March 2006, the Archbishop Cranmer blog burst into the Blogosphere. Well, perhaps the irruption wasn’t so much a burst as a seep, for in those darkened days before the ubiquity of all-singing Twitter and all-dancing Facebook, there was no real means of bursting anywhere without the tacit support of Paul Dacre or Baron Bell of Belgravia. Come to think of it, there wasn’t really a concept of ‘Blogosphere’ either: it seemed just a random cacophony of sundry egotists. But joining their number was irresistible – especially given the evident religio-political ‘gap’ in the medium – and so the Archbishop Cranmer blog crept onto the incipient social-media stage to join a few prominent others (namely Guido Fawkes, Conservative Home and Iain Dale’s Diary) in publishing political polemic and personal opinion dressed up as freewheeling journalism.

If it hadn’t been for the initial inspiration and support of those giants of the Blogosphere, this blog would have sunk into the cyber-ether which has consumed so many thousands of others, who give up – quite understandably – when having to get out of bed at 5.00am to face a blank screen becomes a reason for never wanting to sleep. Blogfather Iain Dale was an unfailing well-wisher, and Paul Goodman (then an MP; now editor of ConHome) a source of great wisdom and insight. There are many others one could thank, but this blog post really can’t take the form of an Academy Award gabfest.

21st March 2006 was also the 450th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who was burned at the stake in Broad Street, Oxford, for ‘heresy’. Today we remember him on the Church’s Calendar, and this evening some 80 guests will toast his memory at Lambeth Palace, which is hosting the Grand Decennial Dinner to commemorate what feels like a lifetime of thankless blog-slog trauma, black dog and botheration. Thanks go to His (present) Grace Archbishop Justin Welby for allowing this celebration during the solemnities of Holy Week, and thanks also to the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, who (hotfoot from Iraq) agreed to be the guest speaker.

Aaron Biber 3There have, of course, also been one or two pleasurable moments over the decade. Together we have raised in excess of £20,000 for various charities: for the poor victims of famines, floods or earthquakes, and the personal favourite – the sum of £2,400 donated by readers and communicants for barber Aaron Biber following the 2011 Tottenham riots (and delivered personally). When a blogging community can pull together and raise that sort of cash for the world’s destitute, dispossessed, abused and unfortunate, it makes the whole enterprise feel so much more worthwhile.

This blog was never meant to be a source of news, or even of an exclusive apprehension of Christian comment on conservative matters of political Conservatism. It was certainly never conceived to peddle spin or break a scoop, but rather to offer a platform for erudite and intelligent comment upon that dimension of politics which is increasingly ignored or completely sidelined in the contemporary ‘secular’ sphere.

So many of our politicians have failed to notice that the Western world has entered its most ‘spiritual’ phase since the Reformation. The Enlightenment manifestly failed to usher in an era of scientific rationalism, with assurances of the end of human conflict and promises of eternal Utopia. And now a postmodern era of inviolable human rights and environmentalist tree-hugging has swept across the known world, promulgating a new uniformity of belief which presents its own unique set of dangers. The Archbishop Cranmer blog has at least offered a platform to some of the dissenters, diggers, levellers and protestants of postmodern political absolutism.

Through eight years on Blogger and two on WordPress, this blog has received in excess of a million visitors from 127 states, including the Vatican. It is good to cyber-reach beyond the temporal ecclesial edifices of the other, and to be able to cyber-commune in Cranmer’s Cathedral with a host of saints and sinners whose erudition (mostly) and intelligence (largely) have made this blog what it is. You keep coming back for more, so it must be offering a daily bread of sorts. Perhaps it is iron sharpening iron. Thank you all for your fellowship.

Thomas Cranmer lived in an age of controversy, when an allegation of ‘heresy’ was the convenient denunciation by which church-state irritants were silenced and dispensed with. In the modern era, it is allegations of ‘bigotry’, ‘phobia’ or ‘conspiracy theorist’ which are hurled to muzzle debate and murder reputations. Those who care for the truth and perceive beyond the soundbite are those who will care for and guard doctrine. It is a disjunctive, luminous intrusion into the shadowy reality of political correctness. “Full, perfect and sufficient” are not qualities which resonate in the itching ear.

Through 10 years of holding and debating matters of religion and politics in tension, some errors have been made – in content, tone and often by omission. For these, apologies and penitence are due. But condemnation fosters isolation; negativity, confusion; and threats, intimidation. They have been forthcoming in abundance over the years, and make blogging a passion and an agony. One longs for an end, but the sun always rises on another day when something needs to be said, and so it is, sometimes with stumbling, often with struggling, and always bound by the filthy rags of human inadequacy and sin. Public confession makes a walk to the stake a daily burden, but death is preferable to deception.

“Forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished,” cried Thomas Cranmer as the acrid smoke caught in his throat and choked the greatest of Reformation saints. The Archbishop Cranmer blog is a woefully inadequate memorial to the man’s spiritual influence and theological genius, but we must remember that he penned two versions of his final declaration; and that he affirmed and recanted and then recanted his recantation. There is no end to rightly dividing the word of truth, and no boundary to the contemplation of the words which seek to expound the Word.

The Book of Common Prayer still resonates its mercies through a thousand cloisters, and a right hand is still held defiantly in the flames of intolerance and hate. This blog offers no comparable liturgy or proximate sacrifice, but it has now for 10 years sustained a glowing ember in the darkness of the days which long to be shortened. Thank you and bless you all for reading, communing, carping and criticising. It has been a remarkable decade, but the best and the worst are yet to come.