Ridley and Latimer,
God, you’re my last chance of the day. I spend the night on my knees before you. Put me on your salvation agenda; take notes on the trouble I’m in. I’ve had my fill of trouble; I’m camped on the edge of hell. I’m written off as a lost cause, one more statistic, a hopeless case. Abandoned as already dead, one more body in a stack of corpses, And not so much as a gravestone – I’m a black hole in oblivion. You’ve dropped me into a bottomless pit, sunk me in a pitch-black abyss. I’m battered senseless by your rage, relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger. You turned my friends against me, made me horrible to them. I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out, blinded by tears of pain and frustration. I call to you, God; all day I call. I wring my hands, I plead for help.
Are the dead a live audience for your miracles? Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you? Does your love make any difference in a graveyard? Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell? Are your marvellous wonders ever seen in the dark, your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory? I’m standing my ground, God, shouting for help, at my prayers every morning, on my knees each daybreak. Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear? Why do you make yourself scarce? For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting; I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it. Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life; I’m bleeding, black and blue. You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side, raining down blows till I’m nearly dead. You made lover and neighbour alike dump me; the only friend I have left is Darkness.
It is pure speculation, but I do wonder if this Psalm was on the minds of these two men as they lay in their prison cells the night before their execution. The Psalm is entitled A Prayer for Deliverance From Death.
We know from the writings of John Foxe that Ridley was certainly fearful. It is said that Latimer comforted him as they were burned at the same stake with these words: ‘Be of good comfort Master Ridley and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as (I trust) shall never be put out.’
Despite their fears, despite the desperateness of the situation they found themselves in, facing rejection and death, they held firm to their beliefs. They stood their ground.
But what had brought them to this point, condemned for heresy and sentenced to death?
Both men were in the vanguard of the English Reformation. Ridley was the first of the English Reformers to accept and propagate the distinctive teaching on the Eucharist of the ninth-century Benedictine monk Ratramnus. He stated that the presence of Christ is affirmed in a spiritual, not physical, form in the hearts of believers receiving the consecrated bread and wine, and not in the elements themselves.
He helped Cranmer compile the Prayer Book and was a great influence. Cranmer was still a believer in the (physical) Real Presence but in his words, ‘Dr Ridley did confer with me, and … drew me quite from my opinion’. As a result, the distinctive ‘Cranmerian’ flavour of the Prayer Book Communion service owes much to Ridley.
Further, after being appointed Bishop of London in 1550, Ridley forced the pace of the English Reformation by requiring the removal of stone altars from churches in London diocese and their replacement with wooden communion tables. At the time the political will to move in this direction nationally was lacking. Ridley’s initiative broke the log jam and was widely followed, providing a reformed context for the Eucharist.
Latimer was educated at Cambridge and elected Fellow of Clare Hall in 1510. After ordination he quickly gained a reputation as a highly able speaker and preacher and used these gifts to promote reform of the university and social justice on a wider scale.
At that time Cambridge was a hotbed of Protestant opinions and Latimer began to align himself with them. He refused to preach a sermon against Martin Luther and was suspended from preaching. He regained his licence to preach after a successful interview with Cardinal Wolsey.
Latimer’s preaching style was direct, homely and witty, demonstrating a clear knowledge of both Scripture and human nature. He preached before Henry VIII in Lent 1530 and gained the king’s favour.
After the break with Rome his advice was increasingly sought by the king and in 1535, he became Bishop of Worcester. When the king turned against reform Latimer resigned. He was then imprisoned for some months. Following this he was forbidden to preach and required to leave London.
By the end of Henry VIII’s reign he was imprisoned in the Tower but was released on Edward VI’s accession. He became again a popular and influential court preacher. He spoke chiefly about justice, denouncing both social and ecclesiastical corruption and abuses.
Both men were imprisoned on the accession of Queen Mary, a Roman Catholic in 1553. Both refused to recant their theological opinions. Ridley wrote statements defending his opinions. They died together, burnt at the same stake in Oxford on 16 October 1555. They did indeed light a candle that has not been put out.
Almighty and everlasting God,
increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind
and reaching out to that which is before,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Associate Hub Leader