Feast of St. Thomas Becket
The Feast of Thomas Becket.
Help us, like Thomas, defend and preserver our Lord’s church from those who would harm it. Amen.
There is no more celebrated English saint than Thomas Becket. A strong churchman who wavered for a moment, but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil, and so became a a defender of the faith, a protector of the church, a martyr, and a saint. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his own cathedral during Christmastide - December 29, 1170.
His career had been a stormy one. While archdeacon of Canterbury, he was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. Henry and Thomas had been comrades, and the king had nominated him for Archbishop of Canterbury in part because he thought he could influence him.
Thomas gave him fair warning: he might not accept all of Henry’s intrusions into Church affairs.
Nevertheless, in 1162 he was made archbishop, resigned his chancellorship, and reformed his whole way of life. When Becket took the Chair of St. Augustine, he turned from the convivial life of a courtier to the austere life of an ascetic and became a champion of the poor and of the rights of the church.
Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. He sought to control and use the church for the crown's political and economic aims. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise. He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome.
But Thomas eventually rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety, and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England he suspected it would mean certain death. Henry II never intended to have Becket killed, but after years of altercation the King exclaimed, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of his knights set out to oblige the king, and a few days later they fell upon the archbishop in his cathedral at Canterbury and killed him near the altar.
Thomas Becket's death signaled a victory for his cause since it resulted in the rallying of enormous public pressure against the king. The slain archbishop became a symbol of the integrity and independence of the church from an oppressive government. The sainted archbishop was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, and the site of his death became a shrine. For many generations it was the most popular place of pilgrimage in the British Isles.