Saint of the Day – 29 December – St Thomas a Becket (1118-1170) Martyr, Archbishop of Canterbury
A strong man who wavered for a moment but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil and so became a strong churchman, a martyr and a saint—that was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on 29 December 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. When Henry felt it advantageous to make his chancellor the archbishop of Canterbury, 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!
Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. 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 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.
Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favoured by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in the Canterbury cathedral.
Henry did penance at the grave of Thomas, seeking forgiveness for the actions of his knights and the tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.
Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.
Richard Burton played St Thomas in the film “Becket” with Peter O”Toole as King Henry II – here is a snip from “the Best Scenes”