Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For All the Saints: Thomas Becket

In Roman Catholic churches and the Anglican communion, Thomas Becket is honored today, the anniversary of his assassination. he was born in 1119 or 1120, and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1164. That same year, King Henry II acted to achieve a lessened connection of the English church to Rome and also less clerical independence. He was able to gain the consent of all the higher clergy of England---all but Becket. Over the course of the next few years, Becket still would not give his formal consent, and when Henry expressed his frustration aloud---one version of what he said is, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"---four of the king's knights took the words as an order to kill Becket, which they did at Canterbury on December 29, 1170.

Becket was canonized quickly, by 1172, and his reputation as a faithful servant and martyr grew through the years. The poets Alfred, Lord Tennyson and T.S. Eliot and the dramatist Jean Anouilh wrote plays him. A famous quotation from Eliot's play (Murder at the Cathedral) comes from Becket's struggles with pride and right motives.

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

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