Skip to comments.Our Anglican Roots: St. Thomas Becket
Posted on 08/03/2005 7:42:35 AM PDT by sionnsar
St. Thomas Becket
Well educated, Becket (?1120-1170) was appointed in 1155 by Henry II to be Chancellor of England. At this time Becket lived in luxury and was the king's favorite companion. When, in 1162, he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury at the instigation of the King, he accepted the office with reluctance, knowing a break to be inevitable. He became an active champion of the church and the people.
A series of bitter conflicts with the King followed. In 1170, the King in irritation said, "Have I not about me one man of enough spirit to rid me of a single insolent prelate?" Four of his knights took this remark as a commission. They went at once to Canterbury and murdered the Archbishop while he was at vespers in the cathedral.
The murder provoked great indignation throughout Europe. Miracles were soon recorded at Becket's tomb, and he was canonized in 1173. In 1174 Henry did public penance at the shrine. Becket's shrine at Canterbury was a favorite place of pilgrimage until it was destroyed under Henry VIII.
Martyr, Archbishop of Canterbury, born at London, 21 December, 1118 (?); died at Canterbury, 29 December, 1170. St. Thomas was born of parents who, coming from Normandy, had settled in England some years previously. No reliance can be placed upon the legend that his mother was a Saracen. In after life his humble birth was made the subject of spiteful comment, though his parents were not peasants, but people of some mark, and from his earliest years their son had been well taught and had associated with gentlefolk. He learned to read at Merton Abbey and then studied in Paris. On leaving school he employed himself in secretarial work, first with Sir Richer de l'Aigle and then with his kinsman, Osbert Huitdeniers, who was "Justiciar" of London. Somewhere about the year 1141, under circumstances that are variously related, he entered the service of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and in that household he won his master's favour and eventually became the most trusted of all his clerks. A description embodied in the Icelandic Saga and derived probably from Robert of Cricklade gives a vivid portrait of him at this period.
To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.
Theobald recognized his capacity, made use of him in many delicate negotiations, and, after allowing him to go for a year to study civil and cannon law at Bologna and Auxerre, ordained him deacon in 1154, after bestowing upon him several preferments, the most important of which was the Archdeaconry of Canterbury (see Radford, "Thomas of London", p. 53).
It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took "Thomas of London", as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry's
wide dominions. The chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existed between the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that "they had but one heart and one mind". Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although they hunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them. Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart. Whether the chancellor, who was after all the elder man, was the true originator of the administrative reforms which Henry introduced cannot now be clearly determined. In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king's imperial views and love of splendour were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate a marriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: "If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?"
In 1153 Thomas acted as justice itinerant in three counties. In 1159 he seems to have been the chief organizer of Henry's expedition to Toulouse, upon which he accompanied him, and though it seems to be untrue that the impost of "scutage" was called into existence for that Occasion (Round, "Feudal England", 268-73), still Thomas undoubtedly pressed on the exaction of this money contribution in lieu of military service and enforced it against ecclesiastics in such a way that bitter complaints were made of the disproportionately heavy burden this imposed upon the Church. In the military operations Thomas took a leading part, and Garnier, a French chronicler, who lived to write of the virtues of St. Thomas and his martyrdom, declares that in these encounters he saw him unhorse many French knights. Deacon though he was, he lead the most daring attacks in person, and Edward Grim also gives us to understand that in laying waste the enemy's country with fire and sword the chancellor's principles did not materially differ from those of the other commanders of his time. But although, as men then reported, "he put off the archdeacon", in this and other ways, he was very far from assuming the licentious manners of those around him. No word was ever breathed against his personal purity. Foul conduct or foul speech, lying or unchastity were hateful to him, and on occasion he punished them severely. He seems at all times to have had clear principles with regard to the claims of the Church, and even during this period of his chancellorship he more than once risked Henry's grievous displeasure. For example, he opposed the dispensation which Henry for political reasons extorted from the pope, and strove to prevent the marriage of Mary, Abbess of Romsey, to Matthew of Boulogne. But to the very limits of what his conscience permitted, Thomas identified himself with his master's interests, and Tennyson is true to history when he makes the archbishop say:
I served our Theobald well when I was with him:
I served King Henry well as Chancellor:
I am his no more, and I must serve the Church.
Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy. Our authorities are agreed that from the first Thomas drew back in alarm. "I know your plans for the Church," he said, "you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose." But Henry
would not be gainsaid, and Thomas at the instance of Cardinal Henry of Pisa, who urged it upon him as a service to religion, yielded in spite of his misgivings. He was ordained priest on Saturday in Whitweek and consecrated bishop the next day, Sunday, 3 June, 1162. It seems to have been St. Thomas who obtained for England the privilege of keeping the feast of the Blessed Trinity on that Sunday, the anniversary of his consecration, and more than a century afterwards this custom was adopted by the papal Court, itself and eventually imposed on the whole world.
A great change took place in the saint's way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected. On 10 Aug. he went barefoot to receive the envoy who brought him the pallium from Rome. Contrary to the king's wish he resigned the chancellorship. Whereupon Henry seems to have required him to surrender certain ecclesiastical preferments which he still retained, notably the archdeaconry, and when this was not done at once showed bitter displeasure. Other misunderstandings soon followed. The archbishop, having, as he believed, the king's express permission, set about to reclaim alienated estates belonging to his see, a procedure which again gave offence. Still more serious was the open resistance which he made to the king's proposal that a voluntary offering to the sheriffs should be paid into the royal treasury. As the first recorded instance of any determined opposition to the king's arbitrary will in a matter of taxation, the incident is of much constitutional importance. The saint's protest seems to have been successful, but the relations with the king only grew more strained.
Soon after this the great matter of dispute was reached in the resistance made by Thomas to the king's officials when they attempted to assert jurisdiction over criminous clerks. The question has been dealt with in some detail in the article ENGLAND. That the saint himself had no wish to be lenient with criminous clerks has been well shown by Norgate (Angevin Kings, ii, 22). It was with him simply a question of principle. St. Thomas seems all along to have suspected Henry of a design to strike at the independence of what the king regarded as a too powerful Church. With this view Henry
summoned the bishops at Westminster (1 October, 1163) to sanction certain as yet unspecified articles which he called his grandfather's customs (avitæ consuetudines), one of the known objects of which was to bring clerics guilty of crimes under the jurisdiction of the secular courts. The other bishops, as the demand was still in the vague, showed a willingness to submit, though with the condition "saving our order", upon which St. Thomas inflexibly insisted. The king's resentment was thereupon manifested by requiring the archbishop to surrender certain castles he had hitherto retained, and by other acts of unfriendliness. In deference to what he believed to be the pope's wish, the archbishop in December consented to make some concessions by giving a personal and private undertaking to the king to obey his customs "loyally and in good faith". But when Henry shortly afterwards at Clarendon (13 January, 1164) sought to draw the saint on to a formal and public acceptance of the "Constitutions of Clarendon", under which name the sixteen articles, the avitæ consuetudines as finally drafted, have been commonly known, St. Thomas, though at first yielding somewhat to the solicitations of the other bishops, in the end took up an attitude of uncompromising resistance.
Then followed a period of unworthy and vindictive persecution. When opposing a claim made against him by John the Marshal, Thomas upon a frivolous pretext was found guilty of contempt of court. For this he was sentenced to pay £500; other demands for large sums of money followed, and finally, though a complete release of all claims against him as chancellor had been given on his becoming archbishop, he was required to render an account of nearly all the moneys which had passed through his hands in his discharge of the office. Eventually a sum of nearly £30,000 was demanded of him. His fellow bishops summoned by Henry to a council at Northampton, implored him to throw himself unreservedly upon the king's mercy, but St. Thomas, instead of yielding, solemnly warned them and threatened them. Then, after celebrating Mass, he took his archiepiscopal
cross into his own hand and presented himself thus in the royal council chamber. The king demanded that sentence should be passed upon him, but in the confusion and discussion which ensued the saint with uplifted cross made his way through the mob of angry courtiers. He fled away secretly that night (13 October, 1164), sailed in disguise from Sandwich (2 November), and after being cordially welcomed by Louis VII of France, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Alexander III, then at Sens, on 23 Nov. The pope, who had given a cold reception to certain episcopal envoys sent by Henry, welcomed the saint very kindly, and refused to accept his resignation of his see. On 30 November, Thomas went to take up his residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, though he was compelled to leave this refuge a year later, as Henry, after confiscating the archbishop's property and banishing all the Becket kinsfolk, threatened to wreak his vengeance on the whole Cistercian Order if they continued to harbour him.
The negotiations between Henry, the pope, and the archbishop dragged on for the next four years without the position being sensibly changed. Although the saint remained firm in his resistance to the principle of the Constitutions of Clarendon, he was willing to make any concessions that could be reasonably asked of him, and on 6 January, 1169, when the kings of England and France were in conference at Montmirail, he threw himself at Henry's feet, but as he still refused to accept the obnoxious customs Henry repulsed him. At last in 1170 some sort of reconciliation was patched up. The question of the customs was not mentioned and Henry professed himself willing to be guided by the archbishop's council as to amends due to the See of Canterbury for the recent violation of its rights in the crowning of Henry's son by the Archbishop of York. On 1 December, 1170, St. Thomas had brought with him, as well as over the restoration by the de Broc family of the archbishop's castle at Saltwood. How far Henry was directly responsible for the tragedy which soon after occurred on 20 December is not quite clear. Four knights
who came from France demanded the absolution of the bishops. St. Thomas would not comply. They left for a space, but came back at Vesper time with a band of armed men. To their angry question, "Where is the traitor?" the saint boldly replied, "Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God." They tried to drag him from the church, but were unable, and in the end they slew him where he stood, scattering his brains on the pavement. His faithful companion, Edward Grim, who bore his cross, was wounded in the struggle.
A tremendous reaction of feeling followed this deed of blood. In an extraordinary brief space of time devotion to the martyred archbishop had spread all through Europe. The pope promulgated the bull of canonization, little more than two years after the martyrdom, 21 February, 1173. On 12 July, 1174, Henry II did public penance, and was scourged at the archbishop's tomb. An immense number of miracles were worked, and for the rest of the Middle Ages
the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr's holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the other shrines in England were dismantled; but the matter is by no means clear, and, although the weight of learned opinion is adverse, there are still those who believe that a skeleton found in the crypt in January, 1888, is the body of St. Thomas. The story that Henry VIII in 1538 summoned the archbishop to stand his trial for high treason, and that when, in June, 1538, the trial had been held and the accused pronounced contumacious, the body was ordered to be disinterred and burnt, is probably apocryphal.
This is a classic example of spin doctoring: "When, in 1162, he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury at the instigation of the King, he accepted the office with reluctance, knowing a break to be inevitable. He became an active champion of the church and the people."
Beckett was a LAWYER and his client was the king.
Upon being made Archbishop of Canterbury, he took on a different client, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).
The conflict was between the law of the king and the canon law of the RCC.
Example: Let's say Joe Blow is a scholar at Oxford University and in minor orders. He visits the local tavern and has a few too many and he gets into an argument with Willy Winky. Willy pulls a knife and Joe pulls one too. Joe wins and Willy bleads to death.
Whose law was violated? Who has jurisdiction in the case?
I say the king had jurisdiction and Joe Blow should hang. Beckett does not agree. He says Joe is his problem, not the problem of the king.
Beckett was murdered, not martyred. He's no saint.
"You're really itching for a Zot aren't you?"
Oh, just trying to livin things up a bit. LOL
The opinions of a HOCNA troublemaker are as valuable as the actions of an Al-Qaeda operative.
You drop bombs on threads.
"You drop bombs on threads."
A differing view is a bomb?
Hows THAT for an incendiary?
Not an incendiary, just a toy ball lobbed over the neighbour's fence.
"Rome constantly sought to override the Sovereign in state matters."
Quite right and true whether or not one sees Beckett as a saint.
For details on all of this simply google up the Constitutions of Clarendon that Beckett and Henry II fought about. It really had nothing to do with Beckett fighting for the people. It had to do with ecclesiatical privileges v monarchical privileges.
In an Erastian system such as launched by King Henry VIII, there could obviously be no more pilgrimages to the shrine of a person who had challenged royal authority. Remember that Herny VIII was only a "Protestant" in a very narrow sense. He defied the Pope of Rome. But as to theology, he was hardly on the same page as his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. But inasmuch as he had defied the Pope of Rome, the shrine with Beckett bones had to go.
Now, that is not a bomb, it is merely compost.
RE: Abrogation of Feast of St. Thomas Becket
In Summer of 1536, after the fiasco of Anne Boleyn, Cromwell, Cranmer and Hugh Latimer, newly appointed Lenten Preacher Royal, met with others in Convocation and drew up the Ten Articles, the first official doctrinal formulary of the Church of England. 8 days after the Articles had been signed by Cromwell, members met again and drew up an Act for the Abrogation of Certain Holydays. Members complained that the excessive number of feast days caused superstition, decay of industry and "lycencyous vacacyon and lybertye." The Crown decimated the ritual year not only wiping out a multitude of local festivals but removing many major landmarks of the Sarum calendar. The main feast of July, that of Becket was abolished. Also abolished in the same Act were the feasts of: Sts. Margaret, Martin, Anne, Mary Magdalen, Lawrence, Augustine, Giles, Cuthbert, Austin of Canterbury, Alban, Cecilia, also Transfiguration and Holy Name of Jesus, among others.
The Act met with widespred resistance, especially at Beverley, Lincolnshire, Byrchforde, Kent and Norfolk where resistance fluctuated between quiet and riotous. A Pilgrimage of Grace was organized to rally prayerful resistance to the Act.
In response, Cromwell issued the iconoclastic Bishop's Book and began dismantling shrines all across England. By Sept 1538, Cromwell had issued a new set of Injunctions, criminalizing virtually any outward sign of devotion to the saints, including pilgrimages, processions, Angelus, rosary, the lighting of candles or any other such "superstition." A further Act in 1541 ordered the removal of all images of saints from churches, chapels and cathedrals. Of particular interest was the removal of images of Thomas Becket as he had become a favored champion of traditionalists.
From, The Stripping of the Altars, E Duffy.
" that is not a bomb, it is merely compost"
"merely"? It's not just "merely", but positively royal compost.
I never use common compost at Free Republic. Only the best.
"Of particular interest was the removal of images of Thomas Becket as he had become a favored champion of traditionalists."
By far the lowest act would have to have been the execution of the Abbott of Glastonbury. Abbott Whiting of Glastonbury at the age of 80 was dragged to the top of the Tor, beheaded, and chopped into pieces to set an example.
Little Jack Horner (a political supporter of King Henry VIII)
Sat in a corner (Cornwall, to be exact)
Eating his Christmas pie (Glastonbury, site of the Christmas Holy Thorn)
He stuck in his thumb
And pulled out a plum (the abbey)
And said what a good boy am I. (I supported the king)
Indeed. Among the institutions dedicated to Thomas Becket that were abolished were: the large annual pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral, the Church of St. Thomas in London, the monastery of Sende in Surrey, the Hospital of St. Thomas in Southwark and many other similar institutions all over England. Tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in Canterbury during his feast.
The tomb of St. Thomas Becket was of particular beauty as it had been adorned by previous monarchs and rulers with gold and many jewels as a sign of their devotion.
An interesting side note: along with the repatriation of the monasteries and associated land and industries so too were church hospitals, orphanages, schools and all of the basic welfare institutions that were run by the church at the time. In nationalizing these assets (for the sake of the crippled command economy, most of all), Henry created the first state welfare system in Europe.
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