Feast of St. Thomas Becket (December 29)   Leave a comment

Thomas Becket

Archbishop of Canterbury, 1162-1170; Martyr; died in 1170

Some people are highly critical of St. Thomas Becket, claiming that he acted unjustly.  Yet I like and admire Becket, who attempted, to the best of his ability, to fulfill the duties of his office and to follow God.  And the King gave the order to have the Archbishop killed.  Becket, even before his death, was in a better spiritual place than was Henry II.



From the New Zealand Anglicans:

Thomas of Canterbury, possibly better known as Thomas Becket, is probably the most famous of the medieval archbishops of Canterbury. He came from a Norman family that had settled in London after the Norman Conquest. He was born in 1118 and was educated at Merton Abbey and Paris. He was sent to Bologna and Auxerre to study law, was ordained deacon, and in 1154 was made archdeacon of Canterbury, a post that gave him scope to use his administrative skills to the full. Also in 1154 Henry II ascended the English throne and the two men came in frequent contact.

In 1155 Henry appointed Thomas as chancellor of England, and Thomas served his king loyally and competently in the administration of state affairs, in embassies, and even on military expeditions. He was all that Henry could have wished for in his chancellor. He even supported the king’s interests against those of the church on occasion. Thomas’s lifestyle was consistent with his position in his lavish entertainments and wealth.

The Middle Ages had seen a considerable power struggle between church and state in Europe. This came to involve the papacy in the wake of the reforms of the eleventh century. Thomas’s next move can be seen as Henry’s attempt to have his chancellor able to control the church as well as the state. Henry appointed Thomas archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.

Thomas, who had warned the king of what would happen, now gave the church the same intense loyalty he had given the king. He resigned the chancellorship and adopted a more austere life-style. To Henry’s chagrin and annoyance, Thomas then opposed the king’s attempts to control the church over the matter of the notoriously lax ecclesiastical courts, on which any “clerks” could rely to escape the king’s justice. Thomas also opposed the king over taxation affecting the church, and supported the idea of appeals to Rome on matters affecting the church in England.

A long and bitter struggle between the two men followed. When Henry attempted to try Thomas over financial dealings during his chancellorship, Thomas went into exile and spent the next six years in France. The controversy continued, with Thomas more and more seeing the issue as a fundamental one of spiritual authority: church and state, God and caesar.

The rift between Henry and Thomas was patched up in 1169, and Thomas returned home to a hero’s welcome. In the interval the king had ignored the claims of Canterbury and had the archbishop of York crown Prince Henry. Thomas retaliated by excommunicating the bishops concerned. Henry in a rage called for Thomas’s removal. Four leading knights promptly rode to Canterbury and murdered Thomas in his cathedral on 29 December 1170.

A popular cult of St Thomas grew up almost immediately. He was canonised in 1173, and his shortcomings were almost completely forgotten. Canterbury became a place of pilgrimage until his shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538.

For Liturgical Use

Thomas Becket was born in London in 1118, and became archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154. Henry II appreciated his considerable administrative ability and made him chancellor of England in 1155. He fulfilled Henry’s expectations so well that Henry made him archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, hoping to control the church as well. Thomas however now gave his total loyalty to the church. A bitter struggle developed, during which Thomas spent six years in exile in France. In 1170 the exasperated king called for Thomas’s removal, and four knights murdered Thomas in his cathedral on 29 December.


O God, our strength and salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church: Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Esdras 2:41-48

Psalm 125

1 John 2:3-6, 15-17

Mark 11:24-33


Posted September 15, 2009 by neatnik2009 in December, Saints of the 1100s

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