St. Thomas Becket

Born on Dec. 29, 1118 in London, St. Thomas was part of a well-to-do family. He went to college in Paris, but when he returned, his parents had died, forcing him to make it on his own.

When he was 24, St. Thomas began working as a clerk for the Very Rev. Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury. Spending time there, he discerned his vocation in the Church. He knew he had to start somewhere, so he asked the archbishop’s permission to study canon law. Permission was granted, and he returned to France for his studies.

He was ordained a deacon years later, and shortly thereafter was appointed by Archbishop Theobald archdeacon of Canterbury, a very high office (and I’m not sure if it still exists now or not). This isn’t surprising; he was a very likeable people-person.

So likeable was he that he and King Henry II became great friends, and it was even said that they had only one heart and one mind. When Thomas was thirty-six, King Henry made him his chancellor. As chancellor of England, Thomas had a large household and lived in grand style, which he later abandoned.

When Archbishop Theobald died, people looked to Thomas to take over. Thomas, not a priest, refused. Yet the Pope sent someone from Rome to see to it that this happened. Thomas knew that, if he were to become the archbishop, he would need to defend the Church from the state. He told King Henry that they would become enemies.

The king disagreed. Thomas was ordained a priest in 1162 and was made bishop at that time. At first, things were fine. But soon, the king began to demand money from clergy and the possession of several churches–“castles” as he called them.

St. Thomas wouldn’t cave. King Henry proclaimed: “Will no one rid me of this archbishop?” Some of his army thought he was serious (which he may have been) and went out to kill Thomas.

They attacked him in his own cathedral. Thomas died, saying, “For the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church, I am willing to die.”

The entire Christian world was horrified at such a crime. Pope Alexander III held the king personally responsible for the murder. Soon miracles began to happen at Thomas’ tomb and he was proclaimed a saint by the same pope in 1173.

St. Thomas Becket is the patron saint of clergy and England.

T. S. Eliot wrote a play called Murder in the Cathedral based on St. Thomas’ murder. At one moment in the play, Thomas says this about seeking martyrdom for the sake of glory:

“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”