Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thomas Becket

St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas of Canterbury (c.1118 – December 29, 1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church. He engaged in a conflict with King Henry II over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. He is also commonly known as Thomas à Becket, although this form may not have been contemporary. The "à" is now believed to be a complete error. Historian John Strype wrote in his Memorials of Thomas Cranmer (1694): "It is a small error, but being so oft repeated deserveth to be observed into corrected. The name of that archbishop was Thomas Becket. If the vulgar did formerly, as it doth now, call him 'Thomas à Becket' their mistake is not to be followed by learned men."

Notwithstanding, the Oxford Dictionary of English, the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors and Chambers Biographical Dictionary all prefer St. Thomas à Becket.

On December 29, we remember Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, slain in his own cathedral in 1170, for his defiance of King Henry II. The death of Thomas reminds us that a Christian, even when safe from pagans, can be in danger from his fellow-Christians. It also reminds us that one can be martyred in a cause where the merits of the particular issue at hand are not obvious to all men of good will. The issue here, or one of the issues, was one of court jurisdiction. King Henry claimed that a cleric accused of an ordinary crime ought to be tried in the King's Courts like any layman. Thomas, who was Henry's Chancellor and his close friend, vigorously upheld the king's position. However, when he was made Archbishop of Canterbury with the king's support, he reversed himself completely and upheld the right of clergy to be tried only in Church courts, which could not inflict capital punishment. (This reversal does not imply fickleness or treachery. As Chancellor, Thomas was bound to serve the king. Now, as Archbishop, he was bound to defend the Church.) Henry wanted an arrangement by which (for example) a priest accused of murder would be tried by a Church Court, which if it found him guilty would degrade him to the rank of a layman, whereupon a King's Court would try him, and if it found him guilty would order him hanged. Thomas objected that a man could not be tried and punished twice for the same offense.

Propers for St. Thomas Becket - Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr.

The Collect.

O GOD, in behalf of whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his aid may obtain the wholesome effect of their petitions. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle - Hebrews 5:1-6.

Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech.

The Gospel - St. John 10:11-16.

At time Jesus said unto the Pharisees: I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

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