Today’s Conspirator Spotlight shines on St Thomas Becket, The Catholic Conspiracy’s patron saint for 2018. Long before St Thomas More defended the Catholic faith in the face of royal pressure from King Henry VIII, there was St Thomas Becket standing up to regal overreach in the person of King Henry II.
Before becoming a priest and bishop, Thomas was appointed archchancellor in 1155 under King Henry II. His duties included making sure taxes and revenues were collected from the King’s subjects, which included churches and bishoprics. Now, during the prior year, he had been named Archdeacon of Canterbury. So he kinda had a foot in both the ecclesial and political realms.
In 1162, several months after the death of Theobald the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry nominated Thomas to replace him, thinking it would strengthen his own hold upon the Church. Thomas told him that should God deign to have him become Archbishop, the two men would no longer be friends; it seems Henry didn’t take him seriously. In May 1162, he was voted in by a royal council of priests and bishops. On June 2, Thomas was ordained a priest, and the very next day, he was consecrated as archbishop, officially starting his new role. T
Thomas immediately resigned his chancellorship, taking up a position opposite of the king, and worked to extend the rights of the archbishopric. This led to increased tension between himself and the king, which lasted the next eight years. Thomas’ prediction had indeed come to fruition.
Thomas was determined to defend the Church against the rising political pressures put upon it by the king. In 1170, three bishops crowned the heir apparent, Henry the Young King, at York rather than at Canterbury, the traditional location for such events. Not to mention it was a huge swipe at Thomas. In retaliation, Thomas excommunicated the three bishops.
Upon hearing this, King Henry II uttered those famous words: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” According to some historians, though, the king didn’t really say that. One historian believes he actually said: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” It’s a different interpretation, to be sure, and puts a little twist in the tale.
Subsequently, four knights overheard the king’s words – whatever they actually were – and traveled to Canterbury to confront Thomas. After unsuccessfully convincing him to accompany them to the king to explain his actions, they proceeded to assassinate him. Wikipedia includes the description of his martyrdom, written by eye-witness Ed Grim:
“The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.”
Pretty gruesome. Incidentally, the following year, the four murderers traveled to Rome to ask for the Pope forgiveness, and have the excommunications placed upon them lifted. Pope Alexander III commanded them to serve in the Holy Land for fourteen years as penance.
Thomas was canonized in 1173, only three years after his death. He was adopted as co-patron saint of London with St Paul. Thomas stood for what was right, true, and just in the face of incredible pressures from his king, and stands as a model for each of us to stand strong against the secular world seeking to minimize, marginalize, and destroy the Catholic Church.