Saint Thomas Becket
Today is the feast day of my confirmation saint, Saint Thomas Becket, the holy, blessed martyr. His story tells us how foreign to our time the Middle Ages are. Becket was a worldly cleric who had risen to be chancellor of England for Henry II. Henry seized the opportunity to place his man, Becket, on the throne of Canterbury as Primate of England. Becket had a sudden and complete religious conversion and fought Henry for the liberty of the Church for which Becket suffered exile and, ultimately, murder. In penance for Becket’s murder Henry had himself beaten by the monks at Canterbury before the tomb of his former friend who, two years after his death, was canonized by the Pope. For over three centuries his tomb became one of the major pilgrimage sites in Europe and inspired the immortal Canterbury Tales.
The Middle Ages were fully as immersed in sin as our own time, although with different mixtures of evil, but the sins of the Middle Ages were often followed by great penances and acts of contrition that brightened and inspired countless lives down through the centuries. This we have lost and this we must regain. G.K. Chesterton put what we lack in high relief when he wrote about Saint Thomas: Continue reading
Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen.
TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
The investiture scene from the movie Becket (1964). The story of the great Archbishop of Canterbury Saint Thomas Becket, who, from being the worldly Chancellor of King Henry II, became the great champion of the Church in life, and a greater champion in death, has always attracted artists and writers. In our time Jean Anouilh wrote the play Becket, brilliantly brought to the screen in the 1964 film. Filled with historical howlers, Becket was Norman not Saxon for example, it brilliantly captures the clash between Henry and the man who had been his friend and loyal servant, but who served a Greater Master after Henry, over his protest, had him raised to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Continue reading
In honor of the Anglican initiative of Pope Benedict this week, a reminder of the history of Catholic England, when Catholics were willing to stand against the State if need be to protect the Honor of God. Becket (1964), although inheriting the historical howlers that existed in the play, and were known by the playwright Jean Anouilh who wisely preferred a poetic story to prosaic fact, (Becket was Norman not Saxon, Henry II was not a crowned juvenile delinquent, the armor, as is usual in medieval epics, is all wrong for the period, etc.), this classic film helped awaken in me a desire to learn about the history of the Church. With masterful performances by Richard Burton as “the holy blessed martyr” and Peter O’Toole as Henry II, the film brought alive to me as a child the high Middle Ages. The installation sequence brought home to me the important role of ceremony, tradition and symbolism in our Faith, a lesson I have never forgotten.
Richard Eden of the Daily Telegraph has reported that Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, who is also the head of the Church of England, is “appalled” at what has happened to the Anglican Communion.
The usually well-informed newspaper adds that the Queen, who is the Supreme Governor of the C(hurch) of E(ngland), is “also said to have an affinity with the Holy Father, who is of her generation”.
Quite good stuff to hear of the affinity that Queen Elizabeth has for Papa Bene.