SAINTS

DEC. 29: ST. THOMAS BECKET

(1118-1170)

St. Thomas was born in London in 1118. He began his ecclesiastical career at a young age, entering the abbey of Merton. He later studied in France and at the University of Bologna and soon distinguished himself for his intellectual qualities.

In 1154 he became archdeacon of the diocese of Canterbury and the following year, the new king of England, Henry II, appointed him chancellor of the realm. Thomas was the king’s most trusted man. He lived a comfortable life but did not fail in generosity toward the poor and showed an inner freedom even in the face of the sovereign, to whom he was not only a counselor, but also a trusted friend.

In 1161 Becket accepted election as Archbishop of Canterbury with strong support from King Henry. Henry miscalculated Becket’s commitment to the church. When Henry II sought to limit the freedom and independence of the Catholic Church in England, through the Clarendon Constitutions he asked Thomas to sign the Charter to limit the prerogatives of the Church. Thomas refused decisively: “In the name of God Almighty, I will not put my seal.” The old friend thus becomes, in the eyes of the king, a bitter enemy.

After a trial, Becket fled to France and was the guest of a Cistercian monastery in Pontigny, for two years. He would spend six years away from his homeland. When he returned to Canterbury, he met the joyful reception of the faithful, but an even deeper aversion from the crown. It is said that one day Henry II exclaimed in exasperation, words to the effect of, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest!” — an exhortation taken literally by four knights who left London for Canterbury. Thomas Becket was barbarously killed by stabbing inside his Cathedral. It was Dec. 29, 1170.

It is said that the question of the murderers, “Where is Thomas the traitor?” was answered with, “I am here, though I am not a traitor, but a bishop and priest of God.” The commotion aroused by this killing was immense, reaching far beyond the borders of England, so much so that only three years later, on Feb. 21, 1173, Pope Alexander III recognized his martyrdom, elevating him to the honor of the altars.

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Thomas Becket, Bishop of Canterbury, Martyr – Information on the – Vatican News. (n.d.). Vatican News. Retrieved Dec. 24, 2020, from https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/12/29/st–thomas–becket–bishop-of–canterbury–martyr.html