samedi 29 décembre 2012

Saint THOMAS BECKET (de CANTORBÉRY), archevêque et martyr

Saint Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket ou Thomas de Londres comme on l'appelait alors, naquit probablement en 1118 dans une famille de la bourgeoisie londonienne qui connut des revers de fortune. Le soutien d’un de ses parents lui permit de faire de brillantes études à Paris. Il entra au service de l'archevêque Thibaud de Cantorbéry qui lui fit faire d'intéressants voyages à Rome (1151-1153) et aux écoles de Bologne et d’Auxerre où l’on formait des juristes. Finalement il se lia avec le futur Henri II Plantagenêt, qui, un an après son accession au trône d’Angleterre, le nomma chancelier d’Angleterre, après que l’archevêque l’eut nommé archidiacre de Cantorbéry.

Thomas, fastueux ministre, seconda efficacement Henri II dans son œuvre générale de restauration monarchique après les troubles du règne d'Etienne de Blois (1135-1154). L'Eglise d'Angleterre avait profité de cette période de faiblesse pour sortir de la soumission où la tenait jadis la monarchie normande, pour conquérir ses « libertés » que le Roi entendait rogner. Croyant trouver un auxiliaire docile en son chancelier, Henri II nomma Thomas archevêque de Cantorbéry (mai 1162), réunissant entre les mêmes mains la chancellerie et une province ecclésiastique qui comprenait dix-sept des dix-neuf diocèses anglais. Thomas qui avait reçu en deux jours l’ordination sacerdotale et le sacre épiscopal, abandonna sa charge séculière, changea sa vie du tout au tout et se voua sans réserve à la défense des droits de l'Eglise. Lorsqu’en janvier 1164 Henri II voulut imposer à l’Eglise les Constitutions de Clarendon qui prétendaient revenir aux anciennes coutumes du royaume contre le droit canon, Thomas Becket fut un adversaire résolu. Après de multiples péripéties juridiques où l’archevêque-primat fut trahi par ses confrères d’York et de Londres, il dut s'exiler en France où il demeura six ans (1164-1170), notamment à l'abbaye cistercienne de Pontigny où il s’imposa l’observance monastique. Lorsqu'il rentra dans sa patrie après une paix boiteuse conclue à Fréteval dans le Maine (22 juillet 1170), les difficultés recommencèrent d’autant plus qu’avant de s’embarquer il avait frappé de suspense tous ses suffragants plus ou moins coupables de rébellion contre lui (1° décembre 1170).

Une phrase ambiguë d'Henri II (« N'y aura-t-il donc personne pour me débarrasser de ce clerc outrecuidant ? ») amena quatre chevaliers normands à assassiner l'archevêque dans sa cathédrale le 29 décembre 1170.

Dans la nuit de Noël 1170, après avoir célébré la messe, Thomas Becket, archevêque de Cantorbéry et primat d'Angleterre, monta en chaire et, en termes formels, prédit qu'il serait bientôt massacré par les impies ; puis, comme l'auditoire se récriait, il invectiva vivement ceux qui mettaient la division entre le Roi et le Pasteur et les excommunia « comme les pestes du genre humain et les ennemis du bien public. » Le lendemain de la fête des saints Innocents, vers onze heures du matin, quatre personnages vinrent le menacer chez lui et lui dirent que sa résistance lui coûterait la vie ; il répondit avec douceur et fermeté : « Je ne fuirai pas, j'attendrai avec joie le coup de la mort, je suis prêt à la recevoir », et montrant sa tête, il ajouta : « c'est là que vous me frapperez ! » Après dîner, il était à l'église pour les vêpres, les quatre assassins forcèrent l'entrée du cloître et comme les moines cherchaient à les empêcher d'entrer dans l'église, l'archevêque dit : « Il ne faut pas garder le temple de Dieu comme on garde une forteresse ; nous ne triompherons pas de nos ennemis en combattant, mais en souffrant. Pour moi, je suis prêt à être sacrifié pour la cause de l'Eglise dont je défends les droits. » Les quatre assassins entrèrent donc dans l'église en criant : « Où est Thomas Becket ? Où est ce traître au Roi et à l'Etat ? Où est l'Archevêque ? » L’archevêque se présenta : « Me voici ! Non pas traître à l'Etat, mais prêtre de Jésus-Christ. » Les assassins lui crièrent : « Sauve-toi, autrement tu es mort ! » Thomas répondit : « Je n'ai garde de fuir ; tout ce que je demande, c'est de donner mon âme pour celles en faveur desquelles mon Sauveur a donné tout son sang. Cependant, je vous défends, de la part de Dieu tout-puissant, de maltraiter qui que ce soit des miens. » Ne pouvant arriver à le traîner dehors, les quatre assassins le frappèrent dans l'église : « Je meurs volontiers pour le nom de Jésus et la défense de l'Eglise. »

Thomas Becket triompha dans sa mort. Ce qu'il n'avait pu obtenir par l'effort de sa vie, il le réalisa par son martyre. Le peuple le vénéra aussitôt comme un saint, et le pape Alexandre III frappa Henri II, compromis dans ce meurtre, d’interdit personnel ; pour obtenir son pardon, le Roi dut faire un pèlerinage humiliant au tombeau de Thomas Becket et se soumettre à la pénitence publique de la flagellation (21 mai 1172). Des miracles ayant attesté la glorification de Thomas Becket, Alexandre III le canonisa le 21 février 1173. Toujours est-il que la châsse du martyr devint le but d'un des pèlerinages les plus célèbres de la chrétienté. En 1538, Henri VIII se donna le ridicule de procéder à la « décanonisation » de saint Thomas Becket.


Saint Thomas Becket

Archevêque de Cantorbéry, Martyr

(1117-1170)

Saint Thomas de Cantorbéry, par son courage indomptable à défendre les droits de l'Église, est devenu l'un des plus célèbres évêques honorés du nom de saints et de martyrs. Dès sa jeunesse, il fut élevé aux plus hautes charges de la magistrature; mais l'injustice des hommes détacha du monde ce coeur plein de droiture et de sincérité, et il entra dans l'état ecclésiastique. Là encore, son mérite l'éleva aux honneurs, et le roi Henri II le nomma son chancelier. Il ne fit que croître en vertu, donnant le jour aux affaires et passant la meilleure partie de la nuit en oraison. Il n'était que le distributeur de ses immenses revenus: les familles ruinées, les malades abandonnés, les prisonniers, les monastères pauvres, en avaient la meilleure part.

Le roi l'obligea d'accepter l'archevêché de Cantorbéry. Thomas eut beau dire au prince, pour le dissuader, qu'il s'en repentirait bientôt: celui-ci persista, et le chancelier reçut le sacerdoce (car il n'était encore que diacre) et l'onction épiscopale. Sa sainteté s'accrut en raison de la sublimité de ses fonctions. On ne le voyait jamais dire la Sainte Messe, sinon les yeux baignés de larmes; en récitant le Confiteor, il poussait autant de soupirs qu'il prononçait de mots. Il servait les pauvres à table trois fois par jour; à la première table, il y avait treize pauvres; à la seconde, douze; à la troisième, cent.

Thomas avait bien prévu: les exigences injustes du roi obligèrent l'archevêque à défendre avec fermeté les droits et les privilèges de l'Église. Henri II, mal conseillé et furieux de voir un évêque lui résister, exerça contre Thomas une persécution à outrance. Le pontife, abandonné par les évêques d'Angleterre, chercha un refuge en France. Il rentra bientôt en son pays, avec la conviction arrêtée qu'il allait y chercher la mort; mais il était prêt.

Un jour les émissaires du roi se présentèrent dans l'église où Thomas priait; il refusa de fuir, et fut assommé si brutalement, que sa tête se brisa et que sa cervelle se répandit sur le pavé du sanctuaire. C'est à genoux qu'il reçut le coup de la mort. Il employa ce qui lui restait de force pour dire: "Je meurs volontiers pour le nom de Jésus et pour la défense de l'Église."

Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950


Saint Thomas Beckett

Archevêque de Cantobéry, martyr (+ 1170)

Il était né à Londres d'une famille normande. Il fit de bonnes études à Londres et à Paris et le roi Henri II Plantagenêt choisit ce brillant sujet comme chancelier. Enchanté de son administration, il le fait nommer archevêque de Canterbury, pensant ainsi résoudre les difficultés qu'il connaît avec les évêques de son royaume. Thomas change du tout au tout. De fastueux, il devient ascétique; de servile, il se trouve bientôt en conflit avec le roi, qui veut imposer sa loi par-dessus celle de l'Église romaine. Il invite les pauvres à sa table et prend l'habit de moine. La querelle s'envenime au point qu'il doit s'enfuir en France. Il rejoint alors l'abbaye cistercienne de Pontigny en Bourgogne. Il regagne Canterbury en novembre 1170, et c'est là que, dans sa cathédrale, peu après Noël, quatre familiers de roi vont l'abattre devant l'autel après qu'il eût refusé de lever les excommunications qu'il avait portées contre les évêques trop dociles à l'égard du roi.

De souche normande, Thomas Becket est né à Londres. Archidiacre de Coutances et chancelier d'Angleterre, il est élu évêque de Cantorbéry. Face à son ami le roi Henry II, il défend les intérêts de l'Eglise. Calomnié et poursuivi dans sa cathédrale, il est massacré, avec la complicité du roi.

Un an plus tard, Henry II vient recevoir le pardon du pape à la porte de la cathédrale d'Avranches. Thomas Becket est canonisé et le diocèse de Coutances est un des premiers à lui rendre un culte. Une église lui est dédiée dans le faubourg de Saint Lô, ainsi qu'un croisillon de la cathédrale.

Source: Liturgie des heures du diocèse de Coutances et Avranches 1993 où il est fêté le 7 mai.



Saint Thomas Becket naquit à Londres le 21 décembre 1117. Il fit ses études à Oxford et Paris, puis vint étudier le Droit Canon à Auxerre. De retour en Angleterre, il fut ordonné prêtre. En 1162, il fut nommé archevêque de Cantorbéry. Le roi Henri II s’opposait alors de multiples façons à l’indépendance de l’Eglise dans son royaume et l’archevêque Thomas lui résista. Il fut contraint de s’exiler en France et se retira à l’abbaye de Pontigny où il demeura deux ans. Puis il se rendit à Sens où il resta quatre années, prêchant dans les églises et les couvents des environs.

Retourné en Angleterre, il fut assassiné dans sa cathédrale le 29 décembre 1170.

* Au siècle suivant, un autre archevêque de Cantorbéry, saint Edme, viendra aussi se réfugier à l’abbaye de Pontigny. Il mourra en France en 1240: son corps repose à Pontigny.

Saint Thomas Becket - diocèse de Sens-Auxerre

Au 29 décembre au martyrologe romain, mémoire de saint Thomas Becket, évêque et martyr. Pour la défense de la justice et de la liberté de l’Église, il fut contraint de quitter le siège de Cantorbéry et même le royaume d’Angleterre et de vivre en exil en France. Revenu en Angleterre au bout de six ans, il eut encore beaucoup à supporter jusqu’à ce que, en 1170, des chevaliers du roi Henri II le frappent de l’épée dans sa cathédrale et qu’ainsi il s’en aille vers le Christ.

Martyrologe romain

Saint Thomas Becket, priez pour nous !

A la manière des coulisses du théâtre, soufflez-nous comment s'y prendre

Pour ne tolérer ni l'intolérable, ni l'abus de pouvoir, ni l'iniquité.

Après vous et avec vous, apprenez-nous l'intransigeance

Sans renoncer à l'amitié

Sans détruire l'amour du conjoint

Encore moins l'amour de l'enfant.

Gardez-nous de murer l'avenir,

de voiler nos propres contradictions.


Au nom de la communion des saints,

Saint Thomas Becket,

Avec le vent du large,

Soufflez-nous le pardon,

Celui que l'on reçoit et celui que l'on donne.

Saint Thomas Becket, priez pour nous

(L. Malle)



SAINT THOMAS DE CANTORBÉRY *

Thomas veut dire abyme, jumeau, et coupé. Abyme, c'est-à-dire, profond en humilité, ce qui est clair par son cilice, et, en lavant les pieds des pauvres ; jumeau, car dans sa prélature, il eut deux qualités éminentes, celle de la parole et celle de l’exemple. Il fut coupé dans son martyre.

Thomas de Cantorbéry, restant à la cour du roi d'Angleterre vit commettre différentes actions contraires à la religion; il se retira alors pour se mettre sous la conduite de l’archevêque de Cantorbéry qui le nomma son archidiacre. Il se rendit cependant aux instances de l’archevêque qui lui conseilla de conserver la charge de chancelier du roi, afin que, par la prudence, dont il était excellemment doué, il devînt un obstacle au mal que les méchants pourraient exercer contre l’église. Le roi avait pour lui tant d'affection que, lors du décès de l’archevêque, il voulut l’élever sur le siège épiscopal. Après de longues résistances, il consentit à recevoir ce fardeau sur les épaules. Mais tout aussitôt il fut changé en un autre homme: il était devenu parfait, il mortifiait sa chair par le cilice et parles jeûnes ; car il portait non seulement un cilice au lieu de chemise, mais il avait des caleçons de poil de chèvre qui le couvraient jusqu'aux genoux. Il employait une telle adresse à cacher sa sainteté que, tout en conservant une honnêteté exquise, sous des habits convenables et n'ayant que des meubles décents, il se conformait aux moeurs de chacun. Tous les jours, il lavait à genoux les pieds de treize pauvres auxquels il donnait un repas et quatre pièces d'argent. Le roi s'efforçait de le faire plier à sa volonté au détriment de l’église, en exigeant qu'il sanctionnât; lui aussi, des coutumes dont ses prédécesseurs avaient joui contre les libertés ecclésiastiques. Il n'y voulut jamais consentir, et il s'attira ainsi la haine du roi et des princes. Pressé un jour par le roi, lui et quelques évêques, sous l’influence de la mort dont on les menaçait et trompé par les conseils de plusieurs grands personnages, il consentit de bouche à céder au voeu du monarque; mais s'apercevant qu'il pourrait en résulter bientôt un grand détriment pour les âmes, il s'imposa dès lors de plus rigoureuses mortifications il cessa de dire la messe, jusqu'à ce qu'il eût pu obtenir d'être relevé, par le souverain Pontife, des suspenses qu'il croyait avoir encourues. Requis de confirmer par écrit ce qu'il avait promis de bouche, il résista au roi avec énergie, prit lui-même sa croix pour sortir de la cour, aux clameurs des impies qui disaient : « Saisissez le voleur, à mort le traître: » Deux personnages éminents et pleins de foi vinrent alors lui assurer avec serment qu'une foule de grands avaient juré sa mort. L'homme de Dieu, qui craignait pour l’église plus encore que pour lui, prit la fuite, et vint trouver à Sens le juge Alexandre, et avec des recommandations pour le monastère de Pontigny, il arriva en France. De son côté, le roi envoya à Rome demander des légats afin de terminer le différend mais il n'éprouva que dés refus, ce qui l’irrita plus encore contre le prélat. Il mit la saisie sur tous ses biens et sur ceux de ses amis, exila tous es membres de sa famille, sans avoir aucun égard pour la condition ou le sexe, le rang ou l’âge des individus. Quant au saint, tous les jours, il priait pour le roi et pour le royaume d'Angleterre. Il eut alors une révélation qu'il rentrerait dans son église, et qu'il recevrait du Christ la palme du martyre. Après sept ans d'exil, il lui fut accordé de revenir et fut reçu avec de grands honneurs.

Quelques jours avant le martyre de Thomas, un jeune homme mourut et ressuscita miraculeusement et il disait avoir été conduit jusqu'au rang le plus élevé des saints où il avait vu une place vide parmi les apôtres. Il demanda à qui appartenait cette place, un ange lui répondit qu'elle était réservée par le Seigneur à un illustre prêtre anglais. Un ecclésiastique qui tous les jours célébrait la messe en l’honneur de, la Bienheureuse Vierge, fut accusé auprès de l’archevêque qui le fit comparaître devant lui et le suspendit de son office, comme idiot et ignorant. Or, le bienheureux Thomas avait caché sous son lit son cilice qu'il, devait recoudre quand il en aurait le temps; la bienheureuse Marie apparut au prêtre et lui dit : « Allez dire à l’archevêque que celle pour l’amour de laquelle vous disiez vos messes a recousu son cilice qui est à tel endroit et qu'elle y a laissé le fil rouge dont elle s'est servi. Elle vous envoie pour qu'il ait à lever, l’interdit dont il vous a frappé. » Thomas en entendant cela et trouvant tout ainsi qu'il avait été dit, fut saisi, et en relevant le prêtre de son interdit, il lui recommanda de tenir cela sous le secret. Il défendit, comme auparavant les droits de l’Église et il ne se laissa fléchir ni par la violence, ni par les prières du roi. Comme donc on ne pouvait l’abattre en aucune manière, voici venir avec leurs armes des soldats du roi qui demandent à grands cris où est l’archevêque. Il alla au-devant d'eux et leur dit : «Me voici, que voulez-vous? » «Nous venons, répondent-ils, pour te tuer tu n'as pas plus long temps à vivre. » Il leur dit : « Je suis prêt à mourir pour Dieu, pour la défense de la justice et la liberté de l’Église. Donc si c'est, à moi que vous en voulez, de la part du Dieu tout-puissant et sous peine d'anathème, je vous défends de faire tel marque ce soit à ceux qui sont ici, et je, recommande la cause de l’Église et moi-même à Dieu, à la bienheureuse Marie, à tous les saints et à saint Denys. » Après quoi sa tête vénérable tombe sous le glaive des impies, la couronne de son chef est coupée, sa cervelle jaillit sur le pavé de l’église et il est sacré martyr du Seigneur l’an 1174. Comme les clercs commençaient Requiem aeternam de la messe des morts qu'ils allaient célébrer pour lui, tout aussitôt, dit-on, les choeurs des anges interrompent la voix des chantres et entonnent la messe d'un martyr : Laetabitur justus in Domino, que les autres clercs continuent. Ce changement est vraiment l’ouvrage de la droite du TrèsHaut, que le chant de la tristesse ait été changé en un cantique de louange, quand celui pour lequel on venait de commencer les prières des morts, se trouve à l’instant partager les honneurs des hymnes des martyrs. Il était vraiment doué d'une haute sainteté ce martyr glorieux du Seigneur auquel les anges donnent ce témoignage d'honneur si éclatant en l’inscrivant eux-mêmes par avance au catalogue des martyrs. Ce saint souffrit donc la mort pour l’Église, dans une église; dans le lieu saint, dans un temps saint, entre les mains des prêtres et des religieux, afin que parussent au grand jour et la sainteté du patient et la cruauté des persécuteurs. Le Seigneur daigna opérer beaucoup d'autres miracles par son saint, car en considération de ses mérites, furent rendus aux aveugles la vue, aux sourds l’ouïe, aux boiteux le marcher, aux morts la vie. L'eau dans laquelle on lavait les linges trempés de son sang, guérit beaucoup de malades. Par coquetterie et afin de paraître plus belle, une dame d'Angleterre désirait avoir des yeux vairons et pour cela elle vint, après en avoir fait le veau, nu-pieds au tombeau de saint Thomas. En se levant après sa prière, elle se trouva tout à fait aveugle; elle se repentit alors et commença à prier saint Thomas de lui rendre au moins les yeux tels qu'elle les avait, sans parler d'yeux vairons, et ce fut à peine si elle put l’obtenir.

Un plaisant avait apporté dans un vase, à son maître à table, de l’eau ordinaire au lieu de l’eau de saint Thomas. Ce maître lui dit : « Si tu ne m’as jamais rien volé, que saint Thomas te laisse apporter l’eau, mais si tu es coupable de vol, que cette eau s'évapore aussitôt. » Le serviteur, qui savait avoir rempli le vase; il n'y avait qu'un instant, y consentit. Chose merveilleuse ! On découvrit le vase, et il fut trouvé vide et de cette manière le serviteur fut reconnu menteur et convaincu d'être fin voleur. Un oiseau, auquel on avait appris à parler, était poursuivi par un aide, quand il se mit à crier ces mots qu'on lui avait fait retenir: « Saint Thomas, au secours, aide-moi. L'aigle tomba mort à l’instant et l’oiseau fut sauvé. Un particulier que saint Thomas avait beaucoup aimé tomba gravement malade; il alla à son tombeau prier pour recouvrer la santé : ce qu'il obtint à souhait. Mais en revenant guéri, il se prit à penser que cette guérison n'était peut-être pas avantageuse à son âme. Alors il retourna prier au tombeau et demanda que si sa guérison ne devait pas lui être utile pour son salut, son infirmité lui revînt, et il en fut ainsi qu'auparavant. La vengeance divine s'exerça sur ceux qui l’avaient massacré : les uns se mettaient les doigts en lambeaux avec les dents, le corps des autres: tombait en pourriture ; ceux-ci moururent de paralysie, ceux-là succombèrent misérablement dans des accès de folie.

*Tirée de sa vie écrite par plus de dix auteurs contemporains.

La Légende dorée de Jacques de Voragine nouvellement traduite en français avec introduction, notices, notes et recherches sur les sources par l'abbé J.-B. M. Roze, chanoine honoraire de la Cathédrale d'Amiens, Édouard Rouveyre, éditeur, 76, rue de Seine, 76, Paris mdccccii



Quatrième leçon. Thomas, né à Londres, en Angleterre, succéda à Théobald, Évêque de Cantorbéry. Il avait exercé auparavant, et avec honneur, la charge de chancelier et il se montra fort et invincible dans les devoirs de l’épiscopat. Henri II, roi d’Angleterre, ayant voulu, dans une assemblée des prélats et des grands de son royaume, porter des lois contraires à l’intérêt et à la dignité de 1’ Église, Thomas s’opposa à.la cupidité du roi avec tant de constance, que, n’ayant voulu fléchir, ni devant les promesses ni devant les menaces, il se vit obligé de se retirer secrètement, parce qu’il allait être emprisonné. Bientôt tous ses parents, ses amis et ses partisans furent chassés du royaume, après qu’on eut fait jurer à tous ceux dont l’âge le permettait, d’aller trouver Thomas, afin d’ébranler, par la vue de l’état pitoyable des siens, cette sainte résolution, dont ne l’avaient nullement détourné ses propres souffrances. Il n’eut égard ni à la chair ni au sang, et aucun sentiment trop humain n’ébranla sa constance pastorale.

Répons du Commun d’un Martyr

Cinquième leçon. Il se rendit auprès du Pape Alexandre III, qui le reçut avec bonté et le recommanda aux moines du monastère de Pontigny, de l’Ordre de Cîteaux, vers lequel il se dirigea. Dès qu’Henri l’eut appris, il envoya des lettres menaçantes au Chapitre de Cîteaux, dans le but de faire chasser Thomas du monastère de Pontigny. Le saint homme, craignant que cet Ordre ne souffrît quelque persécution à cause de lui, se retira spontanément, et sur l’invitation de Louis, roi de France, il alla demeurer auprès de lui. Il y resta jusqu’à ce que, par l’intervention du Souverain Pontife et du roi, il fut rappelé de l’exil, et rentra en Angleterre à la grande satisfaction du royaume entier. Comme il s’appliquait, sans rien craindre, à remplir les devoirs d’un bon pasteur, des calomniateurs vinrent rapporter au roi qu’il entreprenait beaucoup de choses contre le royaume et la tranquillité publique : en sorte que ce prince se plaignait souvent de ce que, dans son royaume, il y avait un Évêque avec lequel il ne pouvait avoir la paix.

Sixième leçon. Ces paroles du roi ayant fait croire à quelques détestables satellites qu’ils lui causeraient un grand plaisir s’ils faisaient mourir Thomas, ils se rendirent secrètement à Cantorbéry, et allèrent attaquer l’Évêque, dans l’église même où il célébrait l’Office des Vêpres. Les clercs voulant leur fermer l’entrée du temple, Thomas accourut aussitôt, et ouvrit lui-même la porte, en disant aux siens : « L’église de Dieu ne doit pas être gardée comme un camp ; pour moi, je souffrirai volontiers la mort pour l’Église de Dieu. » Puis, s’adressant aux soldats : « De la part de Dieu, dit-il, je vous défends de toucher à aucun des miens. » Il se mit ensuite à genoux, et après avoir recommandé l’Église et son âme à Dieu, à la bienheureuse Marie, à saint Denys et aux autres patrons de sa cathédrale, il présenta sa tête au fer sacrilège, avec la même constance qu’il avait mise à résister aux lois très injustes du roi. Ceci arriva le quatre des Calendes de janvier, l’an du Seigneur onze cent soixante et onze ; et la cervelle du Martyr jaillit sur le pavé du temple. Dieu l’ayant bientôt illustré par un grand nombre de miracles, le même Pape Alexandre l’inscrivit au nombre des Saints.

Au troisième nocturne.

Lecture du saint Évangile selon saint Jean.

En ce temps-là : Jésus dit aux pharisiens : Je suis le bon pasteur. Le bon pasteur donne sa vie pour les brebis. Et le reste.

Homélie de saint Jean Chrysostome.

Septième leçon. Elle est grande, mes très chers frères, elle est grande, dis-je, la dignité de prélat dans l’Église, et elle exige beaucoup de sagesse et de force en celui qui en est revêtu ! Notre courage doit selon l’exemple proposé par Jésus-Christ, être tel que nous donnions notre vie pour nos brebis, que jamais nous ne les abandonnions, et que nous résistions généreusement au loup. C’est en cela que le pasteur diffère du mercenaire. L’un s’inquiète peu de ses brebis, et n’a de vigilance .que pour ses propres intérêts ; mais l’autre s’oublie lui-même et veille constamment au salut de son troupeau. Jésus-Christ donc, après avoir caractérisé le pasteur, signale deux sortes de personnes qui nuisent au troupeau : le voleur, qui ravit et égorge les brebis, et le mercenaire, qui ne repousse pas le voleur et ne défend pas les brebis confiées à sa garde.

Huitième leçon. C’est là ce qui arrachait autrefois à Ézéchiel ces invectives : « Malheur aux pasteurs d’Israël ! Ne se paissaient-ils pas eux-mêmes ? N’est-ce pas les troupeaux que les pasteurs font paître ? » Mais eux, ils faisaient le contraire : conduite des plus criminelles, et source de calamités nombreuses. Ainsi, ajoute le Prophète : « Ils ne ramenaient pas (au bercail les brebis) égarées ; celles qui étaient perdues, ils ne les cherchaient pas ; ils ne bandaient point les plaies de celles qui étaient blessées ; ils ne fortifiaient pas celles qui étaient faibles ou malades, parce qu’ils le paissaient eux-mêmes et non leur troupeau. » Saint Paul exprime la même vérité en d’autres termes : « Tous cherchent leurs propres intérêts et non ceux de Jésus-Christ. »

Neuvième leçon. Le Christ il se fait voir bien différent du voleur et du mercenaire : différent d’abord de ceux qui viennent pour la perte des autres, quand il dit « être venu pour qu’ils aient la vie, et l’aient très abondamment » ; différent ensuite des pasteurs négligents qui ne se souciaient pas de voir des loups ravir les brebis, en disant qu’il « donne sa vie pour ses brebis, afin qu’elles ne périssent pas ». En effet, bien que les Juifs cherchassent à le faire mourir, il continuait à répandre sa doctrine ; il n’a point abandonné ni trahi ceux qui croyaient en lui, mais il est demeuré ferme et il a souffert la mort. C’est pourquoi souvent il dit : « Je suis le bon pasteur. » Comme on ne voyait pas de preuve de ce qu’il avançait (car cette parole : « Je donne ma vie », n’eut son accomplissement que peu de temps après, et celle-ci : « afin qu’elles aient la vie, et qu’elles l’aient très abondamment », ne devait se réaliser qu’au siècle futur), que fait-il ? Il confirme une des assertions par l’autre.

Dom Guéranger, l’Année Liturgique

Un nouveau Martyr vient réclamer sa place auprès du berceau de l’Enfant-Dieu. Il n’appartient point au premier âge de l’Église ; son nom n’est point écrit dans les livres du Nouveau Testament, comme ceux d’Étienne, de Jean, et des enfants de Bethléhem. Néanmoins, il occupe un des premiers rangs dans cette légion de Martyrs qui n’a cessé de se recruter à chaque siècle, et qui atteste la fécondité de l’Église et la force immortelle dont l’a douée son divin auteur. Ce glorieux Martyr n’a pas versé son sang pour la foi ; il n’a point été amené devant les païens, ou les hérétiques, pour confesser les dogmes révélés par Jésus-Christ et proclamés par l’Église. Des mains chrétiennes l’ont immolé ; un roi catholique a prononcé son arrêt de mort ; il a été abandonné et maudit par le grand nombre de ses frères, dans son propre pays : comment donc est-il Martyr ? Comment a-t-il mérité la palme d’Étienne ? C’est qu’il a été le Martyr de la Liberté de l’Église.

En effet, tous les fidèles de Jésus-Christ sont appelés à l’honneur du martyre, pour confesser les dogmes dont ils ont reçu l’initiation au Baptême. Les droits du Christ qui les a adoptés pour ses frères s’étendent jusque-là. Ce témoignage n’est pas exigé de tous ; mais tous doivent être prêts de rendre, sous peine de la mort éternelle dont la grâce du Sauveur les a rachetés. Un tel devoir est, à plus forte raison, imposé aux pasteurs de l’Église ; il est la garantie de l’enseignement qu’ils donnent à leur propre troupeau : aussi, les annales de l’Église sont-elles couvertes, à chaque page, des noms triomphants de tant de saints Évêques qui ont, pour dernier dévouement, arrosé de leur sang le champ que leurs mains avaient fécondé, et donné, en cette manière, le suprême degré d’autorité à leur parole.

Mais si les simples fidèles sont tenus d’acquitter la grande dette de la foi par l’effusion de leur sang ; s’ils doivent à l’Église de confesser, à travers toute sorte de périls, les liens sacrés qui les unissent à elle, et par elle, à Jésus-Christ, les pasteurs ont un devoir de plus à remplir, le devoir de confesser la Liberté de l’Église. Ce mot de Liberté de l’Église sonne mal aux oreilles des politiques. Ils y voient tout aussitôt l’annonce d’une conspiration ; le monde, de son côté, y trouve un sujet de scandale, et répète les grands mots d’ambition sacerdotale ; les gens timides commencent à trembler, et vous disent que tant que la foi n’est pas attaquée, rien n’est en péril. Malgré tout cela, l’Église place sur ses autels et associe à saint Étienne, à saint Jean, aux saints Innocents, cet Archevêque anglais du XIIe siècle, égorgé dans sa Cathédrale pour la défense des droits extérieurs du sacerdoce. Elle chérit la belle maxime de saint Anselme, l’un des prédécesseurs de saint Thomas, que Dieu n’aime rien tant en ce monde que la Liberté de son Église ; et au XIXe siècle, comme au XIIe, le Siège Apostolique s’écrie, par la bouche de Pie VIII, comme elle l’eût fait par celle de saint Grégoire VII : C’est par l’institution même de Dieu que l’Église, Épouse sans tache de l’Agneau immaculé Jésus-Christ, est LIBRE, et qu’elle n’est soumise à aucune puissance terrestre [7].

Or, cette Liberté sacrée consiste en la complète indépendance de l’Église à l’égard de toute puissance séculière, dans le ministère de la Parole, qu’elle doit pouvoir prêcher, comme parle l’Apôtre, à temps et à contre-temps, à toute espèce de personnes, sans distinction de nations, de races, d’âge, ni de sexe ; dans l’administration de ses Sacrements, auxquels elle doit appeler tous les hommes sans exception, pour les sauver tous ; dans la pratique, sans contrôle étranger, des conseils aussi bien que des préceptes évangéliques ; dans les relations, dégagées de toute entrave, entre les divers degrés de sa divine hiérarchie ; dans la publication et l’application des ordonnances de sa discipline ; dans le maintien et le développement des institutions qu’elle a créées ; dans la conservation et l’administration de son patrimoine temporel ; enfin dans la défense des privilèges que l’autorité séculière elle-même lui a reconnus, pour assurer l’aisance et la considération de son ministère de paix et de charité sur les peuples.

Telle est la Liberté de l’Église : et qui ne voit qu’elle est le boulevard du sanctuaire lui-même ; que toute atteinte qui lui serait portée peut mettre à découvert la hiérarchie, et jusqu’au dogme lui-même ? Le Pasteur doit donc la défendre d’office, cette sainte Liberté : il ne doit ni fuir, comme le mercenaire ; ni se taire, comme ces chiens muets qui ne savent pas aboyer, dont parle Isaïe [8]. Il est la sentinelle d’Israël ; il ne doit pas attendre que l’ennemi soit entré dans la place pour jeter le cri d’alarme, et pour offrir ses mains aux chaînes, et sa tête au glaive. Le devoir de donner sa vie pour son troupeau commence pour lui du moment où l’ennemi assiège ces postes avancés, dont la franchise assure le repos de la cité tout entière. Que si cette résistance entraîne de graves conséquences, c’est alors qu’il faut se rappeler ces belles paroles de Bossuet, dans son sublime Panégyrique de saint Thomas de Cantorbéry, que nous voudrions pouvoir ici citer tout entier : « C’est une loi établie, dit-il, que l’Église ne peut jouir d’aucun avantage qui ne lui coûte la mort de ses enfants, et que, pour affermir ses droits, il faut qu’elle répande du sang. Son Époux l’a rachetée par le sang qu’il averse pour elle, et il veut qu’elle achète par un prix semblable les grâces qu’il lui accorde. C’est par le sang des Martyrs qu’elle a étendu ses conquêtes bien loin au. delà de l’empire romain ; son sang lui a procuré et la paix dont elle a joui sous les empereurs chrétiens, et la victoire qu’elle a remportée sur les empereurs infidèles. Il paraît donc qu’elle devait du sang à l’affermissement de son autorité, comme elle en avait donné à l’établissement de sa doctrine ; et ainsi la discipline, aussi bien que la foi de l’Église, a dû avoir ses Martyrs. »

Il ne s’est donc pas agi, pour saint Thomas et pourtant d’autres Martyrs de la Liberté ecclésiastique, de considérer la faiblesse des moyens qu’on pourrait opposer aux envahissements des droits de l’Église. L’élément du martyre est la simplicité unie à la force ; et n’est-ce pas pour cela que de si belles palmes ont été cueillies par de simples fidèles, par de jeunes vierges, par des enfants ? Dieu a mis au cœur du chrétien un élément de résistance humble et inflexible qui brise toujours toute autre force. Quelle inviolable fidélité l’Esprit-Saint n’inspire-t-il pas à l’âme de ses pasteurs qu’il établit comme les Époux de son Église, et comme autant de murs imprenables de sa chère Jérusalem ? « Thomas, dit encore l’Évêque de Meaux, ne cède pas à l’iniquité, sous prétexte qu’elle est armée et soutenue d’une main royale ; au contraire, lui voyant prendre son cours d’un lieu éminent, d’où elle peut se répandre avec plus de force, il se croit plus obligé de s’élever contre, comme une digue que l’on élève à mesure que l’on voit les ondes enflées. »

Mais, dans cette lutte, le Pasteur périra peut-être ? Et, sans doute, il pourra obtenir cet insigne honneur. Dans sa lutte contre le monde, dans cette victoire que le Christ a remportée pour nous, il a versé son sang, il est mort sur une croix ; et les Martyrs sont morts aussi ; mais l’Église, arrosée du sang de Jésus-Christ, cimentée parle sang des Martyrs, peut-elle se passer toujours de ce bain salutaire qui ranime sa vigueur, et forme sa pourpre royale ? Thomas l’a compris ; et cet homme, dont les sens sont mortifiés par une pénitence assidue, dont les affections en ce monde sont crucifiées par toutes les privations et toutes les adversités, a dans son cœur ce courage plein de calme, cette patience inouïe qui préparent au martyre. En un mot, il a reçu l’Esprit de force, et il lui a été fidèle.

« Selon le langage ecclésiastique, continue Bossuet, la force a une autre signification que dans le langage du monde. La force selon le monde s’étend jusqu’à entreprendre ; la force selon l’Église ne va pas plus loin que de tout souffrir : voilà les bornes qui lui sont prescrites. Écoutez l’Apôtre saint Paul : Nondum usque ad sanguinem restitistis ; comme s’il disait : Vous n’avez pas tenu jusqu’au bout, parce que vous ne vous êtes pas défendus jusqu’au sang. Il ne dit pas jusqu’à attaquer, jusqu’à verser le sang de vos ennemis, mais jusqu’à répandre le vôtre. _ « Au reste, saint Thomas n’abuse point de ces maximes vigoureuses. Il ne prend pas par fierté ces armes apostoliques, pour se faire valoir dans le monde : il s’en sert comme d’un bouclier nécessaire dans l’extrême besoin de l’Église. La force du saint Évêque ne dépend donc pas du concours de ses amis, ni d’une intrigue finement menée. Il ne sait point étaler au monde a sa patience, pour rendre son persécuteur plus odieux, ni faire jouer de secrets ressorts pour soulever les esprits. Il n’a pour lui que les prières des pauvres, les gémissements des veuves et des orphelins. Voilà, disait saint Ambroise, les défenseurs des Évêques ; voilà leurs gardes, voilà leur armée. Il est fort, parce qu il a un esprit également incapable et de crainte et de murmure. Il peut dire véritablement à Henri, roi d’Angleterre, ce que disait Tertullien, au nom de toute l’Église, à un magistrat de l’Empire, grand persécuteur de l’Église : Non te terremus, qui nec timemus. Apprends à connaître quels nous sommes, et vois quel homme c’est qu’un chrétien : Nous ne pensons pas à te faire peur, et nous sommes incapables de te craindre. Nous ne sommes ni redoutables ni lâches : nous ne sommes pas redoutables, parce que nous ne savons pas cabaler ; et nous ne sommes pas lâches, parce que nous savons mourir. »

Mais laissons encore la parole à l’éloquent prêtre de l’Église de France, qui fut lui-même appelé aux honneurs de l’épiscopat dans l’année qui suivit celle où il prononça ce discours ; écoutons-le nous raconter la victoire de l’Église par saint Thomas de Cantorbéry :

« Chrétiens, soyez attentifs : s’il y eut jamais un martyre qui ressemblât parfaitement à un sacrifice, c’est celui que je dois vous représenter. Voyez les préparatifs : l’Evêque est à l’église avec son clergé, et ils sont déjà revêtus. Il ne faut pas chercher bien loin la victime : le saint Pontife est préparé, et c’est la victime que Dieu a choisie. Ainsi tout est prêt pour le sacrifice, et je vois entrer dans l’église ceux qui doivent donner le coup. Le saint homme va au-devant d’eux, à l’imitation de Jésus-Christ ; et pour a imiter en tout ce divin modèle, il défend à son clergé toute résistance, et se contente de demander sûreté pour les siens. Si c’est moi que vous » cherchez, laissez, dit Jésus, retirer ceux-ci. Ces choses étant accomplies, et l’heure du sacrifice étant arrivée, voyez comme saint Thomas en commence la cérémonie. Victime et Pontife tout ensemble, il présente sa tête et fait sa prière. Voici les vœux solennels et les paroles mystiques de ce sacrifice : Et ego pro Deo mori paratus sum, et pro assertione justitiœ, et pro Ecclesiae libertate ; dummodo effusione sanguinis mei pacem et libertatem consequatur. Je suis prêt à mourir, dit-il, pour la cause de Dieu et de son Église ; et toute la grâce que je demande, c’est que mon sang lui rende la paix et la liberté qu’on veut lui ravir. Il se prosterne devant Dieu ; et comme dans le Sacrifice solennel nous appelons les Saints nos intercesseurs, il n’omet pas une partie si considérable de cette cérémonie sacrée : il appelle les saints Martyrs et la sainte Vierge au secours de l’Église opprimée ; il ne parle que de l’Église ; il n’a que l’Église dans le cœur et dans la bouche ; et, abattu par le coup, sa langue froide et inanimée semble encore nommer l’Église. »

Ainsi ce grand Martyr, ce type des Pasteurs de l’Église, a consommé son sacrifice ; ainsi il a remporté la victoire ; et cette victoire ira jusqu’à l’entière abrogation de la coupable législation qui devait entraver l’Église, et l’abaisser aux yeux des peuples. La tombe de Thomas deviendra un autel ; et au pied de cet autel, on verra bientôt un Roi pénitent solliciter humblement sa grâce. Que s’est-il donc passé ? La mort de Thomas a-t-elle excité les peuples à la révolte ? le Martyr a-t-il rencontré des vengeurs ? Rien de tout cela n’est arrivé. Son sang a suffi à tout. Qu’on le comprenne bien : les fidèles ne verront jamais de sang-froid la mort d’un pasteur immolé pour ses devoirs ; et les gouvernements qui osent faire des Martyrs en porteront toujours la peine. C’est pour l’avoir compris d’instinct, que les ruses de la politique se sont réfugiées dans les systèmes d’oppression administrative, afin de dérober habilement le secret de la guerre entreprise contre la Liberté de l’Église. C’est pour cela qu’ont été forgées ces chaînes non moins déliées qu’insupportables, qui enlacent aujourd’hui tant d’Églises. Or, il n’est pas dans la nature de ces chaîner de se dénouer jamais ; elles ne sauraient être que brisées ; mais quiconque les brisera, sa gloire sera grande dans l’Église de la terre et dans celle du ciel ; car sa gloire sera celle du martyre. Il ne s’agira ni de combattre avec le fer, ni de négocier par la politique ; mais de résister en face et de souffrir avec patience jusqu’au bout.

Écoutons une dernière fois notre grand orateur, relevant ce sublime élément qui a assuré la victoire à la cause de saint Thomas : « Voyez, mes Frères, quels défenseurs trouve l’Église dans sa faiblesse, et combien elle a raison de dire avec l’Apôtre : Cum infirmor, tunc potens sum. Ce sont ces bienheureuses faiblesses qui lui donnent cet invincible secours, et qui arment en sa faveur les plus valeureux soldats et les plus puissants conquérants du monde, je veux dire, les saints Martyrs. Quiconque ne ménage pas l’autorité de l’Église, qu’il craigne ce sang précieux des Martyrs, qui la consacre et la protège. »

Or, toute cette force, toute cette victoire émanent du berceau de l’Enfant-Dieu ; et c’est pour cela que Thomas s’y rencontre avec Étienne. Il fallait un Dieu anéanti, une si haute manifestation d’humilité, de constance et de faiblesse selon la chair, pour ouvrir les yeux des hommes sur la nature de la véritable force. Jusque-là on n’avait soupçonné d’autre vigueur que celle des conquérants à coups d’épée, d’autre grandeur que la richesse, d’autre honneur que le triomphe ; et maintenant, parce que Dieu venant en ce monde a apparu désarmé, pauvre et persécuté, tout a changé de face. Des cœurs se sont rencontrés qui ont voulu aimer, malgré tout, les abaissements de la Crèche ; et ils y ont puisé le secret d’une grandeur d’âme que le monde, tout en restant ce qu’il est, n’a pu s’empêcher de sentir et d’admirer.

Il est donc juste que la couronne de Thomas et celle d’Étienne, unies ensemble, apparaissent comme un double trophée aux côtés du berceau de l’Enfant de Bethléhem ; et quant au saint Archevêque, la Providence de Dieu a marqué divinement sa place sur le Cycle, en permettant que son immolation s’accomplît le lendemain de la fête des saints Innocents, afin que la sainte Église n’éprouvât pas d’incertitude sur le jour qu’elle devrait assigner à sa mémoire. Qu’il garde donc cette place si glorieuse et si chère à toute l’Église de Jésus-Christ ; et que son nom reste, jusqu’à la fin des temps, la terreur des ennemis de la Liberté de l’Église, l’espérance et la consolation de ceux qui aiment cette Liberté que le Christ a acquise aussi par son sang.

La Liturgie de l’Église d’Angleterre rendait à saint Thomas un culte plein de tendresse et d’enthousiasme. Nous extrairons plusieurs pièces de l’ancien Bréviaire de Salisbury, et nous donnerons d’abord un ensemble formé de la plupart des Antiennes des Matines et des Laudes. Tout l’Office est rimé, suivant l’usage du XIIIe siècle, auquel ces compositions appartiennent.

Thomas, élevé au souverain sacerdoce, se trouve tout à coup changé en un autre homme.

Sous ses vêtements de clerc, il revêt secrètement le cilice du moine ; plus fort que la chair, il réprime les révoltes de la chair.

Agriculteur fidèle, il arrache les ronces du champ du Seigneur ; de ses vignes il repousse et il chasse les renards.

Il ne souffre point que les loups dévorent les agneaux, ni que les animaux malfaisants traversent le jardin confié à sa garde.

On l’exile ; ses biens sont la proie des méchants ; mais, au milieu du feu de la tribulation, Thomas n’est pas atteint.

Des satellites de Satan pénètrent dans le temple ; ils en font le théâtre d’un forfait inouï.

Thomas marche au-devant des épées menaçantes ; il ne cède ni aux menaces, ni aux glaives, pas même à la mort.

Lieu fortuné, heureuse église où vit la mémoire de Thomas ! heureuse terre qui a produit un tel prélat ! Heureuse contrée qui, avec amour, recueillit son exil !

Le grain tombe, et c’est pour produire une abondance de froment ; le vase d’albâtre est brisé, et c’est pour répandre la suavité du parfum.

L’univers entier s’empresse à témoigner son amour pour le Martyr ; ses prodiges multipliés excitent en tout lieu l’étonnement.

Les pièces qui suivent ne sont pas moins dignes de mémoire, pour l’affection et la confiance qu’elles expriment à notre grand Martyr.

Ant. Le Pasteur immolé, au milieu de son troupeau achète la paix au prix de son sang. O douleur pleine d’allégresse ! ô joie remplie de tristesse ! par la mort du Pasteur, le troupeau respire ; la mère en pleurs applaudit à son fils, vivant et victorieux sous le glaive.

R/. Cesse tes plaintes, ô Rachel cesse de pleurer sur la fleur de ce monde, que le monde a brisée ; Thomas immolé, enseveli est un nouvel Abel qui succède à l’ancien.

Ant. Salut, Thomas ! Sceptre de justice, splendeur du monde, vigueur de l’Église, amour du peuple, délices du clergé. Tuteur fidèle du troupeau, salut ! Daignez sauver ceux qui applaudissent à votre gloire.

Nous empruntons au même Bréviaire de Salisbury le Répons qui suit. Il est remarquable, dans sa forme, par l’insertion d’une Prose entière, en manière de Verset, après laquelle la Réclame revient, selon l’usage du XIV° siècle. Nous n’avons pas besoin de relever la beauté naïve de cette pièce liturgique.

L’épi succombe opprimé par la paille ; le juste est immolé par l’épée des méchants : * Il échange contre le ciel cette demeure de boue. V/. Le gardien de la vigne succombe dans la vigne même, le capitaine dans son camp, le cultivateur dans son aire. * Il échange contre le ciel cette demeure de boue.

Prose

Que le Pasteur fasse retentir la trompette de force ;

Qu’il réclame la liberté de la vigne du Christ,

De cette vigne que le Christ, sous le manteau de la chair, a choisie pour sienne.

Qu’il a affranchie par le sang de sa croix.

Une brebis égarée s’est élevée contre Thomas,

Elle s’est baignée dans le sang du pasteur immolé.

Le pavé de marbre de la maison du Christ

S’est rougi d’un sang précieux.

Le Martyr, décoré de la couronne de vie,

Semblable au grain dégagé de la paille,

Est transféré dans les greniers divins.

* Il échange contre le ciel cette demeure de boue.

L’Église de France témoigna aussi par la Liturgie sa vive admiration pour l’illustre Martyr. Adam de Saint-Victor composa jusqu’à trois Séquences pour célébrer un si noble triomphe. Nous donnerons ici les deux plus belles. Elles respirent la plus ardente sympathie pour le sublime athlète de Cantorbéry, et montrent à quel point était chère la Liberté de l’Église aux fidèles de ces temps, et comment la cause dont saint Thomas fut le martyr était regardée alors comme celle de la société chrétienne tout entière. Obligé de nous restreindre, nous regrettons de ne pouvoir insérer ici la belle Prose des Missels de Liège : Laureata novo Thoma.

Ière SÉQUENCE.

Réjouis-toi, Sion, et sois dans l’allégresse ; par tes chants, par tes vœux, éclate dans une solennelle réjouissance.

Ton pasteur Thomas est égorgé ; pour toi, ô Christ ! il est immolé, comme une hostie salutaire.

Archevêque et légat, nul degré d’honneur n’a enflé son âme.

Dispensateur fidèle du souverain Roi, pour avoir défendu son troupeau, il est condamné à l’exil.

Il combat avec les armes du pasteur ; il est ceint du glaive spirituel ; il a mérité le triomphe.

Pour la loi de son Dieu, pour le salut de ses brebis, il a voulu combattre et mourir.

Privée de son chef, veuve de son pasteur, Cantorbéry se lamentait.

Plus heureuse et battant des mains, la Gaule Sénonnaise saluait un si grand homme.

Par son absence est affaiblie, foulée aux pieds, la liberté de l’Église.

Ainsi, tu nous quittas, ô Pasteur ! Mais rien ne te fit reculer du vrai sentier de la justice.

Naguère, en la cour des seigneurs, tu étais le premier : tu occupais le poste d’honneur au palais du roi.

Le vent de la faveur populaire était pour toi, et tu jouissais de ces applaudissements du siècle, qui ne durent qu’un temps.

Élevé à la prélature, tu changeas bientôt ; par un heureux échange, tu devins un homme nouveau.

Tu résistas à l’adversaire, tu t’opposas comme un mur, tu offris ta tête dans un sacrifice comme celui du Christ.

Tu as bravé la mort de ta chair, athlète triomphant !

Une palme glorieuse est dans tes mains ; des miracles inouïs l’attestent en grand nombre.

Illustre Thomas ! la perle du clergé, par tes prières efficaces, dompte les assauts de notre chair.

Afin que, enracinés dans le Christ, la vraie vigne, nous obtenions la couronne de la vie véritable. Amen.

II° SÉQUENCE.

O Église, ô tendre Mère, déplore dans tes chants le forfait commis naguère par la Grande-Bretagne.

O France, sois émue de compassion ; le ciel lui-même, la terre et les mers, pleurent sur ce crime exécrable.

Oui, l’Angleterre a commis un crime qu’on n’ose raconter, un forfait immense et qui saisit d’horreur. Elle a condamné son propre père ; elle l’a massacré sur son siège, auquel il venait d’être rendu.

Thomas, lui, la fleur vermeille de l’Angleterre, la gloire première de l’Église, a été immolé dans le temple de Cantorbéry ; prêtre et victime, il a succombé pour la justice.

Entre le temple et l’autel, sur le seuil même de l’église, on l’a atteint, mais non vaincu ; le voile du temple a été fendu en deux par le glaive. Élisée a reçu le coup sur sa tête vénérable ; Zacharie a été égorgé ; la paix qui venait de se conclure a été violée ; et les chants d’allégresse se sont changés en lamentations.

Le lendemain de la fête des Innocents, le Pontife innocent comme eux est traîné à la mort ; on le frappe, on répand sa cervelle sur le pavé avec la pointe du glaive. Le temple acquiert une nouvelle gloire par le sang qui rougit ses dalles, au moment où le Pontife revêt la robe empourprée du martyre.

La fureur des meurtriers est au comble ; ils ont conspiré contre la vie du juste, et leur épée s’est abattue sur sa tête en présence même du Seigneur. Le Pontife accomplissait l’œuvre de sanctification : là même il est sanctifié ; il immolait, et on l’immole. Il laisse ainsi aux hommes l’exemple de son sublime courage.

Cet holocauste choisi devient célèbre dans tout l’univers ; c’est le Pontife lui-même offert à Dieu, comme une victime d’agréable odeur ; on a frappé sa tête à l’endroit où la couronne la rendait plus sacrée ; en retour, il a reçu une double tunique d’honneur ; et le privilège de son trône archiépiscopal est désormais reconnu.

Le Juif regarde avec insolence, le païen idolâtre poursuit de ses sarcasmes des chrétiens qui ont violé le pacte sacré, et dont la rage n’a pas su épargner même un des pères de la chrétienté Rachel repousse les consolations ; elle pleure le fils qu’elle a vu immoler jusque sur son sein maternel, le fils dont le trépas arrache tant de larmes aux chrétiens pieux.

C’est là le Pontife que le suprême architecte a placé glorieux au faite de l’édifice céleste, parce qu’il a triomphé du glaive homicide des Anglais.

Pour n’avoir pas craint la mort, pour avoir livré sa tête avec son sang, au sortir de ce séjour terrestre, il est entré pour jamais dans le Saint des Saints.

Les prodiges attestent combien fut précieuse sa mort ; que ses prières, nous soient un secours favorable pour l’éternité.

Amen.

Ainsi s’épanchait, par la voix sacrée de la Liturgie, l’amour du peuple catholique pour saint Thomas de Cantorbéry. Ainsi la victoire de l’Église était-elle réputée la victoire de l’humanité elle-même, dans les siècles catholiques. Il n’entre point dans notre plan d’écrire la vie des Saints dans cette Année liturgique déjà si remplie ; nous ne pourrons donc développer ici en détail le caractère de ce grand Martyr de la plus sacrée des libertés. Cependant, nous croyons faire plaisir à nos lecteurs, en produisant sois leurs yeux un témoignage touchant de l’affection et de l’estime qu’avait inspirées Thomas à ceux qui avaient été témoins des vertus évangéliques de ce prélat fidèle et désintéressé, auquel le roi son ami, et plus tard son meurtrier, ne pardonna jamais de s’être démis des hautes fonctions de Chancelier du royaume d’Angleterre, le jour où il fut promu à l’archevêché de Cantorbéry. La lettre qu’on va lire fut écrite par un Français, Pierre de Blois, Archidiacre de Bath, et adressée aux Chanoines de Beauvoir, peu de jours après le martyre du Saint, quand son sang était encore chaud sur le pavé de l’Église Primatiale de l’Angleterre. Cette lettre est un cri de victoire ; mais combien la victoire de l’Église, dans laquelle elle ne verse d’autre sang que le sien, est pure et paisible !

« Il est décédé, le Pasteur de nos âmes, lui dont je voulais pleurer le trépas ; mais que dis-je ? il s’est retiré plutôt qu’il n’est décédé ; il s’en est allé, il n’est pas mort. En effet, la mort par laquelle le Seigneur a glorifié son Saint n’est pas une mort, mais un sommeil. C’est un port, c’est la porte de la vie, l’entrée dans les délices de la patrie céleste, dans les puissances du Seigneur, dans l’abîme de l’éternelle clarté. Prêt à partir pour un voyage lointain, il a pris a avec lui les subsides de la route, pour revenir à la pleine lune. Son âme, qui s’est retirée de son corps riche de mérites, rentrera, opulente, dans cette ancienne demeure, au jour de la résurrection générale. La mort envieuse et pleine de ruse a voulu voir si, dans ce trésor, il se trouvait quelque chose qui appartînt à son domaine. Lui, en homme prudent et circonspect, n’avait pas voulu risquer sa vraie vie. Dès longtemps il t désirait la dissolution de son corps pour être avec Jésus-Christ ; dès longtemps il aspirait à sortir de ce corps de mort. Il a donc jeté un peu de poussière à la face de cette vieille ennemie, comme un tribut. C’est delà qu’est sortie cette rumeur populaire et fausse qu’une bête féroce avait dévoré Joseph. La tunique dont on l’a dépouillé n’était donc qu’une fausse messagère de sa mort ; car Joseph est vivant, et il domine sur toute la terre d’Égypte. Sa bienheureuse âme, débarrassée de l’enveloppe de cette poussière corruptible, s’est envolée libre au ciel.

« Oui, il a été appelé au ciel, cet homme dont le monde n’était pas digne. Cette lumière n’est pas éteinte ; un souffle passager l’a inclinée, afin qu’elle brillât ensuite avec plus de clarté, afin qu’elle ne fût plus sous le boisseau, mais éclatât davantage aux yeux de ceux qui sont dans la maison. Aux regards des insensés il a paru mourir ; mais sa vie est cachée avec Jésus-Christ en Dieu. La mort a semblé l’avoir vaincu et dévoré ; mais la mort a été ensevelie dans a son triomphe. Vous lui avez accordé, Seigneur, u le désir de son cœur ; car longtemps il milita pour vous, fidèle à votre service, à travers les voies les plus dures. Dès son adolescence, il montra la maturité de la vieillesse ; et on le vit réprimer les révoltes de la chair par les veilles, par les jeûnes, par les disciplines, par le cilice et la garde d’une continence perpétuelle. Le Seigneur se le choisit pour Pontife, afin qu’il fût, au milieu de son peuple, un chef, un docteur, un miroir de vie, un modèle de pénitence, un exemplaire de sainteté. Le Dieu des sciences lui » avait donné une langue éloquente, et avait répandu en lui avec abondance l’esprit d’intelligence et de sagesse, afin qu’il fût entre les doctes le plus docte, entre les sages le plus sage, entre les bons le meilleur, entre les grands le plus grand. Il était le héraut de la parole divine, la trompette de l’Évangile, l’ami de l’Époux, la colonne du clergé, l’œil de l’aveugle, le pied du boiteux, le sel de la terre, la lumière de la patrie, le ministre du Très-Haut, le vicaire du Christ, le Christ même du Seigneur.

« Il était droit dans le jugement, habile dans le gouvernement, discret dans le commandement, modeste dans le parler, circonspect dans les conseils, tempérant dans la nourriture, pacifique dans la colère, un ange dans la chair, doux au milieu des injures, timide dans la prospérité, ferme dans l’adversité, prodigue dans les aumônes, tout entier à la miséricorde. Il était la gloire des moines, les délices du peuple, la terreur des princes, le Dieu de Pharaon. D’autres, quand ils sont élevés sur le siège éminent de l’Épiscopat, se montrent tout aussitôt enclins à flatter la chair ; ils craignent toute souffrance du corps comme un supplice ; leur désir en toutes choses est de jouir longtemps de la vie. Celui-ci, au contraire, dès le jour de sa promotion, désira avec passion la fin de cette vie, ou plutôt le commencement d’une vie meilleure ; c’est pour cela que, se revêtant de la livrée du pèlerin, il a bu, sur la voie, l’eau du torrent, et pour cela, son nom est élevé en gloire dans la patrie. Ainsi, nos seigneurs et frères, les Moines de l’Église cathédrale, sont-ils devenus tout à coup des pupilles qui ont perdu leur Père. »

Le seizième siècle vint encore ajouter à la gloire de saint Thomas, lorsque l’ennemi de Dieu et des hommes, Henri VIII d’Angleterre, osa poursuivre de sa tyrannie le Martyr de la Liberté de l’Église jusque dans la châsse splendide où il recevait depuis près de quatre siècles les hommages de la vénération de l’univers chrétien. Les sacrés ossements du Pontife égorgé pour la justice furent arrachés de l’autel ; un procès monstrueux fut instruit contre le Père de la patrie, et une sentence impie déclara Thomas criminel de lèse-majesté royale. Ces restes précieux furent placés sur un bûcher ; et dans ce second martyre, le feu dévora la glorieuse dépouille de l’homme simple et fort dont l’intercession attirait sur l’Angleterre les regards et la protection du ciel. Aussi, il était juste que la contrée qui devait perdre la foi par une désolante apostasie ne gardât pas dans son sein un trésor qui n’était plus estimé à son prix ; et d’ailleurs le siège de Cantorbéry était souillé. Cranmer s’asseyait sur la chaire des Augustin, des Dunstan, des Lanfranc, des Anselme, de Thomas enfin ; et le saint Martyr, regardant autour de lui, n’avait trouvé parmi ses frères de cette génération que le seul Jean Fischer, qui consentît à le suivre jusqu’au martyre. Mais ce dernier sacrifice, tout glorieux qu’il fût, ne sauva rien. Dès longtemps la Liberté de l’Église avait péri en Angleterre : la foi n’avait plus qu’à s’éteindre.

Invincible défenseur de l’Église de votre Maître, glorieux Martyr Thomas ! Nous venons à vous, en ce jour de votre fête, pour honorer les dons merveilleux que le Seigneur a déposés en votre personne. Enfants de l’Église, nous aimons à contempler celui qui l’a tant aimée, et qui a tenu à si grand prix l’honneur de cette Épouse du Christ, qu’il n’a pas craint de donner sa vie pour lui assurer l’indépendance. Parce que vous avez ainsi aimé l’Église aux dépens de votre repos, de votre bonheur temporel, de votre vie même ; parce que votre sacrifice sublime a été le plus désintéressé de tous, la langue des impies et celle des lâches se sont aiguisées contre vous, et votre nom a souvent été blasphémé et calomnié. O véritable Martyr ! digne de toute croyance dans son témoignage, puisqu’il ne parle et qu’il ne résiste que contre ses intérêts terrestres. O Pasteur associé au Christ dans l’effusion du sang et dans la délivrance du troupeau ! nous vous vénérons de tout le mépris que vous ont prodigué les ennemis de l’Église ; nous vous aimons de toute la haine qu’ils ont versée sur vous, dans leur impuissance. Nous vous demandons pardon pour ceux qui ont rougi de votre nom, et qui ont regardé votre martyre comme un embarras dans les Annales de l’Église. Que votre gloire est grande, ô Pontife fidèle ! d’avoir été choisi pour accompagner avec Étienne, Jean et les Innocents, le Christ, au moment où il fait son entrée en ce monde ! Descendu dans l’arène sanglante à la onzième heure, vous n’avez pas été déshérité du prix qu’ont reçu vos frères de la première heure ; loin de là, vous êtes grand parmi les Martyrs. Vous êtes donc puissant sur le cœur du divin Enfant qui naît en ces jours mêmes pour être le Roi des Martyrs. Permettez que, sous votre garde, nous pénétrions jusqu’à lui. Comme vous, nous voulons aimer son Église, cette Église chérie dont l’amour l’a forcé à descendre du ciel ; cette Église qui nous prépare de si douces consolations dans la célébration des grands mystères auxquels votre nom se trouve si glorieusement mêlé. Obtenez-nous cette force qui fasse que nous ne reculions devant aucun sacrifice, quand il s’agit d’honorer notre beau titre de Catholiques.

Assurez l’Enfant qui nous est né, Celui qui doit porter sur son épaule la Croix comme le signe de sa principauté, que, moyennant sa grâce, nous ne nous scandaliserons jamais ni de sa cause, ni de ses défenseurs ; que, dans la simplicité de notre attachement envers la sainte Église qu’il nous a donnée pour Mère, nous placerons toujours ses intérêts au-dessus de tous les autres ; car elle seule a les paroles de la vie éternelle, elle seule a le secret et l’autorité de conduire les hommes vers ce monde meilleur qui seul est notre terme, seul ne passe pas, tandis que tous les intérêts de la terre ne sont que vanité, illusion, et le plus souvent obstacles à l’unique fin de l’homme et de l’humanité.

Mais, afin que cette Église sainte puisse accomplir sa mission et sortir victorieuse de tant de pièges qui lui sont tendus dans tous les sentiers de son pèlerinage, elle a besoin par-dessus tout de Pasteurs qui vous ressemblent, ô Martyr du Christ ! Priez donc afin que le Maître de la vigne envoie des ouvriers, capables non seulement de la cultiver et de l’arroser, mais encore de la défendre à la fois du renard et du sanglier qui, comme nous en avertissent les saintes Écritures, cherchent sans cesse à y pénétrer pour la ravager. Que la voix de votre sang devienne de plus en plus tonnante en ces jours d’anarchie, où l’Église du Christ est asservie sur tant de points de cette terre qu’elle est venue affranchir. Souvenez-vous de l’Église d’Angleterre qui lit un si triste naufrage, il y a trois siècles, par l’apostasie de tant de prélats, tombés victimes de ces mêmes maximes contre lesquelles vous aviez résisté jusqu’au sang. Aujourd’hui qu’elle semble se relever de ses ruines, tendez-lui la main, et oubliez les outrages qui furent prodigués à votre nom, au moment où l’Ile des Saints allait sombrer dans l’abîme de l’hérésie. Souvenez-vous aussi de l’Église de France qui vous reçut dans votre exil, et au sein de laquelle votre culte fut si florissant autrefois. Obtenez pour ses Pasteurs l’esprit qui vous anima ; revêtez-les de cette armure qui vous rendit invulnérable dans vos rudes combats contre les ennemis de la Liberté de l’Église. Enfin, quelque part, en quelque manière que cette sainte Liberté soit en danger, accourez au secours, et que vos prières et votre exemple assurent une complète victoire à l’Épouse de Jésus-Christ.

[7] Libera est institutione divina, nullique obnox laterrenae potestati, Ecclesia intemerata sponsa immaculati Agni Christi Jesu. Litterae Apostolicae ad Episcopos provinciae Rhenanae, 3o Junii 183o.

[8] LVI, 10.

[9] Psalm. XCVIII.

[10] Psalm. XLIV.



Bhx Cardinal Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum

Cette fête (de St Thomas de Cantorbéry) est entrée dans le calendrier de la Curie romaine et, par suite, dans le missel, seulement très tard, c’est-à-dire au XIIIe siècle, quand le culte envers le saint Primat d’Angleterre fut assez répandu même en Italie. Pourtant elle ne fut jamais accueillie parmi les solennités stationnales, quoique l’office de ce jour appartienne au Propre du Temps et non au Propre des Saints.

La messe a un caractère grandiose, pathétique, elle est riche de sentiment et révèle l’impression que fit à l’Europe chrétienne l’assassinat de l’évêque de Cantorbéry, accompli par quelques sicaires, dans sa propre cathédrale, à l’heure des vêpres. Après les fleurs rouges dont les Innocents ont enguirlandé la crèche de l’Enfant de Betlehem, il convient qu’un des plus puissants Pontifes du moyen âge vienne y déposer une couronne de roses, au nom de tout l’épiscopat catholique. C’est pour cette raison que la messe traitera, en y revenant à plusieurs reprises, des qualités et des devoirs d’un évêque et d’un pasteur d’âmes.

L’introït provient d’un texte grec qui fut d’abord attribué à la fête de sainte Agathe. « Réjouissons-nous tous dans le Seigneur, aujourd’hui que nous célébrons la fête du martyr Thomas, dont la confession réjouit les anges, en sorte qu’ils en louent le Fils de Dieu. » On y ajoute le verset initial du psaume 32 : « Exultez, ô justes, dans le Seigneur ; le cantique de louange sied bien à ceux qui sont bons. »

La collecte est pleine de pieuse majesté : « O Dieu pour l’Église de qui le glorieux pontife Thomas tomba sous les coups de glaive des impies, faites que tous ceux qui implorent son secours obtiennent l’effet de leurs prières. »

La lecture est tirée de la lettre aux Hébreux, là où sont mis en comparaison le sacerdoce typique de l’Ancienne Alliance et celui du Christ (V, 1-6). Le ministère sacerdotal est une mission de compassion et de miséricorde, c’est pourquoi Dieu a voulu qu’il fût exercé, non par les anges, esprits très purs et éloignés de toute faiblesse de la chair, mais par les hommes fragiles et, par suite, plus aptes à comprendre les faiblesses d’autrui et à y compatir. Pour cette raison, le Christ se revêtit, lui aussi, de notre nature humaine, afin de nous montrer, d’une façon plus sensible encore, sa condescendance infinie. Il appartient enfin à Dieu d’élire ceux qu’il destine à être ses médiateurs et les ministres de ses miséricordes. Personne ne peut s’attribuer de soi-même de telles fonctions, c’est pourquoi Jésus fut élu pontife de notre confession par Dieu son Père.

Le répons-graduel est pris dans l’Ecclésiastique (XLIV, 20) et loue le grand pontife qui fut, durant sa vie, l’objet spécial des divines complaisances, de préférence aux autres. Il mérita cette grâce par l’observance de la loi de Dieu.

Le verset alléluiatique provient de l’évangile de saint Jean (X, 11), là où Jésus se compare au bon Pasteur qui connaît ses brebis et en est également connu.

La lecture évangélique est la même que le second dimanche après Pâques (Joan., X, 11-16), mais elle prend ici une signification spéciale. Là, c’est le Souverain Pasteur, Jésus, qui, dans la solennité pascale, s’immole pour son troupeau ; aujourd’hui, au contraire, c’est le disciple qui a parfaitement suivi l’exemple de Jésus, versant son sang pour la liberté de la famille chrétienne, contre l’oppression d’un prince devenu un tyran.

L’offertoire est tiré du psaume 20 : « Seigneur, vous avez mis sur sa tête une couronne de pierres précieuses. Il vous a demandé la vie, et vous la lui avez donnée, intarissable. Louange à Yahweh. »

Dans la prière sur les oblations, nous supplions Dieu de les sanctifier, afin que, par l’intercession du bienheureux pontife et martyr Thomas, elles attirent sur nous le regard bienveillant de la divine miséricorde.

Le verset de la Communion est identique au verset alléluiatique et provient de saint Jean. Cette fois, pourtant, il est appliqué à Jésus, qui nourrit son troupeau avec son sang.

La collecte eucharistique est très ancienne. On y a joint seulement la mention du martyr : « Que cette Communion, Seigneur, nous purifie de nos fautes, et que, par l’intercession du bienheureux pontife Thomas, martyr, elle nous rende participants de la divine Rédemption. »

Combien sublime est la vocation pastorale, et quelle vertu solide elle requiert ! Les saints Pères, expliquant ce texte de l’Apôtre à Timothée, « il faut que l’évêque soit irrépréhensible », enseignent communément que celui-ci doit être déjà en état de perfection solidement acquise, en tant qu’il doit avoir extirpé de lui-même, auparavant, toute racine d’amour-propre, pour ne plus chercher que la gloire de Dieu et le salut des âmes. En effet, la charité est un mouvement de l’âme au dehors d’elle-même, vers Dieu et tout ce qui se rapporte à lui. Quand l’âme se replie sur elle-même, alors elle s’éloigne de la loi de parfait amour pour tomber dans le défaut de l’égoïsme. Charitas non quaerit quae sua sunt, c’est pourquoi l’office Pastoral qui est justement un office de suprême amour et de désintéressement, exige l’oubli de soi-même, pour ne plus voir devant soi que Dieu et sa gloire dans la sanctification des fidèles.


Dom Pius Parsch, le Guide dans l’année liturgique

Le bon pasteur invite les pasteurs des âmes à la Crèche.

Je voudrais bien établir une relation entre Noël et la fête d’aujourd’hui. Néanmoins il faut reconnaître que la fête de saint Thomas n’a pas, comme les trois fêtes précédentes, de rapports voulus avec la fête de Noël. Saint Thomas n’appartient pas à l’escorte du Roi nouveau-né.

1. Saint Thomas de Cantorbéry. — Thomas Becket, né en 1118 d’une famille de marchands, étudia à Londres et à Paris, entra au service de l’archevêque Théobald de Cantorbéry, mais devint en 1155 lord chancelier du roi Henri II d’Angleterre et en 1162 archevêque de Cantorbéry. Celui qui avait été jusque là un courtisan facile montra, dès qu’il fut évêque, une grande énergie à lutter contre le roi pour la liberté de l’Église et l’inviolabilité des biens ecclésiastiques. Cette lutte lui coûta la prison, l’exil et finalement le martyre (+29 décembre 1171). Dès 1173, il fut proclamé saint. En 1539, Henri VIII fit brûler ses ossements. Le bréviaire nous raconte : « Des calomniateurs vinrent dire au roi que l’évêque faisait maint complot contre le roi et contre la tranquillité du royaume et le roi lui-même se plaignit que, dans son propre royaume, il n’y avait qu’un seul prêtre avec lequel il ne pût avoir la paix. A cause de ces déclarations royales, quelques courtisans impies crurent faire plaisir au roi en le débarrassant de Thomas. Ils se rendirent secrètement à Cantorbéry et attaquèrent l’évêque au moment où celui-ci assistait aux Vêpres. Comme ses prêtres se précipitaient pour leur fermer l’entrée, l’évêque ouvrit lui-même, les portes en disant aux siens : « La maison de Dieu ne doit pas être défendue à la manière d’un camp, et pour l’Église de Dieu j’irai volontiers au devant de la mort. » Il dit ensuite aux soldats : « Je vous l’ordonne, au nom de Dieu, gardez-vous de faire du mal à aucun des miens. » Ensuite, il se jeta à genoux, recommanda à Dieu, à la bienheureuse Vierge Marie, à saint Denys et aux autres saints patrons de son Église son troupeau et lui-même et, avec le même courage héroïque avec lequel il avait résisté aux lois royales, il inclina sa tête sainte et l’offrit au glaive sacrilège. C’était le 29 décembre 1171. Sa cervelle jaillit sur tout le dallage de l’église. »

2. La messe (Gaudeamus omnes). — La messe contient toute une série de textes propres et l’Introït lui donne déjà une certaine solennité : « Réjouissons-nous tous dans le Seigneur en ce jour de fête que nous célébrons en l’honneur de saint Thomas martyr. » Le leitmotiv de la messe est : « Je suis le bon pasteur, je connais mes brebis... » Nous l’entendons trois fois : à l’Alléluia, à l’Évangile et à la Communion. Cette comparaison du bon pasteur est doublement exacte à la messe, dans le Christ et dans saint Thomas. Le Christ réalise à chaque messe le don de lui-même pour ses brebis. Thomas est l’image du Christ et membre de son corps mystique (Offert.). Pour nous, qui nous offrons mystiquement au Saint-Sacrifice avec le Christ et avec Thomas, ayons part à l’amour, à la fidélité, au dévouement du Pasteur. Très impressionnante aussi, très belle et d’un grand sens liturgique est la magnifique Épître tirée de la lettre de saint Paul aux Hébreux. Elle nous explique le sacerdoce du Christ. Le Christ, l’éternel grand-prêtre, offre son sacrifice sanglant : ce sacrifice se continue à la messe par le ministère du sacerdoce consacré des prêtres de l’Église et du sacerdoce général du peuple. Remarquons encore que les leçons sont tirées du commun des martyrs évêques de l’Église grecque (cf. la fête de saint Josaphat, le 14 novembre).

3. Les Heures de la fête. — Saint Jean Chrysostome, qui fut lui-même un bon pasteur qui offrit sa vie pour ses brebis, nous parle, au bréviaire, de l’importance du ministère de pasteur.

« C’est une grande chose que la prélature dans l’Église, elle demande une grande sagesse et un grand courage, comme le Seigneur le recommande : nous devons donner notre vie pour nos brebis et ne jamais les abandonner, nous devons résister courageusement au loup. C’est là la différence entre le pasteur et le mercenaire : l’un ne se préoccupe que de sa propre sécurité et néglige ses brebis, l’autre se sacrifie lui-même pour l’assurer la sécurité de ses brebis. — Car aux faux pasteurs Ézéchiel a déjà dit : Malheur aux pasteurs d’Israël : ils se paissent eux-mêmes Ne sont-ce pas les brebis qui doivent être nourries par les pasteurs ? »

4. Les lectures de l’Écriture. — Nous commençons aujourd’hui une série suivie de lectures de l’Écriture ; nous lisons les Épîtres de saint Paul, nous continuerons de les lire jusqu’au samedi avant la Septuagésime. Si l’Église propose justement à ce moment cette lecture, elle a assurément un motif. L’Apôtre des Gentils doit prendre la parole au moment de l’Épiphanie, la fête de l’Église des nations. Isaïe pendant l’Avent a promis le royaume de Dieu, Paul doit montrer la gloire de ce royaume dans sa manifestation. Il n’est guère d’autre livre qui pourrait mieux que l’Épître aux Romains représenter la grandeur du royaume de Dieu. Il y a assurément là une rencontre d’un sens profond. Le Roi nouveau-né est entouré d’Isaïe et de saint Paul.

Les lectures commencent donc avec l’Épître aux Romains qui est la plus importante des lettres de saint Paul, son Credo. Saint Paul explique l’œuvre de la Rédemption du Christ dans toute sa profondeur et dans toute son étendue. L’Épître est adressée à la communauté chrétienne de Rome encore ; inconnue de lui. Cette communauté se composait de fidèles venus en partie de la Gentilité et en partie du monde Juif. Comme le judaïsme voyait en saint Paul un ennemi acharné, l’Apôtre est obligé, dans cette Épître, de s’expliquer souvent sur les relations de l’Évangile avec la loi mosaïque. Paul écrivit cette Épître à Corinthe (58 après J.-C.) en pleine activité missionnaire dans l’Orient. Il désirait déjà ardemment aller à Rome ; l’Épître est un témoignage de ce grand désir.

Aujourd’hui nous lisons le premier chapitre. Il constitue l’introduction et l’exposé du thème général. Nous connaissons déjà les premiers versets par la messe de la vigile de Noël. Le Christ nous y est représenté, dans une formule brève et pleine, comme Homme et Dieu. Puis l’Apôtre expose le sujet de sa lettre. Dans la foi à l’Évangile réside le salut pour toute l’humanité : Juifs et païens. « L’Évangile est la force de Dieu pour quiconque croit, d’abord pour les Juifs, ensuite pour les païens. » Or, avant que l’Évangile fût annoncé, toute l’humanité était, par sa propre faute, exposée au jugement et à la condamnation de Dieu. Saint Paul le prouve d’abord pour les païens (18-32). Bien qu’il y ait une connaissance naturelle de Dieu — car le Créateur nous parle par sa création — le monde païen a abandonné le vrai Dieu et s’est laissé aller à l’idolâtrie. La conséquence fut une déchéance morale profonde. « Ce qui en Dieu est invisible, sa puissance éternelle et sa divinité, se manifeste, depuis la création du monde, dans ses œuvres, si bien qu’ils n’ont aucune excuse. Et bien qu’ils connussent Dieu, ils ne l’ont pas honoré comme Dieu... mais ils sont devenus vains dans leurs pensées et leur cœur insensé s’est obscurci... Ils ont échangé la gloire du Dieu immuable pour des images d’hommes mortels, d’oiseaux, de quadrupèdes, de serpents. C’est pourquoi Dieu les a abandonnés au moyen de leurs passions à l’impureté de telle sorte qu’ils ont déshonoré leur corps... Ainsi Dieu les abandonna aux passions déshonorantes. » Saint Paul trace ensuite un tableau effrayant de la corruption morale du paganisme.



St. Thomas Becket

Martyr, Archbishop of Canterbury, born at London, 21 December, 1118 (?); died at Canterbury, 29 December, 1170. St. Thomas was born of parents who, coming from Normandy, had settled in England some years previously. No reliance can be placed upon the legend that his mother was a Saracen. In after life his humblebirth was made the subject of spiteful comment, though his parents were not peasants, but people of some mark, and from his earliest years their son had been well taught and had associated with gentlefolk. He learned to read at Merton Abbey and then studied in Paris. On leaving school he employed himself in secretarial work, first with Sir Richer de l'Aigle and then with his kinsman, Osbert Huitdeniers, who was "Justiciar" of London.Somewhere about the year 1141, under circumstances that are variously related, he entered the service ofTheobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and in that household he won his master's favour and eventually became the most trusted of all his clerks. A description embodied in the Icelandic Saga and derived probably from Robert of Cricklade gives a vivid portrait of him at this period.

To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.


Theobald recognized his capacity, made use of him in many delicate negotiations, and, after allowing him to go for a year to study civil and canon law at Bologna and Auxerre, ordained him deacon in 1154, after bestowing upon him several preferments, the most important of which was the Archdeaconry of Canterbury (see Radford, "Thomas of London", p. 53).

It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took "Thomas of London", as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry's wide dominions. The chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existedbetween the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that "they had but one heart and one mind". Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although theyhunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them. Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart. Whether the chancellor, who was after all the elder man, was the true originator of the administrative reforms which Henryintroduced cannot now be clearly determined. In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king's imperial views and love of splendour were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate amarriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: "If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?"

In 1153 Thomas acted as justice itinerant in three counties. In 1159 he seems to have been the chief organizer of Henry's expedition to Toulouse, upon which he accompanied him, and though it seems to be untrue that the impost of "scutage" was called into existence for that Occasion (Round, "Feudal England", 268-73), still Thomasundoubtedly pressed on the exaction of this money contribution in lieu of military service and enforced it againstecclesiastics in such a way that bitter complaints were made of the disproportionately heavy burden this imposed upon the Church. In the military operations Thomas took a leading part, and Garnier, a French chronicler, who lived to write of the virtues of St. Thomas and his martyrdom, declares that in these encounters he saw himunhorse many French knights. Deacon though he was, he lead the most daring attacks in person, and EdwardGrim also gives us to understand that in laying waste the enemy's country with fire and sword the chancellor's principles did not materially differ from those of the other commanders of his time. But although, as men then reported, "he put off the archdeacon", in this and other ways, he was very far from assuming the licentious manners of those around him. No word was ever breathed against his personal purity. Foul conduct or foul speech, lying or unchastity were hateful to him, and on occasion he punished them severely. He seems at all times to have had clear principles with regard to the claims of the Church, and even during this period of his chancellorship he more than once risked Henry's grievous displeasure. For example, he opposed the dispensationwhich Henry for political reasons extorted from the pope, and strove to prevent the marriage of Mary, Abbess ofRomsey, to Matthew of Boulogne. But to the very limits of what his conscience permitted, Thomas identified himself with his master's interests, and Tennyson is true to history when he makes the archbishop say:

I served our Theobald well when I was with him: 

I served
 King Henry well as Chancellor: 

I am his no more, and I must serve the
 Church.


Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy. Our authorities are agreed that from the first Thomas drew back in alarm. "I know your plans for the Church," he said, "you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose." But Henry would not be gainsaid, and Thomas at the instance of Cardinal Henry of Pisa, who urged it upon him as a service toreligion, yielded in spite of his misgivings. He was ordained priest on Saturday in Whitweek and consecratedbishop the next day, Sunday, 3 June, 1162. It seems to have been St. Thomas who obtained for England theprivilege of keeping the feast of the Blessed Trinity on that Sunday, the anniversary of his consecration, and more than a century afterwards this custom was adopted by the papal Court, itself and eventually imposed on the whole world.

A great change took place in the saint's way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected. On 10 Aug. he went barefoot to receive the envoy who brought him the pallium from Rome. Contrary to the king's wish he resigned the chancellorship. Whereupon Henry seems to have required him to surrender certain ecclesiastical preferments which he still retained, notably the archdeaconry, and when this was not done at once showed bitter displeasure. Other misunderstandings soon followed. The archbishop, having, as he believed, the king's express permission, set about to reclaim alienated estates belonging to his see, a procedure which again gave offence. Still more serious was the open resistance which he made to the king's proposal that a voluntary offering to the sheriffs should be paid into the royal treasury. As the first recorded instance of any determined opposition to the king's arbitrary will in a matter of taxation, the incident is of much constitutional importance. The saint's protest seems to have been successful, but the relations with the king only grew more strained.

Soon after this the great matter of dispute was reached in the resistance made by Thomas to the king's officials when they attempted to assert jurisdiction over criminous clerks. The question has been dealt with in some detail in the article ENGLAND. That the saint himself had no wish to be lenient with criminous clerks has been well shown by Norgate (Angevin Kings, ii, 22). It was with him simply a question of principle. St. Thomas seems all along to have suspected Henry of a design to strike at the independence of what the king regarded as a too powerful Church. With this view Henry summoned the bishops at Westminster (1 October, 1163) to sanctioncertain as yet unspecified articles which he called his grandfather's customs (avitæ consuetudines), one of theknown objects of which was to bring clerics guilty of crimes under the jurisdiction of the secular courts. The otherbishops, as the demand was still in the vague, showed a willingness to submit, though with the condition "saving our order", upon which St. Thomas inflexibly insisted. The king's resentment was thereupon manifested by requiring the archbishop to surrender certain castles he had hitherto retained, and by other acts of unfriendliness. In deference to what he believed to be the pope's wish, the archbishop in December consented to make some concessions by giving a personal and private undertaking to the king to obey his customs "loyally and in good faith". But when Henry shortly afterwards at Clarendon (13 January, 1164) sought to draw the sainton to a formal and public acceptance of the "Constitutions of Clarendon", under which name the sixteen articles, the avitæ consuetudines as finally drafted, have been commonly known, St. Thomas, though at first yielding somewhat to the solicitations of the other bishops, in the end took up an attitude of uncompromising resistance.

Then followed a period of unworthy and vindictive persecution. When opposing a claim made against him by Johnthe Marshal, Thomas upon a frivolous pretext was found guilty of contempt of court. For this he was sentenced to pay £500; other demands for large sums of money followed, and finally, though a complete release of all claims against him as chancellor had been given on his becoming archbishop, he was required to render an account of nearly all the moneys which had passed through his hands in his discharge of the office. Eventually a sum of nearly £30,000 was demanded of him. His fellow bishops summoned by Henry to a council at Northampton, implored him to throw himself unreservedly upon the king's mercy, but St. Thomas, instead of yielding, solemnlywarned them and threatened them. Then, after celebrating Mass, he took his archiepiscopal cross into his own hand and presented himself thus in the royal council chamber. The king demanded that sentence should be passed upon him, but in the confusion and discussion which ensued the saint with uplifted cross made his way through the mob of angry courtiers. He fled away secretly that night (13 October, 1164), sailed in disguise fromSandwich (2 November), and after being cordially welcomed by Louis VII of France, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Alexander III, then at Sens, on 23 Nov. The pope, who had given a cold reception to certain episcopalenvoys sent by Henry, welcomed the saint very kindly, and refused to accept his resignation of his see. On 30 November, Thomas went to take up his residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, though he was compelled to leave this refuge a year later, as Henry, after confiscating the archbishop's property and banishing all the Becket kinsfolk, threatened to wreak his vengeance on the whole Cistercian Order if they continued to harbour him.

The negotiations between Henry, the pope, and the archbishop dragged on for the next four years without the position being sensibly changed. Although the saint remained firm in his resistance to the principle of the Constitutions of Clarendon, he was willing to make any concessions that could be reasonably asked of him, and on 6 January, 1169, when the kings of England and France were in conference at Montmirail, he threw himself atHenry's feet, but as he still refused to accept the obnoxious customs Henry repulsed him. At last in 1170 some sort of reconciliation was patched up. The question of the customs was not mentioned and Henry professed himself willing to be guided by the archbishop's council as to amends due to the See of Canterbury for the recent violation of its rights in the crowning of Henry's son by the Archbishop of York. On 1 December, 1170, St. Thomas again landed in England, and was received with every demonstration of popular enthusiasm. But trouble almost immediately occurred in connection with the absolution of two of the bishops, whose sentence ofexcommunication St. Thomas had brought with him, as well as over the restoration by the de Broc family of thearchbishop's castle at Saltwood. How far Henry was directly responsible for the tragedy which soon after occurred on 29 December is not quite clear. Four knights who came from France demanded the absolution of the bishops.St. Thomas would not comply. They left for a space, but came back at Vesper time with a band of armed men. To their angry question, "Where is the traitor?" the saint boldly replied, "Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop andpriest of God." They tried to drag him from the church, but were unable, and in the end they slew him where he stood, scattering his brains on the pavement. His faithful companion, Edward Grim, who bore his cross, was wounded in the struggle.


A tremendous reaction of feeling followed this deed of blood. In an extraordinary brief space of time devotion to the martyred archbishop had spread all through Europe. The pope promulgated the bull of canonization, little more than two years after the martyrdom, 21 February, 1173. On 12 July, 1174, Henry II did public penance, and was scourged at the archbishop's tomb. An immense number of miracles were worked, and for the rest of the Middle Ages the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr's holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the othershrines in England were dismantled; but the matter is by no means clear, and, although the weight of learned opinion is adverse, there are still those who believe that a skeleton found in the crypt in January, 1888, is the body of St. Thomas. The story that Henry VIII in 1538 summoned the archbishop to stand his trial for high treason, and that when, in June, 1538, the trial had been held and the accused pronounced contumacious, the body was ordered to be disinterred and burnt, is probably apocryphal.

Sources

By far the best English life is MORRIS, The Life of St. Thomas Becket (2nd ed., London, 1885); there is a somewhat fuller work of L'HUILLIER, Saint Thomas de Cantorbery (2 vols., Paris, 1891); the volume by DEMIMUID, St. Thomas Becket (Paris, 1909), in the series Les Saints is not abreast of modern research. There are several excellent lives by Anglicans, of which HUTTON, Thomas Becket (London, 1900), and the account by NORGATE in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v. Thomas, known as Thomas a Becket, are probably the best. The biography by ROBERTSON, Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (London, 1859), is not sympathetic. Nearly all the sources of the Life, as well as the books of miracles worked at the shrine, have been edited in the Rolls Series by ROBERTSON under the title Materials for the History of Thomas Becket (7 vols., London, 1875-1883). The valuable Norse saga is edited in the same series by MAGNUSSON, Thomas Saga Erkibyskups (2 vols., London, 1884). The chronicle of GARNIER DE PONT S. MAXENCE, Vie de St. Thomas Martyr, has been edited by HIPPEAU (Paris, 1859). The miracles have been specially studied from an agnostic standpoint by ABBOT, Thomas of Canterbury, his death and miracles (2 vols., London, 1898). Some valuable material has been collected by RADFORD, Thomas of London before his Consecration (Cambridge, 1894). On the relics see MORRIS, Relics of St. Thomas (London, 1888); THORNTON, Becket's Bones (Canterbury, 1900); WARD, The Canterbury Pilgrimages (London, 1904); WARNER in Eng. Hist. Rev., VI (1891), 754-56.

Thurston, Herbert. "St. Thomas Becket." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.29 Dec. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14676a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. St. Thomas Becket, pray for us.


Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.



ST. THOMAS BECKET OF CANTERBURY

FEAST DAY: DECEMBER 29TH

[The following is from the book PICTORIAL LIVE OF THE SAINTS, COPILED FROM "BUTLER'S LIVES" AND OTHER APPROVED SOURCES., BENZIGER BROTHERS, PRINTERS TO THE HOLY APOSTOLIC SEE.

THOMAS, son of Gilbert Becket, was born in Southwark, England, A.D. 1117. When a youth he was attached to the household of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him to Paris and Bologna to study law. He became Archdeacon of Canterbury, then Lord High Chancellor of England; and in 1160, when Archbishop Theobald died, the king insisted on the consecration of St Thomas in his stead. St. Thomas refused, warning the king that from that hour their friendship would be broken. In the end he yielded, and was consecrated. The conflict at once broke out; St. Thomas resisted the royal customs, which violated the liberties of the Church and the laws of the realm. After six years of contention, partly spent in exile, St. Thomas, with full foresight of martydom before him, returned as a good shepherd to his Church. On the 29th of December, 1170, just as vespers were beginning, four knights broke into the cathedral, crying: "Where is the archbishop? where is the traitor?" The monks fled, and St. Thomas might easily have escaped. But he advanced, saying : "Here I am—no traitor, but archbishop. What seek you ?" "Your life," they cried. "Gladly do I give it," was the reply; and bowing his head, the invincible martyr was hacked and hewn till his soul went to God. Six months later Henry II. submitted to be publicly scourged at the Saint's shrine, and restored to the Church her full rights.

REFLECTION.-"Learn from St. Thomas," says Father Faber, "to fight the good fight even to the shedding of blood, or, to what men find harder, the shedding of their good name by pouring it out to waste on the earth."

INTERCESSORY PRAYER: Today, ask Saint Thomas to help us be courageous witnesses of the Catholic faith.



SAINT THOMAS BECKET BISHOP, MARTYR—1118-1170

Feast: December 29

There is a romantic legend that the mother of Thomas Becket was a Saracen princess who followed his father, a pilgrim or crusader, back from the Holy Land, and wandered about Europe repeating the only English words she knew, "London" and "Becket," until she found him. There is no foundation for the story. According to a contemporary writer, Thomas Becket was the son of Gilbert Becket, sheriff of London; another relates that both parents were of Norman blood. Whatever his parentage, we know with certainty that the future chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury was born on St. Thomas day, 1118, of a good family, and that he was educated at a school of canons regular at Merton Priory in Sussex, and later at the University of Paris. When Thomas returned from France, his parents had died. Obliged to make his way unaided, he obtained an appointment as clerk to the sheriff's court, where he showed great ability. All accounts describe him as a strongly built, spirited youth, a lover of field sports, who seems to have spent his leisure time in hawking and hunting. One day when he was out hunting with his falcon, the bird swooped down at a duck, and as the duck dived, plunged after it into the river. Thomas himself leapt in to save the valuable hawk, and the rapid stream swept him along to a mill, where only the accidental stopping of the wheel saved his life. The episode serves to illustrate the impetuous daring which characterized Becket all through his life.

At the age of twenty-four Thomas was given a post in the household of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, and while there he apparently resolved on a career in the Church, for he took minor orders. To prepare himself further, he obtained the archbishop's permission to study canon law at the University of Bologna, continuing his studies at Auxerre, France. On coming back to England, he became provost of Beverley, and canon at Lincoln and St. Paul's cathedrals. His ordination as deacon occurred in 1154. Theobald appointed him archdeacon of Canterbury, the highest ecclesiastical office in England after a bishopric or an abbacy, and began to entrust him with the most intricate affairs; several times he was sent on important missions to Rome. It was Thomas' diplomacy that dissuaded Pope Eugenius III from sanctioning the coronation of Eustace, eldest son of Stephen, and when Henry of Anjou, great grandson of William the Conqueror, asserted his claim to the English crown and became King Henry II, it was not long before he appointed this gifted churchman as chancellor, that is, chief minister. An old chronicle describes Thomas as "slim of growth, and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face.

Blithe of countenance was he, winning and lovable in conversation, frank of speech in his discourses but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner." Thomas discharged his duties as chancellor conscientiously and well.

Like the later chancellor of the realm, Thomas Moore, who also became a martyr and a saint, Thomas Becket was the close personal friend as well as the loyal servant of his young sovereign. They were said to have one heart and one mind between them, and it seems possible that to Becket's influence were due, in part, those reforms for which Henry is justly praised, that is, his measures to secure equitable dealing for all his subjects by a more uniform and efficient system of law. But it was not only their common interest in matters of state that bound them together. They were also boon companions and spent merry hours together. It was almost the only relaxation Thomas allowed himself, for he was an ambitious man. He had a taste for magnificence, and his household was as fine—if not finer—than the King's. When he was sent to France to negotiate a royal marriage, he took a personal retinue of two hundred men, with a train of several hundred more, knights and squires, clerics and servants, eight fine wagons, music and singers, hawks and hounds, monkeys and mastiffs. Little wonder that the French gaped in wonder and asked, "If this is the chancellor's state, what can the Ring's be like?" His entertainments, his gifts, and his liberality to the poor were also on a very lavish scale.

In 1159 King Henry raised an army of mercenaries in France to regain the province of Toulouse, a part of the inheritance of his wife, the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Thomas served Henry in this war with a company of seven hundred knights of his own. Wearing armor like any other fighting man, he led assaults and engaged in single combat. Another churchman, meeting him, exclaimed: "What do you mean by wearing such a dress? You look more like a falconer than a cleric. Yet you are a cleric in person, and many times over in office-archdeacon of Canterbury, dean of Hastings, provost of Beverley, canon of this church and that, procurator of the archbishop, and like to be archbishop, too, the rumor goes!" Thomas received the rebuke with good humor.

Although he was proud, strong-willed, and irascible, and remained so all his life, he did not neglect to make seasonal retreats at Merton and took the discipline imposed on him there. His confessor during this time testified later to the blamelessness of his private life, under conditions of extreme temptation. If he sometimes went too far in those schemes of the King which tended to infringe on the ancient prerogatives and rights of the Church, at other times he opposed Henry with vigor.

In 1161 Archbishop Theobald died. King Henry was then in Normandy with Thomas, whom he resolved to make the next primate of England. When Henry announced his intention, Thomas, demurring, told him: "Should God permit me to be the archbishop of Canterbury, I would soon lose your Majesty's favor, and the affection with which you honor me would be changed into hatred. For there are several things you do now in prejudice of the rights of the Church which make me fear you would require of me what I could not agree to; and envious persons would not fail to make it the occasion of endless strife between us." The King paid no heed to this remonstrance, and sent bishops and noblemen to the monks of Canterbury, ordering them to labor with the same zeal to set his chancellor in the see as they would to set the crown on the young prince's head. Thomas continued to refuse the promotion until the legate of the Holy See, Cardinal Henry of Pisa, overrode his scruples. The election took place in May, 1162. Young Prince Henry, then in London, gave the necessary consent in his father's name. Thomas, now forty-four years old, rode to Canterbury and was first ordained priest by Walter, bishop of Rochester, and then on the octave of Pentecost was consecrated archbishop by the bishop of Winchester. Shortly afterwards he received the pallium sent by Pope Alexander III.

From this day worldly grandeur no longer marked Thomas' way of life. Next his skin he wore a hairshirt, and his customary dress was a plain black cassock, a linen surplice, and a sacerdotal stole about his neck. He lived ascetically, spent much time in the distribution of alms, in reading and discussing the Scriptures with Herbert of Bosham, in visiting the infirmary, and supervising the monks at their work. He took special care in selecting candidates for Holy Orders. As ecclesiastical judge, he was rigorously just.

Although as archbishop Thomas had resigned the chancellorship, against the King's wish, the relations between the two men seemed to be unchanged for a time. But a host of troubles was brewing, and the crux of all of them was the relationship between Church and state. In the past the landowners, among which the Church was one of the largest, for each hide [1] of land they held, had paid annually two shillings to the King's officers, who in return undertook to protect them from the rapacity of minor tax- gatherers. This was actually a flagrant form of graft and the Ring now ordered the money paid into his own exchequer. The archbishop protested, and there were hot words between him and the Ring. Thenceforth the King's demands were directed solely against the clergy, with no mention of other landholders who were equally involved.

Then came the affair of Philip de Brois, a canon accused of murdering a soldier.

According to a long-established law, as a cleric he was tried in an ecclesiastical court, where he was acquitted by the judge, the bishop of Lincoln, but ordered to pay a fine to the deceased man's relations. A king's justice then made an effort to bring him before his civil court, but he could not be tried again upon that indictment and told the king's justice so in insulting terms. Thereat Henry ordered him tried again both for the original murder charge—and for his later misdemeanor. Thomas now pressed to have the case referred to his own archiepiscopal court; the King reluctantly agreed, and appointed both lay and clerical assessors. Philip's plea of a previous acquittal was accepted as far as the murder was concerned, but he was punished for his contempt of a royal court. The King thought the sentence too mild and remained dissatisfied. In October, 1163, the King called the bishops of his realm to a council at Westminster, at which he demanded their assent to an edict that thenceforth clergy proved guilty of crimes against the civil law should be handed over to the civil courts for punishment.

Thomas stiffened the bishops against yielding. But finally, at the council of Westminster they assented reluctantly to the instrument known as the Constitutions of Clarendon, which embodied the royal "customs" in Church matters, and including some additional points, making sixteen in all. It was a revolutionary document: it provided that no prelate should leave the kingdom without royal permission, which would serve to prevent appeals to the Pope; that no tenant-in-chief should be excommunicated against the Ring's will; that the royal court was to decide in which court clerics accused of civil offenses should be tried; that the custody of vacant Church benefices and their revenues should go to the King. Other provisions were equally damaging to the authority and prestige of the Church. The bishops gave their assent only with a reservation, "saving their order," which was tantamount to a refusal.

Thomas was now full of remorse for having weakened, thus setting a bad example to the bishops, but at the same time he did not wish to widen the breach between himself and the King. He made a futile effort to cross the Channel and put the case before the Pope. On his part, the Ring was bent on vengeance for what he considered the disloyalty and ingratitude of the archbishop. He ordered Thomas to give up certain castles and honors which he held from him, and began a campaign to persecute and discredit him. Various charges of chicanery and financial dishonesty were brought against Thomas, dating from the time he was chancellor. The bishop of Winchester pleaded the archbishop's discharge. The plea was disallowed; Thomas offered a voluntary payment of his own money, and that was refused.

The affair was building up to a crisis, when, on October 13, 1164, the King called another great council at Northampton. Thomas went, after celebrating Mass, carrying his archbishop's cross in his hand. The Earl of Leicester came out with a message from the King: "The King commands you to render your accounts. Otherwise you must hear his judgment." "Judgment?" exclaimed Thomas. "I was given the church of Canterbury free from temporal obligations. I am therefore not liable and will not plead with regard to them. Neither law nor reason allows children to judge and condemn their fathers.

Wherefore I refuse the King's judgment and yours and everyone's. Under God, I will be judged by the Pope alone."

Determined to stand out against the Ring, Thomas left Northampton that night, and soon thereafter embarked secretly for Flanders. Louis VII, Ring of France, invited Thomas into his dominions. Meanwhile King Henry forbade anyone to give him aid.

Gilbert, abbot of Sempringham, was accused of having sent him some relief. Although the abbot had done nothing, he refused to swear he had not, because, he said, it would have been a good deed and he would say nothing that might seem to brand it as a criminal act. Henry quickly dispatched several bishops and others to put his case before Pope Alexander, who was then at Sens. Thomas also presented himself to the Pope and showed him the Constitutions of Clarendon, some of which Alexander pronounced intolerable, others impossible. He rebuked Thomas for ever having considered accepting them. The next day Thomas confessed that he had, though unwillingly, received the see of Canterbury by an election somewhat irregular and uncanonical, and had acquitted himself badly in it. He resigned his office, returned the episcopal ring to the Pope, and withdrew. After deliberation, the Pope called him back and reinstated him, with orders not to abandon his office, for to do so would be to abandon the cause of God. He then recommended Thomas to the Cistercian abbot at Pontigny.

Thomas then put on a monk's habit, and submitted himself to the strict rule of the monastery. Over in England King Henry was busy confiscating the goods of all the friends, relations, and servants of the archbishop, and banishing them, first binding them by oath to go to Thomas at Pontigny, that the sight of their distress might move him. Troops of these exiles soon appeared at the abbey. Then Henry notified the Cistercians that if they continued to harbor his enemy he would sequestrate all their houses in his dominions. After this, the abbot hinted that Thomas was no longer welcome in his abbey. The archbishop found refuge as the guest of King Louis at the royal abbey of St. Columba, near Sens.

This historic quarrel dragged on for three years. Thomas was named by the Pope as his legate for all England except York, whereupon Thomas excommunicated several of his adversaries; yet at times he showed himself conciliatory towards the King. The French king was also drawn into the struggle, and the two kings had a conference in 1169 at Montmirail. King Louis was inclined to take Thomas' side. A reconciliation was finally effected between Thomas and Henry, although the lines of power were not too clearly drawn. The archbishop now made preparations to return to his see. With a premonition of his fate, he remarked to the bishop of Paris in parting, "I am going to England to die." On December 1, 1172, he disembarked at Sandwich, and on the journey to Canterbury the way was lined with cheering people, welcoming him home. As he rode into the cathedral city at the head of a triumphal procession, every bell was ringing. Yet in spite of the public demonstration, there was an atmosphere of foreboding.

At the reconciliation in France, Henry had agreed to the punishment of Roger, archbishop of York, and the bishops of London and Salisbury, who had assisted at the coronation of Henry's son, despite the long-established right of the archbishop of Canterbury to perform this ceremony and in defiance of the Pope's explicit instructions. It had been another attempt to lower the prestige of the primate's see. Thomas had sent on in advance of his return the papal letters suspending Roger and confirming the excommunication of the two bishops involved. On the eve of his arrival a deputation waited on him to ask for the withdrawal of these sentences. He agreed on condition that the three would swear thenceforth to obey the Pope. This they refused to do, and together went to rejoin King Henry, who was visiting his domains in France.

At Canterbury Thomas was subjected to insult by one Ranulf de Broc, from whom he had demanded the restoration of Saltwood Castle, a manor previously belonging to the archbishop's see. After a week's stay there he went up to London, where Henry's son, "the young King," refused to see him. He arrived back in Canterbury on or about his fifty-second birthday. Meanwhile the three bishops had laid their complaints before the King at Bur, near Bayeux, and someone had exclaimed aloud that there would be no peace for the realm while Becket lived. At this, the King, in a fit of rage, pronounced some words which several of his hearers took as a rebuke to them for allowing Becket to continue to live and thereby disturb him. Four of his knights at once set off for England and made their way to the irate family at Saltwood. Their names were Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville, and Richard le Bret.

On St. John's day Thomas received a letter warning him of danger, and all southeast Kent was in a state of ferment. On the afternoon of December 29, the four knights came to see him in his episcopal palace. During the interview they made several demands, in particular that Thomas remove the censures on the three bishops. The knights withdrew, uttering threats and oaths. A few minutes later there were loud outcries, a shattering of doors and clashing of arms, and the archbishop, urged on by his attendants, began moving slowly through the cloister passage to the cathedral. It was now twilight and vespers were being sung. At the door of the north transept he was met by some terrified monks, whom he commanded to get back to the choir. They withdrew a little and he entered the church, but the knights were seen behind him in the dim light. The monks slammed the door on them and bolted it. In their confusion they shut out several of their own brethren, who began beating loudly on the door.

Becket turned and cried, "Away, you cowards ! A church is not a castle." He reopened the door himself, then went towards the choir, accompanied by Robert de Merton, his aged teacher and confessor, William Fitzstephen, a cleric in his household, and a monk, Edward Grim. The others fled to the crypt and other hiding places, and Grim alone remained. At this point the knights broke in shouting, "Where is Thomas the traitor?" "Where is the archbishop?" "Here I am," he replied, "no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God!" He came down the steps to stand between the altars of Our Lady and St. Benedict.

The knights clamored at him to absolve the bishops, and Thomas answered firmly, "I cannot do other than I have done. Reginald, you have received many favors from me.

Why do you come into my church armed?" Fitzurse made a threatening gesture with his axe. "I am ready to die," said Thomas, "but God's curse on you if you harm my people." There was some scuffling as they tried to carry Thomas outside bodily.

Fitzurse flung down his axe and drew his sword. "You pander, you owe me fealty and submission!" exclaimed the archbishop. Fitzurse shouted back, "I owe no fealty contrary to the King ! " and knocked off Thomas' cap. At this, Thomas covered his face and called aloud on God and the saints. Tracy struck a blow, which Grim intercepted with his own arm, but it grazed Thomas' skull and blood ran down into his eyes. He wiped the stain away and cried, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!" Another blow from Tracy beat him to his knees, and he pitched forward onto his face, murmuring, "For the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church I am willing to die." With a vigorous thrust Le Bret struck deep into his head, breaking his sword against the pavement, and Hugh of Horsea added a blow, although the archbishop was now dying. Hugh de Morville stood by but struck no blow. The murderers, brandishing their swords, now dashed away through the cloisters, shouting "The King's men! The King's men!" The cathedral itself was filling with people unaware of the catastrophe, and a thunderstorm was breaking overhead.[2] The archbishop's body lay in the middle of the transept, and for a time no one dared approach it. A deed of such sacrilege was bound to be regarded with horror and indignation. When the news was brought to the King, he shut himself up and fasted for forty days, for he knew that his chance remark had sped the courtiers to England bent on vengeance. He later performed public penance in Canterbury Cathedral and in 1172 received absolution from the papal delegates.

Within three years of his death the archbishop had been canonized as a martyr. Though far from a faultless character, Thomas Becket, when his time of testing came, had the courage to lay down his life to defend the ancient rights of the Church against an aggressive state. The discovery of his hairshirt and other evidences of austerity, and the many miracles which were reported at his tomb, increased the veneration in which he was held. The shrine of the "holy blessed martyr," as Chaucer called him, soon became famous, and the old Roman road running from London to Canterbury known as "Pilgrim's Way." His tomb was magnificently adorned with gold, silver, and jewels, only to be despoiled by Henry VIII; the fate of his relics is uncertain. They may have been destroyed as a part of Henry's policy to subordinate the English Church to the civil authority. Mementoes of this saint are preserved at the cathedral of Sens. The feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury is now kept throughout the Roman Catholic Church, and in England he is regarded as the protector of the secular clergy.

Endnotes:

1 A hide of land was the amount considered necessary for the support of one household; it varied from eighty to a hundred acres, according to location.

2 T. S. Eliot's play, "The Murder in the Cathedral," gives us the dramatic sequence of events with high artistry.

Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. J. C. Robertson, 1881. Vol. V, Epistle cxxiii.


Letter to All the Clergy of England *

Thomas, by the grace of God humble minister of the church> of Canterbury, to his reverend brothers, all the bishops, by God's grace, of the province of Canterbury,—if, indeed, they all wrote me,—greeting and a will to do what as yet they do not.

. . . One thing I say to you, to speak out, saving your peace. For a long time I have been silent, waiting if perchance the Lord would inspire you to pluck up your strength again; if perchance one, at least, of you all would arise and take his stand as a wall to defend the house of Israel, would put on at least the appearance of entering the battle against those who never cease daily to attack the army of the Lord. I have waited; not one has arisen. I have endured; not one has taken a stand. I have been silent; not one has spoken. I have dissimulated; not one has fought even in appearance....

May God lift the veil from your hearts that you may know what you ought to do. Let any man of you say who knows if ever since my promotion I have taken from anyone of you his ox or his ass or his money, if I have judged anyone's cause unjustly, if out of anyone's loss I have won gain for myself, and I will return it fourfold. If I have done nothing to offend you, why leave me alone to defend the cause of God? . . .

Let us then, all together, make haste to act so that God's wrath descend not on us as on negligent and idle shepherds, that we be not counted dumb dogs, too feeble to bark, that passersby speak not scorn of us.... In truth, if you hear me, be assured that God will be with you and with us all, in all our ways, to uphold peace and defend the liberty of the Church. If you will not hear, let God be judge between me and you and from your hands demand account for the confusion of the Church.... But this hope I have stored in my breast, that he is not alone who has the Lord with him. If he fall, he shall not be destroyed for the Lord himself upholds him with his hand . . .

My lord knows with what intent he chose to have us exalted. Let his purpose reply to him and we will reply to him, as our office requires of us, that by God's mercy we are more faithful in our severity than are those who flatter him with lies. For better are the blows of a friend than the false kisses of an enemy. By implication you charge us with ingratitude. We believe that no criminal act brings with it disgrace unless it comes from the soul. So if a man unintentionally commits murder, although he is called a murderer and is one, still he does not bear the guilt of murder. So we say that even if by right of lordship we owe our lord king service, if we are bound by the law of kings to show him reverence, if we have upheld him as lord, if we have treated him as our own son with fatherly affection, and if then in council, to our grief, he has not listened to us and we, as our office compels us, are severe in our censure of him, we believe we are doing more for him and with him than against him, and more deserve gratitude from him than a charge of ingratitude or punishment....

You remind us of the danger to the Roman Church, of loss of temporal possessions.

There is danger indeed to us and ours, without mentioning the danger to souls. You imply a threat of the lord king's withdrawal (which God forbid!) from fealty and devotion to the Roman Church. God forbid, I say, that our lord king's fealty and devotion should ever for some temporal advantage or disadvantage swerve from fealty and devotion to the Roman Church. Such conduct, which would be wicked and reprehensible m a private man, would be far more so in a prince, who draws many along with him and after him.... Do you in your discretion look to it that the words of your mouths do not infect some other man or men, to the loss and damnation of their souls, like the golden cup, called the cup of Babylon, which is smeared within and without with poison, but from which one may drink and not fear the poison because he sees the gold. Even such may be the effect of your conduct on the people....

In the midst of tribulation and bloodshed the Church from of old has increased and multiplied. It is the way the Church to win her victories when men are persecuting her, to arrive at under standing when men are refuting her, to gain strength when men are forsaking her. Do not, my brothers, weep for her but for yourselves who are making by your acts and words a name, and not a great one, for yourselves in everyone's mouth, who are calling down on yourselves the hatred of God and of the world, preparing a snare for the innocent, and fashioning new and ingenious reasons for overthrowing the liberty of the Church. By God's mercy, brothers, you are laboring in vain, for the Church, although often shaken, will stand in the courage and steadfastness on which she was steadfastly founded, until the Son of perdition arises. As for him, we do not believe he will arise in the West, unless the order of events and the sequence of history is wrongfully altered.

But if your concern is for the temporal things, we should fear more a danger to the soul than to them. For the Scripture says: "What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Hence the peril to us and to ours we utterly scorn. He is not to be feared who kills the body, but He who kills both body and soul....

Pray for us that our faith fail not in tribulation and that we may safely say with the Apostle that neither death nor life nor angels nor any creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which has subjected us to affliction until He come Who will come, and will do with us according to his mercy, and will lead us into the land of promise, the land flowing with milk and honey....

* This letter was written in 1166, while Thomas was in exile in France, in reply to a letter from the bishops and other clergy of England, deploring his hostile and implacable attitude towards Ring Henry and urging him for the sake of the Church to be more conciliatory and forgiving.

Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop, Martyr. Celebration of Feast Day is December 29.

Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.

Provided Courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network. 5817 Old Leeds Road. Irondale, AL 35210

www.ewtn.com

SOURCE : http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/THOMBECK.htm


St. Thomas a’ Becket

There is a romantic legend that the mother of Thomas Becket was a Saracen princess who followed his father, a pilgrim or crusader, back from the Holy Land, and wandered about Europe repeating the only English words she knew, “London” and “Becket,” until she found him. According to a contemporary writer, Thomas Becket was the son of Gilbert Becket, sheriff of London. Whatever his parentage, we know with certainty that the future chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury was born on St. Thomas day, 1118, of a good family, and that he was educated at a school of canons regular at Merton Priory in Sussex, and later at the University of Paris.

Early in 1155 Becket became chancellor to the young king Henry II and was soon his trusted adviser; as well as controlling the King’s secretariat, he raised money for the King’s wars, accompanied the King’s armies, conducted diplomatic negotiations, and had charge of the King’s eldest son. In May 1162 Henry recommended Becket to the monks of Canterbury as successor to Theobald; he was consecrated archbishop on June 3 by the bishop of Winchester.

Becket surprised and angered the King by resigning the chancery and showing that he intended to support the large claims to independence and special privilege which had been developed by the clergy in the preceding 50 years. Henry was determined to restore all royal powers as they had been in the time of his grandfather King Henry I; inevitably he and Becket were soon in bitter conflict. The first serious cause of friction was the problem of “criminous clerks” – clergy accused of serious crimes. The question was whether these clerks should be judged and punished in the King’s courts or in those of the Church, where they would escape capital punishment.

In October 1163 the King required the bishops to confirm unconditionally the “customs of his grandfather, ” and he renewed the demand at Clarendon in January 1164. The bishops again refused, but Becket was persuaded to give a verbal promise. The customs, defining the rights of the King over the Church, were then written down for the first time, in 16 clauses later known as the Constitutions of Clarendon. Becket refused to seal them, and the King then promoted legal proceedings against him on unrelated, trumped-up charges. At Northampton (October 1164), Henry ordered the bishops and barons to judge Becket, who, however, forbade them and appealed to the Pope. He then fled secretly to France and submitted the customs to the Pope, offering to resign, but Pope Alexander III ordered him to retain his office and condemned 10 of the customs. Alexander could not, however, give effective support to Becket, since he was himself a refugee, driven from Italy by the Emperor and the antipope.

For nearly six years Becket lived in exile, first in Pontigny, later in Sens, with a few followers. He attempted to negotiate with the King, the bishops of England, and the Pope. The bishop of London, the archbishop of York, and the bishop of Salisbury all actively supported the King; others who may have been more sympathetic to Becket were isolated by Henry’s control of the ports and cowed by his ruthless methods.

Becket’s only weapon was his power to excommunicate offenders and to lay an interdict on their lands. Even this weapon was blunted by the difficulty of finding anyone to convey and publish the sentences in England and by carefully devised judicial appeals to the Pope. Moreover, on two occasions the Pope, in response to threats and promises from Henry, forbade Becket to use his powers. Negotiations continued but came to nothing, as the King insisted on unconditional acceptance of the customs, while Becket insisted on inserting the words “saving the honour of God and my order.”

In June 1170 Henry infringed the rights of Canterbury by having his son crowned by the archbishop of York; this offense forced the Pope more definitely to Becket’s side. Henry feared excommunication and an interdict not only on England but on his less loyal and more vulnerable Continental lands. He therefore allowed peace to be made with the archbishop, not mentioning the customs, and avoided giving Becket the kiss of peace. Becket, well aware of his danger, returned to England on December 1; on December 29 he was brutally murdered by four knights from the King’s court. Henry denied that he had ordered or desired the archbishop’s death; his guilt must remain an open question.

Becket was immediately regarded as a martyr, and miracles were reported. He was canonized on Feb. 21, 1173. His tomb attracted innumerable pilgrims to Canterbury and brought great wealth to the monks, who had done little for him in his lifetime. It was destroyed in 1538, and almost all representations of him were obliterated by royal order, for his memory was particularly offensive to King Henry VIII, bent on establishing supremacy over the Church.

Becket’s struggle achieved very little. Most of the disputed customs passed into law, and the bishoprics of England were filled with men who had helped the King to oppose him. But on two important points the King had to give way. In 1172, in Avranches, when he was reconciled to the Church, he agreed to allow appeals from Church courts in England to the court of the Pope, without reference to the King’s court, thus abrogating one of the customs. And in 1176 he agreed that “criminous clerks” should be tried and punished in the Church courts, excepting only those charged with first offenses. In both these matters Becket’s opposition and death affected the law of England for nearly 4 centuries.

SOURCE : http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/saint-thomas-a-becket/



Thomas Becket (of Canterbury) BM (RM)

Born in London (Cheapside), England, 1118; died in Canterbury, England, 1170; canonized 1173.



It is significant that Henry VIII, when he broke away from the Church and appointed himself the head of the church in England, should have elected to remove Thomas, who had died four centuries earlier, from the long calendar of English saints. St. Thomas died for the rights of the Church, under the then reigning king, Henry II, which his successor finally abrogated. In the 16th century his shrine, which had been a major pilgrimage site for 400 years, was destroyed and the relics that it contained were burned (although some say they were transferred to Stoneyhurst).

Thomas stands for the principle of God against Caesar. Somewhere between these two points, between these respective duties, comes a dividing line, where the territories meet. A man of conscience must decide on which side he will stand. It is the old conflict between Church and State. It was on that difficult border line that Thomas was called upon to live and die.

What he resisted in those early years, other men did not see or understand, but he foresaw the dangers ahead that eventually overwhelmed the Church in England. It reached its full climax when Crammer was elected archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. The same conflict goes on today elsewhere, under other forms, though Christ foretold that Satan will not finally overcome the Church.

Thomas was born into an ordinary, hard-working Norman family and was baptized the same day. As he grew, his mother Matilda used to weigh the child and give the same amount of bread to the poor that the scales showed--a generous form of charity. His father Gilbert, the sheriff of London, ensured that Thomas was given a good, well- rounded education. First, he was sent as a student to the monks at Merton Abbey in Surrey, then to London, and later went to the University of Paris, returning to England when he was 21.

He was tall and handsome, with keen features, loved good living and fine clothing, and was fond of outdoor sport, so he made many friends as a young man and left his mark. All remarked upon his purity of life. He loved the lovely things of God, the noble horse, the swift flying falcon, and God looked upon him with pleasure.

His father's death left him in straitened circumstances. So, from about 1142, he was employed as a clerk at the court of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. Because of his noble bearing, his shrewdness and capability, the archbishop himself noticed him. He began to trust him more with important documents, to confide in him and eventually won his friendship. He took him into his regular service, travelling together on the king's business, they visited France and Rome and various parts of the Continent. Thus Thomas came into contact with the highest in the land, even became a close friend of the king himself, who like the archbishop took a fancy to him.

About this time Thomas obtained permission to study canon and civil law at Bologna and Auxerre, which afterward fitted him well for the work he was to undertake. He was awarded for his many services by the benefices of several churches, as was customary in those days, though he was not yet a priest.

In 1154, while still quite young, Thomas was ordained a deacon and appointed archdeacon of Canterbury. In this position, Archbishop Theobald used him as a negotiator with the Crown. Thomas became a favorite of Henry of Anjou when he convinced Pope Eugene III not to recognize the succession of King Stephen of Blois' son, Eustace, thus ensuring Henry's right to the English throne as Henry II.

The following year (1155), at Theobald's suggestion, Thomas was made Chancellor of England, a post in which he loyally served Henry II for seven years as statesman, diplomat, and soldier. Thomas's personal efficiency, lavish entertainment, and support for the king's interests even, on occasion, against those of the Church, made him an outstanding royal official.

All these dignities were a wonderful ascent, but Thomas rose rapidly to power by his ability and by his magnetic personality, which all who associated with him remarked upon. The state of the country improved greatly under his rule as chancellor; his business was to administer the law and this he did with impartiality to all alike, to churchmen as well as laymen.

God brought this servant along a strange and long road, preparing step by step the instrument of his design, as he does with every individual according to the plan of life and work he has chosen for him.
When the king selected him for his final post, being his close friend, he must have thought he would have an obedient tool, which he could use as he wished. He had made a wrong choice to carry out his evil designs. He wished to curb the power of the Church, to regulate her benefices to make appointments to suit himself, in fact to take from the Church the rights which were peculiarly her own. Though Thomas had outwardly appeared worldly, he loved rather the things of God and His Church. "If you make me Archbishop," he said, "you will regret it. You say you love me now; well that love will turn to hatred."

So it came about as he had foretold. When accepting the office of archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, he took over the authority--his training and character fitted him for so high a dignity but henceforth he would be a different man; from the day of his election he completely changed. He had served the king, now he was to serve the King of kings, where glory lies in discipline and humility. To Henry's amazement and annoyance, Thomas resigned the chancellorship and was ordained a priest the day before his episcopal consecration.

He had not wished to be made archbishop, but when the office fell to him, his style of life changed radically. As Thomas put it, he changed from being "a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds, to being a shepherd of souls." Now that he was a priest he lived as one, putting aside all the costly robes he used as Chancellor; he wore the habit of a monk.

Every morning he said his Mass in the cathedral with great devotion and even with tears, as those who saw him testify. Nightly he took part in the divine office that was chanted by the community of monks, of which he was the head. He was also profuse in alms- giving. Daily he attended to the business in hand, which must have been very great, since now he was primate of England.

Now that he was archbishop, he intended to carry out the proper duties of his state in life. These included the paternal care of the king's soul, tactlessly and annoyingly presented by his former friend.
There were many abuses to rectify, disputes about church lands and property, clergy who were not ready to forego their privileges. Some of his own prelates were rebellious; their relatives, who were closely related and supporters of the king, made trouble. In fact, two of the major points of conflict with Henry concerned the respective jurisdictions of church and state over clergymen convicted of crimes, and the freedom to appeal to Rome. On account of the alienation of church lands, Thomas, who knew the state of affairs better than anyone else, predicted trouble; it was not long in coming to a head.

In the controversy, Henry claimed to be acting according to the customs of his grandfather that were codified in the Constitutions of Clarendon. In the view of Henry's mother, Matilda, this codification was a mistake. It also failed to take into account such recent developments as the Gregorian Reform and the investiture controversy. Becket accepted these Constitutions at first, but after understanding their implications, rejected them. Thus ensured the conflict.

At the famous assembly at Northampton in 1164, Thomas faced his opponents. He foresaw that many of the knights would not be willing to fall in with his decrees, that they would even go so far as to do away with him, if it suited their purpose; he was courageous and unmoved by their threats: "If I am murdered," he told the bishops, "I enjoin you to lay the interdict upon these districts." The king, who was also present, lost his temper and showed his real purpose in the former election: "You are my man," he said, "I raised you from nothing and now you defy me."

"Sir," said Thomas, "Peter was raised from nothing yet he ruled the Church." "Yes," replied the king, "but Peter died for his Lord." "I, too, will die for him when the time comes," answered Thomas.

"You will not yield to me then?" asked the king. "I will not, Sir," answered Thomas.

Seeing there could be no solution, Thomas thought it best to accept exile rather than any compromise with Henry II over the rights of the Church. Perhaps the king would see reason and then grant the Church her rights. Thomas left the country and took refuge in France, where he remained for over six years. Upon the pope's recommendation, Thomas entered the Cistercian monastery at Pontigny, until Henry threatened to eliminate all Cistercian monks from his realm if they continued to harbor Thomas. Then, in 1166, he moved to Saint Columba Abbey at Sens, which was under the protection of King Louis VII of France.

Both sides appealed to Pope Alexander III, who tried hard to find an acceptable solution. The conflict grew more bitter as Henry seemed bent on Thomas's ruin and Thomas censured the king's supporters and even attempted to obtain an interdict.

At last King Louis VII of France persuaded Henry II to go to Thomas and make peace but no promises were made on either side. Henry thought that on his return Thomas would not press his claims. Henry admitted the freedom of appeals to Rome, but kept the real power with himself.

Scarcely had Thomas been welcomed back to his community in England when on December 1, 1170, they began to quarrel again. When Henry heard, in Normandy, that the pope had excommunicated the recalcitrant bishops for usurping the rights of the archbishop of Canterbury and that Thomas would not release them until they swore obedience to the pope, he flew into a violent, reckless rage, saying: "Is there no one who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" These were words spoken in anger and not intentional; however, four knights who were with the king, determined to take matters into their own hands. They took ship and crossed to England at once. It was in Advent and Christmas was approaching.

On December 29, 1170, four knights with a troop of soldiers appeared outside Canterbury Cathedral demanding to see the archbishop. They were determined to murder Archbishop Becket, believing they had the blessing of Henry II to do so.

With a few priest attendants, for most of the community of monks were in the church saying vespers, the archbishop was in the palace adjoining, attending to business. Sensing trouble they at first urged him, then eventually forced him against his will to go into the church, not only to avoid the rabble but to find sanctuary there, closing the doors behind them. Thomas forbade them under obedience to close the doors: "A church must not be turned into a castle," he said.

"Why do you behave so?" he asked. "What do you fear?" "They can do naught but what God permits."

In the semi-darkness, for it was past dusk at that time of the year, the knights with drawn swords forcing their way into the church demanded angrily, "Where is the traitor, where is the archbishop?"

"Here I am," said Thomas, "no traitor but a priest of God. I wonder that in such attire you have entered into the church of God. What is it you want with me?" One of the knights raised his sword as if to strike the holy man, but his companion stretching out his arm, shielded the blow.

"Put up your sword," said St. Thomas, "not such is the defense the Lord would have."

The knights rushing forward together perpetrated their foul deed-- they slew St. Thomas on the steps of his own sanctuary and scattered his brains upon the floor. As he was killed by successive blows, Thomas repeated the names of those archbishops martyred before him: Saint Denis and Saint Elphege of Canterbury. Then he said, "Into Your hand, O Lord, I commend my spirit."

His last words, according to one eye-witness, were: "Willingly I die for the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church."

Near to the high-altar, where the seat was, upon which he and all his predecessors from time immemorial had been enthroned, he was martyred and gave up his soul to God. Every step of his martyrdom is linked with that of the Passion of Christ; from the incident in the cloister-garth, where he was first apprehended with his few companions, to his burial in the tomb, which was newly hewn out of the rock. In truth there is a marvelous similitude between the deaths of Master and servant that his early biographers, voicing the sentiments of the common people, were not slow to use.

All Christendom was aghast. Henry was forced to do public penance for the murder of Thomas, including the construction of the monastery at Witham in Somerset, described in the life of Saint Hugh of Lincoln.

Many miracles followed immediately upon his death. Within ten years, 703 miracles were recorded. He was universally acclaimed a saint even before his canonization by Pope Alexander III, two years after his death. Thomas was not flawless; he was imperious and obstinate, ambitious and violent. Yet all the time more exalted qualities were also exhibited. The years of exile at Pontigny and Sens were a time of preparation for the final ordeal.

Thomas was a martyr for Christ, most like to him in his death. The solemn translation of the relics to a new shrine behind the high altar took place in the year 1220 (July 7). The ceremony was the most magnificent ever seen and people came from all over Europe to assist at it.

The shrine-tomb of St. Thomas Becket was of unparalleled splendor, perhaps the richest in the whole world. Nothing of it now remains for it was plundered of all its riches during the reign of Henry VIII. It has been thus described: "All above the stonework was first of wood, jewels of gold set with stone, covered with plates of gold, wrought upon with gold wire, then again with jewels, gold as brooches, images, angels, rings, ten or twelve together, clawed with gold into the ground of gold. The spoils of which filled to chests, such as six or eight men could but convey one out of the Church. At one side was a stone with an angel of gold, pointing thereunto, offered there by a king of France, which king Henry put into a ring and wore on his thumb" (Morris).

St. Thomas was a fearless champion of truth and righteousness, against wicked and unscrupulous men. Even the king made reparation and did penance at his shrine. He teaches us that we must be prepared to face persecution and even death for our faith and for the rights of the Church against the state.

In most European countries today the state is supreme--God and religion have no place. We are soldiers of Christ, confirmed and anointed with the holy chrism; let us be strong and fearless then in our endeavor. Pray to St. Thomas in your present need. He died for the faith for which we should all live (Abbott, Attwater, Belloc, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Duggan, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Hope, Hutton, Knowles, Morris, Murray, Speaight, Tancred, White).

St. Thomas is generally portrayed as an archbishop killed at the altar by three knights, his crucifer by him. There can be differences. Sometimes (1) there is only one knight, (2) there is a candle-bearer by him, (3) he has a sword in his bleeding head, (4) the tail of his horse is cut off as he rides through Rochester, (5) angels sing Laetabitur justus at his requiem, (6) he is consecrated in the presence of the king, or (7) he is accompanied by his crucifer in the presence of the Pope. He is venerated at Sens (Roeder).

SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/1229.shtml



Enseigne de pèlerinage en plomb représentant Thomas Becket, 
vendue aux pèlerins se rendant sur sa tombe à Canterbury, XIVe siècle, 3.9 cm  X 1.5 cm 


St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr

See his life by John of Salisbury, his chaplain, who attended him during most part of his exile, and was present at his death: he died bishop of Chartres, and his learning and integrity are much extolled by Cave, Hist. Liter. t. 2, p. 243. This work was published entire, with the epistles of John of Salisbury, at Paris, in 1611; but is mangled and curtailed in the Quadrilogus, or Life of St. Thomas, compiled by command of Pope Gregory XI. out of four original lives of this saint brought into one, viz. by Herbert, the martyr’s clerk, William of Canterbury, Alan abbot of Deoche, and John of Salisbury. This Quadrilogus or Quadripartite, was printed at Brussels by the care of Lupus, with a large collection of St. Thomas’s epistles, an. 1682. Many of his letters had been published by Baronius: but a great number remain unpublished amongst the MSS. in the Cottonian library, several libraries at Oxford, Bennet College at Cambridge, and other places. M. Sparke, among Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores Varii nunc primum editi, printed at London in 1723, has given us the life of St. Thomas, compiled by William Fitz-Stephens, (in Latin Stephanides,) a clergyman, who belonged first to his court of Chancery, afterwards to his family, lived with him several years, and saw him wounded by the assassins and expire. This saint’s life by Edmund Grime, and another life which begins, “Post summi favoris;” also P. Thomæ Rubrica seu Consuetudines, are kept in MS. in the Norforcian or Arundelian library, given to the Royal Society by H. duke of Norfolk in 1679. 1 Another account called Passio S. Thomæ, is given by Martenne, Thesaur. Anecdot. t. 3, p. 1137. Several epistles, and other writings relating to his history, are published by Wilkins, Conc. Brit, t. 1, p. 437. The life of St. Thomas was written by Dr. Stapleton, and is extant in his Tres Thomæ. An English life of this martyr, extracted chiefly from Baronius, dedicated to Dr. Richard Smith, bishop of Chalcedon, was printed in 1639. A history of his canonization is given us by Muratori. Scriptor. Ital. t. 2, in Vita Alexandri III. See also the histories and chronicles of Hoveden, Matthew Paris, Gervase, Brompton, &c. His life is well compiled in French by M. Du Fossé, who had a share in the Lives of Saints, compiled by the messieurs of Port Royal. On the virtues of this saint, see the most honourable and edifying account of his saintly deportment given by Peter of Blois, the pious and learned archdeacon of Bath, in a letter which he wrote upon his martyrdom, ep. 27. See Hearne, Not. in Gul. Neubr. t. 3, p. 638. Item on Peter Langtoft’s chronicle, t. 2, p. 529. Also Benedictus abbas Petrob. de Gestis Henr. II. et Rich. I. by Hearne, t. 1, pp. 10, 11, 12, 20.

A.D. 1170

ST. THOMAS BECKET was born in London in 1117, on the 21st of December. His father Gilbert Becket was a gentleman of middling fortune, who, in his youth, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with divers others, and falling into the hands of the Saracens, remained a year and a half a prisoner, or rather a slave, to one of their emirs, or admirals. An only daughter of this emir hearing him one day explain the Christian faith, and declare, upon the question being put to him, that he should with the greatest joy lay down his life for the love of God, if he was made worthy of such a happiness, was so touched, as to conceive on the spot a desire of becoming a Christian. This she made known to Mr. Becket, who contented himself with telling her, that she would be very happy if God gave her that grace, though it were attended with the loss of every thing this world could afford. He and his fellow-slaves soon after made their escape in the night-time, and returned safe to London. The young Syrian lady privately left her father’s house and followed him thither, and being instructed in the faith and baptized by the name of Maud or Mathildes, she was married to him in St. Paul’s church by the bishop of London. Soon after Gilbert went back into the East, to join the crusade or holy war, and remained in those parts three years and a half. Maud was brought to bed of our saint a little time after his departure, about a twelvemonth after their marriage, and being herself very pious, she taught her son from his infancy to fear God, and inspired him with a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. His father, after his return to England, was, in his turn, sheriff 2 of London. Fitz-Stephens assures us, that he never put money out at interest, and never embarked in any commerce, but being contented with his patrimony, lived on the annual income. His death, in 1138, left our saint exposed to the dangers of the world at an age when the greatest mistakes in life are frequently committed. But he had been educated in habits of temperance, obedience, and self-denial, and was so thoroughly grounded in the maxims of the gospel as to stand firmly upon his guard, and to do nothing but by good advice. His father had placed him in his childhood in a monastery of canon regulars, and after his death, Thomas continued his studies in London, where Fitz-Stephens informs us there were then three very great schools belonging to the three principal churches, in which public declamations were made, and frequent literary disputations held with great emulation between both masters and scholars. Here Thomas pursued his studies till the age of twenty-one years, when having lost his mother he discontinued them for a year: but considering the dangers which surrounded him while unemployed, he resolved to re-assume them. He therefore went first to Oxford, and shortly after to Paris, where he applied himself diligently to the canon law, and various other branches of literature. When he came back to London, he was first made clerk or secretary to the court of the city, and distinguished himself by his capacity in public affairs. He was afterwards taken into the family of a certain young nobleman in the country, who was extremely fond of hunting and hawking. In this situation, Thomas began to be carried away with a love of these diversions, which were become his only business; so that by this company he grew more remiss in the service of God. An awakening accident opened his eyes. One day, when he was eager in the pursuit of game, his hawk made a stoop at a duck, and dived after it into a river. Thomas, apprehensive of losing his hawk, leaped into the water, and the stream being rapid, carried him down to a mill, and he was saved only by the sudden stopping of the wheel, which appeared miraculous. Thomas, in gratitude to God his deliverer, resolved to betake himself to a more serious course of life, and returned to London. His virtue and abilities gave him a great reputation; and nothing can sooner gain a man the confidence of others as that inflexible integrity and veracity, which always formed the character of our saint. Even in his childhood he always chose rather to suffer any blame, disgrace, or punishment, than to tell an untruth; and in his whole life he was never found guilty of a lie in the smallest matter.

A strict intimacy had intervened between Theobald, who was advanced to the archbishopric of Canterbury in 1138, and our saint’s father, they being both originally from the same part of Normandy, about the village of Tierrie. Some persons, therefore, having recommended Thomas to that prelate, he was invited to accept of some post in his family. Attended only with one squire, named Ralph of London, he joined the archbishop, who then was at the village of Harwe or Harrow. Thomas was tall of stature, his countenance was beautiful and pleasing, his senses quick and lively, and his discourse very agreeable. Having taken orders a little before this, he was presented by the Bishop of Worcester to the church of Shoreham, 3 afterwards by the abbot of St. Alban’s to that of Bratfield. 4 With the leave of the archbishop he went to Italy, and there studied the canon law a year at Bologna; then some time at Auxerre. After his return the archbishop ordained him deacon, and he was successively preferred to the provostship of Beverley, and to canonries at Lincoln’s and at St. Paul’s in London: the archbishop nominated him archdeacon of Canterbury, which was then looked upon as the first ecclesiastical dignity in England after the abbacies and bishoprics, which gave a seat in the house of lords. 5 The archbishop committed to our saint the management of the most intricate affairs, seldom did any thing without his advice, sent him several times to Rome on important errands, and never had reason to repent of the choice he had made, or of the confidence he reposed in him. The contest between King Stephen and the Empress Maud with her son Henry II. had threatened the kingdom with a dreadful flame, which was only prevented by a mutual agreement of the parties, ratified by the whole kingdom, by which Stephen was allowed to hold the crown during life, upon condition that at his death it should devolve upon Henry the right heir. Notwithstanding this solemn settlement, Stephen endeavoured to fix the crown on his son Eustachius. Theobald refused to consent to so glaring an injustice; for which he was banished the kingdom, but recalled with honour shortly after. The conduct of the archbishop on this occasion was owing to the advice of Thomas, who thus secured the crown in peace to Henry. Theobald, who had before made him his archdeacon, and by a long experience had found him proof against all the temptations of the world, and endued with a prudence capable of all manner of affairs, recommended him to the high office of lord chancellor of England, to which King Henry, who had ascended the throne on the 20th of December, 1154, readily exalted him in 1157. The saint’s sweetness of temper, joined with his integrity and other amiable qualities, gained him the esteem and affection of every one, especially of his prince, who took great pleasure in his conversation, often went to dine with him, and committed to his care the education of his son, Prince Henry, to be formed by him in sound maxims of honour and virtue. He sent him also into France to negotiate a treaty with that crown, and conclude a marriage between his son Henry and Margaret, daughter to Lewis the Younger, king of France; in both which commissions he succeeded to his master’s desires. 6 Amidst the honours and prosperity which he enjoyed, he always lived most humble, modest, mortified, recollected, compassionate, charitable to the poor without bounds, and perfectly chaste; and triumphed over all the snares which wicked courtiers, and sometimes the king himself, laid for his virtue, especially his chastity. 7 The persecutions which envy and jealousy raised against him he overcame by meekness and silence.

Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1160. King Henry was then in Normandy with his chancellor, whom he immediately resolved to raise to that dignity. Some time after, he bade him prepare himself to go to England for an affair of importance, and in taking leave explained his intentions to him. Thomas, after alleging many excuses, flatly told the king: “Should God permit me to be archbishop of Canterbury I should soon lose your majesty’s favour, and the great affection with which you honour me would be changed into hatred. For your majesty will be pleased to suffer me to tell you, that several things you do in prejudice of the inviolable rights of the church, make me fear you would require of me what I could not agree to: and envious persons would not fail to make this pass for a crime, in order to make me lose your favour.” Such was the generous liberty of this man of God, and his serious desire to deliver himself from the dangers which threatened him. The king paid no regard to his remonstrances; and sent over certain noblemen into England to manage the affairs with the clergy of the kingdom, and the chapter of Canterbury, ordering them to labour with the same ardour to place the chancellor in the see of Canterbury as they would to set the crown on his son’s head. St. Thomas obeyed in going to England, but refused to acquiesce in accepting the dignity till the Cardinal of Pisa, legate from the holy see in England, overruled all his scruples by the weight of his authority. The election was made on the eve of Whitsunday in 1162, a synod of bishops at London ratified the same, and the prince, then in London, gave his consent in his father’s name, and the saint set out immediately from London to Canterbury. On the road he gave a private charge to one of the clergy of his church, to advertise him of all the faults which he should observe in his conduct; for even an enemy by his reproaches is often more useful to us than a flattering friend. The archbishop soon after his consecration received the pallium from Pope Alexander III., which John of Salisbury brought him from Rome. He had hitherto employed all his time in prayer to beg the light of heaven, and from that time began to exert himself in the discharge of his pastoral duties. Next his skin he always wore a hair shirt; over this he put on the habit of a Benedictin monk from the time he was made archbishop; and over this the habit of a canon, of very light stuff. By the rule of life which he laid down for his private conduct, he rose at two o’clock in the morning, and after matins washed the feet of thirteen poor persons, to each of whom he distributed money. It was most edifying to see him with profound humility melting in tears at their feet, and begging the assistance of their prayers. At the hour of prime his almoner washed the feet of twelve others, and gave them bread and meat. The archbishop returned to take a little rest after matins, and washing the feet of the first company of poor persons; but rose again very early to pray and to read the holy scriptures, which he did assiduously, and with the most profound respect. He found in them such unction that he had them always in his hands even when he walked, and desired holy solitude that he might bury himself in them. He kept always a learned person with him to interpret to him these sacred oracles, whom he consulted on the meaning of difficult passages; so much did he fear to rely on his own lights by presumption, though others admired his wisdom and learning. After his morning meditation he visited those that were sick among his monks and clergy; at nine o’clock he said mass, or heard one if out of respect and humility he did not celebrate himself. He often wept at the divine mysteries. At ten a third daily alms was distributed, in all to one hundred persons; and the saint doubled all the ordinary alms of his predecessor. He dined at three o’clock, and took care that some pious book was read at table. He never had dishes of high price, yet kept a table decently served for the sake of others; but was himself very temperate and mortified. One day a monk saw him in company eat the wing of a pheasant, and was scandalized like the Pharisee, saying he thought him a more mortified man. The archbishop meekly answered him, that gluttony might be committed in the grossest food, and that the best might be taken without it, and with indifference. After dinner he conversed a little with some pious and learned clergymen on pious subjects, or on their functions. He was most rigorous in the examination of persons who were presented to holy orders, and seldom relied upon any others in it. Such was the order he had established in his house that no one in it durst ever receive any present. He regarded all the poor as his children, and his revenues seemed more properly theirs than his own. He reprehended with freedom the vices of the great ones, and recovered out of the hands of several powerful men lands of his church which had been usurped by them; in which the king was his friend and protector. He assisted at the council of Tours assembled by Pope Alexander III., in 1163. He obliged the king to fill the two sees of Worcester and Hereford, which he had long held in his hands, with worthy prelates whom the saint consecrated.

The devil, envying the advantage which accrued to the church from the good harmony which reigned between the king and the archbishop, laboured to sow the seeds of discord between them. St. Thomas first offended his majesty by resigning the office of chancellor, which, out of complaisance to him, he had kept some time after he was nominated archbishop. But the source of all this mischief was an abuse by which the king usurped the revenues of the vacant sees and other benefices, and deferred a long time to fill them that he might the longer enjoy the temporalities, as some of his predecessors had sacrilegiously done before him: which injustice St. Thomas would by no means tolerate. A third debate was, that the archbishop would not allow lay judges to summon ecclesiastical persons before their tribunals. By the zeal with which he curbed the officers or noblemen who oppressed the church or its lands, compelling them to restore some which they had unjustly usurped, or which had been given them by former incumbents or bishops who had no right to bestow them, at least beyond the term of their own lives, he exasperated several courtiers, who began first to misrepresent his conduct herein to the king. The king, however, still showed him the greatest marks of favour; and seemed still to love him, as he had done from his first acquaintance, above all men living. The first sign of displeasure happened at Woodstock, when the king was holding his court there with the principal nobility. It was customary to pay two shillings a year upon every hide of land to the king’s officers, who in place of the sheriffs were employed to maintain the public peace in every county. This sum the king ordered to be paid into his exchequer. The archbishop made a modest remonstrance, that without being wanting in respect to his majesty, this might not be exacted as a revenue of the crown; adding, “If the sheriffs, their serjeants, or the officers of the provinces defend the people, we shall not be wanting to relieve and succour them,” (viz. either with pecuniary supplies and recompences, and affording them assistance by the constables and other civil peace-officers.) The king replied with warmth, making use of a familiar impious oath, “By God’s eyes, this shall be paid as a revenue, or those who do not pay it, shall be prosecuted by a writ of the royal exchequer.” The archbishop answered that none of his vassals would pay it, nor any of the clergy. The king said no more at that time; but his resentment was the greater: and the complaints at court were only raised against the clergy, without any further mention of the laity, who were equally concerned. Thus is the case stated by Grime. The archbishop seems to have spoken of it as a parliamentary affair; nor are the circumstances sufficiently known for historians to state it fully at this distance of time. We are only informed that the nobility and the whole nation, which under Henry I. and Stephen had enjoyed their ancient privileges and liberties, were then under the greatest apprehensions that the tyranny and cruel vexations of the Conqueror and his son Rufus, would be revived by Henry under the title of Conqueror.

Another affair happened which raised a greater flame. A certain priest, called Philip of Broi, was accused of having murdered a military man. According to the laws of those times he was to be first tried in the ecclesiastical court, and if found guilty, degraded, and delivered over to the lay judges to be tried and punished by them. Philip, after a long trial was acquitted of the murder by a sentence of his ordinary, the bishop of Lincoln; but seems to have been found guilty of manslaughter, or of having involuntarily killed the man. For by large sums of money he satisfied the deceased person’s relations, and received from them a full release and discharge from all obligations and further prosecution, as Grime mentions. A king’s sheriff long after this affair, out of a pique revived this slander of the murder with much harsh language, and threatened to bring him again to a trial. The priest alleged, that having been once acquitted by a fair trial according to law, and having moreover a discharge of the relations and friends of the deceased person, he could not be impeached again upon the indictment: but growing warm treated the sheriff with very injurious language. The king sent an order to certain bishops and other officers to try the offender, both for the former crime of murder and the late misdemeanour; the murder he denied and produced the sentence by which he had been acquitted to set aside a second trial; confessed himself guilty of the misdemeanour by injurious words in his anger, begged pardon, and promised all satisfaction in his power. The commissioners passed sentence, that for the misdemeanour his prebend should be confiscated for two years into the king’s hands, who would order the revenue to be given in alms to the poor at his pleasure; that the offender should quit the clerical gown, and live in subjection to the king’s officer, and present him his armour; all which he readily complied with. For the security of his life the archbishop had taken him under the protection of the Church. The king thought the sentence too mild, and said to the bishops and other commissioners, “By God’s eyes you shall swear that you pronounced sentence according to justice, and did not favour him on account of his clerical character.” They offered to swear it; but the king betook himself to his courtiers. Soon after he told the archbishop and bishops that he would require of them an oath that they would maintain all the customs of the kingdom. St. Thomas understood that certain notorious abuses and injustices were called by the king customs. He therefore in a general meeting of the bishops at Westminster, refused that oath, unless he might add this clause, “As far as was lawful, or consistent with duty.” The Archbishop of York, and the Bishops of Chichester and Lincoln, were drawn from their first resolution against it, and St. Thomas, who had resisted the threats of the king, was overcome by the tears of the clergy, and complied in an assembly at the king’s palace of Clarendon, in 1164. He soon after repented of his condescension, and remained in silence and tears till he had consulted the pope, who was then at Sens, and begged his absolution. His holiness, in his answer, gave him the desired absolution from censures, advised him to abstain no longer from approaching the altar, and exhorted him to repair by an episcopal vigour the fault into which he had only been betrayed through surprise. The king was extremely offended at the repentance of the archbishop, and threatened his life; but the prelate boldly said he never would authorize as custom the notorious oppressions of the Church, which his predecessors, especially St. Anselm, had zealously condemned before him. The king, in an assembly of the bishops and nobility at Northampton, on the 8th of October, 1164, pronounced sentence against him, by which he declared all his goods confiscated. Several bishops and others endeavoured to persuade him to resign his archbishopric. But he answered with great resolution that to do it in such circumstances would be to betray the truth and the cause of the Church, by which he was bound, by the place which he held, rather to lay down his life. His persecutions daily increasing, he gave strict charge to his domestics and friends to remain in silence, peace, and charity towards their enemies, to bear injuries with patience, and never to conceive the least sentiment of rancour against any one. His cause in the mean time was evoked to the holy see, according to his appeal in the council, and he resolved privately to leave the kingdom. He landed in Flanders in 1164, and arriving at the abbey of St. Bertin’s, at St. Omer, sent from thence deputies to Lewis VII. king of France, who received them graciously, and invited the archbishop into his dominions. King Henry forbade any to send him any manner of assistance. St. Gilbert, abbot of Sempringham, was called up to London, with all the procurators of his Order, being accused of having sent him relief. Though the abbot had not done it, he refused to swear this, because he said it would have been a virtuous action, and he would do nothing by which he might seem to regard it as a crime. Nevertheless, out of respect to his great sanctity, he was dismissed by an order of the king. The pope was then at Sens in France. The bishops and other deputies from the king of England arrived there, gained several of the cardinals, and in a public audience accused St. Thomas before his holiness; yet taking notice that he acquitted himself of his office with great prudence and virtue, and governed his Church truly like a worthy prelate. St. Thomas left St. Bertin’s after a few days’ stay, and being accompanied by the bishop of Triers and the abbot of St. Bertin’s, went to Soissons. The king of France happened to come thither the next day, and he no sooner heard that the archbishop of Canterbury was there, but he went to his lodgings to testify his veneration for his person, and obliged him to accept from him all the money he should want during his exile. The saint pursued his journey to Sens, where be met with a cold reception from the cardinals. When he had audience of the pope he expressed his grief at the disturbances in England, and his desire to procure a true peace to that church, for which end he professed himself ready to lay down his life with joy: but then he exaggerated the evils of a false peace, and gave in a copy of the articles which the king of England required him to sign, and which he said tended to the entire oppression of the Church. His justification was so moving, so full, and so modest, that the cardinals expressed their approbation of his conduct, and the pope encouraged him to constancy with great tenderness. In a second audience, on the day following, the archbishop confessed with extreme humility that he had entered the see though against his will, yet against the canons, in passing so suddenly from the state of a layman into it, and that he had acquitted himself so ill of his obligations in it, as to have had no more than the name of a pastor; wherefore he resigned his dignity into the hands of his holiness, and, taking the ring off his finger, delivered it to him, and withdrew. After a long deliberation, the pope called him in again, and, commending his zeal, reinstated him in his dignity, with an order not to abandon it, for that would be visibly to abandon the cause of God. Then sending for the abbot of Pontigni, his holiness recommended this exiled prelate to that superior of the poor of Jesus Christ, to be entertained by him like one of them. He exhorted the archbishop to pray for the spirit of courage and constancy.

St. Thomas regarded this austere monastery of the Cistercian Order, not as an exile, but as a delightful religious retreat, and a school of penance for the expiation of his sins. Not content with the hair shirt which he constantly wore, he used frequent disciplines and other austerities, submitted himself to all the rules of the Order, wore the habit, and embraced with joy the most abject functions and humiliations. He was unwilling to suffer any distinction, and would put by the meats prepared for him and seasoned, that he might take only the portion of the community, and that the dryest, and without seasoning or sauce; but this he did with address, that it might not be perceived. King Henry vented his passion against both the pope and the archbishop, confiscated the goods of all the friends, relations, and domestics of the holy prelate, banished them from his dominions, not sparing even infants at the breast, lying-in women, and old men; and obliged by oath all who had attained the age of discretion to go to the archbishop, that the sight of them and their tears might move him. This oath they were obliged to take at Lambeth, before Ralph de Brock, whom Fitz-Stephens calls one of the most daring and profligate of men; yet into his hands the king had delivered the temporalities of the archbishopric to be kept; that is, says this author, to be laid waste and destroyed. These exiles arrived in troops at Pontigny, and the prelate could not contain his tears. Providence, however, provided for them all by the charities of many prelates and princes. The queen of Sicily and the archbishop of Syracuse invited many over thither, and most liberally furnished them with necessaries. The pope and others laboured to bring the king to a reconciliation; but that prince threatened his holiness, and committed daily greater excesses, by threatening letters to the general chapter of Citeaux, that he would abolish their Order in England if they continued to harbour his enemy. Whereupon the saint left Pontigni; but a little before this he was favoured with a revelation of his martyrdom. Whilst he lay prostrate before the altar in prayers and tears, he heard a voice saying distinctly: “Thomas, Thomas, my church shall be glorified in thy blood.” The saint asked: “Who art thou, Lord?” and the same voice answered: “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, thy brother.” He wept in taking leave of the monks at Pontigni. The abbot thought his tears the effect of natural tenderness; but the saint called him aside, and, bidding him not discover it before his death, told him, he wept for those who had followed him, who would be scattered like sheep without a pastor; for God had shown to him the night before, that he should be slain by four men in his church, whom he saw enter it, and take off the top part of his head. The king of France sent him the most affectionate assurances of his protection and respect, and, rejoicing to be able to serve Jesus Christ in the person of his exiled servant, gave orders with a royal magnificence that he should be entertained at his expense at Sens. St. Thomas was received there with all possible joy and respect by the archbishop, and retired to the monastery of St. Columba, situated half a mile from the city. He excommunicated all those who should obey the late orders of the king of England in seizing the estates of the church, and threatened that prince himself, but mildly, and with strong exhortations to repentance. The king, by his deputies, gained again many cardinals at Rome, and surprised the pope himself, who began to speak in his favour, and named two legates a latere who were devoted to him; which drew complaints from the archbishop. The saint, according to summons, met the legates at Gisors, on the frontiers of France and Normandy; but finding that one of them, the cardinal of Pavia, was artfully studying to betray him, wrote to the pope. Cardinal Otho, the other legate, represented to the king his obligation of restoring to the church his unjust usurpations and revenues of the see of Canterbury, which he had received; but his majesty answered he had no scruple of that, having employed them on the church or on the poor. But the legate said, he could not answer it at the tribunal of Christ. The king of France, at the request of his holiness, undertook to be a mediator between the king of England and the archbishop: The two kings had a conference together near Gisors. St. Thomas fell at the feet of his sovereign, and was raised by him. King Henry, among many fair speeches, said he desired no more than the rights which former holy archbishops had not contested. The king of France said nothing more could be desired; but the archbishop showed abuses were meant, which former archbishops had opposed, though they had not been able to extirpate them. If they tolerated some out of necessity, they did not approve them, which was demanded of him. The king of France thought him too inflexible, and the nobles of both kingdoms accused him of pride. The saint was insulted and forsaken by all, and set out for Sens, expecting to be also banished from France. But the king of France soon after reflecting on what he had done, sent for the servant of God, fell at his feet with many tears, begging his pardon and absolution of his sin, and confessing that he alone had understood the artifices which were made use of. The archbishop gave him absolution and his blessing, and returned to Sens. The pope sent two new legates, Gratian and Vivian, to King Henry, and after them two others; but that prince refused always to promise the restitution of the church revenues, and the like articles. St. Thomas never ceased to pray, fast, and weep for the evils of his church. No prelate had ever stronger temptations to struggle with; and certainly nothing but conscience and the most steady virtue could ever have obliged him to have renounced his own interests, and the favour of so great a king, whom he most affectionately loved, for whose service, in his wars, he furnished more troops at his own expense than could have been thought possible, and to whom he always remained most loyal and most faithful. King Henry, among other injuries done to the good prelate, caused his son to be crowned king by the archbishop of York, in the very diocess of Canterbury, himself waiting upon him at supper, and obliged his subjects, even by torments, to renounce the obedience not only to the archbishop, but also to the pope. But it pleased God on a sudden to change his heart, and inspire him with a desire of reconciliation. The archbishop of Sens conducted St. Thomas to his majesty, who received him with all the marks and expressions of his former esteem and affection, and, with tears, desired that all their differences might be buried in oblivion, and that they might live in perfect friendship; nor did he make the least mention of the pretended customs which had been the occasion of these disturbances.

The archbishop of York, a man whose life rendered him unworthy of that character, and the bishops of London and Salisbury, mortal enemies to the saint, began again to alienate the king from him, by renewing in his breast former jealousies. The archbishop waited on his majesty at Tours; but could obtain no more than a promise of the restitution of his lands when he should have arrived in England. In the meantime he gave leave to the officers of the archbishop of York to plunder all the goods of his church, and the harvest of that year. Nevertheless, the archbishop having been seven years absent, resolved to return to his church, though expecting to meet the crown of martyrdom. Writing to the king, he closed his letter as follows: “With your majesty’s leave I return to my church, perhaps to die there, and to hinder at least by my death its entire destruction. Your majesty is able yet to make me feel the effects of your clemency and religion; but whether I live or die, I will always preserve inviolably that charity which I bear you in our Lord; and whatever may happen to me, I pray God to heap all his graces and good gifts on your majesty and on your children.” The holy archbishop prepared himself for his journey with a heart filled with the love of the Cross of Christ, and breathing nothing but the sacrifice of himself in his cause. Many French noblemen furnished him with money and all necessaries. That he might thank the king of France, he went to Paris, and lodged in the abbey of canon regulars of St. Victor, where one of his hair shirts is still preserved. On the octave of St. Austin, their patron, he was desired to preach, and made an excellent sermon on these words: And his dwelling was made in peace. 8 In taking leave of the French king, he said: “I am going to seek my death in England.” His majesty answered: “So I believe:” and pressed him to stay in his dominions, promising that nothing should be wanting to him there. The saint said: “The will of God must be accomplished.” He sent over to England the sentence of suspension and interdict which the pope had pronounced against the archbishop of York and his accomplices, in several unwarrantable proceedings, and excommunication against Renald of Broke, and certain others. The saint embarked at Witsan, near Calais, but landed at Sandwich, where he was received with incredible acclamations of joy. He had escaped several ambuscades of his enemies on the road. The archbishop of York demanded absolution from his censures in a threatening manner: St. Thomas meekly offered it, on condition the other, according to the custom of the church, would swear to submit to the conditions which should be enjoined him. The other refused to do this, and went over to Normandy, with the bishops of London and Salisbury, to accuse the archbishop to the king, in doing which passion made slander pass for truth. The king, in a transport of fury cried out, and repeated several times, that “He cursed all those whom he had honoured with his friendship, and enriched by his bounty, seeing none of them had the courage to rid him of one bishop, who gave him more trouble than all the rest of his subjects.” 9 Four young gentlemen in his service, who had no other religion than to flatter their prince, viz. Sir William Tracy, Sir Hugh Morville, Sir Richard Briton, and Sir Reginald Fitz-Orson, conspired privately together to murder him.

The archbishop was received in London with exceeding great triumph: but the young king sent him an order to confine himself to the city of Canterbury. The saint alleged, that he was obliged to make the visitation of his diocese. On Christmas-day, after mass, he preached his last sermon to his flock, on the text, “And peace to men of good-will on earth.” In the end he declared, that he should shortly leave them, and that the time of his death was at hand. All wept bitterly at this news, and the saint, seeing their tears, could not entirely contain his own: but he comforted himself with motives of holy faith, and stood some time absorbed in God in the sweet contemplation of his adorable will. The four assassins being landed in England, were joined by Renald of Broke, who brought with him a troop of armed men. They went the next day to Canterbury, and insolently upbraiding the archbishop with treason, threatened him with death unless he absolved all those who were interdicted or excommunicated. The saint answered, it was the pope who had pronounced those censures, that the king had agreed to it, and promised his assistance therein before five hundred witnesses, among whom some of them were present, and that they ought to promise satisfaction for their crimes before an absolution. They, in a threatening manner, gave a charge to his ecclesiastics that were present to watch him, that he might not escape; for the king would make him an example of justice. The saint said: “Do you imagine that I think of flying: No, no, I wait for the stroke of death without fear.” Then showing with his hand that part of his head where God had given him to understand he should be struck, he said: “It is here, it is here that I expect you.” The assassins went back, put on their bucklers and arms, as if they were going to a battle, and taking with them the other armed men, returned to the archbishop, who was then gone to the church, for it was the hour of vespers. He had forbidden, in virtue of obedience, any to barricade the doors, saying, the church was not to be made a citadel. The murderers entered sword in hand, crying out: “Where is the traitor?” No one answered till another cried: “Where is the archbishop?” The saint then advanced towards them, saying; “Here I am, the archbishop, but no traitor.” All the monks and ecclesiastics ran to hide themselves, or to hold the altars, except three who staid by his side. The archbishop appeared without the least commotion or fear. One of the ruffians said to him, “Now you must die.” He answered: “I am ready to die for God, for justice, and for the liberty of his church. But I forbid you in the name of the Almighty God, to hurt in the least any of my religious, clergy, or people. I have defended the church as far as I was able during my life, when I saw it oppressed, and I shall be happy if by my death at least, I can restore its peace and liberty.” He then fell on his knees, and spoke these his last words: “I recommend my soul and the cause of the church to God, to the Blessed Virgin, to the holy patrons of this place, to the martyrs St. Dionysius, and St. Elphege of Canterbury.” He then prayed for his murderers, and bowing a little his head, presented it to them in silence. They first offered to bring him out of the church, but he said: “I will not stir: do here what you please, or are commanded.” The fear lest the people, who crowded into the church, should hinder them, made them hasten the execution of their design. Tracy struck at his head first with his sword: but an ecclesiastic who stood by, named Edward Grim or Grimfer, (who afterwards wrote his life,) held out his arm, which was almost cut off; but this broke the blow on the archbishop, who was only a little stunned with it, and he held up his head with his two hands as immoveable as before, ardently offering himself to God. Two others immediately gave him together two violent strokes, by which he fell on the pavement near the altar of St. Bennet, and was now expiring when the fourth, Richard Briton, ashamed not to have dipped his sword in his blood, cut off the top part of his head, and broke his sword against the pavement; then Hugh of Horsea inhumanly, with the point of his sword, drew out all his brains, and scattered them on the floor. 10 After this sacrilege they went and rifled the archiepiscopal palace with a fury which passion had heightened to madness. The city was filled with consternation, tears, and lamentations. A blind man recovered his sight by applying his eyes to the blood of the martyr yet warm. The canons shut the doors of the church, watched by the corps all night, and interred it privately the next morning, because of a report that the murderers designed to drag it through the street. St. Thomas was martyred on the 29th of December, in the year 1170, the fifty-third of his age, and the ninth of his episcopacy.

The grief of all Catholic princes and of all Christendom, at the news of this sacrilege, is not to be expressed. King Henry, above all others, at the first news of it, forgot not only his animosity against the saint, but even the dignity of his crown, to abandon himself to the humiliation and affliction of a penitent who bewailed his sins in sackcloth and ashes. He shut himself up three days in his closet, taking almost no nourishment, and admitting no comfort: and for forty days never went abroad, never had his table or any diversions as usual, having always before his eyes the death of the holy prelate. He not only wept, but howled and cried out in the excess of his grief. He sent deputies to the pope to assure him that he had neither commanded nor intended that execrable murder. His holiness excommunicated the assassins, and sent two legates to the king into Normandy, who found him in the most edifying dispositions of a sincere penitent. His majesty swore to them that he abolished the pretended customs and the abuses which had excited the zeal of the saint, and restored all the church lands and revenues which he had usurped; and was ordered for his penance to maintain two hundred soldiers in the holy war for a year. This miraculous conversion of the king and restitution of the liberties of the church was looked upon as the effect of the saint’s prayers and blood. Seven lepers were cleansed, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, and others sick of all kind of distempers were cured by his intercession, and some dead restored to life. 11 Pope Alexander III. published the bull of his canonization in 1173. Philip, afterwards surnamed Augustus, son of Lewis VII. of France, being very sick and despaired of by the physicians, the king his father spent the days and nights in tears, refusing all comfort. He was advertised at length three nights in his sleep by St. Thomas, whom he had known, to make a pilgrimage to his shrine at Canterbury. He set out against the advice of his nobility, who were apprehensive of dangers: he was met by King Henry at the entrance of his dominions, and conducted by him to the tomb of the martyr. After his prayer he bestowed on the church a gold cup, and several presents on the monks with great privileges. Upon his return into France he found his son perfectly recovered through the merits of St. Thomas, in 1179.

God was pleased to chastise King Henry as he had done David. His son the young king rebelled, because his father refused the cession of any part of his dominions to him during his own life. He was supported by the greatest part of the English nobility, and by the king of Scotland, who committed the most unheard-of cruelties in the northern provinces, which he laid waste. The old king in his abandoned condition made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas, walked barefoot three miles before the town over the pebbles and stones, so that his feet were all bloody, and at the tomb his tears and sighs were the only voice of his contrite and humble heart before God. He would receive a stroke of a discipline from all the bishops, priests, and canons, and spent there that whole day and the night following without taking any nourishment, and made great presents to the church. The next morning, whilst he was hearing mass near the tomb, the king of Scotland, his most cruel enemy, was taken prisoner by a small number of men. Soon after his son threw himself at his feet and obtained pardon. He indeed revolted again several times: but falling sick, by the merits of St. Thomas, deserved to die a true penitent. He made a public confession of his sins, put on sackcloth, and a cord about his neck, and would be dragged by it out of bed as the most unworthy of sinners, and laid on ashes, on which he received the viaticum, and died in the most perfect sentiments of repentance. As to the four murderers, they retired to Cnaresburg, a house belonging to one of them, namely Hugh of Morville, in the west of England, where, shunned by all men, and distracted with the remorse of their own conscience, they lived alone without so much as a servant that would attend them. Some time after they travelled into Italy to receive absolution from the pope. His holiness enjoined them a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where three of them shut themselves up in a place called Montenigro, as in a prison of penance, as the pope had ordered them, and lived and died true penitents. They were buried before the gate of the church of Jerusalem, with this epitaph: “Here lie the wretches who martyred blessed Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury.” The other who had given the first wound, deferred a little to commence his penance, and stopping at Cosenza in Calabria, there died of a miserable distemper, in which his flesh rotted from his body and fell to pieces. He never ceased to implore with sighs and tears the intercession of St. Thomas, as the bishop of that city, who heard his confession, testified. All the four murderers died within three years after the martyrdom of the saint.

The body of the martyr was first buried in the lower part of the church: but shortly after taken up and laid in a sumptuous shrine in the east end. So great were the offerings thereat, that the church all round about it abounded with more than princely riches, the meanest part of which was pure gold, garnished with many precious stones, as William Lambarte 12 and Weever 13 assure us. The largest of these was the royal diamond given by Lewis, king of France. The marble stones before the place remain to this day very much worn and hollowed by the knees of the pilgrims who prayed there. The shrine itself is thus described by John Stow. 14 “It was built about a man’s height all of stone: then upwards of plain timber, within which was an iron chest containing the bones of Thomas Becket, as also the skull with the wound of his death, and the piece cut out of the skull laid in the same wound. The timber-work of this shrine on the outside was covered with plates of gold, damasked and embossed, garnished with brooches, images, angels, chains, precious stones, and great oriental pearls: the spoils of which shrine in gold and jewels of an inestimable value, filled two great chests, one of which six or eight men could do no more than convey out of the church. All which was taken to the king’s use, and the bones of St. Thomas, by command of Lord Cromwell, were there burnt to ashes, in September, 1538, of Henry VIII. the thirtieth.” His hair shirt is shown in a reliquary in the English college at Douay: a small part in the abbey of Liesse: a bone of his arm in the great church of St. Waldetrude at Mons: 15 his chalice in the great nunnery at Bourbourg: his mitre, and linen dipped in his blood, at St. Bertin’s at St. Omer: vestments in many other monasteries, &c. in the Low Countries, &c. 16

Zeal for the glory of God is the first property, or rather the spirit and perfection of his holy love, and ought to be the peculiar virtue of every Christian, especially of every pastor of the church. How is God delighted to shower down his heavenly graces on those who are zealous for his honour! How will he glorify them in heaven, as on this account he glorified Phinehas even on earth! 17 What zeal for his Father’s glory did not Christ exert on earth! How did this holy fire burn in the breasts of the apostles and of all the saints! but in the exercise of zeal itself how many snares are to be feared! and how many Christians deceive themselves! Self-love is subtle in seducing those who do not know themselves. Humour, pride, avarice, caprice, and passion, frequently are passed for zeal. But the true conditions of this virtue are, that it be prudent, disinterested, and intrepid. Prudent in never being precipitant, in using address, in employing every art to draw sinners from the dangerous paths of vice, and in practising patience, in instructing the most stupid, and in bearing with the obstinacy and malice of the impenitent. It is a mistake to place holy zeal in an impetuous ardour of the soul, which can be no other than the result of passion. Secondly, it must be disinterested or pure in its motive, free from all mixture of avarice, pride, vanity, resentment, or any passion. Thirdly, it must be intrepid. The fear of God makes his servant no longer fear men. John the Baptist feared not the tyrant who persecuted him: but Herod stood in awe of the humble preacher. 18 The servant of God is not anxious about his own life: but is solicitous that God be honoured. All that he can suffer for this end he looks upon as a recompense. Fatigues, contempt, torments or death he embraces with joy. By his constancy and fidelity he conquers and subdues the whole world. In afflictions and disgraces his virtues make him magnanimous. It accompanies him in all places and in every situation. By this he is great not only in adversity, being through it firm under persecutions and constant in torments, but also in riches, grandeur, and prosperity, amidst which it inspires him with humility, moderation, and holy fear, and animates all his actions and designs with religion and divine charity.

Note 1. Edward Grime is often written Edmund; for these names were anciently the same, and used promiscuously, as appears in our MSS. of the middle ages. Yet the etymology differs in the English-Saxon language. Eadward signifies happy keeper, from ward a keeper. Eadmund is happy peace: for mund is peace. In law the word Mundbrech is breach of peace. In proper names Aelmund is all peace: Kinmund, peace to his kindred: Ethelmund, noble peace: Pharamund, true peace; though some have construed this true mouth. Edmund, as he is more frequently called, though Edward in the ancient MSS. of Clair-marais, long attended St. Thomas, and was his cross-bearer: at the saint’s martyrdom, by endeavouring to interpose his own body, he received a wound in his arm. After the archbishop’s death he continued to live at Canterbury, and some years after wrote his life or passion, which bears the title: Magistri Edvardi Vita vel Passio S. Thomæ Canct. Archiep. The short prologue begins “Professores Artium.” The life: “Dilectus igitur,” &c. It ends with a letter of two cardinals to the archbishop of Sens; these being the last words: “Relaxavit episcopos de promissione quam ei fecerant, de consuetudinibus observandis et promisit quod non exigit in futurum.” There follow in the MSS. of the Cistercian abbey of Clair-marais near St. Omer, four long books of miracles wrought at his shrine or through his invocation, as inveterate dead palsies cured instantaneously, &c. [back]

Note 2. Vicecomes. [back]

Note 3. Fitz-Stephens, p. 12. [back]

Note 4. Chron. de Walden, MSS. Cotton. Titus, D. 20. [back]

Note 5. Fitz-Stephens, p. 12. [back]

Note 6. On the extraordinary magnificence with which he performed this embassy, and the rich presents which he carried, in which were two large casks of English beer, see Fitz-Stephens. [back]

Note 7. Grime at large. [back]

Note 8. Ps. lxxv. [back]

Note 9. Fitz-Stephens relates, (pp. 64, 65,) that Henry II. sailed from Normandy to England, to assist at the coronation of his son at London, leaving orders for Roger, the bishop of Worcester, to follow him; for he was desirous that as great a number of bishops as possible should be present at the ceremony. The queen, who remained in Normandy, and Richard de Humet, the justiciary of Normandy, after the king’s departure, sent him a prohibition when he was at Dieppe ready to embark; for they understood that he would not assist at the coronation if it was performed by the Archbishop of York, against the rights of the see of Canterbury. The king returned immediately to Normandy, and sending for the Bishop of Worcester, called him traitor, and reproached him with disobeying his orders, and wishing ill to his family, seeing he refused to attend at his son’s coronation, when there were so few bishops in England; on which account he declared, that he deprived him of the revenues of his bishopric. The prelate, relying on his innocence, alleged modestly the prohibition he had received. The king was but the more angry, and was for sending for the queen, who was in a neighbouring castle, and for Richard de Humet. The bishop begged the queen might not be asked; for she would either deny it to screen herself, or, by confessing the truth, draw his indignation upon herself. The king, with much contumelious language, told him, he could never be the son of his own good uncle by his mother, which uncle had brought him up in his castle, where he and the bishop had learned together the first rudiments of literature. The bishop being stung at this reproach, answered his majesty, that his father, the good Count Roger, had inherited both his honour and estate by his marriage with the bishop’s mother, that he was uncle by the mother to his majesty, had brought up his majesty with honour, and had fought for him against King Stephen sixteen years; for all which services his majesty had curtailed his brother’s estate, depriving him of two hundred and forty men out of the thousand which this king’s grandfather, King Henry I., had given him; and had abandoned his younger brother, whose condition was so destitute, that barely for bread he was obliged to seek a subsistence amongst the Hospitallers at Jerusalem. He added, that it was in this manner he was accustomed to recompense his relations and best friends. Then he said, “Wherefore do you now threaten to deprive me of the revenues of my bishopric? May they be yours, if it is not enough for you that you now enjoy an archbishopric, six bishoprics, and many abbeys, certainly by injustice, and to the imminent danger of your own soul; and the alms of your ancestors, that were good kings, and the patrimony and inheritances of Jesus Christ, you convert to your own secular uses.” One of the courtiers who were present, thinking to please the king, sharply took up the bishop; and after him another abused him with opprobrious language. But the king changing the object of his anger, said to this last nobleman: “Worst of wretches, dost thou think, that, because I say what I please to my cousin and bishop, it may be allowed thee or any other person to affront or threaten him? I am scarcely able to contain my hands from thy eyes. Neither thou nor any other shall be suffered to speak a word against the bishop.” The anger of this prince easily degenerated into a fit of madness. In the forty-fourth letter written to St. Thomas, it is mentioned, that the king being at Caen, was provoked against Richard de Humet, because he said something in defence of the king of Scots: “Breaking out into contumelious words, he called him traitor, and hereupon beginning to be kindled with his wanted fury, threw his cap from his head, ungirt his belt, hurled away his cloak and garments wherewith he was apparelled, cast off with his own hands a coverlet of silk from his bed, and sitting as it were upon a dunghill of straw, began to chew the straws.” And in the next letter it is said: “The boy who delivered a letter to his majesty, incurred great danger; for the king, endeavouring to pluck out his eyes with his fingers, proceeded so far as to come to an effusion of blood.” Peter of Blois had reason to say of him: (ep. 75,) “He is a lamb so long as his mind is pleased, but a lion, or more cruel than a lion, when he is angry.” And writing to the Archbishop of Panorma, he said: “His eyes in his wrath seem sparkling with fire, and lightning with fury.—Whom he hath once hated, he scarcely ever receiveth again into favour.” This St. Thomas thoroughly understood, and when he opposed him in defence of the church, sufficiently showed what he expected.

  William the Norman, availing himself of the title of Conqueror, trampled upon all the privileges both of the church and people: but being “a friend to religion, and a lover of the church and of holy and learned men, he was their protector, except where his predominant passion of ambition or interest intervened;” and his dying sentiments give us room to hope, that by sincere repentance he atoned for all the excesses into which the lust of dominion, and the dazzling of power and worldly glory might have betrayed him. But his successor, who was bound by no ties of religion, found no gain sweeter than the plunder of the church, to raise which, every unjust method was employed. Such an example was thus set, as furnished a pretence to kings who had not absolutely lost all sense of religion, to suffer themselves to be blinded by interest, and, under the specious title of guardians of the revenues of vacant benefices, to convert them into their own exchequer, and for this purpose to deprive souls of the comfort, instruction, and relief which they were entitled to expect from good pastors. From this source numberless spiritual evils flowed, an effectual remedy to which would have probably made St. Thomas waive or drop certain other points debated in this controversy: we are not to reduce it to every incidental or accidental question that was started, but to have always in view the main point on which the controversy turned. The eminent sanctity of the martyr, and many circumstances of the debate are a complete answer to those historians who set this affair in a light unfavourable to the archbishop, though accidental mistakes could be no disparagement to a person’s sincere piety and zeal. If he, who best of all men knew the king, was not to be so easily imposed upon by half promises as those were who were strangers to him, we are not on this account to condemn him.


  In the MS. account of our saint’s miracles it is observed, that the nation was in the utmost consternation and dread upon the accession of Henry II. to the throne, lest he should avail himself of the title of a conquest, to set aside all the rights of the people, and even of particulars, in imitation of the founder of our Norman line. His maxims and conduct with regard to the church alarmed the zeal of our primate, whose whole behaviour removes him from all suspicion of ambitious views. The king’s passionate temper made the evil most deplorable; and the danger was increased by his capriciousness, which appeared in his changing his designs in his own private conduct every hour, so that no one about his person knew what he was to do the next hour, or where he should be: an unsettledness, which is a sure mark that humour and passion direct such resolutions. For such was the situation of his court, as Peter of Blois, who, to his great regret, lived some time in it, tells us: and to the same, John of Salisbury frequently alludes, in the description he has left us of a court. Afflictions opened the eyes of this prince and his son: and the edifying close of their lives, we hope, wiped off the stains which their passions in their prosperity left on their memory. And is it not reasonable to presume that both were indebted for this grace, under God, to the prayers of St. Thomas? As to the saint’s martyrdom, his pure zeal and charity raised the persecution against him, not any mixed cause, which suffices not to give the title of martyrdom in the church, though it often enhances its merit before God. Neither ought a pretence affected by persecutors to make the cause appear mixed, to deprive the martyr of an honour which it justly increases even before men, as the fathers observe with regard to some who suffered in the primitive persecutions; and as it is remarked by Baronius, (Annot. in Mart. hâc die,) Macquer, (Abrégé Chronologique de l’Hist. Eccles. 16 Siècle, t. 2, p. 489, ed. 2, 1757,) and ingenuously by Mr. Hearne (Præf. in Camdeni Annal. Elisab.) with regard to many who suffered here under Queen Elizabeth. 
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Note 10. Bened. Abbas in vitâ Henr. II. t. 1, p. 12. [back]

Note 11. On the miracles wrought at the shrine of St. Thomas, see the acts of his canonization; the letter of John of Salisbury to William, archbishop of Sens, legate of the apostolic see; the authors of the life of this holy martyr, and our historians of that age. The keeper of his shrine, a monk at Canterbury, was commissioned to commit to writing miracles performed through the saint’s intercession, which came to his knowledge. An English MS. translation of a Latin history of these miracles, compiled by a monk who lived in the monastery of Christ-church at the time of the saint’s martyrdom, is kept in the library of William Constable, Esq. at Burton Constable, in Holderness, (l. n. 267,) together with a life of St. Thomas. Certain facts there mentioned show that the king’s officers had then frequent recourse to the trial of water-ordeal. Two men were impeached upon the forest act for stealing deer; and being tried by the water-ordeal, one was cast, and hanged; the other, by invoking St. Thomas’s intercession, escaped. Another accused of having stolen a whet-stone and pair of gloves, was convicted by the water-ordeal; and his eyes were dug out, and some of his members cut off; but were perfectly restored to him by the intercession of the martyr, which he implored. It is here mentioned, that the martyr’s body was at first hid by the monks in a vault before the altar of St. John Baptist and St. Austin, but was soon made known, visited out of devotion, and honoured by the miraculous cures of several diseased persons. The monks kept the door of the vault shut with strong bolts and locks, and only admitted certain persons privately to it: but on Friday in Easter week, on the nones of April, the door was opened, and all persons were permitted to perform their devotions at the tomb. After this some of the saint’s enemies and murderers mustered a troop of armed men to steal the body; to prevent which, the monks hid it a second time behind the altar of our lady; yet it soon began to be again resorted to. The feast of the translation of the relics of St. Thomas was kept on the 7th of July, on which day, Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, removed them in 1223, with the utmost state and pomp.

  A manuscript relation in English of two hundred and sixty-three miracles wrought by the intercession of St. Thomas of Canterbury, is in the hands of Antony Wright, Esq. in Essex.


  Miracle 263. James, son of Roger, earl of Clare, forty days old, by extremity of crying, contracted a rupture so desperate, that all the physicians declared it incurable without an incision, which the parents would not allow, as too dangerous, considering the great tenderness of his age and constitution. All methods used for a cure failing, the child died in the second year of his age. The countess, his mother, took him on her knees, put into his mouth a little particle of the relics of St. Thomas, which she had brought from Canterbury, and prayed for two hours that St. Thomas would, by his intercession with God, restore him to life. Several knights, the Countess of Warwick, and others were present. Her chaplain, Mr. Lambert, a venerable old man, sharply rebuked her; but she continued to pray, adding a vow that if he was restored, he should be offered to God at the shrine of the martyr, and she would make a pilgrimage barefoot to Canterbury. The infant at length opened his eyes, and revived. The mother performed her vow, carried him in her arms to Canterbury, whither she walked barefoot.


  The author of this relation was eye-witness to many of the miracles he records, and the book was abroad in the hands of the public within one hundred and fifty years after the death of St. Thomas; for the original copy belonged to Thomas Trilleck, bishop of Rochester, whose bull bears date March 6th, 1363; and who received the temporalities of that see, Dec. 26, 1364, the thirty-eighth of Edward III. and died about Christmas, in 1372.


  The relation must be very ancient, because the author mentions bishops giving confirmation to children whilst on horseback, and trials of felons by water-ordeal. St. Thomas, he says, always alighted on such occasions, but administered the sacrament in the open air: and at several places where he was known to have alighted for this purpose, crosses were afterwards set up, and were famous for miracles. 
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Note 12. Lambarte in his Perambulation of Kent, anno 1565. [back]

Note 13. Weever’s Funeral Monuments, p. 202. [back]

Note 14. Stow’s Annals in Henry VIII. [back]

Note 15. Brasseur, Thes. Reliquiarum Hannoniæ, p. 199. [back]

Note 16. See Haverden’s True Church, part 3, c. 2, p. 314, where he answers the slanders of Lesley. [back]

Note 17. Numb. xxv. [back]

Note 18. Mark vi. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

SOURCE : http://www.bartleby.com/210/12/291.html

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