Thomas was a tall, handsome, intelligent, young legal clerk. He had a magnetic personality and made friends easily. His remarkable memory and business ability attracted the attention of the archbishop. The archbishop brought him to Canterbury. Noticing that Thomas was an excellent speaker and could solve complicated problems, he felt Thomas would be a good match for the King of England, Henry II. At the archbishop’s recommendation, Thomas was made chancellor of England, a post he held for eight years.
Thomas loved his life. He spent money on clothes, entertainment, hunting, and good times. A strong friendship developed between him and the king. Unfortunately Henry II wanted complete control of his kingdom, including the Church. He wanted to take some powers away from the Church, and he needed an archbishop to support him. Henry believed Thomas could do this. Thomas objected to the plan, but Henry had his way. Thomas became archbishop of Canterbury.
Faced with the responsibility of leading the people of God, Thomas changed his manner of living. He resigned as chancellor, sold his mansion, and went to live in a monastery. He sold his rich clothes and furnishings and gave the money to the poor. His personality was the same, but more noticeable were his generosity and determination to protect the Church. Thomas opposed Henry’s taxation of the Church. He refused to allow Henry to make Church appointments that suited him and blocked his other attempts to control the Church.
The king turned on the archbishop, threatening imprisonment and death. Thomas fled to France and took refuge in a Cistercian monastery for six years. Both Thomas and the king appealed to the pope. After the pope condemned some of Henry’s demands, Thomas returned to England.
There was peace until Henry had his son crowned by bishops who suppported him instead of the archbishop of Canterbury who had the right to do so. When the pope cut these bishops off from the Church, Thomas upheld that decision. One night, in a rage, the humiliated king exclaimed before his knights, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four knights rode to the monastery where Thomas lived. They did not succeed in making Thomas change what he believed was his obedience to the pope. When Thomas went into the cathedral to pray, the monks begged him to lock the doors. Thomas insisted that they remain unbolted. The knights entered the cathedral and murdered Thomas near the high altar by the bishop’s chair. Thomas’s last words were, “I accept death for the name of Jesus and for the Church.”
People called Thomas a saint, and Henry II did public penance to be absolved. Miracles were reported to occur at Thomas’s tomb and many pilgrimages were made there. Thomas was the most famous martyr of the Middle Ages.
St. Thomas, pray that we have the courage to stand for what is right!
Image credit: The Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket by unknown artist, 1250. Public Domain via Wikimedia.