Two Toms


Today we remember the martyr Thomas Becket. Once chancellor of England, he was murdered on this day in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral by agents of King Henry II.

A great way to remember him is to read or re-read T.S.Eliot’s 1953 verse drama Murder in the Cathedral. Eliot is probably the only modern playwright to attempt verse drama. The play is a great tale of the conflict of spiritual and temporal power as well as Becket’s personal road to sanctity and the temptations of ordinary men and women to avoid the way of sacrifice and justice.

Here is the last chorus:

Forgive us, O Lord, we acknowledge ourselves as type of the common man,

Of the men and women who shut the door and sit by the fire;

Who fear the blessing of God, the loneliness of the night of God, the surrender required, the deprivation inflicted;

Who fear the injustice of men less than the justice of God;

Who fear the hand at the window; the fire in the thatch, the fist in the tavern, the push into the canal,

Less than we fear the love of God.

We acknowledge our trespass; our weakness; our fault; we acknowledge

That the sin of the world is upon our heads, that the blood of the martyrs and the agony of the saints is upon our heads,

Lord, have mercy upon us

Christ, have mercy upon us

Lord, have mercy upon us

Blessed Thomas, pray for us.

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  • I have “Becket” on VHS–O’Toole and Burton at their best.Elliot rocks, too. I read “Prufrock” every year on my birthday.

  • Waste Land is the most anthologized. How the atheists love it. However Eliot dismissed it in later life with the comment..”It was written while I was insane.” or some such. I once phoned Faber and Faber to discuss quotation permission and found that ‘The Four Quartets’ are the work of Eliot’s which sells best. He would have been pleased. He thought them his best work and said, ‘My work stands or falls by them.”

  • Thinking this morning about God connecting the two great martyrs of England – Thomas Becket and Thomas More: Both Thomas, both Lord Chancellor, both killed by King Henry, both martyred for loyalty to the Person of Peter – and both needed today to intercede for strength and courage – for Bishops, Priests – and laity.

  • What positions, in particular, do you think inspired the formation of popular cult around Thomas so quickly after his assassination? I am not sure I get all of what T.S. Eliot is saying — what is it in the verses quoted on your post today from the M in the C that speaks to you? It’s a rather fearsome view of the love of God, isn’t it? Isn’t there more? So, just what does Becket stand for classically in Catholic hagiography? Certainly the political motivation could be mentioned, as has been picked up by the screenwriter of “Becket” — that Thomas a Becket was trying to assert “rights” and “liberties” that could serve as proto-constitutional a counter-weight to the unbridled power of the king — but that isn’t just where you’re coming from, is it? What role, if any, do you think the influence of Knights Templary played, which was so prominent in England at this time and also in the papal politics during Alexander III’s papacy? Was Thomas a Templar?(!)

  • Random thoughts…I remember a discussion on Catholic Answers about the fact that Becket’s feast is still observed by Anglicans, while More’s is not, for obvious reasons.More is the patron of the Co-Cathedral in my town. Interestingly enough, the one Anglican priest here who was received into the Church made his profession at that church!And More was a Secular Franciscan, to boot.

  • Owl of the Remove, I thought of the third Tom (More) as well this morning as I said Mass. There are many similarities.I think Becket’s cult sprang up quickly by popular acclaim rather like there is popular acclaims for Archbishop Romero in our day. He was well known and loved, and so much mourned.Eliot’s words in the excerpt quoted should not be treated as an exhaustive treatise on redemption or penance or the love of God, but as the sentiments of the people expressed in dramatic form. This is devotional art, not systematic theology.In Catholic hagiography (at least as expressed in the prayers for today)Becket stands as a martyr for justice and the proper rights of religion as opposed to an oppressive state.I know very little about the Knights Templar and nothing about their links with St Thomas Becket.