Little is known of Thomas a Beckett's early life. He was born in London in 1118 to a wealthy Norman family. He was not as movies or plays would suggest a Saxon, but he was a deacon in the church under the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobold. He was a very capable man and rose up to be chancellor under King Henry II. They became very good friends, and Henry had him elected Archbishop of Canterbury, which Thomas was reluctant to accept. As Archbishop he changed from being in his own words, "from a patron of play actors and a follower of hounds, to being a shepherd of souls." Instead of upholding King Henry's rights over the church, Archbishop Thomas stood up for the church's prerogatives, and their relationship became so strained, that the Archbishop went into exile for six years in France.After returning to England, the relationship between the two broke down, and in a fit of anger, King Henry asked his courtiers, "who will rid me of this troublesome priest." Taking this as an order, they found Archbishop Thomas at Canterbury Cathedral struck him down at vespers. His final words were, "Willingly I die for the name of Jesus and in defense of the church.
It is important that we know what fueled some of these fires. At the time we are talking, England had two sets of courts, and the church had much power. The house of Lords was dominated by abbots and bishops. One court was for the government, and the other court was run by the church. All clerics (employees of the church) went to the church court, which was much more lenient in its punishments than the secular court (which chopped off hands for stealing, etc.) There was a serious problem in having two sets of courts. On the other hand, the church should not be subservient to the king or government. It must be independent enough to call out the government when it does wrong.
Collect for the day: Emmanuel, you raised up Thomas a Becket to protect the church against the authorities of this world. Help us to remember that the church must be in subjection to you and your word, and not to the authorities or whims of this world: this we ask in the name of Yeshua haMoshiach, who took our nature upon himself to redeem it. Amen. (Red)