The collect for today, the Feast of St. Thomas Becket (1117-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr (source):
O Lord God,
who gavest to thy servant Thomas Becket
grace to put aside all earthly fear and be faithful even unto death:
grant that we, caring not for worldly esteem,
may fight against evil,
uphold thy rule,
and serve thee to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Epistle: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The Gospel: St. Luke 12:37-43
Thomas Becket was a close personal friend of King Henry II of England and served as his chancellor from 1155. When the Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1162, Henry, seeing an opportunity to exercise control over the church, decided to have his chancellor elected to the post. Thomas saw the dangers of the king’s plan and warned Henry that, if he became archbishop, his first loyalty would be to God and not the king. He told Henry, “Several things you do in prejudice of the rights of the church make me fear that you would require of me what I could not agree to.” What Thomas feared soon came to pass.
After becoming archbishop, Thomas changed radically from defender of the king’s privileges and policies into an ardent champion of the church. Unexpectedly adopting an austere way of life in near-monastic simplicity, he celebrated or attended Mass daily, studied Scripture, distributed alms to the needy, and visited the sick. He became just as obstinate in asserting the church’s interests as he had formerly been in asserting the king’s.
Thomas rejected Henry’s claim to authority over the English Church. Relations with the king deteriorated so seriously that Thomas left England and spent six years in exile in France. He realised that he had to return when the Archbishop of York and six other bishops crowned the heir to the throne, Prince Henry, in contravention of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rights and authority.
He returned to England with letters of papal support and immediately excommunicated the Archbishop of York and the six other bishops. On Christmas Day 1170 he publicly denounced them from the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral. It was these actions that prompted Henry’s infamous angry words, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”