29 December 2020

Bishop Becket

Some years ago, I was in Bodley leisurely following one of my heroes, the magnificent John Grandisson, Bishop (1328-1369) of Exeter. I had in my hands a Vita by him about S Thomas Becket, which I found quite a revelation. King Henry, I discovered, imposed the most horrific penalties ... deaths, blindings and maimings ...  upon anybody doing such a thing as conveying a papal bull into this kingdom. King Henry (II) was set upon sundering the Unity of Christendom by dealing with imperially-nominated antipopes.

Not being a historian, I had had some vague idea that Becket stood up to Henry II in defense of the principles surrounding investiture ... and such stuff. That half hour in Bodley deciphering (I am not a historian!!) C14 script helped me to understand still better the degree to which I and my generation were fed a diet of The History of England Rendered Gentlemanly. But another surprise lay before me.

For no particular reason, before strolling off for a wee break, I turned to the beginning of the book. In doing so, I found I had moved from the Mediaeval world, its crabbed script and its distant preoccupations, into the purest Renaissance. A previous owner had written his name, in elegant Italian script:

Reginaldus Pole

Click click click ... you can imagine the connections which instantly formed in my mind. The parallels between the two iniquitous Kings Henry. Pole's own martyred Mother, Blessed Margaret. The courage of the Cornish and Devonish peasantry in 1549, demanding that the Lord Cardinal Pole be brought back to England and made the First in the Council of little Edward IV "because he is of the King's Blood" ... how the 'Uncles', the seedy and murderous Lords of the Council must have trembled at that idea!

I gather that today is the 850th anniversary of the death of the blissful Martyr of Canterbury. And that Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols will be commemorating this event together. Or has the Plague put paid to that plan?

In the months after the erection of the Ordinariate, I recall a dear friend, Mgr Andrew Wadsworth, saying to me how privileged we were going to be to enter into the inheritance of the Martyres Duacenses. How right he was; and his words were among the very few uttered in my hearing during that period which are worth remembering. The names of the English Martyrs are of the essence of the English Catholic Church ... their names as English as their blood.

When the Holy See granted Arms to the See of Westminster, it granted exactly the arms born by the mediaeval Archbishops of Canterbury, except that the background colour (the field) was changed from blue to the red of the Martyrs. Martyrdom also links English Catholicism with Byzantine Christianity: look at any Byzantine Calendar and see how, day after day, one celebrates, not (as in the West) yet another Confessor Bishop, but a Martyr or a group of Martyrs, from the earliest days down through the Turkish oppression to the time of Stalin and beyond.

S John Henry Newman saw this truth: in his great encomium on the English Martyrs (in The Second Spring) he even concluded by wondering if Martyrdom might still await the English Catholic clergy. " ... calmy, gracefully, sweetly, joyously, you would mount up and ride forth to the battle, as on the rush of Angels' wings, as your fathers did before you, and gained the prize. You, who day by day offer up the Immaculate Lamb of God, you who hold in your hands the Incarnate Word under the visible tokens which He has ordained, you who again and again drain the chalice of the Great Victim; who is to make you fear?"

I do not quite see how poor Welby, in whose veins flows the purest liquor of the Zeitgeist, is an appropriate man to commemorate as great a Martyr as S Thomas Becket. I have nothing ill to say about Cardinal Nichols, who was so shabbily treated by IICSA. But when the See of Westminster does receive a successor, I hope it will be a Pontiff who authentically and vibrantly represents the Holy Spirit of martyrion against this Age.

Spero fore ut nuntius apostolicus saepe itinera salopiam fecerit.



Abigail said...

Yet again and inspiration Father!

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Dear Father Hunwicke,

Happy Feast! Those of us free to say the Office of Pope S Pius X have celebrated this day as Double. Others, bound by worthy disciplines, as only a Commemoration. Yet others, who, since Summorum Pontificum, are not bound to so restrict their filial duties, have observed our Martyr merely as an ‘optional memorial’. How very sad, when we need his prayers, and his honour, so much in our own day, as you so eloquently explain.

Saint Thomas à Becket, pray for us.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Thank you, Father Hunwicke, for such a marvelous, serendipitously discovered historical parallel! God bless you and Happy Christmas!!
Stephanie A. Mann
Wichita, Kansas USA

Arthur Gallagher said...

President Trump, defender of religious freedom and the pro-life cause, has issued a Presidential Proclamation, in commemoration of St. Thomas A Becket!

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Well, the alleged Second Spring did not turn out to be either all that long-lived or verdant in the end, did it?

Even great men such as Newman can be wrong.

I think it is yet to arrive.


Ben of the Bayou said...

Dear Father,

On the subject of the Saint, I wish to commend heartily to you the texts that Dom Gueranger collected in his voluminous The Liturgical Year for the feast of Saint Thomas. He has substantial information about those liturgical texts, including a charming prose composition from the Salisbury Breviary.

Very best wishes for a happy Christmas and a hopeful New Year.


William Tighe said...

Concerning the above, the closest I can come to that experience is to say that I have held in my hands, while reading it in the British Library, the letter that Cardinal Pole dictated on his deathbed on November 17, 1558 and signed with a very shaky hand, in which he acknowledged Elizabeth I's succession to the throne and wished God's guidance and blessings upon her. [Mary Tudor died at around 7 am that morning as Mass was being said at her bedside, - during the Agnus Dei IIRC - while Cardinal Pole died around 7 pm on that same day.)

dunstan said...

'Twas Edward VIth not IVth No doubt a deliberate mistake to prove you are not in thrall to Clio.
But who am I to talk? You may remember me confusing your eldest daughter about kings of Jerusalem who all seemed to be called Baldwin!

E sapelion said...

Casting about for later developments in this long tale of English king versus the pope, I was surprised to reach this comment in Wikipedia :-
As of the Criminal Law Act 1967 coming into effect, praemunire facias is no longer an offence in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.