Yesterday was the Feast Day for Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who worked against King Henry II's attempts to secure the English church under royal authority. The conflict culminated in Becket's murder in Canterbury Cathedral.
So, I recalled that T. S. Eliot had a play about this, Murder in the Cathedral, and I had never read it. I thought, ah, what better way to spend an afternoon with a bad cold? I'll just curl up with a mug of tea and read for a bit. Or, several hours. That is, I read the play straight through and then flipped back to the beginning and read it again, aloud (yes, with a hoarse voice and stuffy head but it had to be done -- it's that good). I don't even know what to say, it's still fresh and new for me. Vivid. My favorite part, as of this moment, is the four Tempters but that's probably everyone's favorite part...
Meanwhile the substance of our first act
Will be shadows, and the strife with shadows.
The first three Tempters offer the usual things, and while I loved the poetry I was thinking...well, hmm, this seems too easy for Thomas. But the fourth is truly beguiling.
Thomas: What is your council?My thoughts at this point in reading: sirens blaring! This sounds way too good. Is he actually encouraging Thomas to be a martyr? On top of this, he's quite smarmy...he commends Thomas for rejecting the previous Tempters:
Tempter; Fare forward to the end,
All other ways are closed to you
Except the way already chosen.
But what is pleasure, kingly rule,I'm exasperated by this point. Oh, please. Spit it out already.
Or rule of man beneath a king,
With craft in corners, stealthy stratagem,
To general grasp of spiritual power?
Man oppressed by sin, since Adam fell --
You hold the keys of Heaven and Hell
Power to bind and loose; bind, Thomas, bind,
King and bishop under your heal...
...What can compare with glory of SaintsOh. I see. Painfully. It is the most artful lie, wrapped in so much truth. This Tempter offers the same things as the previous three, but does so by appealing to Becket's religious emotions. Yes, be a martyr...but for your beliefs and not for Christ -- making religion of religion. It is the crucial difference between right and almost right. And Thomas Becket sees it.
Dwelling forever in the presence of God?
What earthly glory, of king or emperor,
What earthly pride, that is not poverty,
Compared with richness of heavenly grandeur?
Thomas: The last temptation is the greatest treason;I think this play is now part of my Christmas readings. I'm not even sure what else to say, there's too much. Another reading is in order.
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he whoTechnorati Tags: Christianity, Literature
has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of
God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to