Thomas a Becket
Albert of Gambron, OSB Abbot (AC)
7th century. Disenchanted with the life of court, Albert became a hermit and later the abbot-founder of the small abbey of Gambron- sur-l'Authion. Here the Rules of Saint Benedict and Saint Columbanus were simultaneously observed (Benedictines).
Callistus, Felix, and Boniface MM (RM)
Date unknown. This trio is named in all the Western martyrologies, yet nothing is known but their names and the fact that they met their death in Rome (Benedictines).
David, King and Prophet (RM)
10th century BC; celebrated in the Eastern Church on December 19. King of Judah and Israel, founder of the Judean dynasty at Jerusalem, King David is a world in himself; national hero as a youth, soldier, reformer, father, writer, sinner, and penitent. There is nothing better than reading the Bible (1 and 2 Kings; 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 and 2 Chronicles) to see what he was like, to appreciate his humanity, and to delight in his poetry. He was known as "the beloved of God" and "the man after God's own heart." He is one of the types of Christ in the Old Testament and, indeed, one of the most lovable characters in history (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Dominic and Companions MM (RM)
Date unknown. Dominic, Victor, Primian, Lybosus, Saturninus, Crescentius, Secundus, and Honoratus were martyred in Africa (Benedictines).
Ebrulf of Ouche, Abbot (RM)
(also known as Evroul, Evroult, Ebrulfus)
Born in Bayeux, Normandy, in 517; died 596; feast commemorating the translation of his relics is kept at Deeping Abbey in England on August 30. Like Saint Albert, Ebrulf was a Merovingian courtier. He arranged for his wife to be safe from need (she may have entered a convent) and left the court of King Childebert I to became a monk at the nearby abbey of Deux Jumeaux. Later he and a small group of companions became hermits in the forest of Ouche in Normandy, where they lived an austere life. After Ebrulf converted a band of robbers to the faith, he established a small monastery there. As the numbers swelled, several other small houses were founded. Their rule emphasized manual labor as a means of earning a livelihood and a way to serve God. Ebrulf had a strong cultus in England until the feast of Thomas Becket took precedence. Four abbots from Saint-Evroul Abbey ruled English monasteries in the 11th and 12th centuries and brought with them Ebrulf's relics. (Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Farmer).
Girald of Fontenelle, OSB, Abbot (AC)
(also known as Girard, Giraud)
Died 1031. Girald was a Benedictine monk at Lagny and later the abbot of Saint-Arnoul. Richard IV, duke of Normandy, enlisted his services as abbot of Fontenelle. While he was abbot, he was murdered by one of his monks, who had enough of his remarks (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Marcellus Akimetes (the Righteous), Abbot (RM)
Born in Apamea, Syria; died near Constantinople, c. 485. Marcellus joined a group of monks called Akoimetoi or "non-rester." They are so called because they recited the divine office in relays throughout the day and night without stopping. Marcellus became the third abbot of their chief monastery, Eirenaion, at Constantinople. He placed special emphasis on poverty and manual labor. Under his leadership the Akimetes grew in number and influence. Marcellus was among those present for the Council of Chalcedon (Attwater, Benedictines).
Blessed Peter de Montboissier, OSB Abbot (PC)
(also known as Peter the Venerable)
Born in Auvergne, France, in 1092; died at Cluny on December 25, 1156; feast day formerly on December 25.
Peace was the greatest virtue of Peter de Montboissier, who was born of a noble Auvergne family. Peter was educated at Sauxillanges (a Cluniac monastery) and made his profession about 1109. A few months after the death of Saint Hugh, fourth of the great abbots of Cluny, Peter was sent to Vezelay, first as a student and then, from age 20, as the prior.
In 1120, he was named prior of the monastery of Domene near Grenoble, France, where the proximity of La Grande Chartreuse allowed him to get acquainted with the sons of St. Bruno, a remarkable friendship that sustained him during the course of his heavy burdens.
On August 22, 1122, he was elected abbot of Cluny (age 30). At the news Peter sighed, "Please God that they might have made a better choice." Meanwhile others remarked pityingly about his youth--a fault that time cures even among monks. Nevertheless, Peter generously accepted the "bondage of authority" though he would have preferred the "liberty of obedience." It was a huge task because Cluny Abbey at that time governed 400 monks in the monastery in addition to 2,000 houses all over Europe--reaching into Asia.
Nevertheless, Peter was one of the most eminent churchmen of his age, and during the 34 years of his governance Cluny retained its position as the greatest and most influential abbey in Christendom. Peter succeeded in regulating abbey finances and raising the standards of studies. He himself was a poet and theological writer of distinction.
In 1124 (or 1125) Peter returned from visiting the Aquitaine and was faced with an armed force led by Pontius, the abbot he had succeeded, who took over Cluny while he was away. For months he had to retake the abbey and assure himself of sufficient resources. Without allowing himself to become too absorbed in material tasks, he centered his efforts on the reform of the cloistral discipline, the frequent meetings of general chapters, and the progress of studies. He promulgated statues full of wisdom and good sense on the observances and monastic liturgy. Both Peter and Pontius were summoned to Rome, where Pope Honorius II sentenced Pontius to prison.
In the interests of the Church and Cluny, Peter made several voyages: six to Rome, two to Spain (one in 1139), and even to England (1130). His delicate health could not withstand the effort. He could not stand the climate of Italy, and each trip to Rome seemed to him to be literally formidable, that is, dreadful, for he had to pass through the "Alpine glaciers and their ancient horror." Further south, everything went against him, "ailments and elements." "The air of Rome generally causes early death among people from my land," he wrote the pope.
Peter then became involved in a controversy with Saint Bernard, who accused Cluny of too relaxed a rule--a charge that led Peter to put into effect reforms in the Cluniac houses. One of Peter's greatest concerns was the protection of the traditions of Cluny, attacked by the rather narrow dynamism of the Cistercian orders that wanted to be faithful to the letter of the monastic rule. In this painful conflict between black monks and white monks, the gentle abbot of Cluny would have to withstand the burning zeal of Bernard. Dom Peter himself recognized that, with the Abbot of Clairvaux, he was "the one who always gave in to the one who never gave in." A good sign, as Someone said, "and if anyone would go to law with thee and take thy tunic, let him take thy cloak as well; and whoever forces thee to go for one mile, go with him two" (Matt. 5:40-41).
Thus, when we look at the life and message of Abbot Peter, we always return to the theme of peace, serenity, and charity. Without a doubt St. Bernard established peace between parties, cities, and opposing lords, but at the price of battles and harshness. Bernard never accepted defeat, and he pushed his will right to the end with an intrepid faith but also with an obstinate zeal. Peter and Bernard got along passably well outside of the crusades and councils. Perhaps in Peter's gentleness and quiet goodness lies the best proof of his concept of man.
Bernard, on the contrary, by seeking, in effect, the continual triumph of the spirit over the body, lived in a state of constant tension and struggle. Impenitent scuffler and fiery integrator that he was, Bernard thundered out condemnations and excommunications. From the Rule of St. Benedict, Bernard was quick to single out the instructions to apply to rebellious and hard- hearted monks: "the blight of excommunication, beatings with rods, the iron which strikes."
Peter preferred other instructions from the same Chapter 28 of the Rule of St. Benedict, more gentle and efficacious: "the unguents of exhortation, the remedy of the Divine Scriptures and, what is worth even more, his prayers and those of all his brothers"; and above all that order St. Benedict gives the abbot: "Be loved rather than feared." Peter, like his Master, knew what was inside man; he benefitted from the wise equilibrium born of respect of concrete reality, and he waited in peace, without false calmness but in a firm hope, for the triumph of God. His zeal was transformed into indulgence and patience.
He offered Peter Abelard (of Heloise and Abelard fame) shelter at Cluny in 1140, convinced the pope to lighten Abelard's sentence and reconciled Bernard and Abelard.
Peter wrote against Petrobrusian heretics in southern France, defended the Jews, attended the synod of Rheims that denounced the teachings of Bishop Gilbert de la Porree, and had a voluminous correspondence with his contemporaries.
He ruled Cluny for 34 years, during which the monastery was the greatest and most influential in Christendom. There is no doubt the Peter of Cluny chose to die on December 25 because he wished to be obscure--for 30 years he prayed and asked others to pray for his death of the feast of the Incarnation. Yearly he went to the saints of Chartreuse, whom he greatly loved, and asked them to entreat the Lord for this favor.
Dom Peter knew that true strength is not violence, but gentleness; and he will obtain for us these graces of every day, which are not small because they make us live, we and everyone else, in peace. He knew it was better to be a saint, than to be called a saint. For his smiling seriousness, his understanding of human nature transformed by the mystery of the Incarnation, his humor, his gentle goodness, Peter deserves our veneration.
He died at Cluny after preaching about the Solemnity of Christmas to his monks, and was buried at the very southern end of the ambulatory in the abbey church. His tomb was violated in 1562 and razed in 1792, but some remains were discovered in 1931, concealed in the stable. Though his cult has never been formally approved, he is venerated in the diocese of Arras and is included in French martyrologies (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).
Thomas Becket (of Canterbury) BM (RM)
Born in London (Cheapside), England, 1118; died in Canterbury, England, 1170; canonized 1173.
It is significant that Henry VIII, when he broke away from the Church and appointed himself the head of the church in England, should have elected to remove Thomas, who had died four centuries earlier, from the long calendar of English saints. St. Thomas died for the rights of the Church, under the then reigning king, Henry II, which his successor finally abrogated. In the 16th century his shrine, which had been a major pilgrimage site for 400 years, was destroyed and the relics that it contained were burned (although some say they were transferred to Stoneyhurst).
Thomas stands for the principle of God against Caesar. Somewhere between these two points, between these respective duties, comes a dividing line, where the territories meet. A man of conscience must decide on which side he will stand. It is the old conflict between Church and State. It was on that difficult border line that Thomas was called upon to live and die.
What he resisted in those early years, other men did not see or understand, but he foresaw the dangers ahead that eventually overwhelmed the Church in England. It reached its full climax when Crammer was elected archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. The same conflict goes on today elsewhere, under other forms, though Christ foretold that Satan will not finally overcome the Church.
Thomas was born into an ordinary, hard-working Norman family and was baptized the same day. As he grew, his mother Matilda used to weigh the child and give the same amount of bread to the poor that the scales showed--a generous form of charity. His father Gilbert, the sheriff of London, ensured that Thomas was given a good, well- rounded education. First, he was sent as a student to the monks at Merton Abbey in Surrey, then to London, and later went to the University of Paris, returning to England when he was 21.
He was tall and handsome, with keen features, loved good living and fine clothing, and was fond of outdoor sport, so he made many friends as a young man and left his mark. All remarked upon his purity of life. He loved the lovely things of God, the noble horse, the swift flying falcon, and God looked upon him with pleasure.
His father's death left him in straitened circumstances. So, from about 1142, he was employed as a clerk at the court of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. Because of his noble bearing, his shrewdness and capability, the archbishop himself noticed him. He began to trust him more with important documents, to confide in him and eventually won his friendship. He took him into his regular service, travelling together on the king's business, they visited France and Rome and various parts of the Continent. Thus Thomas came into contact with the highest in the land, even became a close friend of the king himself, who like the archbishop took a fancy to him.
About this time Thomas obtained permission to study canon and civil law at Bologna and Auxerre, which afterward fitted him well for the work he was to undertake. He was awarded for his many services by the benefices of several churches, as was customary in those days, though he was not yet a priest.
In 1154, while still quite young, Thomas was ordained a deacon and appointed archdeacon of Canterbury. In this position, Archbishop Theobald used him as a negotiator with the Crown. Thomas became a favorite of Henry of Anjou when he convinced Pope Eugene III not to recognize the succession of King Stephen of Blois' son, Eustace, thus ensuring Henry's right to the English throne as Henry II.
The following year (1155), at Theobald's suggestion, Thomas was made Chancellor of England, a post in which he loyally served Henry II for seven years as statesman, diplomat, and soldier. Thomas's personal efficiency, lavish entertainment, and support for the king's interests even, on occasion, against those of the Church, made him an outstanding royal official.
All these dignities were a wonderful ascent, but Thomas rose rapidly to power by his ability and by his magnetic personality, which all who associated with him remarked upon. The state of the country improved greatly under his rule as chancellor; his business was to administer the law and this he did with impartiality to all alike, to churchmen as well as laymen.
God brought this servant along a strange and long road, preparing step by step the instrument of his design, as he does with every individual according to the plan of life and work he has chosen for him.
When the king selected him for his final post, being his close friend, he must have thought he would have an obedient tool, which he could use as he wished. He had made a wrong choice to carry out his evil designs. He wished to curb the power of the Church, to regulate her benefices to make appointments to suit himself, in fact to take from the Church the rights which were peculiarly her own. Though Thomas had outwardly appeared worldly, he loved rather the things of God and His Church. "If you make me Archbishop," he said, "you will regret it. You say you love me now; well that love will turn to hatred."
So it came about as he had foretold. When accepting the office of archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, he took over the authority--his training and character fitted him for so high a dignity but henceforth he would be a different man; from the day of his election he completely changed. He had served the king, now he was to serve the King of kings, where glory lies in discipline and humility. To Henry's amazement and annoyance, Thomas resigned the chancellorship and was ordained a priest the day before his episcopal consecration.
He had not wished to be made archbishop, but when the office fell to him, his style of life changed radically. As Thomas put it, he changed from being "a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds, to being a shepherd of souls." Now that he was a priest he lived as one, putting aside all the costly robes he used as Chancellor; he wore the habit of a monk.
Every morning he said his Mass in the cathedral with great devotion and even with tears, as those who saw him testify. Nightly he took part in the divine office that was chanted by the community of monks, of which he was the head. He was also profuse in alms- giving. Daily he attended to the business in hand, which must have been very great, since now he was primate of England.
Now that he was archbishop, he intended to carry out the proper duties of his state in life. These included the paternal care of the king's soul, tactlessly and annoyingly presented by his former friend.
There were many abuses to rectify, disputes about church lands and property, clergy who were not ready to forego their privileges. Some of his own prelates were rebellious; their relatives, who were closely related and supporters of the king, made trouble. In fact, two of the major points of conflict with Henry concerned the respective jurisdictions of church and state over clergymen convicted of crimes, and the freedom to appeal to Rome. On account of the alienation of church lands, Thomas, who knew the state of affairs better than anyone else, predicted trouble; it was not long in coming to a head.
In the controversy, Henry claimed to be acting according to the customs of his grandfather that were codified in the Constitutions of Clarendon. In the view of Henry's mother, Matilda, this codification was a mistake. It also failed to take into account such recent developments as the Gregorian Reform and the investiture controversy. Becket accepted these Constitutions at first, but after understanding their implications, rejected them. Thus ensured the conflict.
At the famous assembly at Northampton in 1164, Thomas faced his opponents. He foresaw that many of the knights would not be willing to fall in with his decrees, that they would even go so far as to do away with him, if it suited their purpose; he was courageous and unmoved by their threats: "If I am murdered," he told the bishops, "I enjoin you to lay the interdict upon these districts." The king, who was also present, lost his temper and showed his real purpose in the former election: "You are my man," he said, "I raised you from nothing and now you defy me."
"Sir," said Thomas, "Peter was raised from nothing yet he ruled the Church." "Yes," replied the king, "but Peter died for his Lord." "I, too, will die for him when the time comes," answered Thomas.
"You will not yield to me then?" asked the king. "I will not, Sir," answered Thomas.
Seeing there could be no solution, Thomas thought it best to accept exile rather than any compromise with Henry II over the rights of the Church. Perhaps the king would see reason and then grant the Church her rights. Thomas left the country and took refuge in France, where he remained for over six years. Upon the pope's recommendation, Thomas entered the Cistercian monastery at Pontigny, until Henry threatened to eliminate all Cistercian monks from his realm if they continued to harbor Thomas. Then, in 1166, he moved to Saint Columba Abbey at Sens, which was under the protection of King Louis VII of France.
Both sides appealed to Pope Alexander III, who tried hard to find an acceptable solution. The conflict grew more bitter as Henry seemed bent on Thomas's ruin and Thomas censured the king's supporters and even attempted to obtain an interdict.
At last King Louis VII of France persuaded Henry II to go to Thomas and make peace but no promises were made on either side. Henry thought that on his return Thomas would not press his claims. Henry admitted the freedom of appeals to Rome, but kept the real power with himself.
Scarcely had Thomas been welcomed back to his community in England when on December 1, 1170, they began to quarrel again. When Henry heard, in Normandy, that the pope had excommunicated the recalcitrant bishops for usurping the rights of the archbishop of Canterbury and that Thomas would not release them until they swore obedience to the pope, he flew into a violent, reckless rage, saying: "Is there no one who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" These were words spoken in anger and not intentional; however, four knights who were with the king, determined to take matters into their own hands. They took ship and crossed to England at once. It was in Advent and Christmas was approaching.
On December 29, 1170, four knights with a troop of soldiers appeared outside Canterbury Cathedral demanding to see the archbishop. They were determined to murder Archbishop Becket, believing they had the blessing of Henry II to do so.
With a few priest attendants, for most of the community of monks were in the church saying vespers, the archbishop was in the palace adjoining, attending to business. Sensing trouble they at first urged him, then eventually forced him against his will to go into the church, not only to avoid the rabble but to find sanctuary there, closing the doors behind them. Thomas forbade them under obedience to close the doors: "A church must not be turned into a castle," he said.
"Why do you behave so?" he asked. "What do you fear?" "They can do naught but what God permits."
In the semi-darkness, for it was past dusk at that time of the year, the knights with drawn swords forcing their way into the church demanded angrily, "Where is the traitor, where is the archbishop?"
"Here I am," said Thomas, "no traitor but a priest of God. I wonder that in such attire you have entered into the church of God. What is it you want with me?" One of the knights raised his sword as if to strike the holy man, but his companion stretching out his arm, shielded the blow.
"Put up your sword," said St. Thomas, "not such is the defense the Lord would have."
The knights rushing forward together perpetrated their foul deed-- they slew St. Thomas on the steps of his own sanctuary and scattered his brains upon the floor. As he was killed by successive blows, Thomas repeated the names of those archbishops martyred before him: Saint Denis and Saint Elphege of Canterbury. Then he said, "Into Your hand, O Lord, I commend my spirit."
His last words, according to one eye-witness, were: "Willingly I die for the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church."
Near to the high-altar, where the seat was, upon which he and all his predecessors from time immemorial had been enthroned, he was martyred and gave up his soul to God. Every step of his martyrdom is linked with that of the Passion of Christ; from the incident in the cloister-garth, where he was first apprehended with his few companions, to his burial in the tomb, which was newly hewn out of the rock. In truth there is a marvelous similitude between the deaths of Master and servant that his early biographers, voicing the sentiments of the common people, were not slow to use.
All Christendom was aghast. Henry was forced to do public penance for the murder of Thomas, including the construction of the monastery at Witham in Somerset, described in the life of Saint Hugh of Lincoln.
Many miracles followed immediately upon his death. Within ten years, 703 miracles were recorded. He was universally acclaimed a saint even before his canonization by Pope Alexander III, two years after his death. Thomas was not flawless; he was imperious and obstinate, ambitious and violent. Yet all the time more exalted qualities were also exhibited. The years of exile at Pontigny and Sens were a time of preparation for the final ordeal.
Thomas was a martyr for Christ, most like to him in his death. The solemn translation of the relics to a new shrine behind the high altar took place in the year 1220 (July 7). The ceremony was the most magnificent ever seen and people came from all over Europe to assist at it.
The shrine-tomb of St. Thomas Becket was of unparalleled splendor, perhaps the richest in the whole world. Nothing of it now remains for it was plundered of all its riches during the reign of Henry VIII. It has been thus described: "All above the stonework was first of wood, jewels of gold set with stone, covered with plates of gold, wrought upon with gold wire, then again with jewels, gold as brooches, images, angels, rings, ten or twelve together, clawed with gold into the ground of gold. The spoils of which filled to chests, such as six or eight men could but convey one out of the Church. At one side was a stone with an angel of gold, pointing thereunto, offered there by a king of France, which king Henry put into a ring and wore on his thumb" (Morris).
St. Thomas was a fearless champion of truth and righteousness, against wicked and unscrupulous men. Even the king made reparation and did penance at his shrine. He teaches us that we must be prepared to face persecution and even death for our faith and for the rights of the Church against the state.
In most European countries today the state is supreme--God and religion have no place. We are soldiers of Christ, confirmed and anointed with the holy chrism; let us be strong and fearless then in our endeavor. Pray to St. Thomas in your present need. He died for the faith for which we should all live (Abbott, Attwater, Belloc, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Duggan, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Hope, Hutton, Knowles, Morris, Murray, Speaight, Tancred, White).
St. Thomas is generally portrayed as an archbishop killed at the altar by three knights, his crucifer by him. There can be differences. Sometimes (1) there is only one knight, (2) there is a candle-bearer by him, (3) he has a sword in his bleeding head, (4) the tail of his horse is cut off as he rides through Rochester, (5) angels sing Laetabitur justus at his requiem, (6) he is consecrated in the presence of the king, or (7) he is accompanied by his crucifer in the presence of the Pope. He is venerated at Sens (Roeder).
Trophimus of Arles B (RM)
Died c. 280. Trophimus, the first bishop of Arles whose cathedral of St. Trophime now honors his memory, is often confused with the Trophimus mentioned by St. Paul. The bishop Trophimus was sent from Rome to Gaul about 240-260. Saint Gregory of Tours (died 594) testifies that Trophimus was one of several bishops associated with Saint Sernin of Toulouse, who founded the famous sees of France.
The cultus of Trophimus is ancient. Writing to the bishops of Gaul in 417, Pope Zozimus mentioned him as being sent by the papacy to preach and found the church of Arles. His church contains a 3rd century crypt, which was discovered in 1835.
Paul's disciple was a gentile convert from Ephesus who accompanied the Apostle on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:4) and to Jerusalem, where his presence (as a gentile) in the Temple provoked violent protests against Paul that almost resulted in his death (Acts 21:26-36). Paul mentions him again in 2 Timothy 4:20, saying he "left Trophimus ill at Miletus."
Since the Synod of Arles in 452, the church of Provence has identified their first bishop with St. Paul's disciple, but this is clearly an impossibility. In essence, both are honored today because of the confusion (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer).
In art, St. Trophimus is a bishop carrying his eyes. The picture may show (1) his eyes being put out, (2) him with lions, or (3) surrounded by the Apostles. (He was identified with the Trophimus who was a disciple of St. Paul.) He is the patron of children and invoked against drought (Roeder).
Blessed William Howard M (AC)
Born 1616; died in London, England, in 1680; beatified in 1929. Viscount William of Stafford was the grandson of Saint Philip Howard. He was accused of complicity in the "Popish Plot" and after being imprisoned for two years was beheaded on Tower Hill (Benedictines).
About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.