Happy feast of St. Thomas Becket! 🙌
Pres. Trump issued a Dec. 29 proclamation honoring the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of English archbishop, scholar, and statesman St. Thomas Becket as “a lion of religious liberty.”
The president said he “invites the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches and customary places of meeting with appropriate ceremonies in commemoration of the life and legacy of Thomas Becket.”
“Before the Magna Carta was drafted, before the right to free exercise of religion was enshrined as America’s first freedom in our glorious Constitution, Thomas gave his life so that, as he said, ‘the Church will attain liberty and peace.’”
Pres. Trump then described Archbishop St. Thomas Becket’s heroic story, who “rose to become the leader of the Church in England.”
The Story of St. Thomas Becket
King Henry II appointed priest friend and archdeacon Thomas Becket as Lord Chancellor of England. Becket later resigned after becoming Archbishop, and King Henry attempted to usurp the Church and implement government control through the Constitutions of Clarendon.
Becket refused to sign the document, infuriating King Henry.
Archbishop Becket responded, “God is the supreme ruler, above Kings” and “we ought to obey God rather than men.”
Since Becket did not obey King Henry’s orders, “he was forced to forfeit his own property and flee his country.”
Years later, the Pope intervened and allowed him to return to England. However, Becket continued to refuse the state’s religious orders.
King Henry said, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
The king’s knights then rode to Canterbury Cathedral with an ultimatum: obey the King’s orders or die. St. Thomas Becket chose the latter.
On Dec. 29, 1170, St. Thomas Becket said this upon his death in Canterbury Cathedral after praying Vespers: “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”
Pope Alexander III canonized St. Thomas Becket just two years after his death.
Pres. Trump said this of St. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom:
“Thomas Becket’s martyrdom changed the course of history. It eventually brought about numerous constitutional limitations on the power of the state over the Church across the West.
“In England, Becket’s murder led to the Magna Carta’s declaration 45 years later that: “[T]he English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.”
“When the Archbishop refused to allow the King to interfere in the affairs of the Church, Thomas Becket stood at the intersection of church and state.
“That stand, after centuries of state-sponsored religious oppression and religious wars throughout Europe, eventually led to the establishment of religious liberty in the New World.”
“It is because of great men like Thomas Becket that the first American President George Washington could proclaim more than 600 years later that, in the United States, ‘All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship’ and that ‘it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.'”
“Thomas Becket’s death serves as a powerful and timeless reminder to every American that our freedom from religious persecution is not a mere luxury or accident of history, but rather an essential element of our liberty. It is our priceless treasure and inheritance. And it was bought with the blood of martyrs.”
“We pray for religious believers everywhere who suffer persecution for their faith. We especially pray for their brave and inspiring shepherds — like Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu — who are tireless witnesses to hope.
“To honor Thomas Becket’s memory, the crimes against people of faith must stop, prisoners of conscience must be released, laws restricting freedom of religion and belief must be repealed, and the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed must be protected.
“The tyranny and murder that shocked the conscience of the Middle Ages must never be allowed to happen again. As long as America stands, we will always defend religious liberty.
“A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.”