Agnus Deo Immolandus

Alabaster relief in the British Museum, showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Tag reads: "Alabaster showing Becket's martyrdom." and "About 1450-1500, England, Alabaster. PE 1890.0809.1".
Alabaster relief in the British Museum, showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Tag reads: “Alabaster showing Becket’s martyrdom.” and “About 1450-1500, England, Alabaster. PE 1890.0809.1”.

Cantuariae, in Anglia, natalis sancti Thomae, Episcopi et Martyris, qui, ob defensionem justitiae et ecclesiasticae immunitatis, in Basilica sua, ab impiorum hominum factione percussus gladio, Martyr migravit ad Christum.

Roman Martyrology, 29 December.

(80.) Postquam autem intra fores ecclesiae monachi se receperant, jam dicti milites quatuor cursu rapidissimo post terga secuti sunt. Affuit inter illos subdiaconus quidam, eadem qua milites armatus malitia, Hugo Malus-clericus merito suae nequitiae cognominatus, qui nec Deo nec sanctis reverentiam exhiberet; quod sequens factum probavit. Intranti vero monasterium sancto archiepiscopo, omissis vesperis quas Deo libare inceperant, occurrunt monachi glorificantes Deum quod patrem suum, quem exstinctum audierant, vivum cernerent et incolumem. Valvas etiam ecclesiae repagulando hostes a nece pastoris arcere festinant. Ad quos conversus athleta mirabilis imperat ecclesiae januas aperiri, “Non decet,” inquiens, “orationis domum, ecclesiam Christi, turrem facere, quae, etsi non claudatur, suis sufficit ad munimen; et nos patiendo potius quam pugnando triumphabimus hostem, qui et pati venimus, non repugnare.” Nec mora, sacrilegi gladiis evaginatis ingrediuntur domum pacis ac reconciliationis, solo quidem aspectu et armorum strepitu non modicum horroris cernentibus ingerentes. Turbatisque qui aderant ac tumultuantibus, (jam enim qui vespertinis intenderant laudibus ad lethale spectaculum accurrerant,) in spiritu furoris milites exclamaverunt, “Ubi est Thomas Beketh, proditor regis et regni?” Quo non respondente, instantius vociferati sunt, dicentes, “Ubi est archiepiscopus?” Ad hanc vocem intrepidus quidem et, ut scriptum est, “Justus quasi leo confidens absque terrore erit,” occurrit e gradu quo delatus fuerat a monachis metu militum, et satis audibili sermone respondit: “Ecce adsum, non regis proditor, sed sacerdos; quid me quaeritis?” et qui se eos non timere jam antea dixerat, adjunxit, “Ecce praesto sum in nomine Ejus pati qui me sanguine suo redemit; absit ut propter gladios vestros fugiam, aut a justitia recedam.” Quo dicto divertit in dextram sub columna, hinc habens altare beatae Dei genetricis et perpetuae virginis Mariae, illinc vero sancti confessoris Benedicti; quorum exemplo et suffragiis crucifixus mundo et concupiscentiis ejus, tanta animi constantia ac si in carne non esset, quicquid carnifex inferebat, sustinuit ac superavit. Quem insecuti carnifices, “Absolve,” inquiunt, “et communioni restitue quos excommunicasti, et caeteris officium redde qui suspensi sunt.” Quibus ille, “Nulla,” ait, “satisfactio praecessit, nec eos absolvam.” “Et tu,” inquiunt, “modo morieris, suscipiens quod meruisti.” “Et ego,” ait, “pro Domino meo paratus sum mori, ut in meo sanguine ecclesia libertatem consequatur et pacem; sed meis, sive clerico sive laico, in nomine Dei omnipotentis interdico ne in aliquo noceatis.” Quam pie suis, quam prudenter sibi, providit martyr egregius, ne videlicet laederetur proximus, innocens opprimeretur, ne gloriam properantis ad Christum proximi casus tristior obfuscaret! Decuit plane Ducis sui militem martyrem Salvatoris inhaerere vestigiis, qui cum quaereretur ab impiis, “Si me,” inquit, “quaeritis, sinite hos abire.”

(81.) Igitur facto impetu manus sacrilegas injecerunt in eum, durius illum contrectantes et trahentes, ut extra fores ecclesiae aut jugularent, aut vinctum inde asportarent, sicut postmodum confessi sunt. Sed cum facilie non posset a columna moveri, unum ex ipsis acrius insistentem et accedentem propius a se repulit, lenonem appellans, dicensque, “Non me contingas, Reinalde, qui fidem ex jure debes et subjectionem; insipienter agis cum tuis complicibus.” Miles vero pro repulsione furore terribili totus incanduit, ensemque vibrans contra sacrum verticem, “Non fidem,” ait, “non tibi subjectionem debeo contra fidelitatem domini mei regis.” Cernens igitur martyr invictus horam imminere quae miserae mortalitati finem imponeret, paratam sibi et promissam a Domino coronam immortalitatis jam proximam fieri, inclinata in modum orantis cervice, junctis pariter et elevatis sursum manibus, Deo et sanctae Mariae et beato martyri Dionysio suam et ecclesiae causam commendavit.

(82.) Vix verbum implevit, et metuens nefandus miles ne raperetur a populo et vivus evaderet, insiliit in eum subito, et summitate coronae, quam sancti chrismatis unctio dicaverat Deo, abrasa, agnum Deo immolandum vulneravit in capite, eodem ictu praeciso brachio haec referentis. Is etenim, fugientibus tam monachis quam clericis universis, sancto archiepiscopo constanter adhaesit, et inter ulnas complexum tenuit, donec ipsa quam opposuit praecisa est. Ecce simplicitatem columbae, ecce serpentis prudentiam, in hoc martyre, qui corpus percutientibus opposuit, ut caput suum, animam scilicet vel ecclesiam, conservaret illaesam [-um?], nec contra carnis occisores, quo magis hac necessitate careret, cautelam vel insidias machinatus est! O pastorem dignum, qui, ne oves laniarentur, seipsum luporum morsibus tam confidenter opposuit! et quia mundum abjecerat, mundus eum volens opprimere nescius sublimavit. Deinde alio ictu in capite recepto adhuc quoque permansit immobilis. Tertio vero percussus martyr genua flexit et cubitos, seipsum hostiam viventem offerendo, dicens submissa voce, “Pro nomine Jesu et ecclesiae tuitione mortem amplecti paratus sum.” At tertius miles ita procumbenti grave vulnus inflixit, quo ictu et gladium collisit lapidi, et coronam, quae ampla fuit, ita a capite separavit, ut sanguis albens ex cerebro, cerebrum nihilominus rubens ex sanguine, lilii et rosae coloribus virginis et matris ecclesiae faciem confessoris et martyris vita et morte purpuraret. Quartus miles supervenientes abegit ut caeteri liberius ac licentius homicidium perpetrarent. Quintus vero, non miles, sed clericus ille qui cum militibus intraverat, ne martyri quinta plaga deesset, qui in aliis Christum fuerat imitatus, posito pede super collum sancti sacerdotis et martyris pretiosi, (horrendum dictu,) cerebrum cum sanguine per pavimentum spargens, caeteris exclamavit, “Abeamus hinc, milites, iste ulterius non resurgent.”

— Edward Grim, Vita S. Thomæ, Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi et Martyris, in Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, James C. Robertson, ed. No. 67, vol. 2 in Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores. London, 1876.

(80) After the monks took [Thomas] through the doors of the church, the four aforementioned knights followed behind with a rapid pace. A certain subdeacon, Hugh the Evil-clerk, named for his wicked offense and armed with their malice, went with them — showing no reverence for either God or the saints because by following them he condoned their deed. When the holy archbishop entered the cathedral the monks who were glorifying God abandoned vespers — which they had begun to celebrate for God — and ran to their father whom they had heard was dead but they saw alive and unharmed. They hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. “It is not proper,” he said, “that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting — and we come to suffer, not to resist.” Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn; indeed the sight alone as well as the rattle of arms inflicted not a small amount of horror on those who watched. And those knights who approached the confused and disordered people who had been observing vespers but, by now, had run toward the lethal spectacle exclaimed in a rage: “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor of the king and kingdom?” No one responded and instantly they cried out more loudly, “Where is the archbishop?” Unshaken he replied to this voice as it is written, “The righteous will be like a bold lion and free from fear,” he descended from the steps to which he had been taken by the monks who were fearful of the knights and said in an adequately audible voice, “Here I am, not a traitor of the king but a priest; why do you seek me?” And [Thomas], who had previously told them that he had no fear of them added, “Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness.” With these words — at the foot of a pillar — he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict — through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, “Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended.” To these words [Thomas] replied, “No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them.” “Then you,” they said, “will now die and will suffer what you have earned.” “And I,” he said, “am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way.” The glorious martyr acted conscientiously with foresight for his men and prudently on his own behalf, so that no one near him would be hurt as he hastened toward Christ. It was fitting that the soldier of the Lord and the martyr of the Savior adhered to His words when he was sought by the impious, “If it is me you seek, let them leave.”

(81) With rapid motion they laid sacrilegious hands on him, handling and dragging him roughly outside of the walls of the church so that there they would slay him or carry him from there as a prisoner, as they later confessed. But when it was not possible to easily move him from the column, he bravely pushed one [of the knights] who was pursuing and drawing near to him; he called him a panderer saying, “Don’t touch me, Rainaldus, you who owes me faith and obedience, you who foolishly follow your accomplices.” On account of the rebuff the knight was suddenly set on fire with a terrible rage and, wielding a sword against the sacred crown said, “I don’t owe faith or obedience to you that is in opposition to the fealty I owe my lord king.” The invincible martyr — seeing that the hour which would bring the end to his miserable mortal life was at hand and already promised by God to be the next to receive the crown of immortality — with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above — commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis.

(82) He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight, fearing that [Thomas] would be saved by the people and escape alive, suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head; the lower arm of the writer was cut by the same blow. Indeed [the writer] stood firmly with the holy archbishop, holding him in his arms — while all the clerics and monks fled — until the one he had raised in opposition to the blow was severed. Behold the simplicity of the dove, behold the wisdom of the serpent in this martyr who presented his body to the killers so that he might keep his head, in other words his soul and the church, safe; nor would he devise a trick or a snare against the slayers of the flesh so that he might preserve himself because it was better that he be free from this nature! O worthy shepherd who so boldly set himself against the attacks of wolves so that the sheep might not be torn to pieces! and because he abandoned the world, the world — wanting to overpower him — unknowingly elevated him. Then, with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr. The fourth knight drove away those who were gathering so that the others could finish the murder more freely and boldly. The fifth — not a knight but a cleric who entered with the knights — so that a fifth blow might not be spared him who had imitated Christ in other things, placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr and (it is horrible to say) scattered the brains with the blood across the floor, exclaiming to the rest, “We can leave this place, knights, he will not get up again.”

[But during all these incredible things the martyr displayed the virtue of perseverance. Neither his hand nor clothes indicated that he had opposed a murderer — as is often the case in human weakness; nor when stricken did he utter a word, nor did he let out a cry or a sigh, or a sign signaling any kind of pain; instead he held still the head that he had bent toward the unsheathed swords. As his body — which had been mingled with blood and brain — laid on the ground as if in prayer, he placed his soul in Abraham’s bosom. Having risen above himself, without doubt, out of love for the Creator and wholly striving for celestial sweetness, he easily received whatever pain, whatever malice, the bloody murderer was able to inflict. And how intrepidly — how devotedly and courageously — he offered himself for the murder when it was made clear that for his salvation and faith this martyr should fight for the protection of others so that the affairs of the church might be managed according to its paternal traditions and decrees.]

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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