Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Saint Thomas a Becket

Click to see this review on Amazon.com.

Re-released for 2007 is 1964's "Becket." As parts seem surprisingly risqué for 1964, I'm assuming that some originally deleted material has been re-inserted. While there is no question as to the principal character's saintliness, the film raised a few questions in my mind about its historical accuracy.

As per the film review of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Becket" is "The 12th-century saga...of the deep friendship and later conflict between England's King Henry II...and his friend, Sir Thomas a Becket..., and how their days of drinking and womanizing came to an end when the monarch decided to appoint Becket archbishop of Canterbury. Much to Henry's surprise, Becket was transformed into a deeply spiritual man of God, who took his new responsibilities very seriously....The film charts how Becket went head-to-head with the king over the vigilante murder of an erring priest by one of Henry's knights. Henry's famous despairing cry, `Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?' -- leads to Becket's martyrdom in his cathedral." Amazingly, the USCCB also reports that the film is completely in error over Becket's ethnicity - a central concern of the movie!

While the Catholic Encyclopedia agrees on much of the details, there are several noteworthy differences:
* The Catholic Encyclopedia seems to indicate that Thomas' conversion was somewhat less dramatic, and that his pre-archbishop years were chaste (or at least more so than what the movie indicates).
* The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions nothing about the unnamed priest's alleged crime. Yet, it does indicate that Thomas strongly opposed Henry's effort "to bring clerics guilty of crimes under the jurisdiction of the secular courts." Looking back over the scandals of the past few years, one result seems that - in our own time - the secular world is again exercising too much jurisdiction over clerics (My own opinion, of course).
* The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions nothing about Henry's famous line. It also indicates that Henry's culpability for Thomas' murder is not clear.

While some seem to suggest that Mother Theresa & Pope John Paul II may be on "fast tracks," the Catholic Encyclopedia confirms that "The pope promulgated the bull of canonization, little more than two years after the martyrdom, 21 February, 1173."

(Click image to enlarge)


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