Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
In most cases, choosing to live for the world or for God is not a life or death issue. For Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Catholic Church in England in 1170, the choice cost him his life.
Eight years after appointing Thomas archbishop, King Henry II chose him to be the victim of assassins. Their path together began when Thomas, at 36, was selected by Henry, twelve years younger, as chancellor, becoming the second most powerful man in England. As the right-hand man of Henry, Thomas participated in everything that could secure the king’s dominion, from serving as itinerant justice in three English counties to both shaping and participating in military operations against France, home of his parents.
Thomas’s success in these arenas, and his seeming devotion to his friend, King Henry, led the king to appoint Thomas as archbishop, against Thomas’s strong objections. The rationale was straightforward. As mapmaker of his own glory, Henry knew the Catholic Church in England was the one remaining landmark he didn’t fully control. With Thomas as archbishop, Henry reasoned, his island kingdom would be complete, since Henry already controlled the other church leaders. However, when (again and again) Archbishop Thomas rebuffed his former drinking, fighting and finagling comrade’s plans, Henry moved quickly through his response options, first ignoring, then debating, and finally exiling the archbishop. The eight years Thomas served the Canterbury post chronicle his unwavering commitment to Christ, culminating in a martyrdom-provoking act, the excommunication of two of Henry’s bishops.
The movie Becket presents two of the most respected actors of their time in Peter O’ Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas. O’Toole’s portrayal lends a depth and humanity to Henry that can make one tempted to see the leader as someone terribly conflicted over the Saint’s death. While no doubt Henry was conflicted, he chose to first and foremost build an empire in his own image, and no one, not even the representative of Christ, could deter him.