Thursday, 29 December 2011

St Thomas Becket

Barton being about as far away from Canterbury as it is possible to be in England’s southern province, it’s slightly odd that we have a mediaeval altar-dedication to Thomas Becket. But the presence of an artesian spring by the churchyard may hint at a connection: the healing associations of such pools is well-documented, and the mediaeval pilgrim-saying ‘Optimus aegrorum medicus fit Thoma bonorum’, ‘Thomas is the best physician for the pious sick’ suggests we might have a franchise of the saint’s healing cult, with convenient miraculous pool nearby.

Bede tells of Oswald’s relics ability to work miracles, so this link between saints, particularly martyr-saints, and healing is hardly newsworthy. But it does invite reflection on the relationship between death and wholeness.

They present as polar opposites: though in their different ways both hospice and euthanasia movements try to make death a better experience, both are counsels of last resort, of how we manage the transition from life into not-life. Neither challenges the polarisation of the two. That life might somehow spring out of death isn’t considered.

It is a commonplace of Christian belief that suffering unites us with the crucified Lord — ‘in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,’ Paul writes. I suggest that the long association of martyr-shrines with healing take us one step further, that these who are united in Christ’s suffering are also somehow channels of the first-fruits of the Resurrection, signs of the wholeness that is to come. This bids us hold up a prism to the mystery of death which transforms our vision of future, present and past.

My father died a week ago, and my response to the inevitable, ‘I suppose you’re going to cancel Christmas this year?’ was found in this proliferation of martyr-days between Christmas and New Year, in turn underscoring ancient carols which see in the Nativity the seeds of the Crucifixion, inviting us to consider the truth that in the Incarnation death and life become co-workers in the story of redemption.

We may see Thomas as political victim, as meddler in State affairs, as prophetic figure, whatever. Saints have their fads and their fashions. But the cult of Thomas as Physician surely points us to this great paradox of the Christian faith, that in the midst of death, we are in life, and that death is not merely a gateway into life, but a gateway back through which life comes — and transforms.

Posted by David Rowett on Thursday, 29 December 2011 at 5:00am GMT | TrackBack
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I still have memories of the visit of Pope John Paul 2's visit to Canterbury Cathedral, when he and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, renewed their Baptismal Vows together - near the place where St.Thomas-a-Becket was martyred.

This was a poignant and basic sign of the Baptism shared by ALL Christians - something we need to be reminded of, at a time of schismatic activity within the Provinces of the Anglican Communion; on the assumption of a 'holier than thou' puritanical self-righteousness.

We actually are 'all one in Christ' - unless we intentionally separate our selves out, on the grounds of our own professed repudiation of our fellow Christians'. Jesu, Mercy!! Mary, Pray

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 29 December 2011 at 9:42am GMT

I found this immensely moving and immensely true - we are often exhorted to be 'counter cultural' in all sorts of ways I find deeply unhelpful - mainly by being excluding and unequal - but this is one (perhaps the chief) way in which we both can and should be counter-cultural - not for the sake of it, and not reaching back to an unhelpful and damaging past, but finding what is truly good and insightful in the past, and bringing it to the present as a force for healing and insight. Our attitude to death is terrible skewed - we need somehow to recover both a true sense of our own losses and a real sense of the place of death as the final healing.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 29 December 2011 at 12:04pm GMT

Not so much a "meddler in State affairs" as one who died in defense of the RC's claim to the immunity of the clergy from trial and punishment by the secular authorities - a festering wound whose continuing presence is all-too-evident in the church's handling of the pedophile scandals.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Thursday, 29 December 2011 at 8:38pm GMT

Anglican appropriation of a saint who laid down his life to defend the prerogatives of St Peter and his successors!

We are not all one in Christ..because although baptized , some of us have fallen into serious errors. Errors which could jeopardise ones salvation.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Thursday, 29 December 2011 at 9:03pm GMT

"Anglican appropriation of a saint who laid down his life to defend the prerogatives of St Peter and his successors!" - Robert I Williams -

Dear Robert. What? Does that include ALL of Peter's successors, or only the one's approved by the present Pope? But then, I suppose even the Pope Himself might allow Jesus to Redeem ALL whom Jesus came to save - in fact, ALL who believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour! But even then, they need to shed their hubris - in order to accept that they need Jesus (and not just the Pope) to redeem them. "God so loved the World"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 30 December 2011 at 12:00am GMT

RIW: You believe those prerogatives include violating the civil law without being subject to its judgment?

And I don't recall Christ ever saying that baptism could be reneged.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 30 December 2011 at 2:13am GMT

I have to wonder whether Robert Ian Williams is simply playing agent provocateur.
"We are not all one in Christ". Contradicting St. Paul, are we?
"Ours is the only one true Church" is a line that hasn't succeeded since at least the Reformation -- or the Great Schism, with its reciprocal excommunications.
And leads to scenes and stories like this:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2079328/Priests-brawl-Bethlehems-Church-Nativity-clergy-fight-Christmas-cleaning.html

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Friday, 30 December 2011 at 6:26am GMT

However,David's most excellent post is upon the themes of death and healing - much more interesting, I think,than mere sectarian squabbles.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Friday, 30 December 2011 at 3:15pm GMT

Unfortunately baptism does not grant automatic entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, for any person over the age of reason.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Saturday, 31 December 2011 at 7:11am GMT

"Unfortunately baptism does not grant automatic entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, for any person over the age of reason."

Really, RIW? Here are part of the words of the Episcopalian baptism rite:

"You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever."

Does Christ reject his own?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 31 December 2011 at 2:38pm GMT

I prefer the New Testament to a TEC Baptismal liturgy.

"He that endures to the end will be saved."

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Sunday, 1 January 2012 at 7:48pm GMT

We are enduring - have no fear !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 3 January 2012 at 5:18pm GMT
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