In my ongoing effort not to buy, borrow, or bum any more books until I read all of those I currently own, I finished this little gem Saturday. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot is a play in verse about the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral. Caught up in one of the perennial conflicts between priest and king, this narrative opens in the Archbishop's Hall on December 2nd, 1170. A chorus, consisting of the women of Canterbury gather at the cathedral with some premonition of a dreadful event to come. They reminisce on their suffering as they reflect upon their Archbishop, Thomas Becket. He has been in exile from England for seven years after a disastrous clash with King Henry II. The women worry that Becket's return from France could make their lives more difficult by angering the King further. Upon his return to England, four persuasive tempters try to prevent Thomas Becket from re-assuming his role as Archbishop. They remind him of the power and influence he held as Lord Chancellor to Henry II prior to his religious ordination.
Archbishop Thomas Becket was honored and venerated as saint and martyr by both the Catholic and Anglican church for defending the church against the encroachments and infringements of the State. Eliot explores Becket's murder from this perspective. In this short play Eliot shows his mastery of the British form of Church and State. In so doing, he sends a message that those who do not practice justice shall some day receive vengeance. This book was totally different than those I normally read. At first with all of the chanting, I was out of my comfort zone, but in the end, I really enjoyed this short work. It provoked me to think deeply and honestly about my faith. Eliot is indeed a master wordsmith, and I enjoyed the style, the language, and the imagery. I know that most will not enjoy a dramatization in verse, but I found it teeming with. . . well... drama. A few of my favorite quotes from the play:
"Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen."
"The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right thing for the wrong reason."
"The servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater cause
May make the cause serve them,
Still doing right: and striving with political men
May make that cause political, not by what they do
But by what the are."
Although I found the demeanor of Thomas Becket's martyrdom in this narration to be courageous- regretfully, I found it to also be self serving and prideful. The Apostles of Christ; Paul, John, Peter, etc... were put to death (martyred) because of their refusal to deny Jesus as Savior and King. In my opinion, this is a completely different animal that we see in Murder in the Cathedral - but you be the judge and read it for free here at INTERNET ARCHIVE
Publisher: Mariner Books, March 1964.
Page Count: 96
Thomas Stearns Eliot
26 September 1888 - 4 January 1965
St. Louis, Missouri, US
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
–C.S. Lewis, “Introduction” in St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1944/1993),