Friday, 13 February 2015

Becket's letter to the Pope after Frétéval on 22nd July 1170

Materials for the History of Thomas Becket Volume VII p. 326-
MTB 684 [CTB 300]
miserationis oculo respexit

Patrologia Latina Tomus 190 p. 0474D EPISTOLA XXV.

Chretien Lupus (1728). Epistolae et vita D. Thomae martyris et Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis:. Liber 5 Epistola 45: prostant apud Jo. Baptistam Albritium q. Hieron. et Sebastianum Coleti. pp. 341–.

George Lyttelton (1767). The History of the Life of King Henry the Second. W. Sandby. pp. 247–.

Baron George Lyttelton (1769). The history of the life of King Henry the Second. Printed for J. Dodsley. pp. 509–.

George Lyttelton  (1767). The History of the Life of King Henry the Second. W. Sandby and J. Dodsley. pp. 570–.

Saint Thomas (à Becket); John Allen Giles (1846). Epistolae Sancti Thomae Cantuariensis. Epistola XXV: Apud Whittaker et socios. pp. 65–.

Partial Translation

Richard Hurrell Froude; James Bowling Mozley (1839). Remains of the Late Reverend Richard Hurrell Froude: v. 2.. (Partial translation): J. G. & F. Rivington. pp. 503–.

Hutton (1899) Becket p.210-6

Full translation

[Note: a large part of this letter includes the details of a long harangue which  Becket addressed to King Henry II at Frétéval which he is reporting to the Pope.]

To his most serene highness and dearest father, Alexander, by grace of God supreme pontiff, from Thomas, humble minister of the holy church of Canterbury, greetings and all obedience, and with the highest devotion.

With the eye of the pity God has looked upon his Church, and at last He has changed its sadness into gladness. Do not doubt it, father, if we had been believed about the truth we were telling from the beginning, this would have blunted and ground down the horns of those who were inciting, and by various blows, wounding the Church, so much so that when the authority of the Divine law had been drained away and utterly destroyed, the "customs" (rather the abuses of the despots of old) might have thrived and when they had destroyed her [the Church's] freedom, [had this come about] the Roman pontiff would be unknown in England, and the privileges of the bride of Christ, wiped out without hope of reparation.

Indeed observe the answer to the latest of your letters, in which the lord king of England has taken note that you would no longer be lenient towards him, just as you have not been lenient with Frederick, said to be "the Emperor", when he realized his land, after all his subterfuges, would be subjected to all the prohibitions of an interdict, and the bishops, if by any chance they did not obey, they would be suspended and/or excommunicated; they have immediately made peace with us to the honour of God, and more, as we hope, to the benefit of the Church.

Now concerning the "customs", which he claimed with so great a determination, neither has he dared to whisper a word. Neither has he exacted any oath from me nor from any of my people. The properties which he had sequestrated from our Church during the time of the disagreement, in accordance with those we have listed in the deed, he has conceded these to us; both peace, and security, has he promised for the return of all our people [from exile], and the kiss [of peace], which if we were still wanting to urge it upon him up till now; but not to show that he had been completely defeated, but in order that it would not be said of him that he had perjured, in front of those who had heard him make his oath: because of this we did not receive the kiss that day. Nevertheless we took counsel from the most wise and especially from the lord archbishop of Sens, who procured our peace more carefully and effectively than the others, the same with whom we went to a meeting with the king, whom with God's doing, all those He had cast off, those who had whose tricks your holiness used to circumvent, to such an extent we discovered a change [in him], so much so that what occurred was not without the admiration of the bystanders, and in his [the king's] mind he seemed to shrink back from nothing.

 For, as he observed us approaching from a distance, he quickly bust forth from those surrounding him impatiently to meet us, and with his head uncovered he rushed forward with words of greeting and engaged us with small conversation, with only the lord archbishop of Sens and myself present, that amused and astonished everyone, drawn into this part, soon I found myself in a long and familiar dialogue, that it might seem there had never ever been any discord between us. Almost everyone who was present, many who were astounded by this most happy wonder, with wet cheeks by a rain of tears, they were glorifying God, and blessing the happy Magdalene, in the solemnity by which the king had been turned back to former ways, in order that he could transform the whole of his land into joy, and the possibility that he might return peace to the Church.

 We reproved him employing moderation, using ways which plainly showed him the dangers which caused and threatened him from all sides. We have begged and reminded him that returning to the heart,  which the worthy enjoyment of penitence brings about, and by manifestly making good with satisfactory compensation to the Church which has not been moderately harmed, he might purge his conscience, and redeem his public reputation. For it was by iniquitous advisors, rather than from the force of his own will he was suffering a heavy loss of both.  But when he may have listened to all this, not only patiently, but also with kindness, and may have promised rectification, which we added was necessary for his salvation and his children's, to remain unharmed and in the power of the indemnity granted by the divinity. diligently that he may restore him [the Archbishop] his holy mother Church  of Canterbury, which has lately become the most serious one which he has injured.

For he [Henry II] has irregularly caused to be crowned his own son against the most ancient rights of our Church, through the usurpation of the archbishop of York, contrary to the oldest customs [of Canterbury], and who has performed this consecration even after your prohibition, and also in a province which was not his own with exceedingly blind and casual ambition. In which he was a little bit reluctant, protesting that would not have proposed or intended to do anything in a spirit of competition. 

[Becket's harangue of  king Henry which he is reporting to the Pope]

"Who?" he asked, "crowned king William, he who had subjugated England for himself and the succeeding kings?" "Was it not the archbishop of York, or any other bishop of  the choosing of he who was being crowned  king?" 

To these we answered "because of the fame of our people and its history it is abundantly clear that at that time when England was conquered by the Normans, it did not have a bishop of the Church of Canterbury, but the post was being held captive by a certain Stigand who had seized control of it just as he had done so of the Churches [dioceses and abbacies] of Winchester, London, Worcester, and Ely, with the assistance of the public power and his friends contrary to the prohibitions of the Roman pontiff, and  who therefore lacked the grace of communion with the Apostolic See. Whence by mandate of the same pope the aforementioned king detained him in prison till the day he died. The necessity of the situation then, though it had neither been read or heard of before or since, was that the Archbishop of York, who was a person of strong opinion, should set the crown upon the king. [Archbishop] Lanfranc truly consecrated as king, king William's son, of eponym Rufus after the colour [of his hair],in the presence of Thomas archbishop of York, who claimed nothing of him and his appointed office.

After his death, when Saint Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, was in exile, for the same reason that we are of course, one of the suffragans of Church of Canterbury, Girard the bishop of Hereford, in the place of the absent archbishop crowned king Henry [the First]  with no opposition from the Archbishop of York to this consecration. Nonetheless, when the blessed Anselm returned from exile, king Henry approached him, and handed him the diadem begging him to crown him, saying that neither should  he impute that there had been any any attempt to obstruct his authority in this, because of the needs of the kingdom he could not wait for  his [Anselm's] return. Indeed he was admitting before everyone that this matter to be the formal right of the Church of Canterbury, to be able to anoint and consecrate the kings of the England. And indeed this plea appeased the saintly archbishop who approved what a suffragan of his had done, setting the crown upon the head of the king. Wherefore then did the archbishop of York keep silent about why a suffragan of the Church of Canterbury should have been preferred before him?

Surely the elder Thomas, who then ruled over the church of York, full of letters of learning and many friends, who created many labours for Lanfranc of Canterbury could have enlarged the importance of his own church in this matter; however he seems to have been struck dumb when it came to dealing this case with our poor bishop unless he acknowledged the primacy and dignity of the archbishop of Canterbury in this matter? Then thirty six years afterwards king Stephen, your predecessor by our William now deceased was consecrated, did archbishop Thurstan of York who was not present interfere with the ceremony, or contradict it? He most certainly did not.

Nineteen years later he [king Stephen] succumbed to the fate of all flesh. Of happy memory Theobald, the archbishop of Canterbury, who, for your advancement, had endured countless hardships and who had suffered irreparable losses, and who had sustained the most horrendous dangers to talk about and remember, restored the kingdom to the children of your grandfather which had now moved across to another family lineage. It was he who anointed and crowned you king in the presence of this same Roger of York  who neither assisted in the rite, nor contradicted it, and neither had acted in anyway, except in the manner of the least of bishops, clad in his sacred vestments, listening to the solemn proceedings.

Why therefore, with such ease mind, or rather through the spite of your counsellors, have you deprived your mother church of Canterbury of its ancient rights without due process of law, rights which it has been seen steadfastly to have possessed for more than eighty years? Did you wish by this to perpetuate the contention between the Church and your children?  Or was it through the so-great presumption of the archbishop of York so much so that he was allowed to perform the service of the consecration of the new king, even beyond the borders of his own province, and trespass upon ours? Why have you impelled our suffragans to commit the crime of disobedience? Indeed they had received the restraining mandate from the Lord Pope, in which they were not to presume anything of this kind during our absence. Finally, if you were trying to hurry your replacement with your son and to complete his consecration, why then did you not take care to exclude those who had been declared excommunicate by the supreme pontiff from the solemnity of so great a sacrament? Now then could you not see that you could accomplish the consecration without the participation of the cursed?

To these and many other matters concerning this point which the brevity of a letter does not allow to note more diligently and modestly, we demanded with greater care, for the love of God, for the losses that we have sustained from the harm done to us, and for the sake of his own salvation, and so that he might procure indemnity for his own children, that he should make amends for all his excessive presumptions. He replied that from his standpoint he was truly protected from these because of your mandate which he had received earlier which contradicted this our petition, and on this matter produced that letter which gave him indulgence to hold a coronation of his son to be consecrated by any bishop of his own choosing.We begged him answering that he should bring to mind when and why this letter was obtained, which he and the bishops were seeking to use as an defence for their wrongdoing .Indeed it had been agreed at a time when the Church of Canterbury was vacant, and did not apply to the present situation: if the aforementioned Church of Canterbury continued to remain vacant for longer, the archbishop of York should not have dared to aspire to the creation of new king by coronation before any of the other bishops of our province. In truth, it is certain that the earlier mandate was cancelled by the more recent.

And we said to him "Oh, my lord king, do you not recall, in more faithful and familiar terms, that you were wont to assert, evidently you would rather have your son decapitated than to have that heretic, the often spoken of York, dare to lay his hands upon his head."And truly even if that you had obtained a letter then, because our letter is later, the other became invalid. It is plain therefore that such letters, as in this case makes clear, because ours came later, they ought to be disregarded. This is obvious to you and other wise people, those of moment, as it is contrary to the law to use them, especially in the case of the consecration of a king, which like in the case of the other sacraments, the proper way has a reason, which is how it acquires its whole meaning. Nor do these words mean that we want to degrade your son nor to diminish him in anyway, more rather it is because we especially desire his success and an increase in his glory, and for this we will work in all ways in the Lord, but so that the wrath of Almighty God and the saints, who lie resting in the Church of Canterbury, and who have been gravely injured, and for this by us and by them equally you have been shut away from. However, we do not believe this is possible unless a suitable redress is made; and because over the centuries it is unheard of that any person who has harmed the Church of Canterbury, for that person not to have been corrected or made contrite before Christ our Lord." 

The king then followed up this in a cheerful and jovial voice saying, "if you love my son, and you ought doubly right to do so, for I gave him to you like a son and, if you are able to remember, you received him from my hand  And he loves you with such an affection that he unable to see any of your enemies in the right light. Indeed he might have held them in custody now, if he had not been stopped from doing so out of the respect and fear of my name. But I do know that  he thinks the worse of them, even more than necessary, and that he would avenge you, as soon as the time and the opportunity allowed him. Without doubt I consider the Church of Canterbury to be the most noble in the whole of the West, and I would not wish to deprive it of its rights. On the contrary, and according to your advice I will take care to put matters right, to recover everyone's former dignity. Those, however, who have betrayed me and you, God willing, to this I will respond that they will be dealt with as traitors deserve.

[King Henry's reply]

So when having leapt down from my horse to humble myself at his feet, he grabbed hold of  my stirrup and forced me to climb back up again, and then with tears visible in his eyes, he said,

"Lord archbishop, we are going to restore our mutual affections of old, and  it is possible to show each other good, precisely because we will have forgotten about the odious that have gone before. But, I beg you, in the view of those who are watching from afar, it is the honour which you have shown me  And we moved across towards them, because there were a few there of whom the bearer of this letter relates, there he saw the lovers of discord, and the incitors of hatred, he said, all those wso that they would have nothing bad to speak of,and keep their mouths shut. If I find that the archbishop is prepared to do good in everything, then in turn towards him the good I will have not been, then I will be seen to  be more wicked than other men, then the evils which are spoken about me the truth of them will have been proved.  Nor do I believe that there is any other strategem more honourable or more expedient, than one in which I try to be ahead of him in showing magnanimity, so that by charity and kindness thereby one can get the better of him."

This conversation with the king brought forth from almost everyone present the highest rejoicing.  He then directed his bishops to come to us. They advised us that we should make our petition known in the presence of everyone.  And if we had trusted the counsel of some of them we might have brought forward into settlement the whole of the case concerning both us and the Church. For it has been right from the very beginning up till now that iniquity has been brought forth by his Scribes and Pharisees,  and increased the power of the elders [chief priests]  who must rule over the people. But thanks be to God, who did not allow our minds to be changed by their counsel, that we might lay bare the freedom of the Church or the justice of God to the will of whatever man. however, after they had been dismissed, a discussion was held with the Lord Archbishop of Sens together with Christ's poor travelling companions and the other outlaws [Becket's band of exiles] in this we agreed the following, that neither the question of the "customs" nor the damage done to our church had been brought up, nor the quarrel over the usurpation of the coronation, nor the freedom of the Church, or the loss to our honour by whatever means we can bring these to arbitration. And so we came before the king and his men, and with all humility we demanded through our Lord Archbisop of Sens, who was the bearer of our words, for him to give us back his peace and grace as well as our security, and to the Church of Canterbury its property which was listed in a small charter which was read out, so that he might makes amends mercifully for the presumption he had made against us and our church by the coronation of his son, promising [in return] love and honour to him, by whatever way it was possible for a Lord Archbishop to show deference to the king and the prince. To this he gave his word by nodding assent, and received both us and our men who were present into his grace.

And because you had not anticipated this, in order that he will restore to us and our people the property which had been taken away by force, and so that he is neither able, nor will be able, to keep these from us with God's authority, in order that we can diminish the chance of this, your next mandate should be a repeat of one which has already been sent before, and which has not been carried out. For if you had taken this opportunity beforehand with that vigour which you have expressed in the most recent of your letters, in order that they were restored, without doubt this would have sufficed both as an example given to the whole Church of God and also especially to the Apostolic See in perpetuity for the future. And thus it was there were many and long comings together by us. We held discussions between the two of us alone all the way through until evening: our meetings together were all held in accordance with the ancient custom of friendship,  so that after leaving him I could go and express our gratitude to that most Christian king [the king of France] and the others of our benefactors, and let them all know just how great the favour and intimacy that we have received, and soon return back to him after all our affairs had been put in good order, and then for some time remain with him before returning to England.

Nevertheless we will stay in France till our messengers return, those whom we have sent to recover our possessions, because it is not our intention to come back to him, till he has given back every foot of land belonging to the Church, for it is by the restoration of property that we can readily tell whether he is acting with sincerity towards us. Nor, however, am I confident he will fulfill what he has promised, unless those advisors shackled to him, those goads of a depraved conscience, that he allows them to remain silent. These accordingly, unless they are captured red-handed, they will endeavour to be given exemption for their misdeeds, by the authority of and consorting with the royal majesty. These [advisors] attempt to drive us into lot with the Balaamites [2 Peter 2:15 those who love the wages of unrighteousness. Christians should beware of Balaamites, religious leaders or prophets for hire who enjoy their financial advantages. Ezekiel 13:19 ... to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies ...] like the life-giving souls of those who are not alive, so that we might absolve these guilty persons, who have been caught in the act, without repentance or confession of their sins, which is a power, it is certain, God has neither given to anyone else, nor reserved for Himself. Unless we consent [to absolve them], they will contrive to break the peace and concord we have entered into with the lord king. But, by the authority of God the creator, they will not induce us to do this, that by placing us on a seat facing the Highest, we may vainly boast that we are able either to choose to give life to those who are dead or put to death those whom He has given life to. Indeed it is certain that whatever sentence of law a pastor may pass most truly is not valid, if it has been condemned by divine judgement.  However, it was said immediately just as we were about to make our departure from him, whether out of jealousy of us for the peace, or whether wanting to look after friends and familiars, Geoffrey archdeacon of Canterbury and [Arnulf] bishop of Lisieux, quite shrewdly and insistently, with the king, bishops and other nobles present, solicited for the inclusion of this article, saying that we ought, just as we had been received back into the favour of the king,  bring all those who had stood with him back into our grace too. To which we replied, here, if it so pleased them, a distinction must necessarily be admitted. For amongst them, whose advocacy he had applied, were men of different conditions: some were more guilty, others less so, others were in the communion with the Church, others excommunicated, touched with and participating in the curse of anathema, others fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff, and for whom it is not possible to absolve them without his authority, others, for various reasons were under anathema and justly condemned by either us or other pastors.  Hence for so very dissimilar persons and cases the reasoning of the law and equity forbids them to be subject to the same judgement.  Nevertheless towards all, as far as we are able, having peace and charity and having heard the counsel of the lord king towards the honour of the Church of God and us, and so for the salvation of those, for which reconciliation is sought, God allowing we will intervene in the business, However,  if any one of them, God forbid! neither sharing in the peace, nor the reconciliation, this unto himself, should not impute  that we have to. But when, at this, the aforementioned archdeacon, Geoffrey, hitherto excommunicated, and the promoter of discord, and so scornful of rightful sentences, rose up to answer this in a more haughty manner, the lord king, in order to prevent these words which were arising from here to be the causes of hatred and and an incitement to sorrowful enmity, drew us aside from the crowd. He begged us not to listen to what was being said, and to be of a peaceful and quiet mind, and to give him our leave and blessing, and with the grace of God and his we returned to our lodgings.

Later we truly received, the surely venerable men, the lord [archbishop] of Rouen and the bishop of Nevers, who had been instructed to mediate between us and the king, and who have appeared concerned for our peace: they had given orders to the bishop of Sées, who had crossed over to  England, to absolve those whom we had excommunicated.  But it was uncertain whether the form in which that bishop had been  given this order, whether he had a prescriptive right to execute it, or whether the given order specified  they were to await the return of the same bishop. Truly however, it has not been allowed for them to mandate this, unless inasmuch they have obtained the power from you, neither too has anything he has enacted, if it has exceeded the limits which you have prescribed. Whence it is necessary, if that is acceptable, that if they have been absolved by other means, they shall be constrained by the sentences which you have prescribed beforehand, until they have taken an oath in the form specified by the Church, which you previously ordered, that they would comply with your command; and upon those meriting absolution in such a manner, by the virtue of the obedience which is owed to you, in so far as this mandate is concerned we will carry it out on your behalf, that they must inviolably observe this; or within the term which you will set down beforehand, they must go before you,  so that they may hear your instruction, sub poena [subject to punishment], and that unless this is complied with, they will be put back under their former sentences under the sufferance of appeals being blocked. Nor do we say these, as God is our witness, desiring vindication,  since we are aware it is written: [Leviticus 19:18] Seek not revenge, nor be mindful of the injury of thy citizens, but, by means of the grace of God, faith of many in the Church can be strengthened  by the example of correction and the punishment of a few for the future. The Holy Spirit is the author of the follwoing: [Proverbs 19:25] by scourging those who scoff the wise learn. Nor can the authority of the Apostolic See flourish unless they are struck down and those who abuse lay patronage are excommunicated or prohibited from presuming to celebrate in the divine host. For what can one lone bishop do, no matter how devoted he is to the Church of Rome, if his priests and clergy withdraw from  obedience to him at the beck and call of  the powerful? For there is nothing which weakens the Church more than when such things emerge from the Apostolic See, if they are allowed easily to slip by unpunished. By saying these things we realize in carrying out these by ourselves , if that is acceptable to you,  there will be great impending hardships facing us which, God willing, we will overcome. But we have chosen in advance to follow the close and narrow path, which leads towards life, and which is  wide and spacious, rather than the worldly enticements which drag us down towards the grave. Concerning your command regarding our material losses, up to now there has been a repetition of silence. If it is acceptable to your serenity, if you wish to hear how to proceed in this case and correct the wrong-doing you should listen to the bearer of this letter about the coronation of the king's son king, about how another, contrary to ancient custom and your command, intruded upon our right and into our province. Necessity has forced us to leave off from writing; many things have compelled us out of fear and reverence to restrain from talking about them; but the apostolic dignity and the mercy with an excess of fatherly kindness, if it so please, will allow [us] leave to listen with customary piety about what needs to be said, matters which the bearer [of this letter] brings concerning our present circumstances and the petitions that we, through him, must lay out, so that, by command they may be swiftly fulfilled.

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