Friday, January 10, 2014

Saint Thomas à Becket

The Holy Blissful Martyr

Robert Hugh Benson

ISBN 978-1602100015   132 pp.   $18.00 (U.S.)   £12.00 (U.K.)   $18.00 (AUD)

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Unique among the works of Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), this short biographical sketch of St. Thomas à Becket, “the holy blissful martyr,” began as research for a historical novel undertaken in collaboration with the sinister “Baron Corvo”: Frederick Rolfe.  The project fell apart when Benson realized Rolfe’s true character and cut the connection. Benson reworked the material into a compelling non-fictional portrait of one of England's most popular and significant historical figures.

The story of Becket is well known.  His murder at the instigation of Henry II launched the famed pilgrimage to Canterbury and inspired countless works of literature and films.

Seeing the rapid increase of State power that characterized the late nineteenth century and the whole of the twentieth, Benson seems to have used the “passion” of Becket to illustrate the dangers of an all-powerful State released from the moral guidance of organized religion and freed from the bonds of respect for the sovereignty of the human person under God.  Becket’s martyrdom can be taken as the exemplar of what happens when the State subsumes all rights unto itself, and only recognizes those it deems expedient.

This deluxe edition is particularly well-designed and formatted, and features an in-depth foreword by Benson scholar Michael D. Greaney