Sunday 24 June 2012

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

One of the occupational risks of being an Archbishop of Canterbury, who signs himself Cantuar by tradition,  is choosing as a role model Thomas Becket (see Wikipedia etc.) when you go about offering advice and making the odd moral judgement. 

Given that to be non-judgemental is a highly regarded feature of modern society this presents difficulties, especially when faced with uncomfortable facts and intractable problems of decision and behaviour.

Our current Cantuar, but not for much longer, Archbishop Dr. Rowan Williams, a very learned man, seems to have been spending a too long contemplating at the location of the long destroyed shrine of St. Thomas A’Beckett, also Thomas Becket.

In his valedictory book, he is said to have rubbished David Cameron’s vision of The Big Society and moreover blamed the savage spending cuts for all our present troubles. 

As one of the major areas of cuts is defence in order to keep up the NHS spending, personally my thought is that turning swords if not into ploughshares then into pharmaceutical products is a worthy aim. 

Especially when my prescription is due and I read that the NHS is selling off pills to balance the books at the cost of failing to supply them to its own patients.

This Big Society thing has been knocking about in political circles for some time now.  The Blessed Tony Blair genuflected to it, as did the Martyr Peter Mandelson, never mind Prebendary John Prescott or Canon Balls.  Cameron’s version is just as woolly and improbable as any of them.

The public sector spending and debt has been going up despite the attempted revisions in spending levels in some sectors.  These are not so much “cuts” as intended extra spending forgone or capping some spending or in some cases a retrenchment in other spending that has been increasing rapidly.

This is not the “cause” of the issues and debates.  What it derives from is one of major international financial crises in history which is ongoing and will be with for at least another decade and perhaps longer if events dictate it.

When we look back at the longer past it is too easy to do so on the basis of our recent experience and all the assumptions we make.  In the Middle Ages in Europe the Church, The City of God, then was the public sector with the monarchs and nobles agencies enabled by holy writ deal with the grubbier aspects of the City of Earth.

So when King Henry II recommended to the Pope that Thomas Becket be Cantuar he may have thought his successful former Chancellor would be under his influence.  But it soon emerged that Becket had his own agenda and would be a man of the Church and God and not the earthly King.

Consequently, when The King wanted Becket to come to his court to explain what he was up to and Becket refused this triggered the expedition of the four knights to bring him in to answer a few questions.

An essential problem was that in its earthly operations the Church was just as predatory and grasping as any noble notably when it came to land and property. 

Cantuar had four palaces between Canterbury and London, each a day’s journey and each of those had to be maintained by the income from lands around.

Moreover when the cash came into Becket’s hands we was prone to parading around in front of the peasant pilgrims showering them with silver pennies.  This does not sound much but then one penny could be a years rent or dues. 

Taking money from those who earned it the hard way only to fling it at the undeserving claimants to gain support and popularity was not very popular with the taxpayers.  Does this sound familiar?

One of the knights, Reginald Fitz Urse, had land at Wrotham between the palaces at Otford and Maidstone which was taken from him by the Archbishop’s legal sharks, possibly faking documents at which the clergy were very skilled in property cases. 

The others, Hugh de Morville, Richard le Breton and William de Tracy each had their own issues.  As we know the attempted abduction was botched and in the ensuing fracas Thomas Becket was killed. 

The Church was quick to blame the King and he was faced with a prime public relations disaster and the risk of excommunication with all the problems of Church legal status that would follow from that for his family.

At present, with the Anglican Bishops at risk of losing their seats in the House of Lords this is not quite blood on the sanctuary floor but the Church of England and Cantuar in our rather little society are at risk of being one of the sideshows of history.

Unlike the Shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury in the Middle Ages where it became a major profit centre and a good source of reliable cash flow into the Church sector.

1 comment:

  1. "Especially when my prescription is due and I read that the NHS is selling off pills to balance the books at the cost of failing to supply them to its own patients."

    I just bought some minor medical supplies off eBay. I should be able to get them on prescription, but eBay turned out to be easier in the end. Sign of the times?