Have you ever promised something that was not yours to promise? What did you do then? Did you keep your word or did you break it? At that point, which is the worse option?
At the Council of Clarendon in 1164, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was bullied into making some concessions to Henry II that allowed the king undue power over the Church. Later, Becket regretted and rescinded his words. When he was reproached with oath breaking, Becket answered this: “If we lapsed at Clarendon (for the flesh is weak), we ought to regain our spirit, and in the strength of the Holy Spirit rise up against the ancient enemy, who tries to make the one who stands also fall, and prevent the one who falls from getting up again. If under a guarantee in the word of truth there we conceded there or swore unjustly, you know that by no law are we obliged to that which was unlawfully sworn.”
I have always admired Thomas Becket for these words, for admitting that he had been wrong and then trying to correct his error as best he could--even though such backpaddling could only tarnish his reputation further. An oath, according to Becket, is not a thing that is holy in and of itself. An oath may be sinful, a work of the devil. And when an oath is sinful in its conception, it is an even greater sin in its completion. Better, says Becket, to be forsworn than to commit a second sin for the purposes of honoring the first.
New Saint Andrews College where students were required, to obtain their bachelor's degree, to write a senior thesis on a subject of their choosing. Thomas Becket and I had met early in my junior year during a class on saints and hagiography. I knew, with hardly any hesitation, that this man was my choice for a senior thesis. I spent a year exploring his life through the primary sources of medieval chroniclers and his own letters. I watched him turn from chancellor to archbishop, from a man of the king's coin to a man of the true cloth. And I had the pleasure to write about his transformation, his trials, and his martyrdom in one-hundred-and-ten pages that I then defended before a panel of faculty members.
If you have not become acquainted with this remarkable man, I urge you to take the opportunity to do so. The Life and Death of Saint Thomas Becket: Type of Paul, Type of Peter, Type of Christ is now available for FREE on Amazon Kindle from February 25 to February 29. This copy of my college thesis also contains a free three-chapter sample of my debut novel I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince.