Dr. Vaughan’s Life of Thomas Aquinas; Histoire de la Vie et des Ecrits de St. Thomas d’Aquin, par l’Abbe Bareille; Lacordaire’s Life of Saint Dominic; Dr. Hampden’s Life of Thomas Aquinas; article on Thomas Aquinas, in London Quarterly, July, 1881; Summa Theologica; Neander, Milman, Fleury, Dupin, and Ecclesiastical Histories generally; Biographic Universelle; Werner’s Leben des Heiligen Thomas von Aquino; Trench’s Lectures on Mediaeval History; Ueberweg & Rousselot’s History of Philosophy. Dr. Hampden’s article, in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, on Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastic Philosophy, is regarded by Hallam as the ablest view of this subject which has appeared in English.
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A great deal has been written of late years on Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Henry II.,—some historians writing him up, and others writing him down; some making him a martyr to the Church, and others representing him as an ambitious prelate who encroached on royal authority,—more of a rebel than a patriot. His history has become interesting, in view of this very discrepancy of opinion,—like that of Oliver Cromwell, one of those historical puzzles which always have attraction to critics. And there is abundant material for either side we choose to take. An advocate can make a case in reference to Becket’s career with more plausibility than about any other great character in English history,—with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, Cromwell, and Archbishop Laud.
The cause of Becket was the cause of the Middle Ages. He was not the advocate of fundamental principles, as were Burke and Bacon. He fought either for himself, or for principles whose importance has in a measure passed away. He was a high-churchman, who sought to make the temporal power subordinate to the spiritual. He appears in an interesting light only so far as the principles he sought to establish were necessary for the elevation of society in his ignorant and iron age. Moreover, it was his struggles which give to his life its chief charm, and invest it with dramatic interest. It was his energy, his audacity, his ability in overcoming obstacles, which made him memorable,—one of the heroes of history, like Ambrose and Hildebrand; an ecclesiastical warrior who fought bravely, and died without seeing the fruits of his bravery.
There seems to be some discrepancy among historians as to Becket’s birth and origin, some making him out a pure Norman, and others a Saxon, and others again half Saracen. But that is, after all, a small matter, although the critics make a great thing of it. They always are inclined to wrangle over unimportant points. Michelet thinks he was a Saxon, and that his mother was a Saracen lady of rank, who had become enamored of the Saxon when taken prisoner while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and who returned with him to England, embraced his religion, and was publicly baptized in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, her beauty and rank having won attention; but Mr. Froude and Milman regard this as a late legend.