Ah, Autumn in an even year. The crisp smell of approaching winter, the exploding color on the trees, and the sound of the desperate mad dash for votes. As I was travelling a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, a play Flannery O’Connor claimed was “good if you don’t know it, better if you do.” It is the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Caterbury who was killed under orders from a jilted King Henry II.
I thought a particular scene does a fine job of laying out the temptation that politcal power can bring, and it seemed to me that what the Tempter says to Thomas in the following passage about power and legacy might shed light on many political aspirations.
The Chancellorship that you resigned
When you were made Archbishop — that was a mistake
On your part — still may be regained. Think, my Lord,
Power obtained grows to glory,
Life lasting, a permanent possession.
A templed tomb, monument of marble.
Rule over men reckon no madess.
To the man of God what gladness?
Only to those giving love to God alone.
Shall he who held the solid substance
Wander waking with deceitful shadows?
Power is present. Holiness hereafter.
The Chancellor. King and Chancellor.
King commands. Chancellor richly rules.
This is a sentence not taught in the schools.
To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?
Disarm the ruffian, strengthen the laws,
Rule for the good of the better cause,
Dispensing justice make all even,
Is thrive on earth, and perhaps in heaven.