Friday, 9 June 2017

l’honneur de dieu

There were quite a few choice moments during the public testimony of the former FBI director at his congressional hearing, but we really appreciated him dropping a bit of received arch-dialogue extracted from medieval intrigues—specifically, the December 1170 assassination of Archbishop Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
The context of the quotation comes when the director was pressed whether he understood the hortatory ambiguity of Dear Leader as an order, to which the former director replied, “Yes, yes. It rings in my ears as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’” N'y aura-t-il personne pour me débarrasser de ce prêtre turbulent? Though his questioner was insinuating otherwise, once Henry II uttered those words four of his knights interpreted it as a degree and death-warrant and carried out the execution. Henry II was no tyrant exactly but king and bishop were often at odds—especially over the jurisdiction of religious and secular courts of law, the former favoured by the criminally-inclined because of lighter sentences and absolution. The ecclesiastic courts were reserved for the ordained and it wasn’t a matter of royal prerogative who would stand trial where. Becket threatened the king with excommunication, and a contemporary biographer reported that Henry lamented, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought-up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Becket’s martyrdom and subsequent adoration may Henry regret his words, no matter their intent.