Murder in the Cathedral

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Martyrdom Symbol Analysis

Martyrdom Symbol Icon

As the act of sacrificing one’s life in the defense or upholding of certain religious beliefs, martyrdom is the emblem of Becket’s radical submission to God. Becket seems to desire martyrdom from the very beginning of the play, though the reasons behind this desire evolve. At first he wants to die for God out of a combination of self-interest and activism (achieving glory and fame that will affect the world in ways he would want), but he eventually comes to think of himself as being fated for martyrdom, chosen by a source that is totally beyond his own ability to understand and comprehend what it might mean to, or do for, himself. Martyrdom therefore has two dimensions in the play: not only the obvious, physical event of Becket’s death, but also the continual process of sacrificing one’s partial, human view of the world for a more divine perspective that has nothing to do with human desire. Alongside Becket, the Chorus and the priests undergo this latter form of martyrdom as well.

Martyrdom Quotes in Murder in the Cathedral

The Murder in the Cathedral quotes below all refer to the symbol of Martyrdom. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of Murder in the Cathedral published in 1964.
Part 1 Quotes

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason . . .
What yet remains to show you of my history
Will seem to most of you at best futility,
Senseless self-slaughter of a lunatic,
Arrogant passion of a fanatic.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker)
Related Symbols: Martyrdom
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

After his initial shock at the fourth tempter’s proposal, Becket is confident that his rightful fate is martyrdom. He acknowledges that martyrdom is the “right deed,” but that one can do it for the wrong reasons, and vows that he shall never be tempted by these reasons again.

Becket also knows that his sense of duty to God will seem futile, worthless, and insane to most people, but his commitment to his fate overshadows their views. He has come into a relationship with his God that has cut him off from a worldly relationship with other humans. With his attention centered solely on God, and acting as the executor of his will, he becomes a sheer force of fate.

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Interlude Quotes

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples ‘My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.’ Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbours, the barons at peace with the King, the house-holder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. If you ask that, remember then that He said also, ‘Not as the world gives, give I unto you.’ So then, He gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker)
Related Symbols: Martyrdom
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs in Becket’s Christmas sermon. Here, he continues to expound upon the distinction between viewing things from a worldly perspective versus a spiritual one—upon the difference between the undivided, permanent realm of eternity and the divided, oppositional, and dualistic nature of human thought.

The peace promised by Jesus to his disciples, Becket clarifies, was not a worldly form of peace—it wasn’t some comfort to be found and achieved in the world. Rather, it was beyond the world, and beyond what the human mind could be given by the world. To support this, Becket notes that Jesus’s disciples never encountered any peace in the world, for they suffered immensely (and many were even martyred). What Jesus promised was “not as the world gives.” Throughout the sermon, Becket seems bent on getting his congregation to try and develop a sense of this paradox of a peace that is not of the human world, but is divine—in a way, preparing them to deal with the worldly suffering brought on by his inevitable death.

A Christian martyrdom is never an accident. Saints are not made by accident . . . A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker)
Related Symbols: Martyrdom
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote also comes from Becket’s Christmas sermon. He continues to push his audience to understand certain concepts from a more spiritual perspective—martyrdom, in this case. Becket stresses the fact that true martyrdom is not the product of a human’s free will, or human design; rather, martyrdom is designed by God, a fate given to people by God. The paradox involved in trying to think about martyrdom this way, however, is how the human free will and the fate designed by God can fit together. After all, don’t most martyrs start out with the sense of a free will, actively endeavoring to be martyred on their own?

Becket’s point is that somehow the human will and God’s will can be brought together in the concept of martyrdom. In the case of the martyr, a human’s free will is totally submitted to the will of God, and they have their own will transformed into God’s. But, for a martyr or saint, this actually grants freedom, for it seems that their submission to God reveals to them that they were fated to be a saint or martyr all along. Thus, they realize themselves, their own freedom, and their nature, through their very submission to God.

Part 2 Quotes

It is the just man who
Like a bold lion, should be without fear.
I am here.
No traitor to the King. I am a priest,
A Christian, saved by the blood of Christ,
Ready to suffer with my blood.
This is the sign of the Church always,
The sign of blood. Blood for blood.
His blood given to buy my life,
My blood given to pay for His death,
My death for his life.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker)
Related Symbols: Martyrdom
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomas Becket speaks these lines just before the knights murder him. He defends his innocence with regard to the knights’ charges that he’s betrayed the king, appealing to—yet again—a higher, spiritual order beyond the dimension of human thought and events. He has not betrayed the king—he’s submitted himself to a divine process of fate whose unfolding cannot be explained by reducing it to human considerations of betrayal and politics. Becket sees himself as giving his life for Christ, paying for His death—the death which bought Becket his own existence. Wholly immersed in his faith and fated relation to God, he approaches death without fear.

No. For the Church is stronger for this action,
Triumphant in adversity. It is fortified
By persecution: supreme, so long as men will die for it.
Go, weak sad men, lost erring souls, homeless in earth or heaven.

Related Characters: The Priests (speaker), Thomas Becket
Related Symbols: Martyrdom
Page Number: 84-5
Explanation and Analysis:

The third priest speaks these lines in response to the first, who thinks that Becket’s death has damaged the Church. Denying the first priest’s claim, the third priest says that the Church has been fortified by Becket’s martyrdom—that it’s stronger because of Becket’s action. The loss of Becket has not torn the Church apart, but has blessed and sanctified it. As the site of a saint’s martyrdom, the Cathedral will forever have the status of especially holy ground.

Thus, the priests end the play somewhat divided over their impressions of Becket’s death and its effect on the Church, but Eliot makes the third priest’s defense of the Archbishop’s martyrdom into the last speech given by a priest in the play. Further, it’s longer, more vivid, and more descriptive than the first priest’s—so we might therefore interpret the play as siding with the third priest’s appraisal of Becket’s death, and perhaps it portrays it as the opinion which the other priests will eventually come to adopt (assuming the second shares the same opinion as the first, for he’s not given any lines on the topic).

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Martyrdom Symbol Timeline in Murder in the Cathedral

The timeline below shows where the symbol Martyrdom appears in Murder in the Cathedral. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
...and replacing one another, implementing new reigns that will never last. The saint and the martyr, however, rule from the grave, the tempter says—and he asks Becket to think about such... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
Ultimately, the fourth tempter tells Becket to follow the path of martyrdom—to make himself “the lowest / On earth, to be high in heaven.” But Becket is... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
...damnation on account of pride (such as his desire for glory and renown because of martyrdom). In response, the tempter repeats the same speech about the relationship between acting and suffering... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
...tempter encouraged Becket “to do the right deed for the wrong reason”—to sacrifice himself through martyrdom not for a sheer love of, and faith in, God, but rather a selfish desire... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Becket concludes by acknowledging that most people will view his commitment to God and martyrdom as fanatical, but he nevertheless commits himself to his divine cause, and asks an Angel... (full context)
Interlude
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Becket turns the congregation’s attention to the concept of martyrdom, noting that, the day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Stephen, the Lord’s... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...them again. He says that, in not too long a time, they may have another martyr. (full context)
Part 2
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
...of fate, realizing that its forces are beyond their control. They therefore consent to Becket’s martyrdom, and ask him to forgive their prior ignorance and desire for him to stay out... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
...between good and evil. He then says that his decision to commit himself to his martyrdom is something that happened outside of time, and not in the worldly order of events.... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power  Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
...the country and obsessed with himself. Further, Becket did everything he could to bring his martyrdom about—he had determined he would die a martyr and wanted the knights to make it... (full context)