The murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, on Dec. 29, 1170, didn’t just shock the conscience of a nation and a civilization. It humbled the king who’d ordered it and strengthened the freedom of the English church.
Not by any means perfectly; it is hard to disentangle Caesar and God institutionally and perilous to banish morality from government.
But it was an important step toward a church whose members were subject to ordinary law as citizens, and free to denounce or praise monarchs but not to make or break them.
In that sense Becket’s martyrdom bolstered not only his faith but also his nation, and we are indebted to his courage to this day.