In T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has returned from exile, yet the conflicts with the king that had sent him into exile are far from being resolved. In fact, Thomas is risking his life by returning to England, but his flock has been without its shepherd for too long, and he believes that he must come home no matter what the consequences.
After his return to Canterbury, Thomas is assailed by four Tempters. The First Tempter encourages Thomas to resume his friendship with the king. He should simply give in to the king's desires and stop being so hard on people. Then the good times that once were would come again, and all would be well. Thomas could focus on pleasures and enjoyments as he used to. He could indulge in laughter and wine, parties and sports. This is the easy way out, however, and Thomas will not take it. There is more to life than pleasure and fun.
The Second Tempter tempts Thomas to secular power. He reminds the archbishop of how he was once the king's right-hand man as Chancellor. If he would just give in to the king, he could have that kind of power again. He could rule over people and maybe even make a difference for good in the world. All he would have to do is just allow those bishops and barons he excommunicated back into the Church and resume his former position, and all would be well—better than well even, for Thomas would be powerful. But Thomas will not give in. He wants holiness, not power, and he knows that secular power and holy orders do not mix.
The Third Tempter tempts Thomas to an alliance with the barons that would seek to overthrow the king. These anti-royal barons are more than willing to join up with a powerful archbishop to "fight for liberty" and get rid of that tyrant. Thomas is, in fact, just what they need, for the people love him. The king is his enemy anyway, so why not turn on him, the Tempter suggests. Thomas, however, remains loyal to the king, who rules legitimately, if not wisely. The archbishop will not give in to any plot to overthrow a legitimate ruler. He sends the Tempter packing.
The Fourth Tempter offers the most appealing temptation of all. He tempts Thomas to spiritual pride. Thomas already knows that he will likely become a martyr because of his refusal to give in to the king's demands. The Tempter, however, suggests that Thomas seek martyrdom actively so he can obtain all the rewards of Heaven that go along with it. Thomas would have great spiritual power, the Tempter says. But Thomas knows that this is not right. He must allow God's will to play out rather than actively pursuing martyrdom. If God chooses to give him that gift, he will accept it, but he must not desire it for the power it would give him, because then he risks losing everything through his pride.