St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury

19 September

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Theodore, seventh Archbishop of Canterbury, born at Tarsus in Cilicia about 602; died at Canterbury 19 September, 690.

A monk of the Greek Church, but not yet in Holy Orders, living at Rome in 667, when Pope Vitalian chose him for the See of Canterbury in place of Wighard, who had died before consecration. After receiving orders, Theodore was consecrated by the Pope himself, on 26 March, 668, and set out for England, but did not reach Canterbury until May, 669.

The new primate found the English Church still suffering from the jealousies and bitterness engendered by the long Paschal controversy, only lately settled, and sadly lacking in order and organisation. The dioceses, coterminous with the divisions of the various kingdoms, were of unwieldy size, and many of then were vacant. Theodore, says Bede, at once "visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the Angles inhabited", and was everywhere received with respect and welcome. He made appointments to the vacant bishoprics, regularised the position of St. Chad, who may not have been duly consecrated, corrected all that was faulty, instituted the teaching of music and of sacred and secular learning, throughout the country, and had the distinction of being, as Bede specifically mentions, "the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed".

But there is another aspect, not so attractive...

......"Elsewhere, however, matters were not so benignly worked out. Theodore of Tarsus, on his arrival in 669, found it necessary to use forceful measures to quell the remnants of the Celtic heresy. Despite the direct and immediate effects of Whitby on the central Celtic house at Lindisfarne, it may be remembered that the Picts and Scots, including at this point the Columban motherhouse at Iona, remained unwilling to accept Roman orthodoxy. Theodore's 'Penitential' clearly announced his views on the issues. He recognised neither episcopal consecration nor baptism as performed by the Celtic Church. Eddius tells us that he insisted on reconsecrating Chad, "through every episcopal grade," and demanded the rebaptism of converts of the Celtic Church. He also ordered a year's penance for anyone receiving communion from Celtic priests.

......"The hostility along the Welsh and Cornish borders was apparently mutual. Aldhelm of Malmsbury wrote that the Welsh bishops considered the clergy of Rome to be excommunicated until they should individually perform forty days penance, and refused to pray with tthem or join them at meals. The leftovers of food touched by Roman priests were ordered thrown to swine so that Celtic Christians would not suffer spiritual contagion. Their vessels were to be purified with fire or sand,and they were to receive neither salutation nor the kiss of peace." Carol Neuman's "The Northumbrian Renaissance", Associated University Presses, N.J., 1987, ISBN: 0-941664-11-2.

In 673 he convoked at Hertford the first synod of the whole province, an assembly of great importance as the forerunner and prototype of future English witenagemotes and parliaments.

Going later to the court of the King of Northumbria, which country was entirely under the jurisdiction of St. Wilfrid, he divided it into four dioceses against the will of Wilfrid, who appealed to Pope Agatho. The pope's decision did not acquit Theodore of arbitrary and irregular action, although his plan for the subdivision of the Northumbrian diocese was carried out. For St. Cuthbert in 685, and in the following year he was fully reconciled to Wilfrid, who was restored to his See of York. Thus, before his death, which occurred five years later, Theodore saw the diocesan system of the English Church fully organised under his primatial and metropolitical authority. Stubbs emphasizes the immensely important work done by Theodore not only in developing a single united ecclesiastical body out of the heterogeneous Churches of the several English kingdoms, but in thus realising a national unity which was not to be attained in secular matters for nearly three centuries.

Apart from the epoch-making character of his twenty-one years' episcopate, Theodore was a man of commanding personality: inclined to be autocratic, but possessed of great ideas, remarkable powers of administration, and intellectual gifts of a high order, carefully cultivated.

Through the prayers of St Theodore and of all the Saints of Britain, Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

Practically his only literary remains are the collected decisions in disciplinary matters, well known as "The Penitential of Theodore". The body of canon law drawn up under his supervision, and his structure of dioceses and parishes, survived the turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and are substantially intact today. It was first published complete by Wasserschleben in 1851, and several editions of it have been printed during the past sixty years.

He founded a school at Canterbury that trained Christians from both the Celtic and the Roman traditions, and did much to unite the two groups. The school was headed by Adrian, an abbot born in Africa but later resident in Italy, who had been the Pope's first choice for Archbishop, but who had refused and recommended Theodore instead. Adrian was learned in the Scriptures, a good administrator, and fluent in Latin and Greek. The school taught Bible, theology and sacred studies, Latin and Greek (Bede says that some of the students knew these languages as well as they knew English), poetry, astronomy, and calendar calculation (of some importance for political reasons, as stated above, in the paschal controversy).

Theodore was buried in St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury, a long poetical epitaph, of which Bede has preserved only eight verses, being inscribed upon his tomb.

Icon of St. Theodore:


Almighty God, who didst call thy servant Theodore from Tarsus to Rome to the see of Canterbury, and didst give him gifts of grace and wisdom to establish unity where there had been division, and order where there had been chaos: Create in thy Church, we pray, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, such godly union and concord that it may proclaim, both by word and example, the Gospel of the Prince of Peace; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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