St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury
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
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
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
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
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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Page last updated: 8 October 2008
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