Theodore of Tarsus
Theodore was the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, best known for his reform of the English Church and establishment of a school in Canterbury.

Theodore's life can be divided into the time before his arrival in Britain as Archbishop of Canterbury, and his archiepiscopate. Until recently, scholarship on Theodore had focused on only the latter period since it is attested in Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

's Ecclesiastical History of the English
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is a work in Latin by Bede on the history of the Christian Churches in England, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity.It is considered to be one of the most important original references on...

, and also in Stephen of Ripon's Vita Sancti Wilfrithi
Vita Sancti Wilfrithi
The Vita Sancti Wilfrithi or Life of St Wilfrid is an early 8th-century hagiographic text recounting the life of the Northumbrian bishop, Wilfrid. Although a hagiography, it has few miracles, while its main concerns are with the politics of the Northumbrian church and the history of the...

, whereas no source directly mentions Theodore's earlier activities. However, Michael Lapidge
Michael Lapidge
Michael Lapidge D.Litt. is a Canadian historical linguist, fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and Fellow of the British Academy A lecturer in Anglo-Saxon studies at Cambridge from 1974 onwards, Lapidge was Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1991 to 1998...

 and Bernard Bischoff have reconstructed his earlier life based on a study of texts produced by his Canterbury School.

Early life

Theodore was of Byzantine Greek
Byzantine Greeks
Byzantine Greeks or Byzantines is a conventional term used by modern historians to refer to the medieval Greek or Hellenised citizens of the Byzantine Empire, centered mainly in Constantinople, the southern Balkans, the Greek islands, Asia Minor , Cyprus and the large urban centres of the Near East...

 descent born in Tarsus in Cilicia
In antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor, south of the central Anatolian plateau. It existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Byzantine empire...

, a Greek-speaking diocese of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

. Theodore's childhood experienced devastating wars between Byzantium and the Sassanid Empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, which resulted in the capture of Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

, Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, and Jerusalem in 613-614. Tarsus was captured by Persian forces when Theodore was 11 or 12 years old. There is evidence that Theodore had experience of Persian culture. It is most likely that he studied at Antioch, the historic home of a distinctive school of exegesis, of which he was a proponent. Theodore also was familiar with Syrian culture, language and literature, and may even have traveled to Edessa
Edessa, Mesopotamia
Edessa is the Greek name of an Aramaic town in northern Mesopotamia, as refounded by Seleucus I Nicator. For the modern history of the city, see Şanlıurfa.-Names:...


Though it was possible for a Greek to live under Persian rule, the Arab conquests, including Tarsus in 637, certainly drove Theodore from Tarsus; if he had not fled earlier, Theodore would have been 35 years old when he left his birthplace. Following this, he studied in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, including the subjects of astronomy, ecclesiastical computus, astrology, medicine, Roman civil law, Greek rhetoric and philosophy, and the use of the horoscope.

At some time before the 660s, Theodore had come west to Rome and was living with a community of Eastern monks, probably at the monastery of St. Anastasius. At this time, in addition to his already profound Greek intellectual inheritance, he became learned in Latin literature, both sacred and secular. The Synod of Whitby
Synod of Whitby
The Synod of Whitby was a seventh century Northumbriansynod where King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by Iona and its satellite institutions...

 (664), having confirmed the decision in the Anglo-Saxon Church to follow Rome, in 667, when Theodore was 66, the see of Canterbury fell vacant. Wighard
Wighard was a medieval Archbishop-elect of Canterbury. What little is known about him comes from 8th-century writer Bede, but inconsistencies between various works have led to confusion about the exact circumstances of Wighard's election and whether he was ever confirmed in that office...

, the man chosen to fill the post unexpectedly died. Wighard had been sent to Pope Vitalian
Pope Vitalian
Pope Saint Vitalianus was Pope of the Catholic Church from July 30, 657, until January 27, 672.He was born in Segni, Lazio, the son of Anastasius.-Reign:...

 by Ecgberht
Ecgberht of Kent
Ecgberht was a King of Kent who ruled from 664 to 673, succeeding his father Eorcenberht s:Ecclesiastical History of the English People/Book 4#1....

, king of Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, and Oswy
Oswiu of Northumbria
Oswiu , also known as Oswy or Oswig , was a King of Bernicia. His father, Æthelfrith of Bernicia, was killed in battle, fighting against Rædwald, King of the East Angles and Edwin of Deira at the River Idle in 616...

, king of Northumbria, for consecration as archbishop. Following Wighard's death, Theodore was chosen upon the recommendation of Hadrian
Adrian of Canterbury
Saint Adrian of Canterbury was a famous scholar and the Abbot of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury in the English county of Kent.-Life:...

 (later abbot of St. Peter's, Canterbury
Canterbury is a historic English cathedral city, which lies at the heart of the City of Canterbury, a district of Kent in South East England. It lies on the River Stour....

). Theodore was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury in Rome on 26 March 668, and sent to England with Hadrian, arriving on 27 May 669.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Theodore conducted a survey of the English church, appointed various bishops to sees that had been vacant for some time, and then called the Synod of Hertford
Council of Hertford
The Council of Hertford was a synod of the Christian Church in England held in 673. It was convened at Hertford by Theodore of Tarsus, archbishop of Canterbury...

 to institute reforms concerning the proper celebration of Easter, episcopal authority, itinerant monks, the regular convening of subsequent synods, marriage and prohibitions of consanguinity, and others. He also proposed dividing the large diocese of Northumbria into smaller sections, a policy which brought him into conflict with Bishop Wilfrid
Wilfrid was an English bishop and saint. Born a Northumbrian noble, he entered religious life as a teenager and studied at Lindisfarne, at Canterbury, in Gaul, and at Rome; he returned to Northumbria in about 660, and became the abbot of a newly founded monastery at Ripon...

, whom Theodore himself had appointed to the See of York. Theodore deposed and expelled Wilfrid in 678, dividing his dioceses in the aftermath. The conflict with Wilfrid was not finally settled until 686–687.

In 679, Aelfwine
Aelfwine of Deira
Ælfwine was the King of Deira from 670 to 679. He was a son of Oswiu of Northumbria and a brother of Ecgfrith of Northumbria.After the succession of Ecgfrith as king of Northumbria in 670, he made Aelfwine king of the sub-kingdom of Deira. Aelfwine was still a boy at the time, and the title may...

, the brother of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria
Ecgfrith of Northumbria
King Ecgfrith was the King of Northumbria from 670 until his death. He ruled over Northumbria when it was at the height of its power, but his reign ended with a disastrous defeat in which he lost his life.-Early life:...

, was killed in battle against the Mercians. Theodore's intervention prevented the escalation of the war and resulted in peace between the two kingdoms, with King Æthelred of Mercia paying weregild
Weregild was a value placed on every human being and every piece of property in the Salic Code...

compensation for Aelfwine's death.

Canterbury School

Theodore and Hadrian established a school in Canterbury resulting in a "golden age" of Anglo-Saxon scholarship:
They attracted a large number of students, into whose minds they poured the waters of wholesome knowledge day by day. In addition to instructing them in the Holy Scriptures, they also taught their pupils poetry, astronomy, and the calculation of the church calendar...Never had there been such happy times as these since the English settled Britain.

Theodore also taught sacred music, introduced various texts, knowledge of Eastern saints, and may even have been responsible for the introduction of the Litany of the Saints
Litany of the Saints
The Litany of the Saints is a sacred prayer of the Roman Catholic Church, the Western Rites of the Orthodox Church, and some Anglican Churches. It is a prayer of invocation to the Triune God, and prayers for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Angels and all the martyrs and saints...

, a major liturgical innovation, into the West. Some of his thoughts are accessible in the Biblical Commentaries, notes compiled by his students at the Canterbury School. Of immense interest is the text, recently attributed to him, called Laterculus
In late antiquity or the early medieval period, a laterculus is an inscribed tile, stone or terracotta tablet used for publishing certain kinds of information in list or calendar form. The term thus came to be used for the content represented by such an inscription, most often a list, register, or...

. Overlooked for many years, it was rediscovered in the 1990s, and has since been shown to contain numerous interesting elements reflecting Theodore's trans-Mediterranean formation.

Pupils from the school at Canterbury were sent out as Benedictine
Benedictine refers to the spirituality and consecrated life in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century for the cenobitic communities he founded in central Italy. The most notable of these is Monte Cassino, the first monastery founded by Benedict...

 abbots in southern England, disseminating the curriculum of Theodore.

Theodore called other synods, in September 680 at Hatfield, Hertfordshire
Hatfield, Hertfordshire
Hatfield is a town and civil parish in Hertfordshire, England in the borough of Welwyn Hatfield. It has a population of 29,616, and is of Saxon origin. Hatfield House, the home of the Marquess of Salisbury, is the nucleus of the old town...

, confirming English orthodoxy in the Monothelite controversy, and circa 684 at Twyford, near Alnwick
Alnwick is a small market town in north Northumberland, England. The town's population was just over 8000 at the time of the 2001 census and Alnwick's district population was 31,029....

 in Northumbria. Lastly, a penitential
A penitential is a book or set of church rules concerning the Christian sacrament of penance, a "new manner of reconciliation with God" that was first developed by Celtic monks in Ireland in the sixth century AD.-Origin:...

 composed under his direction is still extant.

Theodore died in 690 at the remarkable age of 88, having held the archbishopric for twenty-two years, and was buried in Canterbury at Saint Peter's church.


Theodore is venerated as a saint on September 19 in the Church of England
Calendar of saints (Church of England)
The Church of England commemorates many of the same saints as those in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, mostly on the same days, but also commemorates various notable Christians who have not been canonised by Rome, with a particular though not exclusive emphasis on those of English origin...

, Episcopal Church (USA)
Calendar of saints (Episcopal Church in the United States of America)
The veneration of saints in the Episcopal Church is a continuation of an ancient tradition from the early Church which honors important people of the Christian faith. The usage of the term "saint" is similar to Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Those in the Anglo-Catholic tradition may...

, and Eastern Orthodox churches
Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar
The Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar describes and dictates the rhythm of the life of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Associated with each date are passages of Holy Scripture, Saints and events for commemoration, and many times special rules for fasting or feasting that correspond to the day of...

. He is also recorded on this day in the Roman Martyrology
Roman Martyrology
The Roman Martyrology is the official martyrology of the Roman Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. It provides an extensive but not exhaustive list of the saints recognized by the Church.-History:...

. Canterbury also recognizes a feast of his ordination on 26 March.

External links

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