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Theodore of Tarsus - Archbishop of Canterbury



















In the seventh century, when England was invaded by the pagan Anglo-Saxons, the native Celtic inhabitants were driven north into Scotland and west into Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. The Anglo-Saxons settled and were later converted to Christianity by Celtic, Roman and Gallic missionaries. As a result, two different disciplines of Christianity evolved. Ostensibly, the difference lay in a disagreement about the proper method for calculating the date of Easter.  We can assume, however that this was a superficial reason, covering more complex issues that were harder to resolve. In 663, a council was formed to settle the dispute, the Synod of Whitby, deciding in favour of the Roman way of worship.

Shortly afterwards, the Archbishop of Canterbury died and the English elected a successor, Wighard, who was sent to Rome to be consecrated by the Pope Vitalian. Wighard died in Rome before he could be consecrated and the Pope chose Theodore of Tarsus, the home of Saint Paul, to replace him in the role. Theodore was a learned monk, living in Rome and was 65 years old. This surprising choice turned out to be a very good one. Theodore was, as Bede put it in his “Ecclesiastical History ", the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed.  Having made a tour of his charge, Theodore filled the vacant bishoprics and in 672 presided over the first council of the entire English Church at Hertford. He established definite territorial boundaries for the various dioceses, and founded new dioceses where needed. He found the Church of England an unorganised missionary body, and left it a fully ordered province of the universal Church. 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.

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, 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.  Interestingly, Bede alleges 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. Adrian died 9 January 710.

Theodore died 19 September 690, aged 88 years old and was succeeded by Berhtwakd.  His tomb is in Canterbury and we celebrate his feast day on the anniversary of hid death, September 19th.