Theodore was born of Greek parents in 602 in Tarsus, the Apostle Paul’s home city in Cilicia, in Asia Minor. A learned monk of the East, educated in Athens, he was residing in Rome when Pope Vitalian was searching for a candidate for the archbishopric of Canterbury at a time when the English Church, decimated by plague and torn by strife over rival Celtic and Roman customs, was in need of strong leadership. Vitalian ordained Theodore to the episcopate on March 26, 668.
Theodore reached England in 669, having consulted first with Agilbert, bishop of Paris and sometime bishop of Wessex, on the way. On his arrival, he made a visitation of most of the country, filled vacant sees, and established an important school at Canterbury which soon gained a reputation for excellence in all branches of learning, and where many bishops and other leaders of the English and Irish Churches were trained. This school taught not only Latin and Greek (unusual for the time), but also Roman law, the rules of meter, arithmetic, music, and biblical exegesis in the literal school of Antioch. At the Synod of Hertford in 672, whose ten decrees were based on the canons approved by the Council of Chalcedon, Theodore dealt admirably with the legacy of division in the English Church between bishops in the separate Roman and Irish traditions. bringing the two traditions to unity. For example, he recognized Chad‘s worthiness and regularized his episcopal ordination. The synod also dealt with the respective rights of bishops and monasteries.
Theodore gave definitive boundaries to English dioceses, so that their bishops could better give pastoral attention to their people and laid the foundations of the parochial organization that still obtains in the English Church. Theodore’s second synod, at Hatfield, produced a declaration of orthodoxy by the Church in England during the Monothelite controversy. The synods later held at Clovesho were the result of Theodore’s inaugurating the series of synods at Hertford, which decreed that such yearly synods should be held.
According to the Venerable Bede, Theodore was the first archbishop whom all the English willingly obeyed. Possibly to no other leader does English Christianity owe so much. His great achievement was to give unity, organization, and scholarship to a divided Church on the edge of the civilized world at an age when most men had reached retirement or infirmity. Theodore died in his eighty-eighth year, September 19, 690, and was buried, with Augustine and the other early English archbishops, in the monastic Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Canterbury.
prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
Almighty God, you called your servant Theodore of Tarsus from Rome to the see of Canterbury, and gave him gifts of grace and wisdom to establish unity where there had been division, and order where there had been chaos: Create in your Church, 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 lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The icon of Saint Theodore of Tarsus was written by and is © Aidan Hart, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.
The propers for the commemoration of Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, are published on the Lectionary Page website.