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Theobald of Canterbury


Archbishop; d. April 18, 1161. Theobald, son of a knight, was born near the Abbey of Bec, in Normandy, where he became a monk probably c. 1115 and abbot in 1136. Bec had already provided two archbishops for Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm, which probably explains Theobald's election in 1138 despite his personal obscurity. He became papal legate in 1150, perhaps earlier. In the disturbed politics of the reign of King Stephen of England he attempted to maintain a neutral position. His main political ideal was the cooperation of church and state. "When princes show due reverence to priests, and priests render faithful services to princes, then do kingdoms enjoy true peace. But if they clash, the vigour of the secular power will be impaired no less than the ecclesiastical." During Stephen's reigns, Theobald's first allegiance was, in practice, to the papacy. He attended Eugene III's council at Reims in 1148, though Stephen had forbidden it, and on papal orders he refused to crown the king's son, Eustace, in 1152. Under Henry II, however, he did not obey the pope unquestioningly. As papal judge-delegate, for instance, he refused to excommunicate Robert of Valoines because it was against the king's will. Although constantly worried by exclusion from Henry's inner counsels, Theobald recognized the king's right to decide which candidate to support in the papal schism resulting from the disputed election of alexan der iii in 1159. As metropolitan, Theobald accomplished much, though he was not an exciting personality. He is noted for the number of his surviving documents, for his policy of fostering the study of Canon Law, for his influence in several episcopal elections and for his talent for choosing subordinates. His household included the humanist john of salisbury and the Roman lawyer va carius; it was a training ground for many of the leading ecclesiastics of the next generation, including Thomas becket. He was strongly opposed to monastic claims of exemption from the diocesan's authority.

Bibliography: z. n. brooke, The English Church and the Papacy (Cambridge, Eng. 1931). john of salisbury, Letters, ed. and tr. w. j. millor et al. (New York 1955). a. saltman, Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury (London 1956).

[h. mayr-harting]

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