Theodore of Canterbury, St.

views updated


Greek archbishop of Canterbury, outstanding figure of the Church in england; b. Tarsus, in Cilicia, c. 602;d. England, 690. During Theodore's early years Tarsus had been much troubled by Persian aggression; the city was taken by the Arabs in 660. Where Theodore received his earlier education is unknown, but at one time he studied in Athens. He was an accomplished Greek scholar and was also learned in philosophy and law. In 667 he was in Rome, already 65 years old, wearing the Eastern tonsure, and not yet ordained subdeacon. At this time the kings of Northumbria and Kent had sent an Englishman, Wighard, to Rome to be consecrated archbishop of Canterbury, but Wighard died in Rome. Pope vitalian asked Abbot hadrian of canterbury, an African, to accept the post. He refused but suggested Theodore of Tarsus. The pope consented, provided that Hadrian was willing to accompany Theodore to England. So Theodore was ordained subdeacon and, four months later, having been tonsured in Roman fashion, was consecrated archbishop by the pope. With Hadrian and benedict biscop he started out for Britain on May 27, 668. They arrived there, after a difficult journey, exactly a year later. Theodore was now 67 years old, but he immediately set to work to remedy the confusion in which he found the English Church; many sees were vacant. He at once set out with Hadrian on an episcopal visitation, a long and toilsome journey of inspection, leaving Benedict Biscop in charge of saint augustine's at Canterbury. Theodore made great progress, and in 637 called, at hertford, the first gathering of the whole English Church at which he drew up nine canons dealing with faith and organization. He then set about attempting to divide up some of the greater dioceses and thus collided with wilfrid of york, who in 678 appealed against his decision to the pope. In 680 Theodore held another synod at Hatfield; there a declaration of the orthodox faith of the English Church was drawn up. In 686 he made his peace with Wilfrid, the last recorded act of his long life. His school at canterbury, where Greek and many other subjects were taught, became a great scholastic center. The penitential attributed to him exercised much influence on the Western Church. His body was found incorrupt when translated in 1091 to the present cathedral of Canterbury.

Feast: Sept. 19.

Bibliography: bede, Ecclesiastical History 2.3; 4.13, 5, 6, 12, 17, 21, 23, 28; 5.8, 24. w. hunt, The Dictionary of National Biography From the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 18851900) 19:602606. w. stubbs, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, ed. w. smith and h. wace (London 187787) 4: 926932. g. f. browne, Theodore and Wilfrith (New York 1897). f. m. stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (2d ed. Oxford 1947). m. lapidge, ed, Archbishop Theodore: Commemorative Studies on His Life and Influence (Cambridge; New York 1995).

[b. colgrave]

About this article

Theodore of Canterbury, St.

Updated About content Print Article


Theodore of Canterbury, St.