Saturday, September 19, 2009
Feast of St. Theodore of Tarsus
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.
Theodore was born in Tarsus in the year 602. He grew up to be a monk. His early education was in Tarsus and Athens. He later studied at Antioch and Edessa, and spent time in Constantinople, the center of intellectual life in Christendom. He eventually moved to Rome. While in Rome he attracted the attention of important people and was moved on to the ecclesiastical fast-track.
The see of Canterbury had been vacant for some time after the death of Archbishop Deusdedit. Kings Egbert and Owsy, of Kent and Northumbria respectively, sent a priest named Wigheard to Rome with the request that he be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Wigheard and almost all of his companions died in an outbreak of the plague not long after their arrival in Rome.
Pope Vitalian had a crisis on his hands. He started looking for someone to fill the seat. He offered the position to Hadrian, a learned monk from North Africa. Hadrian declined the seat, but recommended Theodore, who, although a monk, was not yet a subdeacon. According to the Venerable Bede in The History of the English Church and People, Theodore was "learned in both sacred and secular literature, in Greek and Latin, of proven integrity, and of the venerable age of sixty-six." Pope Vitalian consecrated Theodore Archbishop of Canterbury 668, but worried that Theodore's "orthodoxy might be corrupted by his Greek upbringing," he assigned the monks Hadrian and Benedict Biscop (who raised and educated Bede) to accompany Theodore in his work. Bede wrote> The pope also ordered Hadrian to give full support to Theodore in his teaching, but to ensure that he did not introduce into the Church which he was to rule any Greek customs which conflicted with the teachings of the true faith (So Vitalian didn't like the teachings of the Christians in the East or the Celtic Christians!).
Upon his arrival in England, Theodore started reorganising the church. He visited every part of the island occupied by English people. He instituted a series of synods and established definitive boundaries to the dioceses (AHEM!), enabling the bishops to give proper pastoral attention to their flocks. Hadrian and Theodore established a school at Canterbury, attracting many students "into whose minds they poured the waters of wholesome learning day by day," according to Bede.
Bede states that Theodore was the first archbishop whom the entire Church in England consented to obey. He unified the church and he established the metropolitical authority of the see of Canterbury. He died September 19, 690.
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