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Theodore of Tarsus
Archbishop of Canterbury
Enthroned unknown
Reign ended 19 September 690
Predecessor Wighard
Successor Berhtwald
Consecration 668
Personal details
Born 602
Died 19 September 690
Buried Canterbury
Feast day 19 September
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion

Theodore (602 – 19 September 690) was the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury, best known for his reform of the English Church and establishment of a school in Canterbury with major scholarly achievements. He is commemorated as a saint in the Calendar of Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church on September 19.

Theodore's life can be divided into the time before his arrival in Britain as Archbishop of Canterbury, and his archiepiscopate. Until recently, scholarship on Theodore had focused on only the latter period since it is attested to in the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English, and also in Stephanus's Life of Wilfrid, whereas no source directly mentions Theodore's earlier activities. However, M. Lapidge and B. Bischoff have reconstructed his earlier life based on a study of texts produced from his Canterbury school. Below their work is followed closely concerning the first half of Theodore's life.


Earlier life

Theodore was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, a diocese of the Byzantine Empire. Theodore's childhood experienced devastating wars between Byzantium and the Persian Empire, which resulted in the capture of Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem in 613-14. Tarsus was captured by Persian forces when Theodore was 11 or 12. There is evidence that Theodore experienced Persian culture.[1] It is most likely that he studied at Antioch, the historic home of a distinctive school of exegesis, of which he was a proponent.[2] Theodore also was familiar with Syrian culture, language and literature, and may even have traveled to Edessa.[3]

Though it was possible for a Greek to live under Persian rule, the Arab conquests, including Tarsus in 637, certainly drove Theodore west; if he had not fled earlier, Theodore would have been 35.[4] Following this, he studied in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, including the subjects of astronomy, ecclesiastical computus, astrology, medicine, Roman civil law, Greek rhetoric and philosophy, and use of horoscope.[5]

At some time before the 660s Theodore had come to Rome and was living with a community of Eastern monks, likely at the monastery of St. Anastasias.[6] At this time, in addition to his already profound Greek intellectual inheritance, he became learned in Latin literature, both sacred and secular.[7] In 667, when Theodore was 66, the see of Canterbury was vacant, and the man chosen to fill the post unexpectedly died. Wighard had been sent to Pope Vitalian by Ecgberht, king of Kent, and Oswy, king of Northumbria, for consecration as archbishop. Following Wighard's death, Theodore was chosen upon the recommendation of Hadrian (later abbot of St. Peter's, Canterbury). Theodore was consecrated as archbishop of Canterbury in Rome on 26 March 668, and sent to England with Hadrian, arriving on 27 May 669.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Theodore conducted a survey of the English church, appointed various bishops to sees that had been vacant for some time,[8] and then called the Synod of Hertford to institute reforms concerning the proper celebration of Easter, episcopal authority, itinerant monks, the regular convening of subsequent synods, marriage and prohibitions of consanguinity, and others.[9] He also proposed dividing the large diocese of Northumbria into smaller sections, a policy which brought him into conflict with Bishop Wilfrid, whom Theodore himself had appointed to the See of York. Theodore deposed and expelled Wilfrid in 678, dividing his dioceses in the aftermath. The conflict with Wilfrid was not finally settled until 686–687.

In 679, Aelfwine, the brother of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria, was killed in battle against the Mercians. Theodore's intervention prevented the escalation of the war and resulted in peace between the two kingdoms, with King Æthelred of Mercia paying weregild compensation for Aelfwine's death.[10]

Theodore and Hadrian established a school in Canterbury resulting in a "golden age" of Anglo-Saxon scholarship.

They attracted a large number of students, into whose minds they poured the waters of wholesome knowledge day by day. In addition to instructing them in the holy Scriptures, they also taught their pupils poetry, astronomy, and the calculation of the church calendar… Never had there been such happy times as these since the English settled Britain;[11]

Theodore also taught sacred music,[12] introduced various texts, knowledge of Eastern saints, and may even have been responsible for the introduction of the Litany of the Saints, a major liturgical innovation, into the West.[13] Some of his thought is accessible in the Biblical Commentaries, notes compiled by his students at the Canterbury school.[14] Of immense interest is the text, recently attributed to him, called Laterculus Malalianus.[15] Overlooked for many years, it was rediscovered in the 1990s, and has since been shown to contain numerous interesting elements reflecting Theodore's trans-mediterranean formation.[16] He called other synods: c. 679 at Hatfield and c. 684 at Twyford (near Alnwick). Lastly, a penitential composed under his direction is still extant.

Theodore died in 690 at the remarkable age of 88, having held the archbishopric for twenty-two years, and was buried in Canterbury at St. Peter's church.


  1. ^ Lapidge, "The Career of Archbishop Theodore", in Archbishop Theodore, pp. 8–9
  2. ^ Lapidge, Career of Theodore p. 4
  3. ^ Lapidge, Career of Theodore pp. 7–8
  4. ^ Lapidge, Career of Theodore p.10
  5. ^ Lapidge, Career of Theodore p17-18
  6. ^ Lapidge, Career of Theodore pp. 21–22
  7. ^ Bede, Historia ecclesiastica 4.1
  8. ^ Bede, Historia ecclesiastica IV.2 — appointments: Bisi to East Anglia, Putta to Rochester, Hlothhere to Wessex, and Ceadda after reconsecration to Mercia.
  9. ^ Canons of Hertford, preserved in Bede, Historia ecclesiastica IV.5
  10. ^ Bede, Historia ecclesiastica, Book IV, chapter 21.
  11. ^ Bede, Historia ecclesiastica IV.2, trans. D. H. Farmer
  12. ^ Bede Historia ecclesiastica, IV.2.
  13. ^ Bischoff and Lapidge, Biblical Commentaries p. 172
  14. ^ B. Bischoff and M. Lapidge, Biblical Commentaries
  15. ^ J. Stevenson, The Laterculus Malalianus and the School of Archbishop Theodore
  16. ^ J. Siemens, 'The Restoration of Humankind in the Laterculus Malalianus, 14' in The Heythrop Journal
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
(vacant four years)
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by


  • J.J. Earle and Charles Plumber, ed (1899). Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Oxford.  
  • Bede (1896). Charles Plummer. ed. Historia Ecclesiastica. Oxford. doi:731.  
  • Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.  
  • Lapidge, Michael (1995). Archbishop Theodore, Commemorative Studies on His Life and Influence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents. Oxford. 1869–78.  
  • Stephanus, Eddius (1879). James Raine. ed. Vita Vilfridii in Historians of the Church of York vol. 1. London.  

External links



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