Friday, September 19, 2014

Saint of the Month: St. Theodore of Tarsus

St. Theodore of Tarsus

AKA: Theodore of Canterbury
Not to be Confused With: St. Theodore of Bologna, St. Theodore of Chotep, St. Theodore of Cyrene, St. Theodore of Egypt, St. Theodore of Emesa, St. Theodore of Pavia, St. Theodore of Pelusium, St. Theodore of Stratelates, St. Theodore of Studites, St. Theodore of Studium, St. Theodore of Sykeon, St. Theodore of Tabenna, or St. Theodore of Trichinas

Feast Day: September 19.

Really Existed? Definitely.
Timeframe: 602-690.
Place: England, ultimately.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: the Antiochian Orthodox Church in United Kingdom and Ireland.
Symbolism: None found.

I had never heard of Theodore of Tarsus, but it turns out he's a pretty big deal in the ecclesiastical history of Great Britain. You wouldn't expect that from a Tarsus boy. Tarsus is in Turkey, after all. It's where St. Paul hailed from. Yes, THE St. Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus.

VOICEOVER: England. The 7th Century. Generations have passed since the Anglo-Saxons drove the Roman Empire out of Great Britain. Missionaries from both Celtic Britain and from the kingdoms of the continent have converted these warlike peoples to Christianity, but it is a restless, disorganized faith, lacking leadership, vision, and clear doctrine. From the chaos, one man rose up to claim the title of Archbishop of Cantebury and bring order to English Christianity. That man's name was... Wighard.

Unfortunately, he died of the plague in Rome before Pope Vitalian got around to consecrating him.

That's where Theodore of Tarsus comes in. He was a monk, not a priest, but he had the reputation of a sharp, educated guy in an era when sharp, educated guys were hard to come by. Already 65 in 668, he was nevertheless quite spry. Pope Vitalian appointed him to the Cantebury outpost and sent him off to do what he could do.

It turns out, he could do quite a bit, and he had more than two decades left in him. During his tenure, he established personal authority over the Church in England, bringing it fully in alignment with Rome for the first time.  This would last more than eight and a half centuries, until Henry VIII got the itch. He instituted a system of canon law and divided up the territory of the British dioceses, and both innovations stuck so well that they are largely intact within today's Anglican Church. He started a cathedral school at Canterbury that the Venerable Bede considered the Harvard of its day, although not of course in those words.

Peacemaker, scholar, and administrator extraordinaire, this Byzantine Greek from Turkey probably did as much as anyone to chart the course of British history. Unusually for a historical figure, no one seems to have a bad word to say about the man. He's revered within Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism alike. And today is his feast day!

1 comment:

DrSchnell said...

Wighard?! (snicker, snicker)....