Theodore of Tarsus

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Theodore (sometimes Theodore of Tarsus or Theodore of Canterbury[1]) (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.

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 in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English, and also in Stephen of Ripon's Vita Sancti Wilfrithi, whereas no source directly mentions Theodore's earlier activities. However, Michael Lapidge and Bernard Bischoff have reconstructed his earlier life based on a study of texts produced by his Canterbury school.


Earlier life

Theodore was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, a Greek-speaking diocese of the Byzantine Empire. Theodore's childhood experienced devastating wars between Byzantium and the Sassanid 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 had experience of Persian culture.[2] It is most likely that he studied at Antioch, the historic home of a distinctive school of exegesis, of which he was a proponent.[3] Theodore also was familiar with Syrian culture, language and literature, and may even have traveled to Edessa.[4]

Though it was possible for a Greek to live under Persian rule, the Arab conquests, including Tarsus in 637, certainly drove Theodore from Tarsus; if he had not fled earlier, Theodore would have been 35.[5] 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 the use of the horoscope.[6]

At some time before the 660s Theodore had come west to Rome and was living with a community of Eastern monks, likely at the monastery of St. Anastasias.[7] At this time, in addition to his already profound Greek intellectual inheritance, he became learned in Latin literature, both sacred and secular.[8] The Synod of Whitby (664), having confirmed the decision in the Anglo-Saxon Church to follow Rome, in 667, when Theodore was 66, the see of Canterbury fell vacant. Wighard , 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 archbishop of Canterbury in Rome on 26 March 668, and sent to England with Hadrian, arriving on 27 May 669.

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