Sorting Out the Mess

June 23, 2014 Length: 21:12

Fr. Gregory talks about St. Theodore but also goes "off script" to address the canonical anomalies of Orthodoxy related to having one bishop in one city. The attached transcript can be referenced for his thoughts on St. Theodore.





Sorting out the Mess
(background to St. Theodore of Tarsus of Tarsus and Canterbury for a somewhat different audio sermon)

Our Charitable Trust here at St. Aidan’s is dedicated to one of many Theodores in the Church’s Calendar, in this case a man from our holy Antiochian see, the first and only Greek speaker to be elected Archbishop of Canterbury.  St. Theodore was born in the same city, Tarsus, as was St Paul, and like him his missionary work crossed continents.  Here in Britain he succeeded in bringing together into harmony all the scattered jurisdictions of the Church into one in seventh century England.  That, certainly, was a mammoth task for a man who was chosen, late in his life, as a “caretaker archbishop”.

Most of what we know about St Theodore comes from Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History” but that is largely concerned with his career in England, though he does give the year of his birth, 602, and he tells us that the monk Theodore was learned in a variety of subjects “both in sacred and secular literature, in Greek and in Latin”. Scholars have worked out that it is probable that he went to study in Antioch, as his theological commentaries, though written in Canterbury, are of the Antiochian type. Later, because of both Persian and Muslim invasions, he went to Constantinople, and because of this influx, for a while in the first half of the seventh century, the Byzantine capital became an important centre of learning.

Theodore is also reputed to have studied in Athens but our next sighting of him is in Rome where the Pope, Vitalian, was searching for a monk of learning to be Archbishop of Canterbury. First he chose an African named Adrian who turned the job down but put forward Theodore’s name instead.  He accepted, but he asked for Adrian to be allowed to accompany him, as he was bi-lingual and familiar with the Church in France, if not in England, and no doubt, a sixty-five year old man felt he needed a lot of support.

Even so, there was no rush to arrive. Theodore, still a monk, was ordained sub-deacon, waited four months for his hair to grow so that he could have a Roman form of tonsure instead of his Greek one – a culturally sensitive move – and eventually he was ordained deacon, priest and then, at last, a bishop on 26 March 668, 17 years after the repose of St Aidan. Even then it took another fourteen months to walk to England, though in all fairness, he would be learning a lot about the Church here, on his visits to monasteries in France en route, and, no doubt, picking up some English as well, from his travelling companions, who included the famous St Benedict Biscop of Wearmouth fame, as well as the patient monk, Adrian.

In no way could it be claimed to be a plum job. The See of Canterbury had been vacant five years, and in the rest of the country, there appeared to be only four other bishops, but in twenty years, Theodore was to change all this beyond recognition.  How did he do it?  Well, he started with the power-house, the monastery at Canterbury, by making St Benedict Biscop, Abbot, until Adrian could take over in 671. He then travelled round all the dioceses, gathering information and gaining the respect of all. This was quite possible, as he was not an Angle, nor a Saxon nor a Celt: he came without prejudice and was able to treat all alike.

Then, slowly, with care and prayer, he began to fill the vacant Sees, choosing disciplined and holy monks until, by 673, he felt in a strong enough position to call the first Synod of the English Church at Hertford. Even so, it was not a large gathering.  Bede only lists five other bishops besides Theodore, though, of course, there were supporting priests and monks present as well. You may think the canons passed were not earth shattering and certainly not innovative.  The importance of the Synod lay in the fact that it happened at all, as it drew together, for the first time, bishops of different languages and sometimes, warring kingdoms.  Little did Theodore and his assistants realise that they were, in fact, laying the foundation for national unity in this country, and its importance cannot be exaggerated.

But Theodore still had problems.  One was, that his dioceses were all too big and he began a policy of subdividing them, something which is never easy and in the process he upset St. Wilfrid but his peaceful spirit was able to restore harmony in Christ in due time.

After Hertford, there was then a synod every year at a place called Cloveshoo, though no one now knows just where that was.  The Synods held at the end of the 670s brought together twelve bishops, all selected by Theodore and reliable holy, monks, whereas over on mainland Europe, married bishops were still common. This trend set by Theodore continued in England until the invasion of 1066 after which Norman practices prevailed.

It will be seen, then, that Archbishop Theodore was a gifted administrator who had a long-lasting effect on the Church in this Country.  Bede tells us:- “the churches of the English made greater progress during his pontificate than they had ever done before”.  But he was also an astute politician whose aim was to bring peace to a troubled land.  His view has been contrasted with that of the first Archbishop, St Augustine, because, it is said, Theodore had more of a national vision.  He was able to travel further across the land than his predecessor, and also, though he was strict on doctrine and the observance of the Church canons, he was more flexible with regard to customs.  He had three factors in his favour which helped him to unite the English, Celtic and Roman parties in the Church. He had the wisdom which comes with age; he was a Greek; and had lived in various Mediterranean cities which had exposed him to a wide variety of cultures, and this probably saved him from being biased towards any one culture here in England.

But if he is really wise, the administrator and politician will also want to lay a foundation for the future and Theodore did this by establishing places of learning in the land. One of his first tasks was to build up the school at Canterbury under his trusted monk, Adrian, and we know that the Archbishop taught there both Greek and Latin. Bede is careful to acknowledge his own learning to the foundation of Theodore at Canterbury, who also encouraged St Hilda with her school at Whitby which, in turn, produced five bishops.  Bede+ tells us that through the school at Canterbury “knowledge of sacred music, hitherto limited to Kent, now began to spread to all the churches of the English”.  This was helped by Pope Agatho sending over the lead-singer from St Peter’s in Rome to go with St Benedict Biscop “to teach Benedict’s monks the chant for the liturgical year as it was sung in St Peter’s”.  He taught the monks the theory and practice of chant and liturgical reading, and wrote down the typicon, or way of celebrating the church’s calendar. It is interesting that modern recordings of this type of music have been made and people are surprised by the similarity to Byzantine chant.

“Archbishop Theodore of blessed memory” as the Venerable Bede called him, reposed on 19th September 690 at the age of 87 or 88, and we can look back to his reign as a golden age when the unity was established in the land which was fully achieved by St Edgar and St Dunstan in the tenth century.  St Theodore made peace between warring kingdoms, and peace between the Roman and Celtic traditions by combining Roman scholarship with Celtic pastorship and spirituality.  He appreciated the holiness and humility of St Chad but could also use the organizational zeal of the restless St Wilfrid.  It was Theodore who consecrated Cuthbert, the celebrated heir to both Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions; and he encouraged the Anglo-Saxon Benedict Biscop, to collect manuscripts and icons, thus helping to create possibly the finest library in Western Europe outside Rome. So it is, that Theodore is behind the great Northern renaissance, symbolized by the book of the Lindisfarne Gospels, which was adorned by Anglo-Saxons with Irish decorations and the names of the four evangelists written in Greek but with Latin letters.  Theodore was also responsible for St Wilfrid’s conversion of the South Saxons in Sussex, and this in turn led to Wilfrid’s missionary work among their fellow-countrymen in Frisia.

Fr Andrew Phillips sums up his life by describing St Theodore as the “Arch-Pastor of the English Nation, born in the city of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, his name signifying ‘the gift of God’…..He had given everything of which the Church had most need – unity, organisation, learning, the firm confession of the Faith, true pastorship and above all, prayer – all proved by his life’s work and the incorruption of his holy relics. He found a nation divided and left it united.  He was indeed, a gift of God, a second Paul, Announcer of the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles.  Holy Archbishop Theodore, pray to God for us!”