September 19: Theodore of Tarsus; Archbishop of Canterbury, 690

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About this commemoration

Theodore was born in 602 in Saint Paul’s native city, Tarsus in Asia Minor. He was ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian on March 26, 668.

A learned monk of the East, Theodore was residing in Rome when the English Church, decimated by plague, and torn with strife over rival Celtic and Roman customs, was in need of strong leadership. Theodore provided this for a generation, beginning his episcopate at an age when most people are ready to retire.

When Theodore came to England, he established a school at Canterbury that gained a reputation for excellence in all branches of learning, and where many leaders of both the Irish and the

English Churches were trained. His effective visitation of all England brought unity to the two strains of tradition among the Anglo-Saxon Christians. For example, he recognized Chad’s worthiness and regularized his episcopal ordination.

Theodore gave definitive boundaries to English dioceses, so that their bishops could give better pastoral attention to their people. He presided over synods that brought about reforms, according to established rules of canon law. He also laid the foundations of the parochial organization that still obtains in the English Church.

According to Bede, Theodore was the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed, and possibly to no other leader does English Christianity owe so much. He died in his eighty-eighth year, September 19, 690, and was buried, with Augustine and the other early English archbishops, in the monastic Church of Saints Peter and Paul at Canterbury.


Almighty God, who didst call thy servant Theodore of Tarsus from Rome to the see of Canterbury, and didst give him gifts of grace and wisdom to establish unity where there had been division, and order where there had been chaos: Create in thy Church, we pray thee, 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 liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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.


Malachi 2:5–7

2 Timothy 2:1–5,10

Matthew 8:23–27

Psalm 71:18–23

Preface of a Saint (1)

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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7 thoughts on “September 19: Theodore of Tarsus; Archbishop of Canterbury, 690

  1. New Psalm: It stops at the penultimate verse? Why? Nobody liked verse 24?

    Imagine announcing this Psalm to read from the BCP 79: “The Psalm today is Psalm 71, beginning at verse 18 and ending at verse 23 before we read the last verse.” Is this just me?

    Why not include verse 24: ‘My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm.’?

  2. September 19: Theodore of Tarsus; Archbishop of Canterbury, 690
    I found this a remarkable and heartening commemoration. Although I’ve criticized listing clergy by Order (in contrast to listing laity by accomplishments) in the title, this one seems appropriate: Archbishop of Canterbury was both who he was AND what he did.
    Two areas leave me longing for some more detail: his long pre-episcopal life as “a learned monk of the East,” and some mention of the kinds of obstacles he had to overcome in order to “establish unity where there had been division, and order where there had been chaos.” Defining boundaries is one kind, but it almost sounds like he arrived, waved his irenic magic wand, and there was evening and there was morning, and it was good. The Collect suggests the same although it nevertheless works well as a prayer. I feel it takes “grace and wisdom” — and guts – to be the kind of leader we hear of here, and we may have omitted describing the “guts” department.
    The epistle is truly a brilliant selection. It could easily be extended and still be on track for this commemoration. The gospel selection, also, is most apropos. The OT reads well enough but it is clearly a “proof text” kind of selection; its context wouldn’t dare be included, being a condemnation (a cursing, actually) of unworthy worship! That’s not a good tactic for a lectionary. Michael has already questioned omitting the last verse of the psalm – a common enough practice for excluding imprecatory content, but again lacking something in OT theological integrity.
    I’m reminded of Gretchen Pritchard’s comments on how children’s bibles pretty-up the Bible with the result that kids end up with a bunch of moralistic hero stories but never “get” important strands of revelation, or (for OT) Israel’s story as a whole, simply because such material doesn’t easily conform to that simplistic kiddy formula technique. I’m also reminded of Edwin Friedman’s thesis about the “Failure of Nerve” – i.e., that outstanding leadership needs nerve. I can’t imagine Theodore of Tarsus as simply being “nice.” “Denial” (omission) of imprecatory material, or cherry-picking select but out-of-context OT passages, no matter how well they read (and this whole commemoration reads well), seems like a wrong strategy for the kind of “corporate spiritual direction” HWHM serves.

  3. Theodore is a model Archbishop who deserves to be celebrated.

    i do not really see the reason for the new gospel. It seems moere obscure than the old one, which at least talked about the faithful srvant who guarded his master’s estate againt the evil one. Theodore, as far as I know, never walked on water.
    The new psalm is a good choice, and in this context stopping before verse 14 makes sense.

  4. In the list of Archbishops of Canterbury in the Church Annual, the Latin form (Theodorus) of his name is shown. I hope someone with clout can persuade the publisher to use the form we will be using in HWHM.

    The first sentence is punctuated to make it appear that the birthplace was a city known as “Tarsus in Asia Minor”. A simple rewording would be: “Theodore was born in Asia Minor in 602 in St Paul’s native city, Tarsus.”

    [There would be a good reason for the C of E to commemorate Theodore’s life. Of course, I accept the idea of broadening HWHM to include saints from other faiths; I just wonder if TEC needs another pillar of the C of E, dating back to the 7th Century.]

  5. Since the last attempt seems to have been lost in cyberspace, I am trying again: Reading the blog, it seems that in reference to the “Guidelines & Procedures…” there is some confusion confusion about the past work of the SCLM Calendar Comm. and future requirements for inclusion in the Calendar.
    5. Range of Inclusion[p.743] provides a brief summary of the charge given to the SCLM in 2000 by our former Presiding Bishop. That is the basis on which the Cakendar Comm. offered possible new commemorations to the SCLM, and through that body to the General Convention of 2009.
    6. Local Observance[p.743] was/is intended as a priority measure for future proposals, although it has been informative to see evidence of local observance that has surfaced in the face of skepticism. Greg Howe

  6. The change of Gospel lesson seems to change the tone of Theodore’s mission, alluding to his strong leadership as opposed to referring to a Church in England that had been ministering for centuries prior to Theodore’s arrival (in the LFF Matthew 24 reading). Seems more appropriate considering the ‘storms’ he calmed.

    Repeated editorial comment:
    A footnote reference to The Venerable Bede and Chad, with their dates, would assist the neophyte is using this work.

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