Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury
Seventh Archbishop of Canterbury, b. at Tarsus in Cilicia about 602; d. at Canterbury 19 September, 690.
Theodore was a monk (probably of the Basilian Order) but not yet in Holy Orders, living at Rome in 667, when Pope Vitalian chose him for the See of Canterbury in place of Wighard, who had died before consecration. After receiving orders, Theodore was consecrated by the Pope himself, on 26 March, 668, and set out for England, but did not reach Canterbury until May, 669. The new primate found the English Church still suffering from the jealousies and bitterness engendered by the long Paschal controversy, only lately settled, and sadly lacking in order and organization. The dioceses, coterminous with the divisions of the various kingdoms, were of unwieldy size, and many of then were vacant. Theodore, says Bede, at once "visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the Angles inhabited", and was everywhere received with respect and welcome. He made appointments to the vacant bishoprics, regularized the position of St. Chad, who had not been duly consecrated, corrected all that was faulty, instituted the teaching of music and of sacred and secular learning throughout the country, and had the distinction of being, as Bede specifically mentions, "the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed".
In 673 he convoked at Hertford the first synod of the whole province, an assembly of great importance as the forerunner and prototype of future English witenagemotes and parliaments. Going later to the court of the King of Northumbria, which country was entirely under the jurisdiction of St. Wilfrid, he divided it into four dioceses against the will of Wilfrid, who appealed to Pope Agatho. The pope's decision did not acquit Theodore of arbitrary and irregular action, although his plan for the subdivision of the Northumbrian diocese was carried out. For St. Cuthbert in 685, and in the following year he was fully reconciled to Wilfrid, who was restored to his See of York. Thus, before his death, which occurred five years later, Theodore saw the diocesan system of the English Church fully organized under his primatical and metropolitical authority. Stubbs emphasizes the immensely important work done by Theodore not only in developing a single united ecclesiastical body out of the heterogeneous Churches of the several English kingdoms, but in thus realizing a national unity which was not to be attained in secular matters for nearly three centuries.
Apart from the epoch-making character of his twenty-one years' episcopate, Theodore was a man of commanding personality: inclined to be autocratic, but possessed of great ideas, remarkable powers of administration, and intellectual gifts of a high order, carefully cultivated. Practically his only literary remains are the collected decisions in disciplinary matters, well known as "The Penitential of Theodore". It was first published complete by Wasserschleben in 1851, and several editions of it have been printed during the past sixty years. Theodore was buried in St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury, a long poetical epitaph, of which Bede has preserved only eight verses, being inscribed upon his tomb.