Monday, September 19, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember Theodore of Tarsus and the creation of the English Church.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 19th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that perhaps Theodore of Tarsus doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Theodore what? Yes- of Tarsus and then the Archbishop of Canterbury.

And perhaps both of those city names ring a bell in church history. It was, of course, Saul, who was from Tarsus, who would become Paul the Apostle. Tarsus is a city in modern-day Turkey near the southern Mediterranean coast.

And Canterbury- or “the Archbishop of Canterbury” is something you might be familiar with, either from church history or from watching the recent events in England with the death of the Queen- it is the ultimate church position in England and for the church of England- not quite like a Pope but a pretty big deal. And it’s a big deal, in part, because of Theodore of Tarsus.

Theodore was born in 602 in Tarsus, just as the Byzantines were about to start fighting the Sassanids. The Sassanids were the Iranian empire that would eventually give way to the Muslims. But before the Muslims (they came later in the century), the Sassanids gave the West a headache. Most of what we know about Theodore has had to be reconstructed from second and third-hand sources- we know he was educated in Athens and that he made his way to Rome. He impressed Pope Vitalian such that he was sent to England to sort out the mess there. Of course, when we say “England,” you probably think of it as the whole bottom half of that big Island- but in the 600s, it was composed of a bunch of different kingdoms- Mercia, Northumbria, etc. It wasn’t until after 1066 that the Normans that England started to look like it does today.

So the year is 668, and Theodore has been consecrated by the Pope to be the Archbishop of Canterbury- note, he was born in 602 so he is 66 at the time. He made it to England and immediately had to settle a few controversies- the first, between a St. Wilfrid and a St. Chad. This impressed the locals such that he was granted authority to convene a council- the first ever council held in England at Hereford in 673. At this synod, he set a date for Easter to correspond across the kingdoms and with Rome (remember how important the dating of Easter was for the early church- it was unthinkable that Christians would celebrate the Resurrection on different days- the history of the modern calendar in the West is a story about the dating of Easter).

He would convene another council at Hatfield in 680. He was concerned about the Monothelites… you might remember that from last week- those who believed Jesus had only one will- one that bridged the human and divine natures- this was close enough to Nestorianism that people got spooked.

The Archbishop of Canterbury can trace its authority back to St. Theodore and his uniting of the English church. Of course, the Reformation would sever the ties between Canterbury and Rome, but the Archbishop remained the top dog.

Theodore would also establish a cathedral school- one of the most important as it created scholars who could work in Latin but also Greek. Theodore came from the East and studied in Athens- Greek would fall out of use in later years, but there would still be a remnant thanks to schools like that created by Theodore. It was at this school that the Venerable Bede would study- and if you couldn't guess from his name, he was venerated by the church for his learning and writing- especially his history of the church of the English people.

Having come at the age of 66, what St. Theodore of Tarsus did accomplish is remarkable- he would die on this the 19th of September in 690 at the age of 88 established the school, called the councils, and elevated the archbishopric of Canterbury to the supreme position in the English church.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today:

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected,
 which has become the cornerstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Theodores include the Archbishop, Ted Theodore Logan, and the chipmunk who was somehow adopted with his brothers by a human male Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who will never understand that cartoon. They’re the only talking animals? Until three girl chipmunks show up? I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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