Saturday, September 19, 2020

Theodore of Tarsus


Theodore of Tarsus

      Today marks the anniversary of the death, in the year 690, of Theodore of Tarsus. At the time of his death, he was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Probably you have never heard of him. That’s unfortunate; he led a most interesting life.

      Theodore was born in Tarsus (the same city as was born Paul the Apostle) on the southern coast of what is today Turkey. He grew up at a time of conflict between the Byzantine Empire controlled out of Constantinople and the Sassanid Empire out of what was then referred to as Persia (today’s Iran). At this time, pre-the rise of Islam, most of the Sassanid Empire was Zorastrian (the same religion as Freddy Mercury of Queen).  By the early 600s and the rise of Islam, the Sassanid Empire converted to Islam. As such, through this stage in his life, Theodore had been immersed in classical Persian and then Muslim cultures even as he studied classical Western and Christian studies. Ultimately, he relocated first to Constantinople and then to Rome, where he entered a monastery and continued his studies.

       Following the death, before consecration, of a man intended to be the Archbishop of Canterbury (a certain Wighard), Theodore was chosen by the Pope to fill that vacant See. He was consecrated as the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome, and at some point thereafter departed for England. Once in England, he took steps with respect to a variety of issues ranging from the calculation on what day Easter should be held to a variety of matters of church discipline. He is well served as a mediator in a number of political disputes. He founded a famous school at Canterbury. Many aspects of his time as the Archbishop of Canterbury are known through Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

       Theodore would ultimately die in Canterbury at the age of approximately 88.

      So there you have it. Theodore was born in southern Turkey, lived under both the Persian Sassanid and then the Persian Islamic Empires, studied in Constantinople and then in Rome, and spent over 20 years as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The suggesting the people in the Middle Ages did not travel far from where they were born is simply not accurate.

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