"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Eastern Christian on the Throne of Canterbury

Though it is a commonplace that we live in a globalized world today, and a common stereotype that the ancients were prisoners of their surroundings, generally unable to go hither and thither, some of them did lead--as we would say today--very "international" lives, bringing far-flung parts of the oikoumene into interesting and influential encounter. One such figure is Theodore of Tarsus (c. 602-690), who was born in Asia Minor (in Cilicia) but spent the last two decades of his life as archbishop of Canterbury--a product of Eastern Christianity in a very Western see.

Little was known about Theodore, especially his early life prior to taking up his archiepiscopal appointment in Canterbury. What shaped his thought? Who were formative figures for him? Did he, coming from something of a non-Chalcedonian part of the world, bring those views to shape how Christians in England understood Christ? We are closer to answering some of these questions thanks to a new book:

James Siemens, The Christology of Theodore of Tarsus: The Laterculus Malalianus and the Person and Work of Christ (Studia Traditionis Theologiae) (Brepols, 2010), xvii+211pp.

Recent research has uncovered texts that shed light on Theodore, especially his views about Christ. As the publisher tell us:

Theodore of Tarsus served as archbishop of Canterbury for twenty-two years until his death in 690, aged eighty-eight. Because the only significant record we had of Theodore was that contained in Bede’s Historia, until recently it was very difficult to say anything about his life before this appointment, and even more difficult to determine anything about his thought. All of that changed in the last half of the twentieth century, when the discovery of some biblical glosses from Canterbury was revealed and the ensuing scholarship uncovered more of Theodore’s work than had previously been known. The Laterculus Malalianus is a text that benefited from treatment in this period. This present work examines the Laterculus for what it has to say about the person and work of Christ, and establishes that Theodore’s main theological inspiration was Irenaeus of Lyons and the concept of recapitulation, even while he cast his thought in language heavily drawn from the Syriac East, and Ephrem the Syrian in particular.
The volume represents a contribution to our understanding of the early medieval theological project in Britain, the transmission of eastern Mediterranean thought in the early medieval West and, ultimately, of the work of Theodore of Tarsus.
This will be reviewed later this year in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies by John Hunwicke.


  1. I truly appreciate your effort in bringing to light so many wonderful books. I am also dismayed at the exorbitant cost of some. For instance, I have always been a lover of Saint Theodore of Tarsus and Canterbury, so you can understand the excitement at see this book. That is, until I saw the prize, even on Amazon, $87.00 for a 211 page book? My heart dropped into my stomach. Oh well, guess I'll have to plan for it down the road.
    Thank you again for this website and what you present to us.

  2. Matthew: Thanks very much for your greatly appreciated comment. Prices: Yes, alas, too many books in Eastern Christian studies are exorbitantly expensive in part because Eastern Christianity remains too obscure and publishers therefore have very small print runs and very high prices to try and recoup costs. This is especially the case with more specialized scholarly monographs, as with this one on Theodore, which comes from an academic press, whose prices are generally significantly above that of a more "mainstream" or commercial press.


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