This Week in English Catholic History: Saints Adrian (AD 635-710) and Theodore (602-690) of Canterbury

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N September 19th, we celebrate St. Adrian of Canterbury and St. Theodore of Canterbury.

Sts. Adrian and Theodore are mainly remembered for being highly successful missionaries in largely pagan England and for being best friends.

St. Adrian was originally offered the position of Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope St. Vitalian, but St. Adrian turned it down. On St. Adrian’s recommendation, the pope offered the archbishopric to St. Theodore, who accepted, and made St. Adrian the Abbot of St. Peter’s, a Benedictine monastery in Canterbury. They left for England in AD 668: St. Theodore was 66 and St. Adrian was 33.

Under St. Adrian’s direction, the School of Canterbury became the center of English religious and secular learning. He also started many other schools. These schools taught Latin, Greek, arithmetic, astronomy, poetry, and theology.

In St. Adrian’s schools were educated many of England’s future saints, scholars, and missionaries. These men strengthened not only the English Church, but also helped the fading faith and learning of France and Germany.

Under their leadership, the Church made many converts, laymen were pious, and priests were diligent. Together, St. Adrian and St. Theodore unified the customs and practices of the Anglo-Saxon Church with the Roman Church.

One of St. Theodore’s main accomplishments was writing his book Penitential, which laid out the exact public penances for sinners, according to which sins they had committed and how many. This book was widely used for many years, before private confession became popular and gives us a unique insight into the problems that plagued the Anglosaxon Church at the time.

For example, “Those who labor on the Lord’s day, the Greeks reprove the first time; the second, they take something from them; the third time, [they take] the third part of their possessions, or flog them; or they shall do penance for seven days,” and “If one slays a monk or a cleric, he shall lay aside his arms and serve God…” Kill a monk? Be a monk.

St. Theodore died long before St. Adrian, as he was much older. St. Theodore labored in England for 19 years until he died of old age. St. Adrian labored for 39 years until he also died of old age.

The time of Sts. Theodore and Adrian was later known as a golden age of English learning and piety. King St. Alfred the Great (AD 849-899) still possessed old handwritten manuscripts written during their time, but unfortunately barely anyone could read them because literacy had died out again! St. Alfred lamented that in the golden age of Sts. Theodore and Adrian, men came to England to learn, but in St. Alfred’s day, English men had to go abroad!

Sts. Theodore and Adrian provide a great example of combining religious faith with secular learning. They are also great examples of courage and of diligence: they both labored for decades in God’s vineyard. Sts. Theodore and Adrian, pray for us, and as you reformed the Anglosaxon Church, so aid us in reforming our Universal Church!

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, (C) 2018.

John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster is a graduate of Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

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