Lanternarius Press

POPE THEODORE I, THE LAST PALESTINIAN POPE

It was the early 600s. The Muslims had conquered the Levant, or eastern Mediterranean lands, taking Jerusalem in 638, in a bloodless coup. It became difficult for the Christians to live there, especially the clergy. A priest, Theodorus, of Jerusalem, a man of Greek descent, was an assistant to Stephen of Dora, the Patriarchal Vicar, an orthodox man. Theodorus had a son, Theodore, who was sent away to Rome.

Theodore, also a priest, became an important man at a relatively early age. Still in his early 30s, he became, in quick succession, cardinal deacon, then full cardinal, by Pope John IV. When John IV died after a short two year reign, Theodore was elected to replace him. He was soon confirmed by the Byzantine exarch, possibly because he was of Greek origin. He was officially the pope by November 24, 642.

Although generous to the poor and a conserver of Church buildings, Theodore is not known for these things. He is known for his ongoing battle against Monothelitism:

The Byzantinian emperor, Heraclius, had promulgated the Ecthesis, a document written by Sergius I, the Patriarch of Constantinople. This patriarch was not only the archbishop of Constantinople, but also a political player on the field. The Ecthesis stated that there was one Will in Jesus Christ, while possessing both a divine and a human nature. The successor to Sergius I was Pyrrhus I. He supported the Ecthesis that his predecessor had written. This change in the definition of Jesus Christ lead to a political rift widening between the East and the West.

Despite the work of the previous popes, Pope Theodore again had to condemn the Ecthesis and also insisted on a canonical disposition of Pyrrhus I, on the grounds that he did not support the orthodox position. First, the patriarch was deposed and made his way to Carthage. The great abbot, Maximus the Confessor, held a public debate with Pyrrhus. Maximus held the orthodox position. Pyrrhus defended monothelitism. Maximus proved that the doctrine of one will would deny the integrity of two natures of Christ, thus destroying the doctrine of the Incarnation. At the end of the debate, Pyrrhus admitted his errors. He went to Rome in 645 and made a public profession of faith. For political reasons, Pyrrhus was reinstated as patriarch of Constantinople. Then he again embraced the heresy. Apparently, Theodore had had enough. He called for a synod at St Peter’s and pronounced Pyrrhus excommunicated.

The next Patriarch of Constantinople to be appointed was Paul. He was not a Monolithite but most of the Byzantine rulers were, so it looked good from a political point of view to support the teaching. He teamed up with the 17 year old Emperor Constans II to concoct a new formula, called the Typos of Constans. The emperor was worried about the continuing political tensions and threat to domestic tranquility which was a result of the ongoing dissension. He was going to fix it. This Typos stated that it was now forbidden to discuss the will and nature of Christ. Teachers of faith would thus be forbidden to discuss this part of Faith. Pope Theodore refused to accept it and refused to allow the papal nuncio to sign the Typos. Patriarch Paul was so angry that he destroyed the Roman altar at the palace of Placidia and either exiled or imprisoned the papal nuncios. The pope wanted to depose Paul.

Theodore called another synod to discuss the problem with Patriarch Paul. But he died in May, 649, before the synod convened. He was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica within days.

Pope Martin I had to take responsibility of following through with the synod. Times did not get better.

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