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May 18, 2020

Saint Theodore I, Pope of Rome (+ 649)


Man-eating executioners I call wolves,
They ate the flayed flesh of Theodore.

Saint Theodore came from Jerusalem, he was the son of a bishop, and was of Greek ancestry. His date of birth is unknown. He was a cardinal deacon, (possibly around 640) and became a full cardinal under Pope John IV. He was elected to succeed Pope John IV, after his short reign, and was quickly confirmed by the Eastern Roman Exarch of Ravenna, possibly because of his Greek ancestry. He was consecrated on November 24, 642.

Theodore was a strong opponent of the position of Emperor Heraclius who had decreed that everyone must accept the teaching of one will in the two natures of the Savior, a heresy generally referred to as Monothelitism. When Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople was deposed in 641, Theodore did not recognize Paul, Pyrrhus' successor, as Patriarch of Constantinople, because the deposition of Pyrrhus had not been canonical, and emphasized in letters to Paul and his consecrating bishops the need of securing the legal deposition of Pyrrhus. Theodore also pressed emperor Constans II to withdraw the Ecthesis of Heraclius.

While Theodore's efforts made little impression on Constantinople, it encouraged opposition to the heresy. Pyrrhus even briefly recanted his heresy after debating Maximus the Confessor, but later recanted, leading to his excommunication by Pope Theodore in 649. This excommunication was sign by Pope Theodore by dipping his pen in the consecrated wine of the Holy Eucharist.

Theodore also initiated planning for a synod to condemn the Ecthesis, but the Lateran Council of 649 convened after his death.

Theodore was an active pontiff who was good to the poor and a benefactor of his churches. He reposed on May 14, 649 and was buried in Saint Peter's Basilica.

It should be noted that in the Synaxarion of Constantinople, the Pope Theodore commemorated today is described as being a martyr who died by being skinned alive, and seemingly even cannibalized (as reflected in the above iambic verses). However, no Pope Theodore was ever skinned alive or even martyred, therefore it is not certain if this refers to another martyr who was confused with a Pope of Rome, or to Pope Theodore I who may have been falsely rumored to have died this way. Given that Pope Theodore I died on May 14th, it likely does refer to him.