Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Theodorus, Abbot of Tabenna, Confessor

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On account of the extraordinary purity of his manners, from his very infancy, surnamed by the Greeks The Sanctified. Such was the edification which the whole church received in the fourth and fifth centuries from many great lights of the monastic Order, which then shone in the deserts of Egypt, that Theodoret and Procopius think the flourishing state of these holy recluses was particularly foretold in those passages of the prophets, in which it is said of the age of the New Law of Grace, that, The wilderness shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise, etc. Which interpretation is ingeniously applied to the same purpose by F. Possinus. “There,” said an ancient writer who had conversed with several of these holy men, “have I seen many fathers leading an angelic life, and walking after the example of Jesus.” And Saint Sulpitius Severus says of them: “For my part, so long as I shall keep alive, and in my senses, I shall ever celebrate the monks of Egypt, praise the anchorets, and admire the hermits.” One of the most eminent among the patriarchs of these saints was abbot Theodorus, the disciple of Saint Pachomius. This saint was born in Upper Thebais, about the year 314, of illustrious and wealthy parents, and from his expectations in the world, or from the dangers and distractions of its riches and enjoyments, he drew the strongest motives for despising it. When he was between eleven and twelve years of age, being penetrated more than ordinary with the great truths of the gospel, on the feast of the Epiphany he gave himself to God with uncommon fervour, protesting that he had never preferred any thing in his heart to the divine love and service, and begging the grace always to be faithful in this resolution. Not to deceive himself in so delicate a point, he from that moment made it his whole study to belong in his heart and in all his actions wholly to God, fasted sometimes whole days, and spent much of his time in devout prayer. Thus he lived two years at home with his pious mother, going every day to a neighbouring grammar school. At fourteen he obtained her leave to retire from the world, and finish his education in the company of certain holy monks in the diocess of Latopolis. The reputation of Saint Pachomius drew him afterwards to Tabenna, where, by his ardour to advance in all virtue, he appeared among the foremost in that numerous company of saints. His mother repaired to Tabenna to see him; but Theodorus, fearing any temptations of looking back again on the world, which he had renounced, with all things in it, in order to follow Christ with his whole heart, entreated Saint Pachomius not to allow the interview. The mother was edified at this disposition of her son, and took the veil in a nunnery which Saint Pachomius had established, not far from Tabenna, where she strenuously laboured in the great work of the sanctification of her soul, and had sometimes the pleasure of seeing her son in the company of some of his fellow-monks. Saint Pachomius made our saint, in the twenty-fifth year of his age, his companion, when he made the visitation of his monasteries; in his thirtieth year caused him to be promoted to the priesthood, and committed to him the entire government of his great monastery of Tabenna, shutting himself up in the little monastery of Paban. Saint Theodorus went thither every evening to assist at the daily exhortation which Saint Pachomius gave to his monks, and afterwards repeated the same to the community at Tabenna, which he also instructed by his own frequent sermons and conferences. When he was going on a certain occasion with Saint Pachomius to his monastery near Panopolis, in Lower Egypt, a philosopher of that city desired a conference with the abbot. Saint Pachomius declined it, and sent Saint Theodorus, who with wonderful quickness answered all his questions, and solved his problems: but exhorted him to bid adieu to idle subtilties and barren speculations, and make the science of salvation his great study. Saint Theodorus was troubled with frequent violent headaches, and Saint Pachomius told him, that greater spiritual advantages accrue to our souls from diseases and involuntary afflictions when received and suffered with patience, than from voluntary abstinence and long prayers.

Saint Pachomius falling sick at Paban two years before his death, the monks of Tabenna, by importunities and tears, extorted Theodorus’s consent to take upon him the care of the whole congregation, when it should please God to deprive them of their holy founder. Though Theodorus had acquiesced with great reluctance, and after long resistance, Saint Pachomius afterwards reproved him for it, and removed him from his superiority of Tabenna. Saint Theodorus accepted this discharge with joy, and voluntarily accused himself of having fallen into vanity and presumption. Theodorus spent two years in the last rank in the community, below all the novices, and with joy embraced in silence every humiliation, and practised the utmost austerities: in which situation his sincere and perfect virtue shone with brighter lustre, than in all the great actions he did during his superiority, and was beyond all comparison more advantageous to his soul, as Saint Pachomius used to declare to others. The holy abbot died in 348, and Petronius, whom he had declared his successor, died thirteen days after him. Saint Orsisius was then chosen abbot; but finding the burden too heavy for his shoulders, and his congregation threatened with rising factions, he placed Theodorus in that charge, but was obliged to use compulsion; and also alleged, that it was the express order of Saint Pachomius before his death. Saint Theodorus assembled the monks, pathetically exhorted them to unanimity, inquired into the causes of their divisions, and applied effectual remedies. By his prayers and endeavours a spirit of union and charity was perfectly restored. Saint Orsisius was his assistant in the discharge of his duties; the most perfect harmony reigned between them, because where there was no pride, there no jealousy could arise. They studied who should surpass the other in humility and condescension. Saint Theodorus did nothing without the advice of Saint Orsisius, and they visited the monasteries one after the other. Saint Theodorus instructed, comforted, and encouraged every one in particular: corrected faults with a sweetness which gained the heart, and every one with an entire confidence disclosed to him the secrets of his soul, as to his tender father and skilful physician. If any one transgressed, the saint with mildness endeavoured, in the first place, to bring them to a sense of their duty, and for this he had recourse to God by prayer and fasting, means which he found never to fail him. He wrought several miracles, and foretold things to come. Being one day in a boat on the Nile with Saint Athanasius, he assured that holy confessor that his persecutor, Julian the Apostate, was that moment dead, and that his successor would restore peace to him and the church: both which were soon confirmed. Our saint also foretold the monks of Nitria, in 353, that the pride of the Arians would soon meet with a downfal. This prediction is contained in an epistle which the saint wrote to the monks of Nitria, extant in the continuation of Bollandus. We have also another letter of this saint, which is an epistolary exhortation to the devout celebration of Easter, published by Holstenius in his Code of Ancient Monastic Rules. The three letters of pious instructions which he wrote to his monks, mentioned by Gennadius, are lost.

Saint Nilus and others relate, that once whilst Saint Theodorus was preaching to his monks, who were working at the same time in making mats, two vipers crawled about his feet. So careful was the saint not to interrupt or disturb the attention of his auditory during that sacred function, that he set his foot upon them till he had finished his discourse. Then taking away his foot, he suffered them to be killed, having received no harm. One of his monks happened to die on Holy Saturday, in 367, Saint Theodorus left the divine office to assist him in his last moments, and said to those who were present: “This death will shortly be followed by another, which is little expected.” The brethren watched that night by the corpse, and interred it on Easter-day in the morning with singing of psalms. At the close of the octave of that solemnity, Saint Theodorus made a moving discourse to all his monks; for it was their custom to meet all together in the monastery of Paban for the celebration of Easter. Our saint had no sooner dismissed them to their own monasteries, in the year abovementioned, but he was taken ill, and after a fervent preparation for his last passage, having recommended the care of the community to Saint Orsisius, he happily expired on the 27th of April, in the year 367, the fifty-third of his age. His body was carried to the top of the mountain, and buried in the cemetery of the monks, with singing of psalms: but it was soon after removed, and laid with that of Saint Pachomius. Saint Athanasius wrote to the monks of Tabenna to comfort them for the loss of their holy abbot, and bids them have before their eyes the glory of which he was then possessed. The Greeks commemorate this saint on the 16th of May; the Roman Martyrology on the 28th of December. See the life of Saint Pachomius in the Bollandists on the 14th of May.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Theodorus, Abbot of Tabenna, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 December 2013. Web. 20 August 2017. <>