Odo of Cluny vs. Theodore the Studite

How could you NOT love a matchup between a guy named Odo and another guy who is known as a Studite? Meet Odo of Cluny and Theodore the Studite (spoiler alert for those getting ready to leave a comment: autocorrect does not like "Studite." At all.)

Yesterday, in the most lopsided battle of Lent Madness 2017, Florence Nightingale routed Anselm of Canterbury 81% to 19%. She will move on to face Henry Beard Delany in the Saintly Sixteen.

And, finally, it's not everyday that ESPN covers that other famous bracket tournament that takes place in March. But recently ESPN radio in Louisville, Kentucky, interviewed passionate Lent Madness booster, the Rev. Katherine Doyle of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, about everyone's favorite online Lenten devotion. Take a listen as she appeared on the Bob Valvano show. It's a great segment which you can listen to by clicking here (the spot in question begins at 21:30 of the broadcast). Nice job!

Odo of Cluny

Odo was born circa 879 in France. Odo’s father Abbo secretly dedicated his son to Saint Martin, sending him to a priest for education and formation. But as Odo grew, he became a hale and hearty young man—much more suited, in his father’s opinion, to the life of a noble warrior. Abbo sent Odo to live at the court of one of the dukes of Aquitaine.

Odo recounts that while praying and singing one day in court, he was seized with a violent pain in his head. He suffered for three years until his father confessed his promise to dedicate his son to Saint Martin. Soon after, Odo received the tonsure—the practice of some monks to shave the crown of the head—and served at St. Martin’s Church in Tours.

After reading the Rule of Saint Benedict, Odo was horrified to realize how much his life (and the lives of his brother monks at Tours) deviated from the Rule. Monks at Tours discarded their habits in favor of the fashion of the day and often received gifts from noblemen in exchange for prayers. They wore expensive shoes and refused to walk outside for night prayers to avoid ruining their shoes. They ate lavish meals while ignoring the hungry.

Odo committed himself to living the Rule of Saint Benedict. He discarded his personal property, ate meager rations, and prayed fervently. He embraced the ascetic life and spoke out against the evils of the church of his time—ecclesiastical abuses, lack of prayer, and the oppression of the poor.

Odo entered the monastery at Baume where the Rule of Saint Benedict was strictly followed. Odo would eventually be appointed Abbot of Cluny. Odo visited Rome several times, negotiating peace between the violent power politics of warring nobles and the church. Monasteries in Italy and France summoned him to instill reform within their own walls.

Odo’s legacy is seen in the great age of monasteries, places where worship, care for the poor, and art flourished. His deep spirituality gives us insight into his zeal and commitment to reform holy orders. Odo died in 942 in Tours after assisting with worship on the Feast Day of Saint Martin of Tours.

Collect for Odo of Cluny 
God of grace, you hear the promises we freely offer and see the hidden desires of every heart. We thank you for the example of your servant Odo, who zealously sought righteousness and lived out holy community in his life and work. Grant that we, in our own time and ways, would ever seek your will in our lives, to the honor of your son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

-Laurie Brock

Theodore the Studite

Theodore the Studite (759-826), also known as St. Theodore of Stoudios, was a Greek Orthodox monk. Born in 759, he grew up in a prominent bureaucratic family in Constantinople, receiving a private education that eventually came to be heavily focused around theology.

Theodore’s maternal uncle Platon encouraged the whole family to take monastic vows and transform the family farm into a monastery. Theodore, his father, and his sister joined Platon in 781 and sailed to Bithynia in northwest Asia Minor near the Black Sea. Following the guidance of the Greek bishop, Basil of Caesarea, they established a community that came to be known as the Sakkudion Monastery.

Shortly after Theodore was ordained a priest, Uncle Platon—the abbot of the Sakkudion—took a permanent vow of silence and handed control of the monastery to his nephew. Theodore did well running the Sakkudion Monastery, despite his persistent habit of denouncing the emperor’s divorce and remarriage. This led to years of exile, fights with and floggings from emperors, patriarchs, iconoclasts, and difficult popes. Ultimately, after lots of fasting, praying, and writing iambic verse about icons and clean living, Theodore revived the monastic community of Stoudios in Constantinople

Theodore built Stoudios into a major scholastic and artistic center. Under his leadership, Stoudios became known for its literary output. Theodore devised what amounted to a private mail system for the network of monasteries in and around Constantinople and wrote poems enshrining the community’s rule of life in an easy-to-remember form. Aside from his monastic innovations and reforms, Theodore is best known for two great works: the theological treatise On Holy Icons, a pivotal and foundational work for the use of icons in worship, and a letter he wrote instructing his followers not to own slaves—the first recorded Christian theological stand against slavery.

Collect for Theodore the Studite
Gracious God, who speaks to us in both the complexity of art and the quiet of simplicity, we thank you for your servant Theodore the Studite, who reminded your Church of the many ways in which you are present. Grant us, we pray, the eyes to see you wherever and whenever you appear, that we may see your glory in all your creation, and especially through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

-Megan Castellan

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Odo of Cluny: Unknown Artist, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Theodore the Studite: By Anonymous, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


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268 comments on “Odo of Cluny vs. Theodore the Studite”

    1. Good reason, Oliver. I also liked that he put the communities rule of life into easy to remember poems.

    2. Me too, Oliver! It was his stand on slavery that tipped the scales in his favor.

      1. I'll have to vote with Oliver and Tom... and everyone else. It was a really tough choice today

    3. I second that.
      However, in reading about Theodore I must say I envied how Theodore's method of written communication was relatively safe in comparison with today's electronic world.....

    4. Oliver, I obviously didn't read closely enough the first time, because I didn't notice his anti-slavery stance until I saw your comment. Thanks for convinincing me to vote for Theodore

    5. Ms. Brock wrote lovely about Odo. But I had to go with Teddy.
      First Episcopalian to denounce slavery. Works for me.
      Seems like their time was a ver violent time.❤

    6. I'm with you, Oliver. They both sounded wonderful but Theodore won my heart by denouncing slavery!

    7. If Theo had done more than write a letter against slavery, I would have picked him, because this is so important. But I felt Odo made more personal sacrifices to bring peace to the world, so I voted for him.

  1. I love the story of Odo's re-dedication to The Rule of St. Benedict. Worth consideration for me today!

    1. This story is wonderful. It is difficult to recognize one's own faults, let alone change the way you live r/t to them. Impressive. Difficult choice today. The anti slavery is very important as well.

    1. As a Benedictine Associate -- don't want too-too much stability! -- I vote for Odo as well.
      I personally would probably not do well in a strict house. But reform and awareness of our history is important.

  2. I voted for Odo because of his dedication and sacrifices for the Lord our Savior! I love his story 😀

      1. Thank you Miss Jan. I would love to participate someday. Being Anabaptist, it is sometimes hard to find an outlet for my love for Icons and religious art in general within my own tradition.

    1. We have a stunning icon of St. Michael in the nave of my church and I've always found it very contemplative while kneeling at the altar rail. But the reason I voted for Theodore
      was because he condemned slavery at a time when it was standard operating procedure.

  3. Toughest choice yet for me. I voted for Odo because of monastic reforms that can remind me to live more simply. I do admire Theodore's stand against slavery though.

  4. I opted for Theodore ... truth to secular power Trumps truth to ecclesiastical power.

    1. I disagree. If there's no truth, or discipline, in the ecclesiastical community, how are we to expect the secular community to reform?

  5. Let's hear it for headaches! I voted for Odo because he was faithful to the rule of Benedict when many others were not.

    1. Agreed! This was a tough one. I love them both and enjoyed learning about them. Tough to choose between someone who fought for peace and faithfulness to the Rule, and someone who fought slavery and championed Icons.

  6. As a fan of Star Trek and not having heard of either Saint before, I was prepared to vote for Odo, but then I read this:

    "Theodore is best known for two great works: the theological treatise On Holy Icons, a pivotal and foundational work for the use of icons in worship, and a letter he wrote instructing his followers not to own slaves—the first recorded Christian theological stand against slavery."

    1. I agree, Miss Jan. The anti-slavery stance and use of icons in prayer and worship is the determining factor for me. How delightful to hear of two saints not in Holy Women, Holy Men. Thank you, SEC.

  7. Ann, I agree wholeheartedly! St. Benedict's rule is essential to any and all aspects of Christianity.

  8. I like icons and he wrote against slavery. Not easy decision as both from a long long time ago and probably lots of legend involved

  9. Love the Rule of Saint Benedict, yet the stand against slavery won me over so I went with the Studite

  10. Two monastics. I went for Odo since his work at Cluny later inspired St. Bernard of Clairvaux and I enjoyed his "On Loving God."

  11. I voted for Odo, his work in negotiating peace between political rulers and the church reminds me of the work of Andrew White also known as the Vicar of Baghdad today

  12. Went for the Stud-ite! But seriously, his anti-slavery stand, plus his pioneering work on icons and other art, won the contest for me.

  13. I can certainly see why this is a close one. So hard to pass over a writer of iambic verse about icons, but I chose to go with the peace negotiator. Would that he could return today.

  14. This was a hard choice! Odo's praying AND SINGING in the courtyard was a huge pull! But the integration of art into devotion--and a private postal system--AND the first Christian voice against slavery won my vote for the competition!

  15. Wow, this is a tough one. I was very drawn to the "hale and hearty young man" and tried to imagine the monks' beautiful shoes. I hate to vote against a French monk, especially one situated in Tours in the heart of the Loire valley. I imagine they had excellent wine to go with their gorgeous shoe buckles. However, I am also deeply committed to supporting the eastern churches, and while Theodore is Greek Orthodox and therefore still part of a church-state alliance (and not one of the struggling Syriac Christians or what MacCulloch calls the "monophysite" or "diaphysite" Xians), he did reject slavery. That seems like a huge effort to live out gospel values. Plus he wrote poetry, and I cannot help but think of Yeats’s vision of Byzantium: pern in a gyre, sages in a fire. Above all, for me, Theodore is a defender of icons. M-J Mondzain’s argument is that icons found our modern visual culture; she maintains that the iconophiles revered icons as the very basis of thinking itself. The icon calls us into a mystery. So I cast my vote for Theodore and gaze into the profound eyes of Christ Pantocrator and remember that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

  16. Wow!! At 8:32 a.m. eastern standard time our two contenders are neck-and-neck. It's a nail biter. I had to go with Odo because I'm a sucker for Benedictines.

  17. Odo's praying AND SINGING in the courtyard pulled me toward a vote for him. But
    Theodore's incorporation of art in devotion and the private postal system and his statement against slavery won my vote.

  18. Thanks for starting my morning with a good laugh. It's a matchup of monnikers! I voted for the Stud--ite. He raps and instructs his followers not to own slaves. Embrace the madness.

  19. Like many I was swayed by ..... letter he wrote instructing his followers not to own slaves—the first recorded Christian theological stand against slavery. Oliver is very wise.