Brigid of Kildare vs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If Tuesday was the battle of the Killer C's (Cranmer vs. Columba), today is the battle of the Killer B's (Brigid vs. Bonhoeffer). The victorious "B" wins a date with Jerome in the next round. But that's getting ahead of ourselves -- it's time to focus on cheap grace and a lake of beer (somebody please write a limerick!).

Yesterday Evelyn Underhill won in a romp over Monnica 71% to 29% setting up an intriguing match-up against Mary Magdalene in the Elate Eight. Be sure to check the updated bracket to see the upcoming "Madness."

Yes, even the 20th-century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) had a few quirks: He decided to become a theologian as a boy; during his post-doctoral year in New York, he disliked the fact that American students always kept their doors open (i.e., no privacy); he failed his driver’s license test more than once; and his enthusiasm for bullfighting both amused and confused his students.

Quote from a 1939 letter to Reinhold Niebuhr:

"I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people."

Quote from Life Together:

"It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work."

Quote from The Cost of Discipleship:

"When he was challenged by Jesus to accept a life of voluntary poverty, the rich young man knew he was faced with the simple alternative of obedience or disobedience. When Levi was called from the receipt of custom or Peter from his nets, there was no doubt that Jesus meant business. Both of them were to leave everything and follow. Again, when Peter was called to walk on the rolling sea, he had to get up and risk his life. Only one thing was required in each case -- to rely on Christ’s word, and cling to it as offering greater security than all the securities in the world. The forces which tried to interpose themselves between the word of Jesus and the response of obedience were as formidable then as they are to-day. Reason and conscience, responsibility and piety all stood in the way, and even the law and 'scriptural authority' itself were obstacles which pretended to defend them from going to the extremes of antinomianism and 'enthusiasms.' But the call of Jesus made short work of all these barriers . . ."

 -- Neil Alan Willard

In her lifetime, Brigid, as abbess of the double monastery at Kildare, wielded as much power as any bishop in Ireland. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that the best stories about her come from the domestic side of life and for her concern for the poor. It is said that she could coax cows to give their milk and that she seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of butter for whomever needed it.

Some stories, owing no doubt to the Celtic tradition’s mysterious pliability with the space-time continuum, send Brigid back to be Mary’s midwife and Christ’s wet-nurse. Others have her cleansing lepers and taming wolves. One tells of her coaxing speech from a pair of mute sisters by pouring a mixture of water and her own blood on their necks.

The 8th century Book of Armagh calls Brigid one of “the columns of the Irish” and says, “between St. Patrick and St. Brigid…there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many miracles.”

The seventh century Bishop Ultán of Ard Breccáin wrote this hymn in praise of Brigid: “In our island of Hibernia Christ was made known to man by the very great miracles which he performed through the happy virgin of celestial life, famous for her merits through the whole world.”

Finally, and more personally, St. Brigid’s legacy was present at every meal taken at the table in my own family’s household. In a frame on the wall of our dining room hung the table grace attributed to St. Brigid. The grace sums up Brigid’s life as one of deep longing for all to feed on the riches of Christ’s grace, the bread come down from heaven (perhaps with a little butter on it).

I should like a great lake of finest ale
For the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
For the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made of the fruits of faith,
And the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,
For they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
For they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
And the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
And bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink,
All homes, O God, embrace.

-- Adam Thomas


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78 comments on “Brigid of Kildare vs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

  1. Brigid is the saint I've embraced as an adult--a strong woman who also cared for the everyday needs of those around her. But Bonhoeffer... a radical disciple, articulate theologian, and martyr in our own time. There's no contest, but I wish I could vote for both!

  2. Okay, so I'm a little bitter at Cranmoor's win over Columba. But let me say here, as we consider the words of, admittedly, a 20 century martyr and a fifth century Celtic saint that the zeal and fierce faith of the early Celtic Christians is too easily sentimentalized and diluted. Read Brigid's prayer — twice! Consider the intertwining of all aspects of life with the gospel. Consider the commitment to the poor and all of humanity. Consider the desire in the first verse to make an offering of the "fruits of faith" and "forgiving love" to Christ and all the "family of heaven." Consider its simplicity and beauty. This prayer will find its way to my table, and Brigid gets my vote today.

    1. Ahh, Susan....this Susan agrees with your post and just must Make her prayer a part of
      My daily meals. Tis more eloquent than the one I grew up with: " God first, Others second, I'm third."

  3. Both deserve the Golden Halo that I'm sure God has given them. But for our GOLDEN HALO (choirs sings a pleasing and impressive chord) I selected Brigid. She embodies my motto, "Hospitality First."

  4. I would definitely vote for Brigid, for she is wonderful...but the thought of Bonhoeffer being jailed and then shot for coming back to Germany when he could have stayed in the US during WWII puts him over the top for me. Plus he's a little cranky. I like that.

    1. I went with Bonhoeffer too, for the same reasons. The picture of Brigid is so lovely, though--I was tempted! As these brackets narrow down, it gets harder to choose one saint over another. I just have to remember my daughter's words, "mom, you're taking this WAY too seriously!"

  5. No contest!
    I know the Irish abbess with all her legends and lorw will undoubtedly win out...sadly...sentiment seems to reign here. But Bonhoffer?! An amazing man...taken too early from our modern day. I have to vote conscience over sentiment.

  6. Time to go listen to Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs ("The Heavenly Banquet") and vote for Brigid! "I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven's family Drinking it through all eternity."

  7. I do love Bonhoeffer. He inspired me and infuriated me when I first discovered him as an undergraduate. But against Brigid? No contest. How can he compare to a woman who was bishop (according to some versions) and is patron of students, dairy products, hospitality, and beer?

  8. "...But the call of Jesus made short work of all these barriers . . .' " In Bonhoeffer's case, the barrier was Hitler. He gets my vote.

  9. "Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” -Bonhoeffer hated injustice and loved God, peace, and his fellow man. Amazing fellow, whose outspoken Christian voice against Nazism was one of the few to be heard in Germany.

    1. Elisabeth,

      From a fellow Eli(z)abeth - thank you for that quote! I just posted it on my Facebook wall to share with others 🙂

  10. Tough call, perhaps the toughest yet. Yet dispite my predeliction for all things Celtic, I'm going to have to give it to Dietrich. It is, perhaps, a saving grace that Brigid spoke of a lake of beer and Dietrich comes from a land where they make really good beer. Gender issues aside, one cannot ignore both the contributions and sacrifices made by Dietrich and we know they are fact, not, perhaps, fiction. Dietrtich uber alles!

  11. I'm so glad Adam T. included Brigid's prayer. What a stunning inclusion of all aspects of our lives, including the joys of the table, and Christ's mercy, wrapped up in a vision of the kinship of all people with God. Well. Brigid for me. What a beauty!

    1. Since Brigid would vote for Bonhoeffer, I'll vote for Brigid. I agree with others. Tough, tough choice.

  12. The SEC asked for a limerick.
    I thought, "To write one would be quick."
    "Cheap grace," "Lake of beer?"
    'Tis too tough, I fear,
    Too bad we can't vote a split tick(et).

    OK, it's ALMOST a limerick; and, it's the best I could do in a hurry! But, seriously, thanks, SEC, for a wonderfully educational AND fun Lenten discipline. That said, the facts and legends about Brigid are interesting and inspirational, but my vote goes to the guy who faced down Hitler. It's a terrible loss that his number came up when it did instead of a couple of weeks later.

  13. In her mind, a great lake of ale,
    A resource never to fail,
    A drink for the Three
    With some left for thee,
    A wondrous, heavenly grail.

    Blessed be -- go Brigid!

    One of my great-aunts worked in the reconstruction of Germany with people who'd been in the resistance to Nazis (yes, there really were some). Many of them spoke of how inspiring Bonhoeffer had been for them; not in big, grandiose ways but just to keep them plugging along and not completely despairing. But Brigid is my woman, for all the reasons people have already cited.
    How to choose?!?!

  15. Bonhoeffer get my vote today. He has been a help in my seeing Christ in the world today. He and his words help today’s people face their problems and help
    us to find our way to Christ and God's new life.

  16. Bonhoeffer--how wonderful that God gives us such people for our times--another in a line of saints down thru the centuries--a steady march

  17. "Our church has been fighting during these years only for its self-preservation, as if that were an end in itself. It has become incapable of bringing the word of reconciliation and redemption to humankind and to the world. So the words we used before must lose their power, be silenced, and we can be Christians today in only two ways, through prayer and through doing justice among human beings."

    “Thoughts on the Day of Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rüdiger Bethge”, May 1944

    1. I am struck, Mr. Lewis-Anthony, how these words still ring true, decades later! Do we, as a church, merely survive, or do we live into our mission?
      Yes, I'm glad I voted for Dear Dietrich.

  18. I have been a Bonhoeffer fan since I took Christian Ethics in college. This was still a tough choice. What tipped me over was reading the Brigid might not actually have been a person or was a composite of multiple people. It another example of the allure of "legend" vs. a fairly factual role model. I'm looking forward to listening to listening to My Life with the Saints as I drive from Indiana to Pa.

  19. This has to be the toughest choice to date! How glad I am we have ALL these saints to lead us on our journey.

  20. Hoping whoever wins this creams Jerome in the next round. I can't get over the part where Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. It just doesn't seem Christ-like to me.

  21. The Brigid stories are wonderful and I'm as much as fan of dairy as the next person ... ok, that's a bit snarky. I do admire the example of her generous hospitality and wise administrative abilities.

    Brigid shared her milk, beer, and considerable gifts with her fellow humans for the sake of Christ. Bonhoeffer risked -- and lost -- his life following Jesus into the most dangerous and dire circumstances. For reminding the rest of us of the true Cost of Discipleship - Bonhoeffer.

  22. Brigid it is. The most worthy Bonhoeffer is ahead as I cast my vote, but I'm hoping for a nail-biter between Brigid and Mary Magdalene for the Golden Halo. Vain hope? We shall see....
    And thanks, Adam, for that wonderful prayer--it will find its way to my table, too. Nobody but the Celts can write a prayer that so entwines the world, seen and unseen, into such a beautiful knot!