John Cassian vs. James Lloyd Breck

After a week full of major saints and prominent names, we're dialing it back and injecting a small dose of obscurity with this match-up. That's not to say that John Cassian and James Lloyd Breck are lightweights, they just don't have the name recognition of some of the contenders vying for the Golden Halo. Will the monastic carry the day or will he wander around on his hands and knees futilely seeking an oasis in the desert of Lent Madness? Or will Breck, like Philander Chase before him, rally Midwesterners and seminary alumni to his cause?

In yesterday's action, Dietrich Bonhoeffer swept to a resounding victory over the apostle James, leaving members of Jesus' inner circle (Thomas then James) to wonder just where they went wrong. Don't forget to check the the updated calendar of match-ups and the updated bracket.

John Cassian (360- c.435), considered a saint  by the Eastern church but never canonized by the Western church, was a Desert Father who championed monasticism as a spiritual way of life. He was a follower of St. John Chrysostom who ended up in Rome as an emissary to Pope Innocent I for that exiled Patriarch of Constantinople.

When invited to establish Egyptian-style monasteries in Southern France, Cassian did so for women as well as men. His writings, Institutes of the Monastic Life and Conferences on the Egyptian Monks greatly influenced St. Benedict whose Rule has shaped Western monasticism for centuries. It is said that Benedict insisted that sections of the Conferences be read aloud to his monks.

Cassian outlined three stages of monastic life. Young monks concentrated upon prayer and ascetic practices in order to take control over the flesh. This period of purgation often lasted years as the monastic came to identify with Christ's temptation in the wilderness. In the next stage, the monk took on a teaching role by encouraging others in the faith, showing hospitality, and becoming connected to Jesus through the Sermon on the Mount. Finally, elderly monks often fled into the desert to obtain union with God through solitude. This last stage saw monks identifying with the Transfigured Christ.

Cassian died in 435 and is recognized in the calendars of the Eastern Orthodox and Episcopal Churches on February 29th -- a date that only arises every four years.

Collect for John  Cassian: Holy and Mighty One, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ blessed the pure in heart: We give you thanks for the life and teachings of John Cassian that draw us to a discipline of holy living for the sake of your reign. Call us to turn the gaze of the eyes of our soul always toward you, that we may abide in your life, shown to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit is one God, living and true, to the ages of ages. Amen.

-- Meredith Gould

James Lloyd Breck, “the Apostle to the Wilderness,” was an indefatigable establisher of institutions, including Nashotah House and Seabury Divinity School (now Seabury Western)—Episcopal seminaries to this day—as well as the first Native American missions west of the Mississippi and the first Episcopal Schools in California.

Born in Philadelphia in 1818, Breck attended General Seminary in New York.  Responding to the call of Bishop Jackson Kemper (feast day May 24), Breck and two classmates journeyed to the frontiers of Wisconsin in 1841 where they established Nashotah House. In 1850, Breck headed to St. Paul, Minnesota to begin another training institution; when that venture failed, he turned his attentions to establishing missions to the Chippewa and Ojibway (guided by fellow Lent Madness competitor Enmegahbowh). Threats of violence forced him and his family to leave the second mission after only eight months.

Heading to Faribault, Minnesota, he opened a school for Native American refugees, St. Mary’s School for girls, Shattuck School for boys, and Seabury Divinity School. While there, Breck’s wife died, and he later lost everything in a fire. To this he remarked, “I should think it a good time for me to emigrate to the West.”

After a trip East for fundraising and recruitment (Breck was also an amazing fundraiser, sending a constant flow of letters to donors), Breck boarded the Henry Chauncey, along with his children and second wife, and headed to California. There, he established St. Augustine’s College with a boys’ school, a girls’ school, and a theological college, and served St. Paul’s parish, Benicia.

On March 2, 1876, Breck fainted while saying Evening Prayer at the school chapel. He died soon after.  Although originally buried in Benicia, 20 years later his remains were moved to Nashotah House where they are to this day.

Collect for James Lloyd Breck: Teach your Church, O Lord, we pray, to value and support pioneering and courageous missionaries, whom you call, as you called your servant James Lloyd Breck, to preach, and teach, and plant your Church on new frontiers; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 -- Laura Toepfer


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63 comments on “John Cassian vs. James Lloyd Breck”

  1. This is a no-brainer, but then again, I went to VTS and am an east coaster in my formation, so these midwest educational types mean little to me.

    1. Education helps us rise beyond our geographic limitations and "types" thinking, to go where we are called.

  2. This is another tough one. I've always been a fan of James Lloyd Breck and his mission in the west (I'm a far westerner by birth and became an Episcopalian under clergy schooled at Nashota and SWTS, and did my DMin at SWTS). However, the importance of John Cassian in the development of monasticism, and especially his influence on early Irish monasticism (a subject dear to my heart), is going to trump American Anglican history today.

  3. St. John Cassian left one of the deepest and richest spiritual legacies in the history of the Church. Go Cassian!

  4. Cassian FTW. John Cassian was one of the main exporters of Egyptian monastic ideas to Europe, and we all know that monks are the awesome. Did you enjoy The Name of the Rose? Do images of bookish monks with their heads bowed in prayer warm your heart? Do you sip chartreuse occasionally? Thank John Cassian!

    Also, his Conferences are a hell of a read.

  5. Cassian sure has a golden halo around his head! Skye's turn today -- she is home sick from school so has had lots of time to ponder the candidates. She casts an enthusiastic vote for Cassian. Why? She thinks his life experiences sound really cool, actually really hot, being out in the desert so much of the time. Plus, that halo in the picture looks really golden.....

    1. It's funny to see what criteria children use. My older one is most interested in voting for a "girl,next criteria: gruesome death. My younger child is a bit more well-rounded. Neither of them really pays much attention to the picture, though, except to note if it's recent enough to be a photograph. They haven't looked at today's match-up yet but I bet they are going to go for Cassian.

  6. A little proof-reading of John Cassian's Collect is called for. Not an easy pick today.

  7. I am continuing my streak of voting for these Episcopal missionary pioneers. Without Breck's work, the Episcopal Church would be a regional church. Plus, I have friends who worship at St. Paul's Benicia. Still a thriving parish of the Diocese of Northen California.

  8. If Benedict is the father of western monasticism, Cassian is surely the grandfather. Even Breck owes much of his success to Cassian's coaching. Go John!

  9. I excitedly voted for John Cassian when I saw he was the Dessert Father.
    What's that? He was a "Desert Father"? Never mind.

  10. I never really understood the power of JLB's work until I moved to Minnesota. As someone earlier said, our American Episcopal Church might be a regional church (east coast!) without his, and other missionaries', work. He went where he was called.

  11. I have to say Breck as well. Go west young man and teach the Gospel and tell the truth.

  12. I am going for Cassian today - he was an early champion of women by setting up monastaries for both sexes.....

  13. If you really didn't like Augustine's predestination theology, you should be happy with his "opponent" Cassian. Actually, I liked what I read about both men today. But you can only select one! (Well you SHOULD only select one.)

  14. I went for the Breck-en-ator.
    He seems over-qualified and I like his bravado in face of loss.
    Also, I'm a fund raiser too, so there is this soft spot in my heart for my fellow pesky pesterer of people for money.

  15. Go Cassian! The major reason he got put on February 29th is that he fought with Augustine over predestination. He felt that Augustine's teaching in favor of predestination would lead people to assume that they're actions didn't matter (and so would feel free to behave badly). Cassian lost that fight and so he, or at least some of his books, was condemned as semi-pelagian. His monastic books were to important to be dropped, however, so he tended to be studiously ignored outside the monasteries.

  16. As a cradle to grave Episcopalian (not that I'm in the grave yet!) I'm voting for Breck. The Episcopal Church is AWESOME! Am I right???? Go Team Epi!

  17. Breck for sure. While in Saint Paul, MN he WALKED to Gull Lake--a matter of 150 miles by today's roads--to chat with Hole-in-the-Day, chief of the upper Mississippi Chippewas. Hole-in-the-Day was out, so Breck turned around and walked back to Saint Paul. The man was an indefatigable disciple for the Lord!

  18. I wish we'd had Cassian up on his feast day since it only comes every four years, unless transferred.

  19. This was a tough one. I was drawn to John Cassian but voted for Breck in honor of St. Paul's, Benicia, where I trained while in seminary.

    1. Hi Sara,
      How about calling that Alum association of yours? 🙂 If Kenyonites can do it, why not the Breck School?
      GO JLB!

  20. I spent two years as a troubled pre-teen and teen ager at Kemper Hall in Racine, WI where the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary quite literally saved my life while my parent's marriage was breaking up.
    I studied at Nashota House while I was a member of All Saints Cathedral in Milwaukee.
    I have lived in Wisconsin for more than thirty years and now reside in Northern Wisconsin (with plans to retire to Florida).
    Although Cassian is very important, this is easy for me.
    Go Breck!

  21. My affinity for Native Americans and Breck's work with them, along with his apparent tendency to understate ("I should think it a good time for me to emigrate to the West!") while under tremendous stress put him over the top for me, though I have to agree, "Dessert" Father Cassian" makes this a difficult choice!

  22. While I wish the blurb was true- and that SWTS was still an seminary- it was, in its day, a great place- not least as the first Anglican Seminary to have daily eucharist- Breck was an impressive man and, like a few others we've seen, a great example to a church facing a serious need for growth - in numbers and in depth of theology and sacramental spirituality- so this one is easy.

  23. Although John Cassian is deserving of the golden halo he is already sporting, as a daughter of Nashotah House and a devotee of the "Black Monk" Halloween HayRides (an earlier, friendlier house to be sure), I had to go with Breck today. If Kenyonites can do it so can Nashotahites! ON NASHOTAH!

  24. Though Breck fans make a good case for the missionary, and if it were Tuttle, I'd be in a pickle, I have been sharing this site with nonAnglican friends, and am embarrassed that Chase beat out Merton. Team spirit has its place. But really. So I'm going with the monastic today. Way before the time of the Episcopal Church, but the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers is part of our DNA. Without it, we'd be little more than the offspring of the 16th century rise of nation states.