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


John Cassian vs. James Lloyd Breck

  • John Cassian (55%, 759 Votes)
  • James Lloyd Breck (45%, 615 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,374

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62 Comments to "John Cassian vs. James Lloyd Breck"

  1. Matthew Cowden's Gravatar Matthew Cowden
    March 7, 2012 - 8:16 am | Permalink

    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.

    • Jay Matheson's Gravatar Jay Matheson
      March 7, 2012 - 10:53 am | Permalink

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

  2. Lauren Stanley's Gravatar Lauren Stanley
    March 7, 2012 - 8:17 am | Permalink

    James Lloyd Breck. Because he went where he was called.

  3. March 7, 2012 - 8:32 am | Permalink

    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.

  4. Robert L Hart's Gravatar Robert L Hart
    March 7, 2012 - 8:33 am | Permalink

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

  5. March 7, 2012 - 8:37 am | Permalink

    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.

  6. Skye's Gravatar Skye
    March 7, 2012 - 8:45 am | Permalink

    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…..

    • March 7, 2012 - 1:52 pm | Permalink

      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.

  7. Patsy White's Gravatar Patsy White
    March 7, 2012 - 8:46 am | Permalink

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

  8. Dan's Gravatar Dan
    March 7, 2012 - 8:47 am | Permalink

    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.

  9. ESR's Gravatar ESR
    March 7, 2012 - 8:49 am | Permalink

    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!

  10. Tom Cox's Gravatar Tom Cox
    March 7, 2012 - 8:52 am | Permalink

    I excitedly voted for John Cassian when I saw he was the Dessert Father.
    What’s that? He was a “Desert Father”? Never mind.

  11. Beth Royalty's Gravatar Beth Royalty
    March 7, 2012 - 8:57 am | Permalink

    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.

  12. Michel D.'s Gravatar Michel D.
    March 7, 2012 - 8:58 am | Permalink

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

  13. Margaret Smist's Gravatar Margaret Smist
    March 7, 2012 - 9:00 am | Permalink

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

  14. Cori Olson's Gravatar Cori Olson
    March 7, 2012 - 9:04 am | Permalink

    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.)

  15. Sister Mary Winifred's Gravatar Sister Mary Winifred
    March 7, 2012 - 9:05 am | Permalink

    Fundraiser, early Episcopal Communicator . . . got to go with Breck!

  16. DnzsWithWombats's Gravatar DnzsWithWombats
    March 7, 2012 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    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.

  17. Jon's Gravatar Jon
    March 7, 2012 - 9:10 am | Permalink

    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.

  18. Eve's Gravatar Eve
    March 7, 2012 - 9:13 am | Permalink

    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!

  19. Diana Rogers's Gravatar Diana Rogers
    March 7, 2012 - 9:17 am | Permalink

    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!

  20. Anne Lane Witt's Gravatar Anne Lane Witt
    March 7, 2012 - 9:19 am | Permalink

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

  21. Kathryn Macek's Gravatar Kathryn Macek
    March 7, 2012 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    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.

  22. Sara Weigle's Gravatar Sara Weigle
    March 7, 2012 - 9:21 am | Permalink

    As a graduate of Breck School in Minneapolis, I have to vote for Breck!

    • Diane Amison-Loring's Gravatar Diane Amison-Loring
      March 7, 2012 - 9:25 am | Permalink

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

  23. Diane Amison-Loring's Gravatar Diane Amison-Loring
    March 7, 2012 - 9:23 am | Permalink

    I was born and raised in Minnesota.
    This one is a no-brainer.

    Here is the link to his picture:

    Please could someone post it?

  24. Barbara A. Cadwell's Gravatar Barbara A. Cadwell
    March 7, 2012 - 9:35 am | Permalink

    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!

  25. Ann Ely's Gravatar Ann Ely
    March 7, 2012 - 9:51 am | Permalink

    In my heart, I am a monastic. (not so much in practice!) So, my vote goes Cassian.

  26. Joe Stroud's Gravatar Joe Stroud
    March 7, 2012 - 9:58 am | Permalink

    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!

  27. David Cobb's Gravatar David Cobb
    March 7, 2012 - 10:02 am | Permalink

    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.

  28. Sarah's Gravatar Sarah
    March 7, 2012 - 10:16 am | Permalink

    I’m a sucker for the Eastern Saints. Go John Cassian!

  29. Edna's Gravatar Edna
    March 7, 2012 - 10:22 am | Permalink

    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!

  30. March 7, 2012 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    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.

  31. Blacklock's Gravatar Blacklock
    March 7, 2012 - 11:13 am | Permalink

    “an indefatigable establisher of institutions” eh? I’ll vote for the other guy.

  32. Noel's Gravatar Noel
    March 7, 2012 - 11:13 am | Permalink

    My apologies to some of my favorite former priests who were and are Nashotah House graduates and who inspired me in my spiritual growth, but I have to go with John Cassian. I am in awe of the self-discipline of those living the monastic lifestyle or Benedictine Rule. “We give you thanks for the life and teachings of John Cassian that draw us to a discipline of holy living….”

  33. Laurie Atwater's Gravatar Laurie Atwater
    March 7, 2012 - 11:29 am | Permalink

    Breck. I have a soft spot for Episcopal seminary founders.

  34. Chris Samuels's Gravatar Chris Samuels
    March 7, 2012 - 11:31 am | Permalink

    Great game. Very informative about things I never would have had time to think about. Thank you.

  35. John David Simpson's Gravatar John David Simpson
    March 7, 2012 - 11:42 am | Permalink
  36. March 7, 2012 - 11:48 am | Permalink

    One little point concerning James Beck. He may have been the first Episcopalian missionary to across the Mississippi, but there were multiple Catholic Missionaries prior to this in the midwest as well as all of the Franciscans in the Southwest 100+ yrs earlier.

    • dr.primrose's Gravatar dr.primrose
      March 7, 2012 - 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Point well taken. But when Beck showed up in Minnesota, there had already been an Episcopal presence in Minnesota for a decade.

  37. Briony's Gravatar Briony
    March 7, 2012 - 11:54 am | Permalink

    Tough call but I’ll have to cast my vote for John Cassian. Without the desert fathers, we wouldn’t have very much, after all. And missions have not always been the most loving places for native cultures, despite the best of intentions.

  38. Holly's Gravatar Holly
    March 7, 2012 - 11:57 am | Permalink

    I must admit to being somewhat confused at to the nature of people’s choices, which, with just a few exceptions, seem to privilege the Episcopalians over the non-Episcopalians, and to view early Christian saints through 21st century eyes and thus the modern folks over the ancients. My bracket has been on the losing side for almost every single match up. Although I admire the missionary work of James Breck, needless to say, I’m voting for John Cassian.

  39. March 7, 2012 - 11:59 am | Permalink

    Did I forget to include a picture of him when I sent the bio??? How embarrassing!

    Image here:

  40. March 7, 2012 - 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I have not weighed in about anyone — even Enmegahbowh — yet, but I feel I must speak up for James Lloyd Breck. He was the founding Rector of a parish I once served (All Saints, Northfield, MN). However, many other Minnesota parishes also claim that because Breck rode a circuit of churches (I just “rode” to two). He was tireless in pushing to find ways to spread the faith of Jesus. He was constantly pushing to the frontiers of his comfort zone — something most of us rarely do. My vote is not against the eminent Cassian — who equally deserves praise — but for Breck who needs to be part of our ongoing corporate memory and praise.

  41. Fr Bill Loring's Gravatar Fr Bill Loring
    March 7, 2012 - 12:26 pm | Permalink

    The notion that Feb. 29 onl comes every four years is a reflection of Cranmer’s (over)simplification of the calendar. Before 1549 liturgical calendars, Eastern and Western used the classic Nones, Ides, Kalends system and the last day of February was always the day before the Kalends of March. Leap years were called bisextile (because the 6th day before the Kalends (the 24th/25th) was counted twice in leap years so the feast of St. Matthias was moved up to the 25th and the following holy days were also moved ahead one day. Thus Cassian’s feast was observed on the last day before March.
    Interestingly the civil Gregorian calendar did use a Feb. 29 from early on, (as did post-1549 England with the Julian) but most liturgical calendars retained the bisextile (and indeed the BCP retained the term bissextile format long after changing the presentation of the calendar)..

    • March 7, 2012 - 10:18 pm | Permalink

      Oo, thanks for this fascinating calendar trivia! 🙂

    • Jennifer's Gravatar Jennifer
      March 8, 2012 - 2:11 pm | Permalink

      There are bisextiles in the BCP? Huh! Well, who knew…

  42. dr.primrose's Gravatar dr.primrose
    March 7, 2012 - 12:57 pm | Permalink

    In an earlier contest, there was a complaint that the voting reflect a mid-west Anglican bias. Oh well, guilty as charged.

    Breck should be the patron saint of church-planting. He must have founded half the churches in Minnesota, not to mention Wisconsin, Illinois, and California. His work with Native American was far-reaching.

    I have great love for the desert fathers but Breck it is.

  43. aleathia nicholson's Gravatar aleathia nicholson
    March 7, 2012 - 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I voted because it’s now a habit but not too much about which to get excited. Note that my spelling may be off…..sometimes…but not my grammar ! Breck–ho-hum; not into the monastic life as with Cassian. Nashotah House….sooooo conservative, yet highly respected and Seabury Western…reputable…(Yawwwwwwwwwn !!!) Need exciting choices .

  44. Heath Missner's Gravatar Heath Missner
    March 7, 2012 - 1:25 pm | Permalink

    This is an easy vote, Cassian for sure. The desert monastics knew how to experience the holy, rather like direct solar energy, with no need for intermediaries, yet a strong need for lengthy practice, inner discipline, and a profound commitment for the long haul. We need this energy in our seriously off-kilter world!

  45. Jill Cox's Gravatar Jill Cox
    March 7, 2012 - 1:31 pm | Permalink

    No, not the tried and true favorites today. I’m embarrased to admit, I didn’t know who either of these dudes were! I do now, and, of course, went the education route.

  46. Marguerite's Gravatar Marguerite
    March 7, 2012 - 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I always go for the monastic. People seldom realize that there were desert MOTHERS along with the desert fathers. Thank you John Cassian. Also I like that he is a saint of the Orthodox Church and not of the Roman. Points upon points IMO.

    Also Breck school wins too many championships in Minnesota. 🙂 Of course, I am truly grateful for all that Breck did for Anglicansim in the mid west. If I were a native Minnesotan, I might vote differently. But this is a Saintly Smackdown, not a regional tournament. Right?

  47. Alec's Gravatar Alec
    March 7, 2012 - 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Minnesotan or not his influence and the results of his work are felt today–a worker in the vineyard

  48. Patsy's Gravatar Patsy
    March 7, 2012 - 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for fixing the typos in the Collect. This ol’ English prof feels better now.

  49. Marguerite's Gravatar Marguerite
    March 7, 2012 - 8:13 pm | Permalink

    To my point earlier: Breck just beat Duluth Marshall 7-0 in the boys’ hockey tournament. -)

  50. Hollie's Gravatar Hollie
    March 7, 2012 - 8:29 pm | Permalink

    “I should think it a good time for me to emigrate to the West,” is a brilliant line. Whether or not it was intended with the kind of deadpan delivery I like to imagine, I’m going with Breck.

  51. Jim Begley's Gravatar Jim Begley
    March 7, 2012 - 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Gotta love a man who set’s sail for California, around Cape Horn, with family in hand. Vote Breck!

  52. Ginny Rodriguez's Gravatar Ginny Rodriguez
    March 8, 2012 - 12:42 am | Permalink

    John Cassian’s hermitage order developed pious monks. James Breck developed seminaries and, also, schools for children. Episcopal schools laid both an educational and a spiritual foundation for future Christians. I’m highly in favor of Christian education. Viva Breck!

  53. March 8, 2012 - 2:13 am | Permalink

    I’m soooo tired after attending our church’s wonderful Wednesday night Lent Event that I can only muster up a limerick for James Breck:

    Pioneering, courageous James Breck,
    Set out on a very long trek,
    To lands that were hostile,
    This Wilderness Apostle,
    For missions and schools risked his neck.

    I guess he’s the one who is inspiring me more today, and as a fellow educator, my vote’s for him. Perhaps some sleep will bring forth a poem for John Cassian?

    • Sue's Gravatar Sue
      March 8, 2012 - 3:51 am | Permalink

      Fabulous!!!! Thank You! I’m for Breck too

  54. Harry W's Gravatar Harry W
    March 8, 2012 - 11:29 am | Permalink

    Breck has my vote. Schools for Native Americans and schools for girls in a time when these were on the outside of society.

  55. Brigid Courtney's Gravatar Brigid Courtney
    March 10, 2012 - 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Cassian, only because I am a member of a religious community with Benedictine underpinnings….

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