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. 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...."

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

  3. 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.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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)..

  8. 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.

  9. 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 .

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

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

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

  15. “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.

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

  17. 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!

  18. 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?

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

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