Margaret of Scotland vs. John Cassian

Today Margaret of Scotland takes on John Cassian and we hear two accounts of relics as they both seek to get "a head" to the next round. The Quirks & Quotes continue with the winner facing Enmegahbowh next week.

In a spirited and emotional battle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer defeated Brigid of Kildare yesterday 54% to 46%. This match-up inspired poetic responses from many Lent Madness partisans. Bonhoeffer will face Jerome in the Elate Eight. Check out the updated bracket to see how things stand heading into tomorrow's match-up between Emma of Hawaii and Paul of Tarsus.

Margaret of Scotland (1045? - 1093) was a Saxon princess, great-granddaughter of Ethelred the Unready, perhaps born in Hungary and certainly raised there before returning to England as a young girl. She arrived in Scotland by accident, shipwrecked in the Firth of Forth during flight from England back to Hungary after the Norman invasion of 1066. There she caught the eye of King Malcolm III, who convinced her to marry him despite her desire to become a nun. Malcolm had come to the Scottish throne after killing MacBeth, who some years before had killed Malcolm’s father Duncan, which you may have read about in high school.

Margaret and Malcolm had eight children. Perhaps not surprisingly, Margaret needed a place of her own to go and pray, and she found a cave outside the castle in Dumfermline  for that purpose. Her frequent nocturnal visits to the cave aroused suspicion that she was meeting someone there and plotting against her husband; legend has it that Malcolm followed her one night, only to discover her deep in prayer, beseeching God to enter Malcolm’s heart. Oops.

Margaret was known for her piety and for her lavish generosity. She personally fed nine orphans breakfast each day and invited the poor to visit the Royal Hall to receive alms, food, and clothing after breakfast. Her biographer, Turgot (Bishop of St Andrews) said of her,

“Not only would she have given to the poor all that she possessed; but if she could have done so she would have given her very self away. She was poorer than any of her paupers; for they, even when they had nothing, wished to have something; while all her anxiety was to strip herself of what she had.”

Turgot also told of her beautiful book of Gospels with a jeweled cover. One day, the book fell into a river; it was found later, perfect, with no water damage. The book now resides in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Ever desiring to assist people of all sorts, she also established a ferry system to take pilgrims to and from St. Andrews church in Fife to visit the relics of the apostle Andrew there.

Speaking of relics, when Margaret died, she was buried in Dumfermline. Two hundred years later, after she was canonized, her relics were translated to a new shrine nearby. During the Scottish Reformation, her head was given to Mary Queen of Scots, while the rest of her relics were acquired by Philip II of Spain. Philip apparently placed the relics in a special urn in a special place, and they were never found again. Meanwhile, when Mary died, Margaret’s head was secured by some French Jesuits, but like many other heads, it was lost during the French Revolution.

Let’s allow Bishop Turgot to have the last word about Saint Margaret: "No more beautiful character has been recorded in history."

 -- Penny Nash

Many Christians celebrate the feast of John Cassian on February 29 -- what's generally known as Leap Year. This happens only once every four years (including last month) so people often transfer his feast to another date.

John Cassian's relics are kept in an underground chapel in the Monastery of St. Victor in Marseilles. While his head and right hand are in the main church, there's no word on the whereabouts of his left hand.

Theologically, Cassian would later be identified with the semipelagians, emphasising the place of free will in the first step to salvation – without the need for God’s grace to initiate that. His is a middleway between Augustine and Pelagius and, while never canonized by the Rome, the Orthodox view Cassian as fully orthodox.

In Cassian's Institutes (De Coenobiorum Institutis, 420-429 AD), he devotes a book to each of the eight, what he terms, “principle faults.” It was Pope Gregory I who combined acedia with sadness as part of developing the idea of the "seven deadly sins" that are more commonly known today.

Below are four Cassian quotes on the subjects of friendship, diet, prayer, and the reception of communion:

“The bond between friends cannot be broken by chance; no interval of time or space can destroy it. Not even death itself can part true friends.”

"I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies... A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied."

“Prayer changes at every moment in proportion to the degree of purity in the soul and in accordance with the extent to which the soul is moved either by outside influence or of itself. Certainly the same kind of prayers cannot be uttered continuously by any one person. A lively person prays one way. A person brought down by the weight of gloom or despair prays another. One prays another way when the life of the spirit is flourishing, and another way when pushed down by the mass of temptation. One prays differently, depending on whether one is seeking the gift of some grace or virtue or the removal of some sinful vice. The prayer is different once again when one is sorrowing at the thought of hell and the fear of future judgement, or when one is fired by hope and longing for future blessedness, when one is in need or peril, in peace or tranquility, when one is flooded with the light of heavenly mysteries or when one is hemmed in by aridity in virtue and staleness in one's thinking.”

“We must not avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy, we would desire even more the medicine for our wounds.”

-- Bosco Peters


Margaret of Scotland vs. John Cassian

  • Margaret of Scotland (74%, 1,032 Votes)
  • John Cassian (26%, 368 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,400

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67 comments on “Margaret of Scotland vs. John Cassian”

  1. Being a member of St. Margaret's & San Francisco de Asis in Miami Lakes, FL I have to vote for Maragaret.

    1. Martha I think you are in my old home parish! I was In St. Margaret's in Miami Lakes Fl. back in 1991-early 1992. when Fr. Elsner was there. I changed over from Lutheran and was confirmed there! So of course I vote for St. Margaret of Scotland too. I am a Sr. of St. Margaret of Antioch

  2. I needed to vote for Margaret today, she had a need to help others. She reached out to help others in their needs. Listing the "principle faults" of a person as Cassian did never helped them to connect with God or gave a resource to help them in their daily life.

    1. Harry, that occurred in a monastic context and was paired with the pursuit of virtues. People perhaps need to reflect more fully on these saints and not just have quick reactions to the short bios.

  3. I greatly admire Margaret's devotion to the poor and needy but feel compelled to vote for Cassian because he worked on the removing of the beam in the individual', a definite need when wanting to help others.

  4. Surely of all the Anglican Religious there must have been at least one holy person -- and yet we always look to Rome or to the East. Enough already! Let it be Margaret.

    1. Hi Sister, I am in Society of St. Margaret..... What your community? I am voting for Margaret too

      1. If you mean the [Anglican] Society of St Margaret, founded by John Mason Neale in 1855 (and of which I've long been an Associate), we are St Margaret of Antioch, not of Scotland. But I can happily trade one Margaret for another, even though I greatly admire some of Cassian's writings.

  5. John Cassian for me - I hear echoes of what will inspire the Rule of St. Benedict - the bedrock of Western monasticism in the advice to make the regimen fit the individual. And don't forget - those of you trying to vote for Celts - that Margaret is not Celtic, but apparently Hungarian.

    1. Actually, Margaret was Saxon (i.e., what became English) - her family was in exile in Hungary during her earliest childhood so she spent some years there before returning to England. After the Norman invasion, she and her mother were trying to return to Hungary to escape the war when they shipwrecked in Scotland.

  6. Cassian is NOT semi-Pelagian. He allows the paradox between God's will and man's will to stand, without trying to systematize it all. Brilliant and faithful compiler of Desert Fathers theology. East and West meet in Cassian. The man is an underrated church father by far. Depending on who you talk to, he is "semi-Pelagian" or "semi-Augustinian." I say he's full-Cassian, dammit. 🙂

    1. Which reminds me of a lyric from "My Fair Lady" that occurs during the ballroom scene: "I can tell that she was born Hungarian"! Did she ever lose her accent? Celt or not, Margaret gets my vote.

    1. And his comment on friendship - after just reconnecting with an dear friend after 25 years!

  7. RB 73: "Then the Conferences . . . what else are they but tools of virtue for right-living and obedient monks?"

    I'll vote with Benedict on this one, for Cassian . . . .

    Bruce Robison

  8. Dan is right, the visceral response is not always the best response, BUT, this layman's "viscera" can't get past the quote about "emphasising the place of free will in the first step to salvation – without the need for God’s grace to initiate that." And, good try Sharon, but it's still Margaret of Scotland (or Hungary or wherever) for me!

    1. Joe, I've seen your posts before, but haven't had time to mention that my paternal grandmother was a Stroud, by way of Missouri. Perhaps we're related? I don't see that name often.

  9. Here remains may be scattered, but her legacy is not. Still loved by the Scots (as well as by this descendent) she was a holy woman and provided a great example how power can be used for the good of the people rather than the individual.

  10. A choice between one saint who instructs us through her example of humility and charity, and another who instructs us through his brilliant and eloquent thoughts on how to live a Christian life. I vote for Margaret, but I do appreciate the words of Cassian, especially his statement on reception of communion.

  11. Carefully thought-out theology, emphasis on prayer, mystic, snubbed by Rome. It's Cassian for me!!

  12. Very difficult choice, as most of them have been!
    I think I'll wait for a few more comments before I vote.
    Any more thoughts on legacy or theology for both of these saints?

  13. We do not presume to come to this thy table trusting in our own righteousness...... VOTE CASSIAN!!!

  14. Cassian's words on communion, simple words that provide stunning insight, should reach through the years and call our hearts to God. No fancy royal trappings or luxuries here, just a simple man with profound thoughts.

  15. I was baptized, confirmed and called to ordained ministry at St. Margaret's, Woodbridge, VA, so St. Margaret it had to be.

  16. The fascination with relics is simply intriguing ! My ambition was always to have my remains, ashes or wholly intact self, in one place forever and a day. This thing about about the head in one place and an arm or two in another is a bit much to read and digest right after what started out to be a delicious breakfast. Well, extreme holiness and piety are not my long suits, nor the miracles such as the book in the river showing no signs of water damage. My Bible from ordination, signed by the bishop, has water damage from an inside flood and it shows. So much for all that as I vote for Cassian who makes sense with advice about the sin of gluttony that afflicts too many so-called pious and faithful True Believers in modern day society. Our concern today simply has to be the quality of food we feed the orphans and other needy folk. Mysticism and holy relics and cave sanctuaries aside, remember that
    nutrition is a major concern in today's society. On John ! and thanks to the Rev. Bosco Peters for clarity in his writing.

    1. Aleathia, the importance of relics was explained to me this way: long-ago- people need visual evidence to sustain their faith. Some touchable item was especially helpful. (Have you read any Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael books? They are mysteries set in medieval times; well written &, I think, well researched. Neat to see how some modern ideas developed, too. One of the books centers on the 'removal of a saint's bones' to a more important location. Can't think of the title just now.)
      Now, about the miracle of the jeweled Bible. Hmmm... I can sort of grasp that notion, but not quite. Then, I recalled seeing or being present at a miracle. Hard to explain a miracle as there is no rational explanation, but something unexpected happened: such that the metaphysical & the physical sort of shook hands... You see, words fail me here.

      You see it. You believe it . It couldn't happen, but it did.

  17. My maternal grandparents were named John and Margaret. I'll honor my grandmother because she died for the faith.