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. Oh yeah ! I'm with Vicki...where are all you folk named John? Surely you are not deserting the ranks of the faithful to be Margaret-ites....Oh ye of little faith. Well, my long departed half-sainted pater was named John as is my current bishop. There are some Johns I could live without having ever known of their sojourn on planet Earth, but that's another story for another day. Inquiring minds may well want to know, but daisies never tell, and no, that's not my just came to mind. On John ! On, Rev. Bosco !

  2. I voted for John. His advice on portion control is one of my favorite guides! And I particularly identify with his thoughts on communion.

  3. I love John Cassian's attentiveness to the variety of human experiences, and psychological and emotional states, in prayer! I've never read that before, and am very happy to see the fullness of the human situation addressed.

    And, I agree, the bit on Communion is wonderful, too....

  4. While Margaret was born in Hungary, her grandfather was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings. Her father was sent into exile when Canute conquered England. The ethnicity of her mother has been the subject of great debate and is ultimately unknown. Bottom line, she’s not Hungarian or Scottish but (at least partly) English. She had no knowledge of Scottish Gaelic, which is why she insisted on the court language being English, which it apparently thereafter remained. She detested the Celtic Church and strongly worked for its Romanization. She was no friend of the Gaelic Highlanders.

    As a descendant of Gaelic Highlanders, I’m not a big fan of hers. Sp John Cassian it is.

  5. Many Christians could benefit from knowing more about John Cassian's teachings, which means he definitely needs to advance to the next bracket! Go John!

  6. Margaret wanted to be a man?? More info please!

    I voted for John based on his work and writings, definitely including that quote on receiving communion. But I'm particularly interested in the aspects of women saints that got edited out because they were not useful for policing the gender norms for little girls!

  7. Ah, I suppose for some Cassian is far to much like a reformer from Germany at time of Gutenburg

  8. "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.” I'm not sure it is to my credit, but I identify with that. I vote for Margaret. John thinks thinhs through. Margaret lives her heart no matter what beach she gets tossed upon.

  9. I have a soft spot for anything regarding Leap Day (not sure why, I wasn't born then or anything). If Cassian gets shortchanged 3 out of 4 years, that's tragic! So obviously I am voting for him.

  10. Cassion gets my vote. I like his thoughtful style of writing that touches my heart and stirs my soul. Go John!

  11. Anyone who can find a middle way between Augustine and Pelagius is truly a saint. Vote for Cassian.

  12. My young Episcopalians voted for Margaret, in perfect unity. Saxons, a cave, orphans... no question. Although, we are admittedly quite guilty of voting solely on our immediate response to the bios....;)

  13. I voted for John Cassian because I don't like how Margaret secured Scotland under Roman authority in the 11th century, when the Scots had their own church, practicing and organized in a different way!

  14. Hope spotted the major halo, albeit thin, around Cassian! So he gets the vote tonight at our house.

  15. Two trivial reasons why I voted for Margaret (aka Maggie the Scot): 1) Like her Uncle Eddy (the Confessor) she was a friend of the family; and 2) I happened to be in Edinburgh on the day (4 September 1964) that her nth great granddaughter, Elizabeth II, dedicated the Firth of Forth bridge and St. Margaret' ferry made its last run after nearly 900 years of service. The serious reasons have already been mentioned above.
    Re John Cassian: all pre-Reformation Calendars (and Roman and Eastern ones much longer) would have expressed the date as 'day before the Kalends of March' i.e Feb 29 in bissextile years and Feb 28 in ordinary years -- When he was added to our Calendar (in 2009) Feb 28 was already taken so the 29th it was.
    And finally: Many of us have complained about the too early elimination of good candidates; may I commend to the SEC for future madnesses Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's bracket system described in the Wall Street Journal (3/23/12) on page D10. (While he was not a friend of the family, I did once stay in the former official residence of his school's headmaster, and I have felt a little extra partiality to him ever since.)

  16. Just checked: Elizabeth II is Queen Margaret's 26 x great granddaughter! And it is through Margaret and her descendant Jame VI/I that the Anglo Saxon line was restored in England 528 years after the Conquest.

  17. Thanks for the info, Fr. Bill!
    John Cassian must have been wise; the words attributed to him are so thoughtful. I wonder about that Pelegian business. Was he trying to build a bridge? I can't see how there could be any middle ground, though. (Nobody's right all the time.)
    Nevertheless, John was a noble saint! Margarent's life story is fascinatng. The most outstanding action was her consistent charity, especially to the orphans. I vote for Margaret.

  18. Well, Ginny.....I read the Ellis Peters -Brother Gadfael series so long ago I'd practically forgotten. I know the books are in a box long since banished to a storage unit years ago. I understand about the long ago folk needing visuals to help them understand the goings-on of Christianity. I also have been privy to a few miracles in my day. During my childhood I was prone to seeing/hearing/being surrounded by things not readily or easily understood. What was made clear was that grown-ups preferred their children to be "normal". Being a quick study, I learned to least that's what they thought I was doing. That's why these sainted women with their visions
    sort of unsettle me at times. Alas.....John Cassian lost out to the holy relics of the Sainted One.

  19. There once was a monk named John Cassian
    Friendship, not food was his passion.
    By St. Margaret he's trounced.
    From the brackets he's bounced.
    As we vote in our Lent Madness fashion.

    Pretty lame. but the best I can do suffering from LMW.

  20. Ellis Peters Cadfael mystery about relics was her first in the series, "A Morbid Taste for Bones." All of them are excellent