Gregory the Great vs. Florence Li-Tim Oi

A day after the election of a new pope, the only pope in the bracket, Gregory the Great, digs in his (red, Prada-covered) heels against Florence Li-Tim Oi, the first female priest in the Anglican Communion. To make it to the Saintly Sixteen, Gregory defeated Martin of Tours and Florence bested, nay demolished, Chad of Lichfield in our most lopsided match to date. Today's winner earns a date with Oscar Romero in the next round.

Yesterday in heart-thumping fashion, Frances Perkins upset Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, you read that correctly. The first female cabinet member will now face Jonathan Daniels in the Elate Eight and we're reminded, once again, why this is called Lent Madness.

While the heated battle was going on, Tim spoke about the world's most popular online Lenten devotion, on Boston Public Radio. You can listen to the live interview (well, live at the time) by clicking here (skip to 1:35:15).

And thanks to everyone who liked us on Facebook this week, propelling us over our goal of 5,000. We're not sure what the next goal will be. Perhaps 1,500 followers on Twitter? (we're currently at 1,250). Certainly, we can do better than Scott's 2,231 Twitter followers/disciples...

gregorywithdoveGregory the Great

A liturgical reformer and staunch advocate for the poor, Gregory the Great, pope from 590 until his death in 604, skillfully navigated the complex era poised between the ancient and the medieval world. Drawn from his love for the quiet, monastic life to be pope, he served the church and the people of Rome faithfully.

In modern times, Gregory is well-known as the man who done Mary Magdalene wrong. In a sermon from 591 his facile conflation of several women cited in the Gospels into the person of Mary Magdalene is now judged a breathtaking oversimplification. His point -- to prove that even a person deeply mired in sin could be redeemed by the work of Christ -- is mostly lost within the controversy. He said, “In paradise, a woman was the cause of death for a man; coming from the sepulcher, a woman proclaimed life to men."

Now, despite 1,400 years of being maligned, Mary Magdalene seems to have had the last laugh. She has universal recognition while we don’t even know poor Gregory’s last name. And, some might remember, she fared pretty well in Lent Madness 2012.

But this isn’t something about Mary.

It’s about Gregory the Great, who once said, "Whatsoever one would understand what he hears must hasten to put into practice what he has heard." And, even more apropos to our purposes here, "The universe is not rich enough to buy the vote of an honest man."

When not busy liturgically innovating or fiddling with plainchant, he had some lovely things to say about love. In a letter to Virgillius, Bishop of Arles, he wrote:

O how good is charity, which through an image in the mind exhibits what is absent as present to ourselves, through love unites what is divided, settles what is confused, associates things that are unequal, completes things that are imperfect! Rightly does the excellent preacher call it the bond of perfectness; since, though the other virtues indeed produce perfectness, yet still charity binds them together so that they can no longer be loosened from the heart of one who loves.

And this: “The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.

But what about the dove?

The Catholic Encyclopedia attributes a story to Gregory’s friend, Peter the Deacon:

[W]hen the pope was dictating his homilies on Ezechiel a veil was drawn between his secretary and himself. As, however, the pope remained silent for long periods at a time, the servant made a hole in the curtain and, looking through, beheld a dove seated upon Gregory's head with its beak between his lips. When the dove withdrew its beak the holy pontiff spoke and the secretary took down his words; but when he became silent the servant again applied his eye to the hole and saw the dove had replaced its beak between his lips.

In a preface to Gregory’s influential “The Book of Pastoral Rule,” Philip Schaff, offers insight to his gifts and foibles,

Remarkable indeed is his own discriminating insight, displayed throughout, into human characters and motives, and his perception of the temptations to which circumstances or temperament render various people—pastors as well as members of their flocks—peculiarly liable. No less striking, in this as in other works of his, is his intimate acquaintance with the whole of Holy Scripture. He knew it indeed through the Latin version only; his critical knowledge is frequently at fault; and far-fetched mystical interpretations, such as he delighted in, abound. But as a true expounder of its general moral and religious teaching he well deserves his name as one of the great Doctors of the Church.

-- Heidi Shott

Florence Rd 2Florence Li-Tim Oi

Florence Li Tim-Oi, first female priest in the Anglican Communion, pursued a theological degree in Guangzhou during the Sino-Japanese War. In between exams, she also headed up the rescue squad, searching for survivors each time her town was bombed. Her memoir details the horrors she viewed: the girl crushed beneath rubble, the woman with bound feet who couldn’t flee, the man blown apart. This turned Florence into a permanent lover of peace.

Later in the war, while she was serving her parish in Macau, she received word that her father was ill and destitute in Hong Kong. So she disguised herself as a maid, borrowed some money, procured a boat, and braved the Japanese blockade to rescue him. Along the way, they ran into pirates. Florence described what happened:

The fisherman ordered all of us to throw the fishnet overboard and pretend we were trying to pull the net in. All the passengers co-operated. Knowing that I was a missionary, they jointly urged me to get below deck and pray. I gladly obeyed and knelt down in sincere intercession, imploring God to show his mercy...and grant us peace which passes understanding...Thinking that we were merely poor fishermen with no profitable booty, the bandits turned and sailed away.

She got her father out safely, but discovered later that the other boats that had left with them had all been captured.

When Florence first found out about the controversy over her ordination, she writes of her reaction, “I was quite perturbed. I gave serious thought to whether I should step down or stay on. Through a moment of deep meditation in which I prayed for God’s guidance, and the constant working of the Holy Spirit, I suddenly saw the light....I was willing to give up my title as priest, but I knew that having been ordained, I had to follow the order throughout my whole life. This is my philosophy of life. No one can take away the peace that comes from completing one’s responsibility to history and fulfilling God’s will.”

Much later, she had the opportunity to visit with then-Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie. This was before the ordination of female priests in the Church of England, and Runcie was on the fence. But after talking with Florence, he commented to the archbishop of Canada, “Who am I to say whom God can or cannot call?”

Florence herself was unabashed in this opinion as well: “Let me say that it is only proper for us, not to discriminate between sexes, but with one heart and one mind bear witness to Christ...If we stand steadfast in our faith, and both male and female cooperate in bringing heaven on earth, decisive victory is certain through the power of the Holy Spirit. Besides, is not our God an omnipotent God, and our help in ages past?”

 -- Megan Castellan

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Gregory the Great vs. Florence Li-Tim Oi

  • Florence Li-Tim Oi (79%, 2,808 Votes)
  • Gregory the Great (21%, 726 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,534

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108 comments on “Gregory the Great vs. Florence Li-Tim Oi”

  1. In recognition of those women who in our lifetime will never become the Bishop of Rome in the Catholic Church, I vote for Florence over the Pope Gregory. I small act of rebellion, but it's my act of rebellion.

    1. I cannot vote for the Pope who conflated Mary Magdalene with the woman caught in sin, thereby sullying one of the great women of the Bible, and removing a great female role model for centuries. This was a serious blunder, whose consequences we continue to struggle with today.

      1. I keep reading comments like this, but really, unless we're still enmeshed in the way the world sees things, is it "sullying?" Why would a repentant prostitute not be a role model... God saw fit to see that a prostitute was one of Jesus' female ancestors, after all.

      2. Hey, Sr. Lucy! I had something of the same quandary, but in the end felt I had to support Rev. Flo. I'm disappointed, however, that this biography doesn't mention that her given name in Chinese means "beloved daughter," and was given to her by her father to show that he was as proud of her as most Chinese fathers are of their sons. I now use Florence as one of the spiritual "she-roes" of my new women's spirituality seminar, "Blessed Is She." I'm learning more about her all the time.

  2. Florence was new to me, but she speaks volumes to me about physical and spiritual courage, about wisdom, discernment and faith.

  3. Seems the biographies were a little uneven today - for someone as remarkable as Florence Li-Tim Oi we need to know more!

  4. First, I am FLABBERGASTED that MLK did not advance!!! Lent Madness, indeed!
    Second, this one is a no-brainer for me. My father was a child when the Japanese invaded China; my grandmother had bound feet, making it hard to flee with a bevy of small children. That Florence Li Tim-Oi (Li is her last name, Tim-Oi was her given name -- put the hyphen in the right place, y'all!) became a lover a peace and kept her faith, when many would just become hardened and vengeful, is an inspiration to us all.

  5. Florence! Absolutely! Love her comments about following her ordination even. If she had to give up the title! And thanks to her celebrity blogger for a story that makes me want to hear more!

  6. No contest here....anyone who isn't a friend of Mary M. is not a friend of mine. Besides I admire Florence Li Tim-Oi tremendously for her courage and faith.

  7. I agree the bios are a bit uneven today, but Heidi, whose side are you on anyway, all that negativity on old Greg? For or on Ms Li, check the Round of 32 post, though maybe even that is scant. Suffice it to say, such a heroine has it all over old Greg, all he did was pope, nothing against the flow of human error.

    1. After all the comments about the 591 sermon in the first round, I figured it would be important to mention it. First rule of public relations: be the first to frame the controversy.

      1. It swayed my vote for Flo... Who good vote for the man who tarnished last year's Golden Halo winner.

    2. "all he did was pope,"
      Amusing to see the word 'pope' used as a verb. I, too, voted for Florence.

  8. Even though I would normally support the person Heidi writes about (after all she is my neighbor) I am going with the admirable Florence.

  9. "Intimate acquaintance with the whole of Holy Scripture" and living in the tension between a life of monastic order and the call to larger ministry -- Gregory's got my vote today, but this is another very close call. The more I learn about Florence Li Tom-Oi, the more deeply impressed I am with her humility and strength.

  10. Gregory was Great, but oh, that Flo! I can look past his Mary muck-ups and admire Gregory's generosity and contributions to liturgy, not to mention his communication with doves. But when I read of Florence's lifelong bravery, humility, faith, and love, I get stingies in my eyes. She not only survived brainwashing and lived as a secret priest--she saved her dad from pirates! I am so glad Lent Madness has introduced me to this remarkable woman.

  11. Go Flo!

    Let's hear it for humility, faith, hope and love - not to mention perseverance in the face of great adversity from both without, and within, the church.

  12. It is too soon for Florence to be considered for a "golden halo" . It hasn't been fifty years since she died. In this time in history, eligibility could be tied to the history of color photography. If a color photograph exists (see above), it's too soon.
    Lent Madness should be more historical, not political.
    Did you know that if you read Butler's Lives of the Saints, there are many saints for every day in the year? What were the ferrets thinking on this one? Lent Madness will be around for years, I'm sure. Ten years down the road would have been a good choice for Florence.

  13. Gotta be Flo. Someone said, “Gregory was simply a product of his times. You can’t blame him” Sorry, but that fly just don’t float in my stream. Not judging, just saying. Off to the library and Web to find more “Li” info.

  14. This becomes more and more difficult to bear...what to do? I'm voting for Florence of blessed memory, but there is some regret that I can't vote twice...

  15. In recognition of the world's need for a Pope Frances someday, the past error of the great pope likely hurting all women of his time and not just Mary Magdalene for centuries, the bravery, humility, and loving faith of Florence, and in thanksgiving for the nuns I knew growing up that planted seeds in my life along with the later female Lutheran pastors who helped nurture and guide me in my own vocation...yes....I voted for Florence li-Tim Oi. Here I stand. I could do no other. Now, to get her on the Lutheran (ELCA) calendar...

  16. As my seminary class (Berkeley, '09) commissioned an icon of Mother Li that hangs in the chapel and that I gaze on most mornings, my vote must be there as well. Thank you, Mother Florence, for the lessons in humility and courage.

    Come on, Berkeley Divinity School, vote for Joe's favorite Holy Woman!!

  17. I knew this would be a total blow-out! Seems like Gregory's CB wasn't even sold in him! Beautiful Florence will go far!

  18. Now I feel like reading Florence's biography... but the one I found on Amazon is so expensive.. ;-;
    Glad I learnt about her though! Never knew anything about her till Lent Madness.

    1. If you poke around Amazon, you should be able to find a used copy for less. I agree, it is tragic it is out of print.

      1. Maybe if a wave of Lent Madness fans start demanding it, it will be put back IN print. That would be awesome. 😛

  19. I became an Episcopalian when I was 24, but I was raised Southern Baptist. I remember my childhood preacher, Brother Castle, say from the pulpit, "Love
    isn't a feeling. It's an action." Echoes of St. Gregory!

  20. Lois Keen has stated it well.
    Also, Florence Li Tim-Oi was the Vicar of Christ, as are all of the baptized, the representatives of Christ on earth. We will pray for the new Bishop of Rome today as we celebrate the Holy Spirit working through the life of Florence who said, "Here am I, Lord. Send me." Her "yes" was not to power , control, privilege, nor worldly fame. Perhaps her life will be an example to our brother in Christ, Francis I.

  21. I am surprised that Martin Luther King Jr. lost. Yes it is Lent Madness. I sincerely hope the SEC will bring Dr. King back next year. Today another difficult choice but today “Be not anxious about what you have, but about what you are.” Therefore I vote for the underdog Saint Gregory.

  22. I am voting for GtG and here's why:1) Flo-O is going to win anyway 2)"through love unites what is divided, settles what is confused, associates things that are unequal, completes things that are imperfect!" Since i am in pre-official discernment for ordination, i feel like i need that tatooed on my arm! 3) Remarkable is his own discriminating insight iinto human characters and motives, and his perception of the temptations to which circumstances or temperament render various people—pastors as well as members of their flocks—peculiarly liable." Oh Gregory, how the shepherds of all churches could use your guidance... and: 4) “The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist. 5) He loved (and maybe did very badly, as in the case with my beloved MM) to use typology as a method of finding truth in the Bible. Nothing wrong with that, all of scripture is deliberately filled with it "the new Adam", "a new creation", the Magnificat, the 40 days in the wilderness and on, and on, and on. A vote for typology! Since he will lose, I suppose I will have to research these "liturgical tinkerings". I love liturgy, so that can be good or bad, depending on the innovation!

  23. Voting for Flo here. We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us and she was certainly one of them. As a priest who happens to be a woman I am so grateful to her for blazing a trail.
    On another note: a 5th grader told me before our school's chapel service this morning that apparently a white bird perched on top of the smokestack on the Sistine Chapel just before the election of Francis was announced yesterday. Hmmm, shades of Gregory and the Bird? Hope Frank is kinder to women than Greg was...

  24. I am still in shock about MLK not advancing. That is what makes Lent madness.....Mad.
    I have been surprised at many decisions but this was an emotional upset for me. Life
    goes on .....Today You GO FLO....all the way.

  25. Oh well, it seems this year's lent madness is favoring the women. That is not a bad(or mad) thing!
    In reverence of Gregory's words:
    “The universe is not rich enough to buy the vote of an honest man,”
    I will not mount a campaign to solicit votes for my namesake. Still voting for Gregory the Great.

  26. My vote is for the Rev. Florence, the inspiration for all Episcopal ordained women. It is interesting to note those amazed that MLK didn't win....really? Also amazed at those who think it's too early for anybody whose bones haen't been moldering in the grave for centuries to even be in the LENT MADNESS contest.... MADNESS is a qualifier, remember? And all in a joyous spirit...comprende????? Get a cuppa Joe in your 2012 GOLDEN HALO/Mary Mags cup and chill out!

    1. Then so should MLK have been out of contention, as he hasn't been dead for 50 years either. As a singer and choral conductor, I leaned toward Gregory the chanter, but as a female clergy (United Methodist) who was the first female to serve both parishes to which I was appointed, followed by 15 years of hospital chaplaincy, I had to go with Flo. I'm learning so much from this site!

    2. "I knew that having been ordained, I had to follow the order throughout my whole life. This is my philosophy of life. No one can take away the peace that comes from completing one’s responsibility to history and fulfilling God’s will.” Amen.