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


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. Florence for sure. An easy vote for me today. Her faith in God's call and her willingness to serve the church in the world, even when her orders were "recalled", her certainty that God had a purpose for her (and as someone else said, in hopes that one day there might be a Pope Frances as a result of Florence and other women who haven't given up on the church), I honor Florence today and thank God for her witness.

  2. Florence for me. I love Gregory, truly I do. But Florence's insistence on being faithful to her orders ... That's the model for me. And pirates! She defeated pirates!

  3. In honor of Frances' win yesterday, I offer up a portion of a great song from the early 90's, "Frances" by Dillon Fence.
    "Please, pardon me Frances, for I have sinned, oh please, pardon me Frances, for I have sinned, if I've taken all of your money, or taken all of your time, I feel that I should be sorry, for such a horrible crime, for such a horrible crime. Couldn't handle a smart one, and yes, I tried..."

  4. Finally, a day in which I'm not agonizing over my vote! I'm just sayin' "Nope to the Pope" and voting for faithful, fearless Florence.

  5. One last thing, in honor of what will surely be Flo-O's victory, I give you Kevin Kline's Pirate King from the Pirates of Penzance
    (could have gone with Johnny Depp, but going to see a local production of "PoP" tonight at the Carolina Theatre.

    1. Hurrah for the Pirate King! Yippee skippee for Kevin Kline! And Yo-Ho-Ho and a hearty huzzah for the faithful Florence!

  6. Sounds like what she really was was a missionary to Canterbury. In another age, that might have got her a front row seat at a bonfire.

  7. Love the Anglican connection--Gilbert and Sullivan! And while I would happily run a Kevin Kline film festival, the best version of Pirate King has to be Jon English's. Link here: Production values are horrible but this is the funniest thing. Jon English became famous playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar--another Biblical figure who will never appear in Lent Madness!

  8. The voting here is obviously loaded with "femmy" dedicated diehards, and poor Gregory doesn't have a chance, even with the coincidence today of the new Pope with Jesuit background. One vote here for "fair and balanced" encouragement for bracket advancement.

    1. I agree, and I did voice my concern over the too recent people put forward in this year's Lent Madness. No one who has been dead less than fifty years should be put forward. There is too much polarization going on. Indeed, it looks as if at least three individuals will go forward who aren't even recognized by the national church yet. This is weird.

        1. What Sister says! Holy Women, Holy Men. Or if the other posters prefer, for balance, Holy Men, Holy Women. : )

        2. While I am not sure what standard the SEC used if Holy Men, Hole Women or proposed additions to LFF the standard might be a bit low. I mentioned in a post a few days ago that Derek Olson has compiled data on the progression of "named" persons for commemoration in the Episcopal Church. During the period between 1957 to 2008 roughly 100 individuals were proposed for an average of 2 per year. During the period between 2008 and 2011 roughly 127 individuald were proposed for an average of 42 per year. Either the church has suddenly discovered a previously unknown pool of "saints" or we are as a church engaged in a headlong rush to create "saints" resulting inevitably a dilution of the quality of named individuals.

          I know that Lent Madness requires no particular rhyme or reason for casting a vote for a particular person. That explains how a person who was probably simply a legend got more votes that John the Baptist. It also explains how the unknown author of Luke/Acts defeated John Donne. It even justifies the vote today where people cast votes as they stated in their comments to send a message to redress wrongs done to a particular group of people in years past.

          Many of you do this for fun and that is both proper and fine. Some of us try to seriously try to learn about saints and candidates who never existed, never wrote the texts that they are famed for or who gain support as a political statement are troublesome for some of us. Please do not chastise me for being too serious since I know this is just a game. I am sorry if I seem critical and I mean no offense to any of you because I do not doubt your love and sincerity. However there is a difference between Lent Madness and Lent Silliness.

          1. Jim, you make many excellent points; I am also troubled by the presence of too many candidates whose role (not just in LM but in the Calendar itself) seems to be one of making political statements (and there are many more in HWHM that at least did not get into LM). That said, I happily voted for the legend (and I believe, without proof, that the person was real even if the stories were legendary) because it is a legend that has captured imaginations in many times and places and that does glorify our Lord. I voted for Donne because he also spoke to me of our Lord but even if the name Luke got attached to him later there was certainly a writer of Luke-Acts (the most prolific writer of the entire NT) and it is that writer whom we honor under the name of Luke. While again there is no proof that any of the Gospels were written by the people whose names they bear we honor them by those names and I think it a bit silly to make a fuss over it in this context. In a scholarly study then I would consider ti well wortwhile to explore that issue. In the case of Luke there is actually better reason (albeit circumstantial) to credit him as the author than there is for the others

      1. "femmy dedicated diehards"? I can't tell you how much I hope this is meant to be humorous.

      1. I am with you - that is the overt feminist polarization is rather evident in the voting today as it was in the biographies.

  9. Can we get the hyphens consistent? Li was her family name, Tim-Oi her personal name. In Chinese style, the last shall be first. She took Florence as her Christian name, placing it Western style in front of her family name. Hence, the mixed style of Florence Li Tim-Oi. My mother-in-law, roughly Li's contemporary, used the same mixed style: Constance Ip Yik-Chi.
    The Episcopal college chaplain in my long-ago college days was originally from England and had been a missionary to China before ending up in California; it was from him that I first heard about both Frances Perkins and Florence Li. He clearly approved of both, although I don't recall that he thought of Li's ordination as anything other than an emergency measure. He and his wife are two of God's obscure saints, those who lived quietly Christian lives without fanfare.

  10. Got to go w/t Flo!! That memoir description of pirates/father's rescue..Wow! Flo had creative courage, strength & faith!!! Thanks Megan Castellan!!

  11. Florence all the way! My son lived in Guangzhou and Macau for one year each while serving as a missionary. There was no other choice for me.

  12. What's with Greg and the Dove? He must having been using his teeth to keep the 'beak between his lips'. That's just way too weird! But O! that Flo: "No one can take away the peace that comes from completing one’s responsibility to history and fulfilling God’s will.” She's the Great one!

  13. Bless your hearts! Why all the kvetching and nit picking? I see the results not so weird as mad! Hence the name of the game. Also, let's hear less legalism. "Not eligible until dead 50 years" and so forth.

    1. 1. Hear hear! Saints of old can be inspiring, but I like 'em fresh, too!
      2. Followers of the One who said, "But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first" can't complain too much about LM voting results that are contrary to expectations!
      3. Is it a sin to be relieved when a heavy-hitter is eliminated, so the decisions later on might be easier? I was not looking forward to discerning between Romero and MLK Jr. , powering towards one another from opposite sides of the bracket.

  14. The story of Florence rescuing her father is what swayed me -- this was a woman who wasn't afraid of ANYTHING and who accomplished the Lord's work despite blockades, bombings, pirates, and church controversy. Had to go with Flo.

  15. Learning much in this exercise, We knew a Priest that was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Phillipines and survived, barely, he endured much abuse. Rev. Flo gets our vote, but as is typical with this madness, both are very deserving and Christ bearers for us to admire and emulate.

  16. I haven't decided yet; I could easily vote for either. (I may vote for Gregory purely as protest against Lent Madness Orthodoxy, though.... 😉 )

    Thanks for including this part, Heidi: 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.” Quite a statement, that.

    I would certainly be happy with Flo, though....

  17. Hmmm. I think we may have way too many news junkies among us who stayed up too late last night watching all the Pope Francis commentary and are today very cranky as a result. Myself included.
    As for my vote today, no contest ... poor Gregory. Sometimes we say things that follow us forever. And yet in spite of his mess up over MM, he did say some mighty fine things about love, BUT ...
    I'm just too deeply influenced by my own family history that includes a little Asian girl who likely would have ended up devalued on the streets of Seoul instead of chasing the Broadway dream in New York that she now is had it not been for my mother's and stepfather's selfless act of love more than 25 years ago. It's Flo for me!

  18. Florence gets my vote today. Florence was not just a woman priest. Florence was a priest doing what all priest’s do bring God's vision, bring God's healing, and bring God's community to earth for God's people.

  19. I am in mourning that MLK didn't win, so I am voting for Florence partly for his sake: because she was another soul who stuck out her neck, not for her own sake, but for God's. To me, this is what saints are for -- to point us to Christ's example. I have no doubt that Gregory "built the church" more than Florence, but Florence is the more saintly.

  20. I have only just met Flo for the first time today, but I look forward to learning more about her.

  21. Those who are kvetching about Gregory's dissing of MM (and I agree, that was mistaken and troublesome) should have taken the trouble to finish that paragraph in the blog: "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.'" To me this is a strongly positive statement about MM that largely overcomes the blunder. I have been aware of Florence for many years, and have develoed a real respect for her this Lent, but even though I voted for Martin Round I it is Gregory this time -- he did after all help plant one of the trees which intertwined with the Celtic one to produce English Christianity.

  22. Silly me, I thought "the Great" was the Pope's last name, like Winnie-the Pooh. My mixed feelings about popes who stand on the threshold between one age and the next (as GtC did and Francis does) weighs heavily in the balance, so I'm going with Florence.

  23. Good for you, Megan, for finally getting the hyphen in the right place in Florence's Chinese name! That's been bugging me! And despite ties to St. G's parish, the brave and humble lady has my vote.

  24. Not only am I humbled by the faith and courage of Florence, I was ordained priest on her Saint's Day! I strive daily to live up to what she modeled as the first woman priest of our Anglican faith. Her story is amazing...

  25. Gregory was Great, so is Heidi's write-up, and I love the dove.
    BUT voting Florence Li Tim-Oi:
    a) for her responsiveness and courage in the face of God's call
    b) for her responsiveness to the changing demands of the Church (we need you to be a priest, to serve the people; we need you to step down from priestly role, to keep peace in the church) and
    c) because of the shining rightness of her example, calling the Church forward into recognizing that gender is no barrier in God's call to ordained ministry.