John Keble vs. Thecla

Today we experience something of a time warp, traveling from the 19th century back to the days of the early church. We encounter John Keble -- priest, poet, academic, and major player in the revival of the Church of England and Thecla -- companion of the apostle Paul and passionate pursuer of holiness.

In yesterday's saintly action, Juan Diego advanced to the Saintly Sixteen with a 57% to 43% victory over Hadewijch. He'll face the winner of Dorcas vs. Frederick Douglass. 

As an aside, we've been delighted to see the number of comments that come in throughout the 24 hours each matchup is open. They are a wonderful blend of thoughtful and gracious and educational and inspirational -- basically the opposite of nearly every other online forum!

And in case you missed yesterday's episode of Monday Madness, it included a verifiable miracle involving a corporeal Golden Halo. Not that Tim and Scott are angling to make it into the 2089 bracket or anything...

john-keble1John Keble

Though devoted to his calling as a country priest, serving for thirty years as the vicar of Hursley, John Keble is best known as an influential founder of the Oxford Movement. This movement sought to renew the Church of England through a better understanding and adherence to the practices of the early church. In 1833 he preached the Assize Sermon, soon published with the provocative title “National Apostasy.” Keble was a key player in the Oxford Movement and wrote nine of the ninety Tracts for the Times. In addition to writing poetry, tracts, and sermons, Keble also translated the works of Iranaeus and prepared a three-volume edition of the works of Richard Hooker.

During his life, he was perhaps best known as a poet. First published anonymously, his collection The Christian Year went through ninety-five print editions by the time of his death in 1866. Embarrassed by its success, Keble dedicated the profits to restoring the church building at Hursley. Some of these poems are still familiar as hymns today. He was elected professor of poetry at Oxford in 1831 and held the (non-residential) post for ten years.

In 1845, Keble began exploring the possibility of creating a college at Oxford that would be of moderate cost and hold fast to the best practices of the Church of England. Established in his memory, Keble College quickly shifted focus from theological formation toward more traditional pedagogy but remained committed to making an Oxford education more widely available to all economic classes.

Keble would no doubt be shocked at how distant today’s Church of England is from the established church he sought to renew, but there are still parts of his Assize Sermon that ring true today.

“The surest way to uphold or restore our endangered Church will be for each of her anxious children, in his own place and station, to resign himself more thoroughly to his God and Savior in those duties, public and private, which are not immediately affected by the emergencies of the moment: the daily and hourly duties, I mean, of piety, purity, charity, justice.”

Collect for John Keble

Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your Presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant John Keble, we may accomplish with integrity and courage what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Laura Darling

Image 1Thecla

Thecla was a follower of the Apostle Paul, whose life was recorded in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a prominent piece of early Christian literature.

This book recounted a missionary journey of Paul to Iconium, where he was proclaiming “the word of God about abstinence and the resurrection.” Thecla, upon hearing Paul’s message, found herself enraptured. Her devotion to Paul and his teaching so deeply concerned her mother and fiancé (worried that she would follow Paul’s demands to live in chastity), they formed a mob and imprisoned Paul.

Thecla broke into the prison, and when discovered with Paul, they were both brought before the authorities. Paul, enjoying the privilege of both his Roman citizenship and his being born male, was whipped and expelled from the town, while Thecla was sentenced to burn at the stake — an example for those who might consider Paul’s preaching. When Thecla was to be executed, “God took compassion on her, and caused a great eruption from the earth beneath, and a cloud from above to pour down great quantities of rain and hail; Insomuch that by the rupture of the earth, very many were in great danger, and some were killed, the fire was extinguished, and Thecla was preserved.”

Thecla followed after Paul, desperate to be baptized. She traveled to Antioch, where a nobleman fell in love with Thecla and offered Paul money for her. When Paul denied knowing her, the nobleman tried to take her by force. Thecla resisted, and “tore his coat, and took his crown off his head, and made him appear ridiculous before all the people.” Again she was brought before authorities and sentenced to die by being eaten by wild beasts. Facing what she believed to be a near-certain death, Thecla saw a pit of water filled with ravenous seals. Believing this was her only opportunity to be baptized, she threw herself into the water, saying, “In thy name, O my Lord Jesus Christ, I am this last day baptized.” And in another miracle, the seals died before they could devour her.

In the Eastern Church, Thecla is regarded as an “apostle and protomartyr among women.” Observance of her holiness flourished around Seleucia, where a church was built over her alleged tomb. Thecla remains among the most celebrated female saints of the earliest ages of Christianity, demonstrating that regardless of the truth or fiction of her life and story, women have played an indispensable role in the mission and growth of the early Church. In recognizing the holiness of Thecla, the Church honors the witness of all women who have lived and died in sharing the good news of Jesus and his love.

Collect for Thecla

Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your servant Thecla: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in her triumph may profit by her example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-David Sibley


John Keble vs. Thecla

  • Thecla (58%, 3,942 Votes)
  • John Keble (42%, 2,877 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,819

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315 comments on “John Keble vs. Thecla”

  1. Once again we are given someone whose creativity and devotion are well noted vs. someone whose main claim to fame seem to be a series of remarkable (and to me pretty unbelievable) miracles. Frankly Thecla comes across to me as a spiritual groupie and I don't see what commends her apart from her fanatical determination to be with Paul. Didn't it occur to her that any number of folks could have Baptized her? Sheesh!

    1. I'm with you Bill! Thecla seems like a crazy fanatic, obsessed with Paul, more than anything. I'm for John Keble!

      1. I am in agreement with Denise & with Bill S. Keble seems to be a more genuine person. Tecla's groupiness rings probable with me,

        1. "Groupie'? If Thecla had been a male, impassioned with God and a desire to be baptized, would he be branded a "groupie"? That strikes me as a sexist and patronizing way to label a woman who was passionate in her desire to become a follower of Christ. And, in doing so, she refused to behave. Team Thecla!

          1. And Paul denied knowing her - after she tried to rescue him from prison? Really?? And I have to agree that I think if she were male this would have been vastly different. Paul would have baptized him and sent him to preach the news. I suppose Paul felt that she should stay in her place and be passionate about her house, hubby and children.

          2. I think Keble's faithful commitment is no more "groupie" than the apostles. What do the people who do not believe in Jesus Christ think of us today ... am I a groupie? Hmmm

        2. I am impressed with Keble's faithful commitment to parish ministry, his bridging of the academic and the pastoral, his commitment to the renewal of the church and also his work towards establishing the possibility of an affordable education. My vote goes to John Keble.

      2. I don't necessarily agree with the work of the Oxford Movement, but at least John Keble was really real!

        1. He did wonderful things, but nothing that another Godly man could not have done. That's why I chose Thecla - I doubt most people would have a belief and love for God as strong that they could endure what she did.

    2. The Church of England was founded on approving divorce, so I have a hard time with the leaders of this church. And, although he was a good worker for the Church, I don't find anything exceptional in John. Thecla, however, never put herself before her love for, and belief in, God. I don't read anything here saying she was obsessed with Paul, but rather that she followed him because he spoke God's word to her. She wanted to be baptized, not married to Paul. My vote goes to her.

      1. Ah, the old chestnut about the C of E and divorce. I suggest a Lenten discipline of digging a bit deeper into the background and history of the time. Be that as it may, and in spite of my admiration for Keble, my vote goes to Thecla.

      2. First, I want to state that so far I've enjoyed reading about these two saints more than any of the others; this was a more difficult decision. I agree with Susan in part; however, Jim is correct that many need to dig deeper into the background and history which will show that divorce was NOT the reason for the founding of the C of E. PBS recently broadcasted a special on this (wish I had recorded for reference). I agree much with Susan and Jim, and others who voted for Thecla, and stated that she wasn't a groupie yet she was moved by the Spirit to follow Christ thru following Paul as a spiritual leader. It would have been nice to have known John Keble as well. I'd like to learn more about him. I look forward to more positive comments 🙂 God's Peace, Marisa

        1. Origen was perhaps(?) passionate, in his mind probably too passionate but he was CRAZY. And then we have the pole sitter — mental aberration is not bound by gender

      3. I agree with Susan, mainly. There was much more to the founding of the Church of England that just divorce, although I think that wascertainly at the heart of things. Plus, John was English, and I'm of Irish heritage, so it's hard to support him in any event! : )

      1. I am for Thecla. She was not a groupie. She was devoted and impassioned in her love for God.

        1. Paul seems to have treated her very bad, taking his freedom while she was sentenced to burning, later denying he knew her!

          I'm in for Thecla!

    3. Why does the fictional often outweigh the factual in this voting? Would that the members and hierarchy of the Episcopal Church and the Church of England apply some of Keble's lessons to their own lives. Maybe we wouldn't be such a minority and might be more successful in winning others for Christ. I also agree with Bill Scrivener!

    4. I so agree. Also I'd rather vote for someone real over someone who, undoubtedly unbalanced, may not even have existed.

      1. I'm in agreement with Ann. I like real people who did something tangible or moved the church forward in some way (so I voted for Teresa of Avila). I'm with John Keble on this one.

      2. I've sort of observed that pretty much all of the folks we admire in Holy Women, Holy Men are "unbalanced." Consider Origen who castrated himself and as a teenager would have volunteered for martyrdom if his mother hadn't hid his clothing, the Desert Mothers and Fathers who withdrew from society to live in caves in the desert, Catherine of Sienna who disfigured herself with boiling water to avoid being married and then married Christ (her wedding ring was his jewel encrusted foreskin), Perpetua and the men and women with her who chose death over homes, families and their children-the catechists with them weren't officially "arrested" but volunteered to stay with their students in prison and to die with them, Constance and her companions, the Martyrs of Memphis who stayed to nurse the victims of Yellow Fever in the epidemic of 1873 (most of them died) and Jonathan Daniels who pushed aside a young black woman and was killed by a shot gun blast during the civil rights struggle in 1965. To follow Christ is to be a fool.

        1. And the fool's way leads to death and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. That's why we speak of a fool's Paradise.

    5. Along the same lines, most of the travels of Paul and his work are documented in the Book of Acts in the Bible, not some non-canonical book like "Acts of Paul and Thecla". There is a reason why such works are non-canonical. Much of Thecla's story seems to be about a wild and crazy "groupie" who was just as much a pest to Paul as modern day groupies are to the bands they follow! Indeed, Paul refused to recognize her! Some of the story on its surface seems made up: seals are NOT particularly ravenous for human flesh, indeed I have never heard of a seal eating even one human being! Fish, walrus, manatee, YES; humans, no way!!!!!! Give me a break!

        1. Oh my goodness, Barbara! Now I have to rethink the whole thing. Seriously, would it be weird to vote for Thecla primarily because I learned a lot about seals because of her? And Paul acting rotten to her just makes me identify more with her. This is the hardest match so far.

    6. I vote for John Keble because of the inspiration the Oxford Movement gave to the USPG - the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel - and the University Missions - and the courageous stand of Anglican missionaries for the gospel values against the racist colonial powers as well as supporting the 'heathen' nations they brought to Christ. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has been strongly influenced by Anglo-Catholic doctrines.

    7. I was really taken aback by all the "groupie" comments. Thecla found through Paul and his teachings a way to connect with God. All she want was to be baptized. What did she get, Paul ignoring her and denying he knew her. What did she get a sentence to burning and being eaten by wild animals. My vote is for Thecla.

    8. Ravenous SEALS? Really? This brings to mind the Killer Rabbit of Monty Python! And why did Paul deny knowing her? I think he showed good sense (for once). Nothing difficult here, it's Keble all the way.

  2. This is a HARD one! I like the "back to basics" of the one and the passion of the other. Hmmmmm!

    1. Absolutely agree that this is a hard one. Going to have to let their histories sink in before I vote.

  3. Thecla's life sounds as though it were invented by Kut Vonnegut. Keble is the kind of reformer the church needs again.

  4. Thecla, because her fate was sealed by God, ar ar. I wasn't wowed by either of them, but I'd like to see Thecla make it to the saintly kitsch round.

    1. Ooo, good point, Mary! Somehow Keble Kitsch doesn't sound very likely. But Thecla and seals and fire and the hint of fandom. Hmmm.
      But it's a hard choice this time.

  5. As a "new" Episcopalian this vote had me reading about the Oxford movement and learning more about the role of women in the church we know today. Thus, I had to cast my vote for John Keble and his forward thinking, although Thecla certainly deserved careful consideration.
    I was some what surprised that St. Matthias wasn't on today's slate as today is traditionally "his" dayh. Perhaps he fought in earlier versions of Lent Madness.

    1. I'm surprised at your conclusion, since the Church of England was established to allow for divorce, and you didn't sympathize with the normal treatment of women from which God saved Thecla. I'm not a woman's rights person, but I would think those who are would understand how deep Thecla's love for God was, that she would put herself in a position to be tortured and put to death according to the norms of her time.

      1. Susan, please reread the history of the Church of England. Henry VIII's desire for a divorce from his (first) Queen was not the sole driving force behind the reformation in England. Where state churches are concerned it is often difficult to separate religion from politics...The U.S. is having a bit of problem with that right now don't you think?

    2. That would give St. Mathias an unfair advantage, don'tcha think?

      And as much as I love the crazy ladies, I'm realizing I love the writers more, so I went with Keble. I'm looking forward to voting for both when Margery Kempe comes up. Though by the looks of my bracket, that's not going to help her much.

  6. My own father was a country priest, serving small churches in NC, GA, and summer supply in Vermont. I also love our hymns and honor hymn writers. I vote for the country vicar and poet, John Keble.

    1. "The Acts of Paul and Thecla" is not biblical literature. It was devotional writing that circulated in ancient times, but did not become part of the biblical canon.

      1. Thank you, Rambler, for the explanation concerning Thecla. I am inclined to support John Keble because he is more believable.

    2. If recognized Saints were limited to those mentioned in the Bible, we wouldn't have enough to field the first round of Lent Madness.

      1. There's an interesting thought. I know the field's limited to those who are recognised in at least one church calendar. How about the figures of the Old Testament? Are they eligible? Think of a matchup between Deborah and Joshua, for instance.

  7. I'm much more comforted by a man that reminds us of our calling to the mundane, yet joy-producing acts of piety, purity, charity and justice than by an enraptured woman surrounded by lots of drama everywhere she went.

  8. Let me see: baptism among ravenous and yet unfulfilled seals or the Oxford Movement? Interesting choice, this one. I was once kept from ascending the steps leading to the pulpit where Keble preached his famous sermon. And no, this wasn't during worship, but on a Wednesday morning tour of the church (though it would be great preach from that spot). I like to read fantastical hagiography, but I think I'll stick with feet on the ground truth this time. Keble it is!

    1. How many people could, or would, do what either did for the love of God? That's what led me to vote for Thecla.

    1. Unfortunately, seals just plain do not eat human flesh. Fish, walrus, manatees, etc. are their diet! But never a human being, I don't care how hungry they are!

      1. Interesting point. Let's have Narmia characters in future Lent madness! Reepicheep v. Thecla would have been interesting.

        1. Ah, but Reepicheep is such a gallant mouse that he would step aside so Thecla could win. (Or he'd challenge the seals to a duel.)

          Yes, seals don't eat humans, at least on this planet, but there aren't any sword-wielding mice here, either.

    2. Yes, both sprinkled AND immersed! Conjuring both Vonnegut AND Hollywood. Something to be said for that. And something to be said for a contest that stirs me to both appreciate and study more of Keble AND to vote for Thecla!

    1. And that is why she survived, she was not a man! Too fantastical, my vote goes to the practical John Keble.

    2. Yes, Thecla seems passionate. But since when was Paul rational and measured (greates of all sinners and all)? Two peas in a pod those two. And passion for the faith is so rare as to be refreshing...

    3. OK, ok, they were *seals,* not lions or tigers; but she put God over the mundane; AND she broke *into* prison. I realize God can and should be found in the mundane, but I'll follow a rape-thwarter into righteous battle any day.

    4. Please, SEALS do not eat human flesh! Fish, walrus, manatees, etc. are their fare! They are marine creatures. I don't care how hungry they are, seals don't eat human beings, male or female! Really!

  9. I admire the courage of Thecla to follow her heart at a time in history when the role of women was not even as elevated as it is now. She is a role model for us; there is still so much to be done.

  10. It is time we strong role women took to further the word of Christmas and the risk they took to spread the word. So, my vote goes to Thecla.

  11. I'd love to vote for Thecla, but her story just lacks factual basis. And was she devoted to Jesus...or to Paul??

  12. Once again I voted on the losing side! Keble did so much for the church that I felt he deserved my vote. Although Thecla certainly was a saint to put up with Paul and all of his rejections that led to her trials. One can only hope for such Divine Intervention when faced with ravenous seals.

  13. Have to admit the dedicated country vicar who tried to make education available to all wins my vote over the St. Paul groupie!!

    1. Why would you call someone willing to die to be baptized a "groupie"? John Keble did wonderful things, but any good man could have done these. Would you risk your life, facing a terrible death, to be baptized?

      1. First of all it's not clear to me that she had to die to be Baptized - it seemed to be more about having Paul do it. And he made clear his desire not to be associated with any particular person's Baptism. "Groupie" may be a bit snarky but frankly that's how she comes across to me. Besides, I don't buy the miracle accounts associated with her - they remind me too much of the tales mendicants would fabricate as they would sell their indulgences.

        1. “Groupie” may be too harsh a word, but one wonders about her attachment/commitment to Paul vs. a commitment to God or Jesus. There is the baptism issue Bill mentions. Then she lived to be 90, according to The Acts of Paul and Thecla, and either died in Rome or was (miraculously?) transported to Rome to be buried w/ Paul there. Hmm. Guide me, O thou great Jehovah!!

  14. First, gotta go with the poet.
    Second, gotta keep memories alive, and (I feel) Thecla's story is much more widely known.

  15. Be not upset. When you vote early in the day, you are clearly voting without worrying which saint is trending upward; you are establishing a trend. Yeah, Keble!

  16. Ah, Thecla seems to show Paul in his misogynistic least mode. And there were both positive and negative aspects of the Oxford movement... i lean towards Thecla despite the questionable evidence of her reality... yet Keble wrote some beautiful stuff and was probably a fine parish small town priest - a calling that has drawn some of my finer friends. Delaying a vote until i've had a think. Are there seals in the kitsch round? I think i like the seals best.

  17. I liked John Keble's style than Thecla's story.

    The line from his Assize Sermon, "the daily and hourly duties, I mean, of piety, purity, charity, justice" makes me think of the KJV 1 Corinthians 13:13 "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." Charity has been interchanged with love, but I like the use of the word charity for giving more of a verb identity and doing/showing helpful activity.

    I also like the connection to Richard Hooker, realizing it means an influential English theologian and not the pseudonym of a certain MASH author 🙂

    1. Martin's got it right. So much grumpiness about back to basics here today. I'm casting my vote for love!

  18. My vote was for our poet, priest, reformer. I agree with others that we need more folks to look towards the Oxford Movement and a return to basics.

  19. Though a lesser light of the Oxford movement, which I credit for their even being a Lent Madness, Keble was the pilot light. Thecla??? The bio reads like a creepy groupie.

    1. I hate when people make they're/there/their mistakes -- and here I've gone and made my own...

      Edit, Bob .... Edit! Most forums allow such after the fact.

  20. Having studied at Oxford and partied at Keble College, I have to go with John Keble. However, I will say, my hat's off to woman who can follow the apostle Paul!

  21. Given that after Mary Magdalene and the BVM we hardly hear about women in the early church (many translations even masculinized "Julia" to "Julius"), I voted for Thecla as a reminder that women were as deeply committed to the Way as men were.