Bernard Mizeki vs. Margaret of Antioch

In the penultimate battle of the first round, we have a South African missionary and martyr taking on an early 4th century martyr from Antioch. Courage (and at least one dragon) abounds in this battle between Bernard Mizeki and Margaret of Antioch with the winner to face Jackson Kemper in the Saintly Sixteen.

Yesterday in the Battle of the Greats, Dionysius the Great proved his greatness by defeating Irene the Great, 58% to 42%. Wondering how things are progressing? Check out the updated Bracket.

And in case you missed this week's stirring edition of Monday Madness: Global Edition, Tim and Scott awarded the first ever Lent Madness Medal of Valor. Oh, and they also coined the term "Servermaggedon."

Bernard MizekiBernard Mizeki

Bernard Mizeki is one of the most beloved martyrs in South Africa. Each year on June 18, one of the largest Christian gatherings in Africa takes place as part of the celebration of his feast day.

Born in Portuguese East Africa in 1861 and educated by the Cowley Fathers, Mizeki began his working life offering hospitality in the Fathers' Hostel for African men. Under their tutelage and with the additional evangelical efforts of a German missionary, Mizeki was baptized in 1886. Shortly after, he left his job at the hostel and began his training as a catechist.

Mizeki’s calling as a catechist and his innate gift for language made him a natural fit as a partner to missionaries working in what is now known as Zimbabwe. He and his wife provided pastoral care and formation to the people in and around the Marondera district, taking special care to explain the Christian faith in ways that used the indigenous culture to undergird the primacy of the gospel of Jesus. Mizeki understood the importance of respecting cultural integrity and had an ardent desire to preach the good news.

In a decision repeated by Martin Luther King, Jr. more than fifty years later, Mizeki refused to allow death threats and intimidation from local authorities to keep him silent. Mizeki was truly a shepherd to his sheep until the end of his life. During an 1896 uprising, Mizeki was attacked outside of his hut. In an effort to staunch his wounds and give him comfort, his wife and a friend ran back into the dwelling to retrieve food and blankets. Reporting a bright flash of light and a sound like many beating wings, the two helpers were unable to find Bernard’s body on returning to the spot where he had fallen. While his final resting place remains unknown, Bernard Mizeki’s faith and trust in the love and life of Jesus is unmistakable.

Collect for Bernard Mizeki

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

-Nancy Frausto

Margaret-2Margaret of Antioch

Margaret of Antioch is one of the Auxiliary Saints, the so-called “Fourteen Holy Helpers.” She was a victim of the Diocletian Persecution (302-303). In her story she was true to her name (margarites means pearl in Greek): shining, resplendent Margaret was a small but powerful woman. She is the patron saint of expectant mothers and was one of the holy personages said to have provided comfort, solace, and direction to Joan of Arc.

Born to a prominent pagan family in Antioch, Margaret’s father gave her to a nurse to be brought up as a proper lady. When Margaret was old enough to decide for herself, she was baptized as a Christian. Sometime later, when she was fifteen, a local prefect saw her and wanted her as his wife. Upon further inspection, he learned of her noble parentage and her apt name. He also learned of her Christian faith. The prefect expressed his disapproval for her religion, and Margaret likewise condemned him for not believing in the crucified Christ. This angered the prefect and he had her thrown in jail.

The next morning, Margaret was ordered to offer sacrifices to the prefect’s gods. Margaret refused and dared the prefect to follow through on his threat to torture her. He carried through — Margaret was placed on the rack, beaten with rods, and cut with iron rakes. The violence was so disturbing the prefect could not bear to watch.

Margaret was taken off the rack and sent back to jail. That night she battled a great dragon (thus a dragon is often included in artistic depictions of her). In some versions of her story, she fended off the dragon by making a sign of the cross. In other stories the dragon consumed her whole, and while in its belly Margaret made the sign of the cross and the dragon burst open, providing us with one of the most lasting and impressive stories about intestinal upset upon being confronted with the truth of the gospel and zeal of the faithful. Upon vanquishing the dragon, she faced off with the devil, appearing to her in the form of a man. Margaret grabbed the man by the head, shoved him to the ground, and pinned him under her feet. Knowing that she had vanquished the devil, she confidently approached the prefect the next day.

In front of a large crowd, Margaret refused to make sacrifices to the gods. She was stripped and her body was burned with torches. She was bound and placed in a tub of water to increase the pain. Immediately the earth shook, and Margaret emerged from the water unscathed. Five thousand people saw the miracle and immediately converted to Christianity. Fearing more people would convert, the prefect ordered her beheaded. Margaret died with a single stroke of the blade.

Collect for Margaret of Antioch

Everliving God, we remember before you today your servant Margaret of Antioch, who, though small and delicate in stature has become a giant of the faith. Grant that we, like Margaret, would have the faith and fortitude to cling to your love and solace, even in the midst of humiliation and great pain, so that we may always proclaim the words of your story and the faith of your church to encourage those around us in our darkest hours. Amen.

-David Creech


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175 comments on “Bernard Mizeki vs. Margaret of Antioch”

  1. As I work for a Catholic Mission organization with missioners in Africa (not in Zimbabwe, but we did have some for awhile there), I feel I must vote for Bernard Mizeki!

  2. Though my respect and awe for early Christian martyrs knows no bounds, the stories of young virginal women being tortured again and again seem, to me, to have been a reflection on a disturbing fascination of violence toward women that echoes down to Netflix offerings of today. I'll go with verifiable historical, so George it is, though I do love the comment above about how the wings heard at his death could have been another dragon.

    1. "the stories of young virginal women being tortured again and again seem, to me, to have been a reflection on a disturbing fascination of violence toward women"

      Yes, this. "Oh, another virgin who was tortured to death." (By the man who wanted to marry her, forsooth!)

  3. It was Bernard all the way to the flash of lights and beating wings. But I have a fondness for dragons so I'm troubled. In spite of the last minute pyrotechnics I think it'll be Bernard. Maybe.

  4. While many of these modern day vs ancient match-ups have made me lean towards the ancient in order to learn more about someone who is more difficult to find info on and in fact, I have votes nearly every time for the ancient day woman, today I vote for Bernard (George?) for his sensitivity to differing cultures. And I felt bad for the dragon

  5. Love Margaret's story and dragon is way cool but gotta go with Bernard. Being true to the gospel without decimating people's culture is no mean feat. In light of the fact that Christians are still being martyred for the faith Bernard's story of courage and faith resonates more strongly than ever. We need to know the names and stories of modern martyrs, when we are feeling persecuted in our own lives. Besides SSJE rules.

  6. No matter which way you vote, you have to admit the phrase "fourteen holy helpers" just rolls off your tongue.

  7. This struggle we all go through, fantastical or more recent "real" history? Does the parable/story/moral matter as much as the real person? Yes! But I still voted for Bernard.

  8. Both these saints are amazing, and I do not want to have to choose one over the other! But I am also a small woman (5 feet tall), and having labored with the dragon of a long, protracted 33-hour birth of my little miracle daughter, I think I will vote for Margaret. I love her tenacity and courage. (But I also love the gentleness and strength of Bernard! This one is soooo hard!!)

  9. Didn't know much about either of these saints. Excited to learn about them. Thanks, Nancy, for introducing me to Bernard Mizeki!

  10. This is a difficult choice between two remarkable, brave souls who remained steadfast in the face of horror. I voted for Margaret today, for setting such an example of real faith as to inspire legends. I'm sure Bernard will prevail, and I will cheer his courageous example as he advances.

  11. My mother and my daughter are both named Margaret, BUT I voted for Bernard. I am always a sucker for practical, realistic evangelism. What can I say?!

  12. The SEC has certainly worked hard this year to bring forward so many of these ancient saints with fantasimical stories! I've found them fascinating and disturbing. Margaret of Antioch included. Why did the early writers need to create such unbelievable stories around these people? The only way a faithful follower could become a saint was for a wild story to be built around them? It will be interesting to learn more behind the creating of these hagiographies.

    As far as voting, I've voted for some, not for others of those with unbelievable stories. I was pleased Irene held up as well as she did but the crazy legends turn me off and I only voted for her after reading the comments and putting her in a better perspective than my first reaction. I also like to support the women in the bracket, particularly when they seem to have been an important influence in their time but ignored by patriarchal history!

    Today, I just can't go with another Dragon slayer (or otter, viper, beheading survivor). It's getting to be too much! Even though Bernard was whisked away by something with wings, I will vote for him for his wise cultural sensitivity.

    1. I think if you consider those stories in terms of figurative/metaphorical language, they become more comprehensible or at least acceptable. They may never have been meant to be taken literally, but rather to illustrate the immensity of devotion, fortitude, etc. Which for me puts Margaret and Bernard on about the same level of saintliness and makes this voting thing an awful lot like struggling with dragons...

  13. Both are incredible people. However I went with Margaret for her fights with dragons, men, and commitment to Christ against all odds. The collect really spoke to me.

  14. As noted, both persisted in incredibly difficult circumstances. But Margaret's story looks to me like a Hollywood script, lots of action, colorful battles, and a surprise ending for someone who survived worse attacks. Bernard just plugged away for the most part, something I can relate to.

  15. another tough choice. St Margaret is also the Patron saint of Nephrology. I've had a nephrostomy for almost 4 years. I often call on her for help.

  16. I had to read both stories twice, because even though my brain was favoring Bernard, I really, really wanted to vote for my namesake. Finally decided I should back her for her courage.

  17. Once again I will go with the documentable and more recent Bernard Mizeki over the ancient and perhaps more allegorical Margaret of Antioch. Though I so wanted to vote for the woman small of stature and formidable in her faith and strength, I have to go with the person who seems more realistic. I love the fact that he was sensitive to his own culture yet had such dramatic transformative results. Myth vs real contest for me. I like the earlier suggestions that, ferrets aside, the match ups might be chosen for their similarity, or even the idea that one year the match ups be ancient, the next, more modern. Discuss it with the SEC, please. Even still, I love reading about these people of whom I have known little other than their names. Thank you.

  18. Bernard for his ability to create bridges between cultures. Would that there were more with that gift.
    I must say that this year I've been finding particular pleasure in the comments - a thoughtful forum among people who strive to balance saintly actions, steadfast belief that leads to martyrdom and a poor dragon is a wonderful change from most current public discourse! I agree the someone several days ago who said it would be great to have a 'Like" button for the comments.

  19. I voted for Bernard, but found I was disturbed by references to the good work of "his wife", a nameless person who also expressed love for God. See this so often, so and so and his wife. I want to know her and have her known, too!

  20. Went with St. Bernard. I was moved and encouraged by his witnessing, and especially by his respect for the culture of the people to whom he witnessed. I was momentarily drawn to Margaret because of the patron saint of expectant mothers (since my daughter is expecting within the month) but nowhere did I see an explanation of why she is that patron saint. Or maybe I didn't read well enough. Anyway, Go Bernie.

    1. I believe the expectant mothers connection comes from her bursting forth from the belly of a dragon.

  21. Having suffered more than my share of intestinal distress symptoms, I vote for Margaret, patron saint of the Sisters of St. Margaret whose work in Haiti our church supports with prayers and donations.

  22. The dragon went Judas Iscariot one better ("all his bowels gushed out," Acts 1:18), so we can't say that no dragons were harmed in the story of Margaret of Antioch. Valiant lady though she was, there's just too much of the imaginative in her story, so I'm going with Bernard Mizeki, even though the "flash of light and beating of wings" might be apocryphal.

  23. Thank you Jim Bimbi for the link to more info on Mizeki. Yes, it's always difficult to compare someone for whom we have a recent historical record with more 'facts' to someone who lived in a time where there was a paucity of accurate records. However, the memories of more ancient saints have somehow survived through a thousand or more years. Because of that, their stories have grown and much myth and legend has been built up around them. However, there must have been some kernel of truth for that legend to have grown in that way. Thus it is not a simple choice between the 'real' Bernard Mizeki and the 'mythical' Margaret of Antioch for me. I'm still going to go for Mizeki in this case, but it's not a slam dunk for me.

  24. Margaret's dragon is exciting (who doesn't enjoy a good dragon story?) but (George) Bernard (not Shaw) Mizeki has captured me. He's an example to all of us that "they lived not only in ages past," and his sensitivity to the customs of the indigenous peoples touches me. Would that all Christian missionaries across time had cared more about the cultures of those they sought to convert.

  25. My name is Margaret and I attend Antioch Lutheran Church. I can't go with anyone except Margaret. Besides dragons are cool.

  26. St Margaret for me. She is patron of SSM and a wild woman. That's enough right there but more than that she never gave up. She's the one for me.

  27. This one was easy - I am South African and Bernard Mizeki is huge in our church! The men's guild in the church is named after him, The Bernard Mizeki Guild. Grateful to have an African saint in the mix!

  28. I saw a quote once--maybe Marcus Borg?--that the people who wrote these stories would think us ridiculous for taking them so literally, just as we think them ridiculous for writing such fantastical things. The story is not about facts--indeed, facts only became important in reading within the last 200 years. The story is about the truth beyond the words, and we are the ones who are blinded by our insistence that everything be literal. We cannot understand the story through our own modern western lens any more than we would insist on understanding a First Nations story through our own colonial lens.

    And again I note...if we refuse any ancient saint based on historical iffiness, we'll need to chuck out pretty much all of scripture.

    Having said that...I think Bernard's story is more compelling, but Margaret's collect more I have no idea what to do.

    1. Contrariwise, here's a vote for the dragon burster, in anticipation of the start of the new season of Game of Thrones.

  29. Fantastic tales of stomping the devil, surviving torture unscathed and exploding dragons are awfully difficult to assess against a (relatively) modern-day good guy with a knack for teaching Christianity in the context of existing culture. Against my first inclination, I went with Margaret, choosing to interpret her fantastic tales as evidence of a woman who knew her mind and was willing to overcome social, physical and spiritual battles for her faith.