Brigid of Kildare vs. Dionysius the Great

We've almost made it through yet another week of heart-stopping, saintly thrills and spills. Two more votes to cast before we're given a chance to catch our collective breaths/suffer from the weekend malaise that is LMW (Lent Madness Withdrawal).

After today's matchup, only two battles remain in the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. Tomorrow Bernard Mizeki will face Jackson Kemper and on Monday it's Egeria vs. Thomas Ken. Then it's on to the Elate Eight!

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's focus on a tricky pairing between a beloved Irish saint and a bishop who served amid the trials of persecution. Brigid of Kildare faces Dionysius the Great as we continue to get to know our saintly souls through Quirks and Quotes.

Yesterday, Francis of Assisi trounced Cecilia 69% to 31% and will face off against Thecla in the next round.

brigid-of-kildare-iconBrigid of Kildare

Brigid is the most-beloved Irish saint, alongside Patrick, in the hearts of the Irish people.

Known as Mary of the Gael, she is said to have miraculous powers over beer: both changing a bathtub full of water to beer to feed a starving family, and causing a single barrel of her monastery’s brew to last from Christmas straight through to Pentecost.

However, she didn’t limit her exploits to mass beer production — Brigid was a shrewd leader as well. Her double monastery was the first of its kind. When she went to the king, to request land to build her abbey, she explained that she had just the right spot picked out: it had trees, access to water, good for building, a lovely view, etc. The king flatly refused. Undeterred, Brigid suggested the king give to her just enough land as her cloak covered. The king, eyeing the small garment wrapped around her shoulders, shrugged and agreed. Brigid spread out her cloak, handing each corner to a different nun, and they started walked in opposite directions. Suddenly, the cloak grew larger and larger, until the king, annoyed, threw up his hands, and gave her the original parcel she had wanted. The idea of Brigid’s cloak became very important, and to this day, a popular Irish blessing asks for St. Brigid to shelter you under her cloak.

On a slightly more practical note, when St. Mel of Armaugh performed her installation as abbess of Kildare, he reported seeing a column of fire descend from the heavens and alight upon Brigid’s head. This vision convinced him, on the spur of the moment to just go ahead and ordain her a bishop. (Columns of fire from heaven are not to be trifled with). Vision or no, Brigid is considered by many to be the first functioning female bishop, and is depicted holding a bishop’s crozier in many icons.

Her ministry, in Kildare and beyond, was based on translating the incoming Christian faith into the language of the people’s traditional customs and practices, until it became something they could relate to.

The monastery at Kildare was founded on a site that had been traditionally used for Druid worship of a pagan goddess. Worship of this goddess involved the kindling and tending of an eternal flame. Once Brigid decided to set up her monastery there, she elected to continue to let the flame burn — only she explained it as the light of Christ, shining in the world, and coming to Ireland to bring wisdom, peace, and justice. Each day, a different nun would tend the light, and on the 20th day, Brigid herself took a turn. So the flame burned continuously, as it had in pre-Christian days, until Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries.

However, in 1993, the order Brigid founded relit the flame in Kildare, and it is again shining continuously as a beacon of Christ’s love in Ireland. 

Megan Castellan

dionysius imageDionysius the Great

Dionysius the Great, as he would come to be called, was an agent of reconciliation in a time of heated dispute. As Bishop of Alexandria, the chief episcopal see in the third century, Dionysius saw his flock subjected to the horrors of the Decian persecutions and is remembered especially for his role in the question of how to treat those Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions.

Many fled Alexandria seeking safety, others went to their reward loyal to the faith, and yet others gave in to the pressures of the Roman Empire and apostatized. Dionysius himself was furious when he was not allowed to go to his martyrdom after he was kidnapped by supporters who could not bear to see him become a victim.

Once the persecutions came to an end, there were many who were of the opinion that there was no possibility for re-admission to Communion and the Church after such apostasies. Dionysius, however, offered a way toward reconciliation. He said that, after a period of penance and without re-baptism, those who had succumbed to pressure should be welcomed back. He wrote, “Let us then not repel those who return, but gladly welcome them and number them with those who have not strayed…”

He said of those who would bar those who apostatized from the Communion of the Church that they had “introduced the most unholy teaching about God and accuse the most gracious Jesus Christ our Lord of being without pity.”

Dionysius reinforced the teaching that the Sacraments of the Church are of Divine origin and that the flawed nature of the Church’s ministers does not undermine their efficacy. He combated with great vigor those who maintained that if a heretic baptized an individual then said Baptism might be considered invalid. Dionysius taught that Baptism in the name of the Trinity should always be regarded as valid no matter the failings of the minister.

Dionysius maintained a moderate tone and appealed to scripture, tradition, and reason in holding that the unity of the Church rests on the validity of her Sacraments despite the flaws, divisions, and animosities of the Church.

One man who had taken in with heretics for a time came to Dionysius full of contrition and afraid to receive Communion without being re-baptized. About this Dionysius wrote, “For as he had heard the Giving of Thanks (Eucharist), and joined in saying the Amen, and stood at the Table, and stretched forth his hands to receive the holy Food, and had taken it and partaken of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for a considerable period, I should not venture to put him back to the beginning once more.”

Dionysius was a writer, thinker, and teacher who, at a time of bitter controversy, labored for the unity of the Church and rested his hope on the mercy and charity of Christ. 

Robert Hendrickson


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168 comments on “Brigid of Kildare vs. Dionysius the Great”

      1. The beer was for nourishment, not for intoxication. We're talking about a hearty dark ale, not Bud Lite. But I see Carl's point.

      2. The water was not always drinkable then this was a good source of liquid still is and its full of vitamins too

    1. Generally I'm into cabernet, but when I go to Murphy's pub I order a Guinness. I'll bet an Italian saint would have changed the bathtub into wine.

      1. Anthony, when I first became an Episcopalian, after the rigors of singing all of Holy Week, Easter Vigil, and two services Sunday morning, we retired to the choir master's house where everyone brought a bottle of champagne to be iced down in his bathtub--with mimosas to follow. After having been a teetotalling Methodist, this was a wonder indeed!

  1. Tough choice! I weighed the pros and cons of each. What finally compelled me to vote for Bridget was she was an early female bishop, her legacy continues, and this is St. Patrick's Day week! Bells of Ireland, blue flags (iris, no yellow to be had around here), and white ranunculus decorate my dining room with Irish colors this week.

  2. We could certainly use Dionysius today. Flaws in the ministers, diversities in teachings, etc.

    1. How can you not love this man: "He said of those who would bar those who apostatized from the Communion of the Church that they had 'introduced the most unholy teaching about God and accuse the most gracious Jesus Christ our Lord of being without pity.'"

      1. Yes, I broke with my standard practice of going with the female contestant. It was not easy, as I am Irish and Brigid was the first female Bishop AND could turn water into beer! I found that I had to go with Dionysius, however, for his qualities of compassion and mercy. The decisions get harder as we progress through the competition!

    2. Agreed! Dionysius for the win! Showing God's love and forgiveness in a time of trial that most of us can't comprehend does it for me!

  3. I am voting for anyone is poor and didn't have a family. That's why I voted for brigid.

    1. Good for you, Oliver. I like your thinking. But I do have to tell you I liked Dionysius' looking for reconciliation in the church so I voted for him.

      1. My guess is Brigid will win, but I went with someone who had so much compassion for those who strayed.

      2. I did wonder if it was Spell check or if indeed there is somewhere in the Annals of Time a Niceness Creed. Doesn't sound sound such a bad idea especially for a Reconciler.

      3. There is another type of reconciliation as well - reconciliation between the old Goddess and traditions of the Irish, and the new God and customs of the Christians. St. Brigid shows this type of reconciliation. For that, and the fact that she was an early bishop, I had to desert the well-deserving Dionysius, and vote for Brigid.

    2. Thank you, Oliver. I never vote until I see what you've said. And today, it's Brigid for me, too.

      1. Tomorrow I will vote for Jackson kemper. Because he was strong and his father was friend with George washington. I think he looks sad.

        1. I'm voting for Jackson Kemper, too, Oliver. I went to a school named for him, that's why I'm voting for him.

  4. "On Monday Bernard Mizeki will face Jackson Kemper and on Tuesday it’s Egeria vs. Thomas Ken. Then it’s on to the Elate Eight!"

    Something change or has the SEC eliminated Friday... or is this Friday and I missed something?

      1. Don't worry. I think many of us wake up on Thursday and wish it was Friday!

        Or was the omission a dastardly conspiracy among those backing the two who will face off tomorrow to evade Friday's voting and make the Third Round of Kitsch the Noble Nine rather than the Elate Eight?

  5. Alas as much as I might enjoy a "bathtub full of beer" I would still wake up to the challenges that were facing before I encounter the beer. I think a leader who was a writer, thinker, and teacher who, at a time of bitter controversy, labored for the unity of the Church and rested his hope on the mercy and charity of Christ. Does better than BEER!

  6. As much as I admire Dionysius, I had to go with Brigid. My Irish heritage certainly had some influence, but her role stands as a model to men as well as women, and her legacy has definitely empowered so many who came after her to be the light of Christ.

  7. My vote is for Brigid! I was moved by the fact that she worked on "translating the incoming Christian faith into the language of the people’s traditional customs and practices, until it became something they could relate to."

  8. No difficulty in choosing a forgiving and unifying saint - not to mention " Great".

  9. This is a tough one and as much as I want to vote for Bridged I must pull the lever for Dionysus. In a broken and troubling world now more than ever we need unity of the church based on the mercy and charity of Christ.

  10. It's probably cheating, but on difficult choices (like this one), I check to see who's winning and then vote for the other saint. Don't care who wins, but I want it to be close, in the end.

  11. My Brigid's cross is above my doorway, protecting my home from harm, and especially from fire.

  12. Voted for Brigid as my grand-dog's name is Brigid . She is an Irish Wolfhound. My son-law also brews his own beer, so how could I resist.

  13. My brain hurts. Am having a very tough time sorting this one out. Need to think some more and read some more comments. I love Brigid for being a woman leader and reaching out to people in ways that they could understand and I love Dionysius for reconciliation and renewal. This is HAAAARRRD!

  14. I was born on Saint Brigids day, so I fee compelled to vote for her. Hats off to Dionysius and his divinely inspired rationality. Who knows where we'd be and how we'd be worshipping if it weren't for both of them!

  15. I was all set to vote for the woman bishop. We should indeed not trifle with columns of fire! But a Christian leader who advocates for the unity of the church, who implores moderation and reminds us to attend to scripture, tradition, and reason, who insists that our Sacraments are efficacious by the strength of God's grace and power alone, and who rests his hope on the mercy and charity of Christ...? Would that we had more leaders of that caliber now. I want to vote for Brigid, but I think Dionysius may win my vote today.

  16. What a difficult day! First my Friday has disappeared, then I must decide between a determined compassionate early female bishop (and how could the Catholic church not approve the ordination of women!) who brought Christianity and sanity to so many versus a determined, compassionate male bishop who preached reconciliation of the erring sheep to God, the imperfection of the church and its earthly ministers. and the ultimate perfection and mercy of God! With love for Brigid and her story, I must cast my vote for Dionysius!

  17. I love Dionysus, voted for and defended in the first round but today is really very easy.

  18. My Irish heart is with Brigid, who understood that you have to reach people where they are, not where you want them to be; but I voted for Dionysius the Great, reconciler.

  19. My grandfather was John Joseph Michael Sweeney (or Jesus, Joseph, and Mary he used to tell us as kids) so no problem guessing where my vote went.

  20. Come on now, how could I not vote for the first female Bishop and the celebration of the divine feminine?? Although I do think Episcopalians need to be doing some soul searching about the glorification of alcoholic beverages (but ok, the bath tub beer was cool!). In other match ups Dionysus would have been my choice.

  21. I love Brigid's story but I recognized Dionysius's work from the Niceness Creed and the Articles of Religion. Today's vote was not easy.

    1. I think that you might win the Best Auto-Correct Freudian Slip of all time. ::applauds for the Niceness Creed::

  22. Oh what a hard choice. It's taken centuries to consecrate the first woman to the episcopate in England so really inclined to vote for Brigid, but... Dionysius won me over through his commitment not just to preach reconciliation but to work for it, for his appeal to scripture, tradition and reason (a proto Anglican 🙂 ) and for his belief in the validity of the sacraments and the unfailing generosity, mercy and love of God in spite of an all too flawed church. We need his like today.