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. Ok I finally have to write. I would have preferred some more modern day stories of Saints this year then the "lore" that was chosen (Although the seal fable was great!) Just a thought. Stephanie

  2. I have to vote for the saint who argued that the efficacy of the sacrament rests with the Holy Spirit and not the clergy performing the ceremony - we all have times when we don't agree with our clergy, or their decisions, and the work that Dionysus accomplished is needed. How do we welcome back those who have gone off into splinter churches, and now regret the move - with the rejoicing of the angels over the 1 who was found, over the 99 who did not stray.

    1. Not to mention the Prodigal Son. Hard choice, but I go for reconciliation, even though water from Bridgit's well sits in my home.

  3. The bath tub of beer, the burning light, + the ever expanding cloak, and the beer that never ran out, certainly helped me to go for Brigid. Keep up the great work here

  4. I'm a home brewer and so was all set to vote for Brigid, but Dionysius' bio swayed me. I admire how he exemplifies God's mercy and worked for unity in love.

  5. Continuing my practice of voting for the underdog, I cast my vote for Dionysius: for standing for the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation no matter how bad the sin and for affirming that the grace of the sacraments does not depend on the holiness or worthiness of the person performing it - both of which are a great comfort to this sinner!

  6. As much as an Anglican vote for Brigid might compensate for Henry's destroying the Abbey, I've got to go with Dionysus for his unifying attitude. But it seems a losing battle.

  7. I am torn. My heart is with beer and a big cloak, and I love to see women succeed. However, as an active Methodist, I heed Wesley's sermons against strong drink, and the kinship of deciding by scripture, tradition (Wesleyan witnesses) and reason. In this case, the open mind overrules the open heart. I go with the Greek.

  8. Anyone who appeals to scripture, tradition, and reason for insights gets my vote. John Wesley used these three and added "experience" as guidelines for discernment.
    Dionysius gets my vote.

  9. Brigid's story reads like a good Irish tale! A little fanciful, but with a twinkle in the eye .... This 1/4 Irishman has to vote for the Irish Saint!

    An Irish Blessing

    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life's passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!

  10. Let them drink beer! How about a little corned beef and colcannon to go with that...maybe some apple juice for the minors. First woman bishop sealed the deal, though the latex cloak was pretty impressive.

  11. I loved Brigid's story, but my vote went to the reconciler - the world/churches could use him again.

  12. When your last name means "Son of a servent of St. Brigid" (sometimes called St. Bride) you really have no choice!

  13. Brigid all the way! Born a slave, sold because she wasn't a boy, returned to irritate her father by giving away his stuff, freed by the king, bought her mother's freedom, founded a monastery, became a bishop under holy fire, not a beer drinker so don't care about that but love milk so cows that gave 3 times a day is impressive.

    Did anyone else notice that the first bio on Dionysius said "after a period of penance and re-baptism, those who had succumbed to pressure would be welcomed back into the Church" and today's said "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…” Just curious, which is it?

    1. Dionysius did not tell people to be rebaptized. He asked Pope Stephen not to punish religious leaders who rebaptized people.

      There's a Catholic Encyclopedia that explains this distinction, but in a muddled way that might cause confusion:
      “Dionysius was far from teaching, like Cyprian, that baptism by a heretic rather befouls than cleanses; but he was impressed by the opinion of many bishops and some councils that repetition of such a baptism was necessary, and it appears that he besought Pope Stephen not to break off communion with the Churches of Asia on this account.”
      Catholic Encyclopedia – “Dionysius of Alexandria”
      www. newadvent. org /cathen/05011a.htm

      A secular source is clearer on the issue:
      “Engaged in the bitter controversy over baptism performed by heretics, Dionysius did not insist on rebaptizing converts who had received heretical baptism, but he recognized the right of communities to rebaptize if they preferred.”
      Encyclopaedia Britannica – “Saint Dionysius of Alexandria”
      www. britannica. com /EBchecked/topic/164246/Saint-Dionysius-of-Alexandria

  14. Brigid, in honor of all the strong minded nuns who get amazing things done thanks to the invisible column of fire from heaven over their heads.

  15. In the world's current great need for reconciliation, I realize that Dionysus should probably get my vote, but I'm an Irish musician and just survived my St Paddy's Day gigs. One of Brigid's teachings promised that heaven had a lake of beer! My vote goes with my profession - which makes up for yesterday's match up where I had to vote my conscious (Francis) over my profession 🙂

  16. I fully intended to vote for Brigid because she did so many amazing things in a time when women were second-class citizens (and the whole beer in the bathtub thing), but what Dionysius did is so pertinent today, I had to vote for him. These votes are not going to get any easier as we move on to the Elite Eight!

  17. I like the idea of monasteries for both sexes, and the idea of a female bishop early in the Church's history. Nevertheless, this Miserable Offender casts her vote for Dionysius for his stance on readmitting other M.O.s to the Church. "Forgive seventy times seven," our Lord said, and Dionysius heard and obeyed.

  18. So much was at stake for Dionysius and his flock. I voted for him because he kept God's grace front and center, had the wisdom to be a compassionate leader, and set an important example for other Christians.

  19. I soooo wanted to vote for Brigid because of my 100% Irish roots, but on both a micro and a macro level we need healing of divisions. So Dionysius it is! Even though women bishops are very cool.

  20. You know, my brackets this year are collapsing before my eyes. Last year I voted with my head - this year I'm voting with my heart. Hmmm....Dionysius for me today.

  21. I admire Brigid, though what would I ever do with a bathtub of beer? She almost had me at "first woman bishop" but then I read Dionysius' bio and encountered three of the four sides of the "Methodist Quadrilateral" of discernment--scripture, tradition, reason, and experience--which is part of our heritage from John Wesley. That, and the comforting words about the efficacy of Sacraments despite the imperfection of the celebrant (very important for us clergy to remember--though we strive to be "going on to perfection" we know how far from it we are!) and his insistence on reconciliation, which we need so desperately today, lead me to vote for Dionysius.

  22. This was possibly one of the most difficult choices yet, for me. I'm fascinated to watch this one play out.

  23. I'm so glad that it is clarified that Dionysius did NOT require re-baptism of the repentant. I thought that sounded wrong when it said he did in the first round bio. So glad that is corrected here. His leadership in the early church set the standard for future ages! Talk about best practices!! Where would we be if it hadn't been for him? And, as others have said, we could benefit from one of his caliber today!

    And Brigid!! A woman! Great leadership skills! A bishop! With a heart for nurturing her people. I love her and all things Celtic. I especially love her Icon today with her cloak spread out and becoming the green fields of Ireland. I think her cloak now covers the world as the Irish heritage has gifted so many parts of it. I also love the image of her cloak covering and comforting me.

    I'm going with the first functioning female Bishop.