Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant

We're back! The Saintly Sixteen continues with a 7th century monk, bishop, and hermit vs. an 18th century Native American, consensus builder, and British loyalist. The round of Quirks and Quotes continues with Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant.

In Friday's Lent Madness action, Kamehameha of Hawaii defeated David Oakerhater 61% to 39% to advance to the Elate Eight.

And, finally, some of you may have heard about this other bracket-style tournament that takes place this time of year. We have done a saintly analysis of March Madness to assist you in your water cooler conversations.


Perhaps the most beautiful thing that is said of Saint Cuthbert is, “Cuthbert sought to follow Christ.” In this he is like many of the saints but his pattern of life was uniquely Christ-like in ways that shine forth through the centuries. No fewer than 22 lives of Cuthbert were written in the Middle Ages and his Christ-focused living is an example to all Christians.

In a Kingdom awash in both great violence and wealth, Cuthbert’s counter-cultural simplicity and kindness were a source of powerful spiritual inspiration. Stories were long told of the miracles of his life but also of enduring import were stories of his very human kindness. Upon his death, his legend grew and a significant cult emerged around his memory and relics.

There are a number of legends about the incorruptibility of Cuthbert’s mortal remains that signified his saintliness. Even in the throes of the zeal of the Reformation his body was found to be relatively undecayed and rather than being subjected to ransacking as so many other saints were, his pectoral cross, portable Altar, stole, and the precious fabrics in which his body was wrapped were not hauled off to the pawn shop by Henry VIII’s commissars but were reburied in what remained of his original coffin.

Bishops of the time were renowned for displays of wealth. They levied taxes on villages they had never visited nor even heard of, wielded immense power, and took hearty part in the struggles for it. Cuthbert was once given a gift of silk which he declined to wear when he was vigorous and only asked for it to be brought to him to wear on his deathbed when he wanted to be dressed to receive his Lord.

This may seem a small detail – yet Cuthbert’s dignity and generosity shielded his mortal remains when little else sufficed to protect other holy sites and remains.

The Kingdom of Northumbria, a center for trade and travel, was an immensely wealthy one and there are many stories of churches, courts, and kings bedecked in jewels and arrayed in magnificence. Cuthbert tried to be both in the world and made substantial contributions to the temporal kingdom – but he was far more concerned with being a good citizen of the Kingdom he feared was threatened by ostentation.

Cuthbert’s dilemma was not between the power and wealth of the world or the simplicity of the monastery. Cuthbert’s deep personal struggle was between being a pastor and being a hermit. He desperately wanted to love and serve those who struggled daily but he feared becoming an unwholesome example by falling prey to vanity. His long pursuit was to unite his episcopal and monastic call with integrity. He said, “Even if I could hide myself in a tiny dwelling on a rock, even then I should fear lest the love of wealth should tempt me.”

Bede’s energy, in writing about Cuthbert, was for telling the miraculous stories of Cuthbert. Yet it is his simplicity of life and centered virtue that perhaps are most powerfully resonant today.

Robert Hendrickson

8fdb5086-619a-4ea0-b146-995510eff36cMolly Brant

Even as a young child, Molly Brant exhibited a gift for leadership. In 1754, at the age of 18, Molly traveled with her stepfather and other Mohawk leaders to Philadelphia to contest the fraudulent sale of Native territory. It was there, historians believe, that Molly got her first taste in the art of negotiation and compromise.

Molly continued to put these skills to use when she became a wife, mother (to 8 children!), and tribal leader. She frequently led the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of her common-law husband Sir William Johnson when he was away. Although Molly received an education from Christian missionaries and was a devout Anglican, she retained a respectful devotion to many Mohawk customs, which allowed her to serve as a consensus-builder between two nations. During the Revolutionary War, she also commanded soldiers and organized relief efforts. As one British military official wrote: “One word from her goes further with them [our soldiers] than a thousand words from any white man without exception.” Even after the defeat of the British in the Revolutionary War, Molly continued to serve as an advocate for the Iroquois nation as new boundary lines were drawn between Canada and the newly formed United States of America.

Not only was Molly Brant skilled in negotiations and peacemaking, she was a skillful trader and herbalist who often used the herbs in her garden for medicinal purposes, further ensuring her strong ties to her Mohawk community. She continued this practice upon settling in southern Ontario where, in 1791, she financed the building of the first Protestant church in Kingston.

For many years, American historians ignored Molly Brant’s place in history because of her Loyalist leanings. Yet, such an omission fails to account for her remarkable gifts and achievements in the face of massive cultural, social, and economic transformations As one biographer has noted, "Posterity has done scant justice to this remarkable woman. In her lifetime she commanded respect from Indian and white alike. Soldiers, statesmen, governors, and generals wrote her praise. Her life from the Ohio and Mohawk Valleys to Kingston was not easy…She survived this turmoil with dignity, honour, and distinction as a mother and a leader.”

In an attempt to bring attention to Molly Brant’s contributions, composer Augusta Ceccconi-Bates created an opera in honor of Molly in 2003. Two years later, the non-profit Molly Brant Foundation was chartered to provide support for research related to the lives of native people in southern Ontario.

Molly Brant never wavered in her faithfulness to prayer, the study of Scripture, and the transmission of the Christian faith to her eight children. Whether one counts her a Loyalist or a Patriot, Molly’s tenacity, generosity, and cooperative spirit are a legacy to us all.

Maria Kane


At 7:20 p.m. today, we blocked three internet addresses due to excessive voting. So a few folks in St. Paul, MN; New Castle, PA; and Saudia Arabia (go figure) are not going to have access to Lent Madness. Please vote once only! If you are a school or some other institution which will be registering lots of votes, let us know ahead of time. Again: one vote, one person. If you want your saint to win, get more people to vote!


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172 comments on “Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant”

  1. Cuthbert's simplicity and faithfulness remind me of St. Francis of Assisi. He gets my vote. I'm so glad I read the comments, because there was additional info about both there.

  2. After Mark's fabulous description of Cuthbert, we should see a resurgence in boys being named Cuthbert for the next decade. Well done!

  3. I did some extra research on both individuals. Although Molly was a devout Anglican, it seems most of the story of her life revolves around her political influence. She was involved in helping the British against the Separatists. Many of her fellow Iroquois ended up dying during the Revolution. She was a great negotiator. But I can't find a lot about her devotion to Christ, other than that she was a devout Anglican. On the other hand Cuthbert’s entire life was centered and lived around his devotion to Christ, practicing humility and love in all that he did, according to the teachings of Christ. My vote goes to Cuthbert.

    1. Dan, different writers bring their own research interests to their work, and I'd guess the majority aren't int in hagiographic reflection. Could Molly have been both politically astute and also spiritual? I wonder if Wikipedia has information under a search for Molly as a saintly person.

  4. I think it's worth mentioning that during the Revolutionary period, the British, through their agent Johnson, incited the Indians to murder American settlers. The Indians did attack isolated farms and cabins, burning them & killing the inhabitants. Johnson and Molly Brandt were both remarkable people, who chose the wrong side, unfortunately. They could have been very valuable to the American cause, but they made their living from the British.

  5. I vote for Molly the negotiator. How did she have time to do this while she was raising so many children?

  6. Hurrah. An (eventual) Canadian makes it for your consideration!!
    Remember, Americans, that while the Revolutionary Period was really contentious for both groups -- pro- and anti- British, that BOTH sides were similarly nasty just as BOTH sides had good ideas and actions. Please AMERICANS, remember also that all sorts of loyal citizens -- and Christians -- chose to leave the 13 Colonies and came to Canada rather than submit to something they did not agree with. AND they gave up everything to do so. Your loss was Canada's gain.

  7. As an ex=pat Canadian who went to graduate school in Kingston, ON, it has to be Molly all the way. The fact that she was a UEL (United Empire Loyalist) is to her credit.

    The unfortunate fact that her common law husband left her some slaves does not, I think, disqualify her. I am willing to bet that Cuthbert also had slaves (although they were called by other names in medieval England, i.e. serfs). Certainly all the other bishops of the time did.

  8. I like and admire Molly, but as I read, I see her more as a politician with a spiritual aspect and not necessarily one who put Christ openly into her work. She helped to build a church, so that does sway the vote a bit, but the slave ownership doesn't help. Cuthbert was focused on his life with Christ and how that influenced all he did in the world. He struggled to remain true to his calling , to God, and to himself. I have to go with Cuthbert today.

    1. Jane, you have expressed what should be the point of this exercize: who best shows forth Christ in his/her life? Indeed isn't that the point

  9. Everyone's comments are thoughtful and bring up a lot of good points. I am tossed back and forth. But as a birdwatcher, I will support the man with the eider duck!

  10. A peacemaker and model of Christ, vs a powerful leader of a dying people in the middle of a (stupid) war. (Are there any non-stupid wars?). But Cuthbert's gifts strengthen the Church, while though Molly sounds a great leader, that does not necessarily advance God's kingdom. Besides, otters and eiders! I'll bet also puffins, and maybe even beavers and wildcats!

  11. This is a closer vote than I expected. Yay! Molly is a good woman of many accomplishments, but most of them relate to politics and power rather than spiritual advancement. Cuthbert is a straighforward sainty-saint who wouldn't wear silk, let alone hold slaves. I'm roothing for Cuthbert the Kind, who probably knows how to get down off a duck and certainly demonstrates the value of loving one and otter.

  12. Tough decision! But I guess life, and fun things, can be tough.

    Cuthbert for me.

    As for Molly being a slave-holder, think of that in cultural context. This did not sway my vote. Rather Cuthbert' s. Dedication in really difficult times.

    1. As heartbreaking as the revelation of inherting slaves pus, I think we have to remember that Molly herself was a kind of concubine, as well as woman and Native American, subject to much fewer choices and less freedom in intimate relationships on both counts. She transcended the limitations of her culture and its prejudices in myriad other ways in service of her fellow man and the faith. If you look at any of our other contenders and Golden Halo winners, I am sure you will find unsaintly behavior and actual sin aplenty. Take Charles Wesley, for instance. Despite the 600 hymns and being related to the abolitionist John Wesley (I am not sure if Charlespartcipated in anti-slavery efforts,; can't find any evidence that he did or didn't) , examples of unchristian attitudes and behavior on the part of Charles are well documented.

      1. Sorry: Her slave inheritance of slaves WAS heartbreaking, and she had MANY fewer choices. knead Two Pruufread B4 Pohsting. 😉

      2. As we are reminded in the Bill Murray film "St. Vincent" some who deserve the designation have significant flaws. Really recommend the movie.

  13. Considering the assortment of bishops we have in the Church today, we are certainly in need of more St. Cuthberts.

  14. Oh Great and Powerful SEC .... Process improvement suggestion: include a link to the last write-up of each saint as we progress to future rounds. Makes it easy to quickly go back and see the previous information, rather than having to search for the appropriate post on the sidebar....

    1. I read in some posting that by clicking on the appropriate bracket there would be a link to that information, but when I click all I get is larger or smaller.

  15. Molly made waves in a contentious world strengthened by her faith that seemed to transcend political and religious boundaries. Her actions have won me over, as they won over many people in her own time.

  16. Molly did have 9 children, one which died in infancy. I found her intriguing and gave her my vote...and would like to learn more about her. It was not hard for me to imagine that --as a sophisticated household manager -- that her slaves might be likely to be more integral as a family? Difficult to know the true contextual sense of that. Quite an impressive woman!

  17. What clinched it for me was that Molly has historically been ignored because she was a loyalist, we Americans forget that the times during the Revolution were complicated. Tough choice though!

  18. Cuthbert's effort to follow Christ reminds me of Bonhoeffer'sTest of must vote for him

  19. My Minuteman ancestor may be crying in heaven, but I had to vote for Molly this time. It is a hard road to follow, but I am learning to set aside political judgment. We need more Molly Brants to lead!

  20. I,too, am curious about the duck? My vote goes to the man torn between being a pastor and a hermit for those of us who have had the same internal struggle in our spiritual journeys.

  21. Reading about Cuthbert, my mind kept thinking of Pope Francis and his refusal of many papal luxuries and trappings. Cuthbert for me.

  22. My vote is for Cuthbert. I was moved by his kindness and the simple way he chose to live his life. He sought "to follow Christ."

  23. I voted for Cuthbert because his struggle to remain humble before God was so impressive. He recognized in himself what we all need to acknowledge in our own lives, the temptation to be placed on a pedestal over those whom we serve. I so admire Molly, but today my vote goes to Cuthbert.