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!


Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant

  • Molly Brant (52%, 3,031 Votes)
  • Cuthbert (48%, 2,852 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,883

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172 comments on “Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant”

  1. Cannot get over how many of my ancestors were killed or lost their lives and or homes in the Mowhawk Valley at the hands of Molly's friends. A slave owner to boot!
    Come on SEC, next year give us halo candidates we can all respect.

  2. Cuthbert! I have visited Durham Cathedral and seen his pectoral cross there (and was awed by its existence, over a thousand years after his death). His dedication to following Christ, being a pastor, though an introvert, and resisting the temptations of material luxury clinch it for me.

  3. My sincere apologies if I voted twice (for Molly Brandt). I'm in a pre-surgery bay at UCLA awaiting a procedure on my back. The first time I voted it didn't seem to go through! So to calm my nerves (although I am sedated) I tried to vote again. May the SEC forgive any transgressions this Lentan season.

    1. Wishing you a speedy recovery that does not include a visit to the Outer Darkness. Bless you.

  4. I have a feeling this one's going to be close!

    We would do well to follow Cuthbert's example regarding the temptations of wealth and vanity, and that was almost enough to earn my vote. But Molly's skills at negotiation and compromise are sorely needed in this unsettled world, so - perhaps in hope - I cast my vote for her. Her work as a healer and her dedication to her people also played a role in earning my vote. Since Christianity was so often used as a tool to force indigenous peoples out of their traditions, I love learning about those saints who didn't use Jesus as a club!

  5. Once again my history of 33 years with a church of St Aidan of Lindisfarne predisposes me to anyone associated with that place. Plus the fact that Cuthbert was a hermit, and for years I wanted to be a hermit myself (although not for holy reasons); and the underdog usually has my sympathy (even though Brant's margin over him is very slim at this point).

  6. There is a lot more to Cuthbert than the postings provide. My Rector returned from sabattical last year from England and Scotland having learned a great deal about him which he has shared with our parish. We could use a strong does of his Celtic form of evangilism in our world today. While Molly does make this a tough one, Cuthbert is all Elate 8.

  7. Yes, Emily is right, Molly Brant was sadly a slave owner, so Cuthbert wins my vote.

  8. Molly was a slave owner, a Loyalist to the British Crown and thus opposed to the human rights put forward in the Declaration of Independence. My vote today goes to Cuthbert continued to resist temptations of wealth and vanity, something we all need more of today.

    1., but wouldn't Cuthbert be a Brit, too?
      And weren't some of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence supporters of the slave trade?
      Just sayin'...FWIW, I prefer to play trying to look for reasons to vote for, not against (policy statements vs. attack ads -- effective though they may be!)

      I do really like both saints in today's contest and consider them both 'saints for our time' - Cuthbert for recognizing the dangers and temptations of love of wealth, and Molly Brant for her ministries of justice and peace-building in the difficult arena of First Nations - Euro North American relations (aside: everyone in the universe who hasn't done so already should read Thomas King's "The Inconvenient Indian", to be both edified and discomfited). Gonna give Molly my vote today, and see what happens. Won't be at all sad if Cuthbert wins.

      1. At last someone has said this! Thank you, BAR, for your generosity in not pointing our that we Americans are again doing what we do so well, which is assuming that we're the only people on earth a and our history is all that matters.

      2. Ah....this new information, sadly, changes my vote. I was on the fence, but this put me over to Cuthbert. Sorry, Molly. You were - and are - a remarkable woman. But I cannot advance to possible Golden Halodom a former owner of slaves (even if it really was due to your husband). Cuthbert is solid and worthy.

  9. What happened to the Collects at the end of each bio? I liked those very much; they allowed for prayer and meditation on the lessons we could learn from the saints.

    1. The collects were in Round 1. You can go to the Bracket tab on the top of the page to find their first round match-ups and re-read them if you like.

  10. To have the opportunity for greater affluence and power (by reason of being a bishop) but to remain committed to "counter-cultural simplicity and kindness" is the kind of saint we all need to be more like. Cuthbert gets my vote all the way.

  11. I debated all morning but finally voted for Cuthbert because he struggled with himself and still ended up in a list of saints!

  12. OK, so Molly Brant owned slaves and she lived in one room of her common-law husband's home with eight children. Does anyone else sense a contradiction here?

    1. Is there a reason that Molly did not get married or is it that her common law husband was a jerk for not marrying her!!! Again I realize the women were considered chattel/property at that time and the fact that she lived in one room with her 8 children (and not the whole house). - may make this a moot point!

      1. She was a concubine, essentially, and her partner,s second one. I doubt she had any choice in the matter. Look what she accomplished despite that.

      2. I hadn't realized this, but a few of the comments in her first round mentioned that marriages between colonists and aboriginals were actually prohibited at the time.

  13. We are fortunate to have so many illustrous saints! To choose one over the other is sheer madness - but I did anyway! Go Molly!!! Oliver the seven year old is correct!!

  14. My heart was and is with St. Molly, but Robert Hendrickson almost swayed my vote with his beautiful essay on Cuthbert. He and Maria have been blessed with the gift of saintly prose.

  15. Voted for the person who put God first, not politics. This is about saintliness afterall. Go Cuthbert!

  16. I voted for Cuthbert today since I have a soft spot for the Celtic saints since taking a class on them and reading so many of the original works about them. However I wanted to address the comments about Molly being a Loyalist. This would have turned me off a year ago when I lived in the Western part of the country (go Jackson Kemper!). However at my current East Coast church, our first rector was a Loyalist. I have come to better understand the complex issues facing the Anglican/Episcopal church during those times.

  17. I have great admiration for Cuthbert's simplicity of life. But I have to vote for Molly. Good heavens she was pregnant a lot of the time and taking care of a raft of kids, making peace among the less peaceful. Awesome woman. She did have slaves and she was a Loyalist but so were a lot of people. Consider the milieu of her time.

  18. Cuthbert had the advantage in the first round because the saintly Bede was such an excellent advocate for him. Any woman in the 18th century started with a disadvantage and any Indian at all had only the "white man's" history to speak for him. So, a woman who tried to make peace with all the people, or a man who fought the mores of his time to remain humble? Ouch! I'll vote for the underdog who yet is remembered...

  19. "he feared becoming an unwholesome example by falling prey to vanity…." I know more clergy who have gotten into trouble over this, than is at all healthy. We get appointed/elected to some significant parish or post, and start to believe our own press notices… next thing we know, there is big trouble. A simplicity of life, and humility in the right sense… not artificial "aw shucks", but honest recognition of one's skills and limitations… goes a long way. Thank you Cuthbert for your still very apropos example… for isn't that what a named saint is supposed to be? a clearer model for the rest of us.

  20. Before casting my vote for Cuthbert I'd like to suggest that for Native Americans the issues presented by the American Revolution were quite different, and seen from a very different perspective, than was the case with white colonists for whom the issue, at least as presented by the Continentals, was securing the rights of Englishmen. I don't know enough Canadian history to say which side treated the indigenous peoples better after the war, but my knowledge of my own country's history suggest that at best it is an open question.

    And as to the slaves: American Episcopalians belong to a church that, in the lifetimes of persons known to persons living today, countenanced and indeed may be said to have embraced slavery, and as an institution remained undivided by it right through the Civil War. We may not understand that, or how moral, much less faithful, kind and devout, people could have owned slaves; but they did, and I question whether that fact should automatically disqualify them from recognition of the lives they led, and the good they did, in the culture they inhabited. Many of us old enough to remember segregation cannot understand even our own collaboration in accepting it at the time.

    1. Fortunately, nobody attempts to hold up the historical Episcopal Church you describe - leaving aside that description's accuracy - as particularly saintly or worthy of emulation.

      1. Of course not: in a way that's the point. I was speaking of individual lives led within a flawed institution: not that different from today, except we can't grasp how they couldn't have seen that flaw, or saw it and ignored it. Let's hope that future generations won't say the same of us.
        Turning to the description, where do you find it inaccurate? The words in "may be said to have embraced slavery" were carefully chosen, though I'd gladly accept "might" for "may" if that would improve it. The rest is factual to the best of my knowledge.

    2. Apparently many American Episcopalians really do have no idea the degree to which the Episcopal Church as an institution ignored (and thus tacitly supported) the institution of slavery. Of course not this may not apply to every single individual in the church, but the fact that the church as a whole survived the US Civil War undivided speaks volumes. Still, I remember sitting in a session at Diocesan Convention and hearing a fellow delegate stand up and say emphatically and with no visible trace of irony that he "simply couldn't believe that the Episcopal Church did not respond in some way as an institution to slavery." "Like weren't they involved in the Underground Railroad and stuff?" I smacked my head and thought to myself, "Clearly this dude has us mixed up with the Quakers."

      I guess I am in the camp who sees Brant as interesting from a historical and political perspective but don't see her as particularly "saintly." The "times" and Brant's many notable accomplishments notwithstanding, I voted for Cuthbert.

        1. Understood, but that was not a top-down response of the church as an institution. That was my point.

  21. If we are to 'dis' Molly for being a slaveowner, then there goes Abraham, Jacob, and most people with any money at all, in the history of the world. At that time, slavery was the norm for the nations of the world. Look at Molly, and judge her for what she was able to accomplish, in the society that she lived in. However, that being said, I am still have to go with Cuthbert, for his saintly life.

  22. As far as I can tell Molly owned slaves that belonged to her common-law husband. Can anyone document that she owned them herself.

    1. I am not convinced that Molly's accomplishments were all that self-less. It was sin the British interests, which Molly served, to have excellent trade relations w/ the Six Nations. Her husband championed the trade component and Molly used the other major major diplomatic tactic of both the French and the British, which was religion: The missionaries and religious leaders were as much political propagandists as spiritual mentors, and religion became an important tool in serving the ambitions of the imperial rivals in the New World. This is not a Loyalist vs. Revolutionary argument, but a query about how well she actually served her people vs. how well she served the imperial masters.

    2. I understand yr respect for Molly, but I question whether she was filled w/ lovingkindness or self-preservation, in which she and her husband combined trade and religion to use the Six Nations as a pawn in achieving some kind of political balance against the French.

    3. Even before that, she was involved in helping the British against the French as used her political influence to bring the Six Nations onto the British side.

    4. I am less concerned abt her Loyalist position in the Revolution than I am abt her support for imperialist goals in the French & Indian Wars and then later. The imperialist goals did not serve her people well.

      1. I voted for Molly Brant - who seemed from what I read to be a tough woman in very difficult times, doing what she could to reconcile racial and political divisions, and remaining loyal to her Anglican Christian faith.

        In most other match-ups, I would have voted for Cuthbert. This choice was difficult!

    5. Molly's religion was used toward political ends, not uncommon in her time (or in many times), but hardly an argument for anything other than pragmatism. I have a hard time seeing her as person who rises above the political ~ and her politics were in service of imperialistic goals which ultimately proved the downfall of her people. I understand that she is held in high regard, but I think that was b/c she was a successful politician and not b/c she led by faith.

    6. I think it was in her Wiki article that I read that he bequeathed them to her and she continued to own them after his death. How common manumission was in her time and place, or what it would have meant to her or the slaves in economic and other terms, are interesting questions.

  23. Sorry, I can't vote for Molly because she was a slave owner. She also seems much more a historical figure rather than a religious one--how did she get in here? Besides who could vote against Cuthbert' s duck!

  24. Cuthbert's eider duck does not seem to be part of his picture. The colors are too bright, doesn't quite match. Are our opinions being swayed by a cartoon duck? It was interesting to learn about both Cuthbert and Molly Brant. I too find the slave owning thing of little concern as it is also claimed she lived in one room with her children. Where would she keep slaves?

  25. Cuthbert <3.

    While Molly seems very much like an influential historical figure in a difficult era, Cuthbert was too, as well as being all the Christ-focused things mentioned. Also, um, Christopher Fry's 'Boy With A Cart' play on Cuthbert's founding of a church is too beautiful to forget.