Egeria vs. Thomas Ken

Monday morning doldrums? Impossible! At least when you log on for another full week of Lent Madness. Today's matchup is the final battle of the Saintly Sixteen meaning that either Egeria or Thomas Ken will round out the lineup of the eight remaining saints. Over the next 24 hours, you'll decide whether the Spanish nun or English bishop will advance to face Frederick Douglass.

You likely know by now, if you follow Lent Madness on Facebook or Twitter or compulsively check in for Bracket updates, that Friday's nip and tuck battle ended with a 52% to 48% victory by Bernard Mizeki over Jackson Kemper. He'll face Molly Brant in the next round.

So, read, vote, pray, lobby others, and then steel yourself for tomorrow's start of the Elate Eight, aka the saintly kitsch round, as Francis of Assisi takes on Thecla.

egeria 2Egeria

Egeria was a Spanish nun who traveled throughout the Holy Land and the Near East from 381-384 CE, recording what she saw and experienced. Her letters home provide the earliest record of Christian liturgy during Holy Week that we have.

It is, however, not only liturgy enthusiasts who are Egeria fans. Medieval scholars also appreciate her, because her writing is the oldest example of non-church Latin in existence, and provides us with exciting glimpses of how the language developed. Are you a fan of the word “the?” So was Egeria! She was one of the first writers to use it.

Reading through Egeria’s recounting of the daily offices in Jerusalem, and the observance of the liturgical year, it is striking how close the liturgical form has stayed to her description. For example, here’s her description of Lent:

And when the Paschal days come they are observed thus: Just as with us forty days are kept before Easter, so here eight weeks are kept before Easter. And eight weeks are kept because there is no fasting on the Lord's Days, nor on the Sabbaths, except on the one Sabbath on which the Vigil of Easter falls, in which case the fast is obligatory. With the exception then of that one day, there is never fasting on any Sabbath here throughout the year. Thus, deducting the eight Lord's Days and the seven Sabbaths (for on the one Sabbath, as I said above, the fast is obligatory) from the eight weeks, there remain forty-one fast days, which they call here Eortae, that is Quadragesimae.

Egeria was a cool, calm, and collected observer of liturgy. (Take note, modern clergy). While she couldn’t refrain from getting mildly excited about some of the liturgical forms she witnessed (involvement of the laity sent her over the moon!), she never condemned or judged what she witnessed. That’s no small feat, because then, as now, occasionally liturgy can take some surreal turns, as we learn when Egeria describes the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday:

Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, someone is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest anyone approaching should venture to do so again.

Yet, Egeria kept her head, and provided the world with a lasting legacy of faith and witness down through the ages.

-- Megan Castellan

thomas ken imageThomas Ken

Thomas Ken was a celebrated preacher, writer, and teacher. His works have endured through the years, though perhaps his most noted piece of writing is the doxology sung at so many parishes as gifts are being brought forward, “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” This line, in so many ways, summarizes Ken’s focus in life and ministry.

He was focused on the source of true gifts and unswayed by blandishments, bribes, or intimidation. His abiding faith in the Triune God as the grounding of his life gave him a prophetic courage to speak truth no matter the cost to his career. Lord McCauley (an ecclesiastical opponent) said of Ken, “His character approaches, as near as human infirmity permits, to the ideal of perfection of Christian virtue.”

Canon Arthur Middleton writes of Ken, “Like John the Baptist he had that steel of independence that could boldly rebuke vice and error without fear of the consequences and it could break out sharply in what he wrote.” In the face of pressure from the king to lodge the king’s mistress, Ken famously refused saying that it was “not suitable that the Royal Chaplain should double as the Royal Pimp.”

Yet this firmness was paired with good humor and deep kindness.

Ken, as bishop, was out in his diocese offering pastoral care and preaching with great zeal and effectiveness. He was a renowned preacher – nobility were known to be left begging for seats to hear him preach. Yet, despite all that fame, when he was home he would dine with twelve poor people (a number, I think, not picked by chance) every Sunday evening. After dinner he would offer spiritual counsel and guidance to them.

He was a prolific writer with many of his works focused on the devotional life. Of particular interest at this time of year might be his work, A Pastoral Letter to his Clergy concerning their behaviour during Lent. His works were often written for a wide audience with simple devotions and intercessions penned for ordinary believers to make part of their prayer life.

Ken’s generosity and charity are brought into focus after the Battle of Sedgmoor which ended the Monmouth Rebellion. Ken was hardly sympathetic to the cause of the rebels who had desecrated and ransacked his cathedral. However, he demanded that after the battle, wounded rebel soldiers were to be treated, cared for, and that no further indignity nor abuse should befall them at the hands of the victors.

Ken died in 1711 after years of disgrace, having been deprived of his episcopacy, cathedral, and post in the Church of England – all of which were taken from him because of the strength of his conviction. His last words were,

I die in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith professed by the whole church before the disunion of East and West; more particularly I die in the communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from all papal and puritanical innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.

-- Robert Hendrickson


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158 comments on “Egeria vs. Thomas Ken”

    1. Oliver, I feel fairly certain that not only would Egeria let you have a messy room--she would probably visit your room and write a very interesting letter about everything you had in there.

      I think your comment is my favorite Lent Madness comment so far.

    2. Can't believe this discussion of messy rooms! While I really appreciate the early historical records of Egeria, I vote forThomas. I am a big fan of the Doxology, but especially admire his standing up for his beliefs, despite the personal costs. Loved his eating with the poor every Sunday. He's my saint today.

        1. I was truly torn on this one. The fact that Egeria's writings are examples of the old non-church Latin intigues me; I love Latin! However Thomas got my vote because the Doxology is close to my heart.

          P.S. Oliver, you are an amazing commentator. I always look for your input! Thank you.

        2. I'll accept Oliver as he is. He represents the future of the church. So does the two year old who simply will NOT be silent during the Consecration or most other parts of the Service. The important piece is that he is at church.

      1. LOL
        ...then you're really not going to like what Jesus said to St. Francis about the messy chapel at San Damiano...oh - wait - that was a messy RUIN...

      2. Those of us who keep messy rooms are grateful for the hope that Oliver has given us.

    3. I'm with you, Oliver. Egeria for me. She doesn't seem like the type to judge people on their rooms -- just their hearts. And you have a wonderful heart.

      1. I voted for Thomas Ken because my late husband was Ken and my late brother was Thomas - both died within 4 years of each other of Pancreatic CA - did this vote in loving memory of them. What each of the two candidates did was commendable - just voted with my heart on this one.

    4. Oliver, I wish that I had read your comment before voting. Had I realized that Egeria would not make me clean my messy room, I would have voted for her!

  1. Granted that Egeria is no Barbie, but this Ken did more than observe....or look good. I'm in favor of good preaching and good works.

  2. No comments?? How can I possibly decide without some help? This is a near impossible choice!

    1. Yes, I like Oliver's logic but he caused me to think more about "the messy room." Egeria, I think, might well have written a book on the subject, what makes a room messy, how important a messy room is to its occupant, is it really "messy" to its occupier, is there any reason for it not to be messy?
      Then Thomas? I don't think the Doxology would necessarily fit; but I can see him calling the parties together, first Oliver and asking what it is about his room that he likes and then the objectors (parents?) and ask them their problem with Oliver's "mess."
      And from all that I think he would try to reach a concordat about the room!
      So, although I really do appreciate all Egeria did, I am voting for Thomas

      1. Oliver might feel at home in our messy house! Still a mess from moving more furniture in and still not through putting stuff away in the antique shelves and drawers!

    1. Yes, the generosity of his dinners and really, his whole life, impressed me deeply today. Also, his prospects for the Kitsch Round are awe-inspiring.

  3. I voted for Egeria and Ken in the first round, so they're both winning saints for me - but now it's Ken, the doer and writer, rather than Egeria, the observer and recorder.
    The doxology is worth the vote, alone!

    1. Vicky, you said it for me, too. Thank you. And much as I love and am grateful for Egeria's commentaries, I must go with Ken this time. But it was not an easy decision. Thanks to all the commenters - I always learn something and get new insights from your thoughts.

    1. And while I acknowledge my debt to her work, this morning Ken has the Edge. (Giving hospitality to enemies AND standing up to kings.)

  4. When I read Egeria's records of the liturgical practices of the Church almost 1700 years ago, it is absolutely goose-bump-inducing! It sounds so fresh and contemporary! I am truly, truly grateful for her work that has provided the template for Christian worship all these centuries. Just think how many lives she has touched!

  5. I have to go with Ken...the doxology has probably been sung more times than any other song in a worship service.

  6. I make my living as a writer, so Egeria it is for me. She may not be the official patron saint of journalists, but maybe she should be. Her close observations and clear prose resonate even today.

    1. What a good idea! I'm sure journalists can use all the help they can get--especially those who write about troublesome subjects--in presenting both facts and the emotions surrounding those facts. Not to mention those who are in dangerous places.

      1. One of the best of our local (New York City) TV journalists returned from a difficult story a couple of days ago, collapsed in the newsroom, and died of a brain aneurysm. She was only in her late forties. Please pray for all who love and admire her.

  7. Egeria! I have to vote for someone who got excited about laity being involed. And "she never condemned or judged what she witnessed" - there are many, many people who could learn from this.

  8. Ken is clearly a good man, an exemplary priest and a holy bishop. But without Egeria, we people of the Prayer Book have nothing. Our entire liturgical life from Palm Sunday to Easter wouldn't exist without her. That's because liturgical "experts" would never have agreed on the history of our worship traditions without her eyewitness account. And, travel from Spain to Jerusalem was dangerous . . . that's one brave woman, ahead of her time. EGERIA!

  9. Another Toss it up, how to do a decision, revert to Excel, random number generator for a flip the numbers, Egeria is the pick.

  10. I voted for Egeria in the first round and fully expected to vote for her again. But the presentation of Bishop Ken won me over today. I had to pick somebody who did so much over somebody whose ministry was recording. Not that I don't appreciate her, too! As has been said -- these decisions are getting harder and harder.

  11. While Egeria's documentary history adds to our knowledge of an era not well documented, there are serious questions surrounding her status as a member of a group of women religious. Thomas Ken's enduring doxology, and his lifelong commitment to Christian principles and practices, make him the best choice in this matchup.

  12. The Rev. Dr. Chasuble addresses Miss Prism in "The Importance of Being Earnest" as Egeria. She was a Roman goddess as well as the first published woman in human history. Go Chauble, Prism an Wilde! Let's hear it for unpublished three volume novels and liturgical manuscripts.

  13. Mercy and compassion for those who had desecrated his cathedral? How can we not vote for someone so Christ-like?

  14. Vote Ken! The Doxology is but one stanza of Thomas Ken's "Morning Hymn" which he wrote for scholars at Winchester College. Students were to begin the day with:
    Awake, my Soul, and with the Sun,
    Thy daily Stage of duty run,
    Shake off dull Sloath, and joyful rise,
    To pay thy Morning Sacrifice.

    They finished their day with stanza 9:
    All Praise to Thee, who safe hast kept,
    And hast refresh’d me whilst I slept,
    Grant, Lord, when I from Death shall wake,
    I may of endless Light partake.

    The last stanza of "Morning Hymn" is the Doxology.

    Put the Golden halo on Thomas Ken and Thomas Ken on the mug. Attention Lentorium Managers: add some life to your offerings. How about a Purple Harmonica with attached Doxology sheet music? It could provide blues, rock, folk, rap, New Age, and ska variations. The sales pitch of the campaign could begin "Make a joyful noise!"

    1. Check out "All Praise to Thee my God this Night" in the hymnal. The last stanza is the Dooley word for word as we use it.

  15. I've always loved the Doxology, but I was called to vote for Egeria. As a teacher of writing, I am in awe of her ability to write clear, non-judgmental descriptions of what she observed during her travels.

  16. It seems to me that a Christian man of action deserves a vote. A man of conviction who , apparently never
    Wavered despite those wo opposed him and ultimately deprived him of his ecclesiastical
    Position. Deo gratias

  17. So I am left wondering if the involvement of the laity send Egeria "over the moon" in a good or bad way?

    1. Me too! But I'm voting for her anyways, despite the considerable appeal of Ken, because she and Megan just taught me about cross-biters (is there a patron saint of orthodontists?), and also because I trust Oliver's assessment. I have lots of messy rooms. (Which is still not a free pass -- Egeria might not order me to clean them up but her careful documentation would encourage me to take another look at them and decide for myself where I really ought to make some changes. Patron saint of change management/life coaches?)