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 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.
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.