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. This was a difficult choice. Egeria; a sense of humor. How she must have laughed while writing about the bite taken out of the holy cross. But Ken, there is a good man. His refusal to house the king's mistress. Wasn't that cause for a beheading? How brave and true he was.

  2. I'm intrigued by a woman traveling so far and for so long in the 4th century, an early anthropologist, perhaps, certainly an adventuress for her faith. She reminds me of my mother, who traveled with another woman throughtout Europe, the West Indies and Central America, in the 1930's.

  3. I love Egeria, her incredible thirst for holy knowledge, her sense of adventure, and the wealth of knowledge of early Christianity that we would not have if not for her. I actually voted against Thomas Ken (and for Barbie) in the last round because Ken refused to endorse King James' Declaration of Indulgence. While I respect the man deeply for following his convictions, he was dead wrong on the Declaration, which actually did not promote Roman Catholicism, but allowed the free practice of all religions according to the conscience, thus averting more heretic burnings and national discord. Our world today should take notice. This time however I learn of his weekly dinners with the poor and loving treatment of wounded soldiers from the "wrong" side. Even the most saintly of people can be wrong on doctrine, and he has proven his saintliness. I cast my vote this time for Thomas Ken.

    1. I had to vote for Egeria. I had never heard of her, AND I SHOULD HAVE. A non-judgmental observer is saintly activity and beyond that she shared what she learned with us. Thank all of you involved in Lent Madness.

  4. Had to vote the composer of the Doxology, or as its known in my neck of the woods, the "Battle Hymn of the Mennonite Republic".

    1. Not the composer, the hymnwriter. The music, Old Hundredth, was composed more than a 100 years earlier by Louis Bourgeois!

  5. Oh dear.... Deeply moved by the life of Thomas Ken, his principle and his compassion. Refusing to pimp for the king won me over in the last round. But I had to vote for Egeria - to read a woman, whether religious or not, writing so clearly about liturgical practice in the fourth century as we enter Passiontide and prepare for Holy Week is wondrous, knowing that she would recognise much of our practice today (even if teeth aren't what they clearly once were...)

  6. As a Verger and a Deacon--my vote goes for Egeria. SOMEBODY had to document the liturgies and so happy that she did.

  7. After more deliberation than I could have imagined, having grown up in a form of Methodism that did not emphasize liturgy, and though I am a bookseller and feminist, I decided to cast this vote for Ken, as his life clearly exemplified living the Word over following form.

  8. Thank you, Thomas Ken, for the Doxology - or, as my then-four-year-old son called it, the "Praise God From Hoomul" - but I must cast my vote for Egeria with a grateful heart for having preserved our Holy Week liturgy.

  9. I didn't know there were other stanzas to the Doxology. Thank you Jane C. I also voted for both Ken and Egeria in the first round so thus was a very difficult choice. Finally went with Ken. I suspect not many would be willing risk a king's wrath in those days.

  10. For 2016's list of saintly contestants, I nominate a wise amd enaging thinker: Oliver! Oliver, I wish you had been around while I was growing up!

  11. Love these match-ups! I've learned so much and sound like a walking advertisement for this website. . .people are starting to run when they see me approach. Surely they aren't tired of hearing me talk about Lent Madness! Anyway, Ken is my choice (it was a hard one).

    1. Ah yes, the travel got me right away. The things she must have seen and the education and foresight to write about them is grand......but another hard choice!

  12. aaaagggghhh!!! aaaagggghhh!! How to choose?! Two such wonderful people. Between the write-ups and the comments, decision is not made any easier! aaaaaggghhh!! It may come down to a coin toss.

  13. " (involvement of the laity sent her over the moon!)":

    Is this in a good way or w bad way?

    I voted for her, anyway.

  14. The doxology, the Trinity, and not becoming the "royal pimp"….. three good measures for fellow clergy and laity alike. Thomas Ken, hands down.

  15. I really really wanted to go with Egeria and to learn more about her, but I think I have to go with Ken. Not just because of the Doxology (and trust me, I LOVE that), but his acts and his ability to stand up for his beliefs.


    1. Oh, thanks so much for that! My favorite part of Compline, my favorite service!
      Let's all remember that without the non-juring bishops like Thomas Ken, we might not have an Episcopal Church at all, since they consecrated our first bishop when Canterbury wouldn't!

      1. Actually Canterbury couldn't due to certain pesky little laws set by the UK Parliament. Though those laws were soon thereafter changed and the CofE Bishops were allowed to consecrate Bishops to serve parts of the Anglican Communion outside of the Church of England.

    2. Thank you! Tallis Canon is my favorite version of the Doxology. We sing it with guitar/uke accompaniment. 🙂

  16. Thank you Phil Kober for the video of the hymn and doxology! My vote went to Ken, too, for his sacrificial life, his work for reconciliation and his hymns!

  17. Ken, because he "walked the walk" of his convictions. Wish we all could be as true to our calling to follow Christ.

  18. Thank you for the Tallis Cannon at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. The Sunday evening dinner for twelve was icing on the cake.

  19. It was a tough choice, but I went with Egeria for connecting us with early Christianity, especially the liturgy and the involvement of laity. By the way, any time I've heard the phrase "over the moon", it's always been a positive thing.
    And if Thomas Ken wins, that's OK, too.

  20. Just a small quibble: "...her writing is the oldest example of non-church Latin in existence..." doesn't seem right to me (or to Wikipedia), since Caesar's "Commentaries on the Gallic War" were certainly earlier, as were other texts we read in high school Latin.

    1. Voting twice - once for each person - is the same as voting not at all, while voting twice for the same person will get one cast into the outer darkness of LM by the SEC.

  21. Graduates of the Notre Dame Liturgy degree program of a certain era will recognize this:
    Onward, Christian Pilgrim
    Rushing to and fro--
    All she never said
    Is all we want to know!
    Yes, I voted for Egeria.

  22. That is a fantastic write-up on Thomas Ken.

    I'm a big Egeria fan, so she gets my vote - but I appreciate Ken a great deal more now, so thanks for that, Robert Hendrickson.

  23. Egeria's writings are informative, but inspirational to a few antiquarians. Ken influenced far more, and is a model for modern people being confronted with powerful secular forces. Being a good journalist is laudable, but not saintly.

  24. From one Tom to another, so my vote today goes.

    When Tom/Joe/Huck came out from hiding .. chapter 17, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:

    "Suddenly the minister shouted at the top of his voice: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow—SING!—and put your hearts in it!"

    And they did. Old Hundred swelled up with a triumphant burst, and while it shook the rafters Tom Sawyer the Pirate looked around upon the envying juveniles about him and confessed in his heart that this was the proudest moment of his life."