Lent Madness: Constance vs. Basil

Friends, we’ve reached the final battle in the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. We started with 32 saints at the beginning of this journey and, after Constance and Basil duke it out for the chance to face Thomas Becket, we’ll be down to eight left standing. Is this better than American Idol or what?

In recent action Clare narrowly defeated Florence Nightingale 52% to 48% — a mere four votes separating these two Lent Madness heavyweights. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket and be prepared for the Round of the Elate Eight which starts tomorrow.

Constance was an Anglican nun who died in the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic that struck Memphis, Tennessee. After most of the population fled — except the city’s extreme poor — several monastic groups determined to stay and nurse the sick. This included Constance, one of the first to die, and the head of the Order of St. Mary. Constance and her companions — three nuns and two Episcopal priests — are known as the Martyrs of Memphis.  30 Roman Catholics priests and nuns also died during this time.

The Sisters are memorialized by an inscription at the high altar at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis: “We give you thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death: Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” And the steps leading up to the high altar are inscribed with “Alleluia Hosanna,” Constance’s last words. 

Sister Constance (Caroline Louise Darling before taking religious orders) is said to have gone from house to house caring for the sick, sometimes finding children living in the midst of their parents’ rotting corpses. Here’s a quote from the book “The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History” by Molly Crosby: “Serpentine watermelon vines grew wildly around the homes in the neighborhood, and abandoned cats and dogs howled for lost owners. A pretty young girl in mourning led her into the house. Dust floated, effulgent, in the shafts of afternoon light, and the air was heavy as steam. One corpse lay on the sofa, another one on the bed, their skin yellow and tongues black. A tall young man, nearly naked, was also in the bed, delirious, rocking back and forth. His eyes sank deep into his cheekbones ringed by bruised half moons. Outside the window, Constance heard a crowd gathering, presumably to loot the house once all were dead. Constance ran into the yard and shouted at them to leave, warned them of the plague. They scattered like insects in the sunlight.”

Basil the Great was the 4th century Bishop of Ceasarea Mazaca in present-day Turkey. He is known as the father of monasticism in the East, was a strong advocate of the Trinitarian faith developed at Nicaea, and was renowned for his care of the poor and downtrodden.

Basil was born into a large and wealthy Christian family as one of ten children. He was at least a third generation Christian as his maternal grandfather was martyred for his faith during a wave of persecution. One of his younger brothers is known to us as Gregory of Nyssa whom Basil had appointed as Bishop of Nyssa. Together with Gregory of Nazianzus they are known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

Basil initially did not intend to follow a religious vocation focusing instead upon the law. After encountering and falling under the influence of a charismatic bishop and ascetic named Eustathius of Sabate, his plans changed. As Basil himself wrote, “I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.”

In addition to his surviving theological works and over 300 letters, Basil is credited with having a deep impact upon the liturgy of the Church. At the end of the age of persecution the Church’s liturgy began to move away from the more extemporaneous prayer of the earlier era and toward written formulas. It is difficult to know how many of the prayers associated with Basil were actually written by him but it is safe to assume that many were. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In addition to being recalled as a saint and a Cappadocian Father, Basil is known as a “Doctor of the Church” for his theological contributions to the debate between the Trinitarians and Arians (who denied that Jesus was “of the same substance” as the Father). Basil was responsible for defining the terms “ousia” (essence/substance) and “hypostasis” (person/reality), and for defining the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature.

Here’s a quote from St. Basil: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

And one more: “God accepts our desires as though they were a great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.”



One Comment on “Lent Madness: Constance vs. Basil”

  1. Chris Arnold says:

    Shucks, I missed the voting. I would have gone with Basil anyway, even though Constance and her sisters were only the other side of Tennessee from me. Who’s next?

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