The Life of St. Anthony by Athanasius of AlexandriaIt could be called the Temptation of St. Antony, but Athanasius life of the fabled hermit - written shortly after Antonys death in 365 AD, 10 years before the Goths sacked Rome - was the inspiration for the very first monasteries and convents.
And no, he wasnt Saint AntHony - the one who finds your lost car keys! THAT one lived much later...
Using fanciful images to describe what we now would describe as Antonys intense inner conflicts, Athanasius tells how the saint fled the comforts of decadent Rome to live alone in the desert - in an abandoned fortress near the Red Sea.
There he sought to attain one thing: the pure empty sky of egolessness.
And of course the devils tormented him - mercilessly - but not endlessly.
But Antony found the great inner peace he was seeking, finally, in his later years.
Long before this final realization of limitless grace, some old friends discovered Antonys hideout and tried to persuade him to come back home.
When they first neared the door, they heard a crowd of hideous voices shrieking and cursing from within. Shades of The Exorcist!
They loudly knocked on the door in alarm.
He came to the door and quietly advised his friends to leave, and not to fear. This is the way, the tired saint said, that devils create nonexistent apparitions.
‘They turn themselves loose on people who will be afraid of them. So seal yourselves in faith and depart in confidence. Leave them here with me to mock themselves!
The saint stayed alone for twenty more years, then opened his doors to the world, a changed man.
We all have our inner devils.
But sometimes the peace that scatters them is so easily won compared to the outright torment of the earlier ordeal!
As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve been no saint - but I remember very clearly one recent moment of pure grace. My own inner devils finally shut up on that sunny late-August morning - for enough time to let me count my blessings, and smile.
I was taking the bus with my wife over to our parish - for an anniversary Mass for my late father-in-Law. As the weakening sun shone through the windows, my old friend Marcel got on the bus.
Now, Marcel has always lived his life in a series of boxes. He feels secure that way!
As we chatted, I suddenly saw my own life beside his - free, inquisitive and happy as it is. And married as I am to a wonderful woman!
Marcel also has a wonderful soulmate. But for some reason retirement is still the same old box he remembers from our Dilbertian Cube Farm!
How lucky I am, I marvelled... for though I burnt my soul out in that workplace, the Lord had revived it - in the freedom of retirement, and not in another perpetual prison!
But Antony found out that our freedom always has its limits - for our devils give us little rest in our lives, with their ceaseless chatter.
Remember the old fable of the Princess and the Pea?
The sleepless noblewoman had mattresses piled high to the ceiling of her palace bedchamber, all because of a single uncooked pea beneath the first one.
Sometimes our proud attitudes obviate our ability to return to ourselves.
We are really not at all complicated!
But our hopes, dreams, expectations and attitude can end up blocking our escape hatch to the peace and quiet of a simple, ordinary life.
St Antony’s story is wonderful. Even if you find the story fantastical, the message is plain.
If you can’t stand the Heat, then put out that fire!
Five big stars for a GREAT book.
The Lives of the Saints - St Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great
It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny.
Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Athanasius the bishop to the brethren in foreign parts. You have entered upon a noble rivalry with the monks of Egypt by your determination either to equal or surpass them in your training in the way of virtue. For by this time there are monasteries among you, and the name of monk receives public recognition. With reason, therefore, all men will approve this determination, and in answer to your prayers God will give its fulfilment. Now since you asked me to give you an account of the blessed Antony's way of life, and are wishful to learn how he began the discipline, who and what manner of man he was previous to this, how he closed his life, and whether the things told of him are true , that you also may bring yourselves to imitate him, I very readily accepted your behest, for to me also the bare recollection of Antony is a great accession of help. And I know that you, when you have heard, apart from your admiration of the man, will be wishful to emulate his determination; seeing that for monks the life of Antony is a sufficient pattern of discipline.
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You have entered a noble rivalry with the monks of Egypt by your determination either to equal or surpass them in your training in the way of virtue.
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For his importance among the Desert Fathers and to all later Christian monasticism , he is also known as the Father of All Monks. The biography of Anthony's life by Athanasius of Alexandria helped to spread the concept of Christian monasticism , particularly in Western Europe via its Latin translations. He is often erroneously considered the first Christian monk, but as his biography and other sources make clear, there were many ascetics before him. Anthony in Western art and literature. Anthony is appealed to against infectious diseases, particularly skin diseases. In the past, many such afflictions, including ergotism , erysipelas , and shingles , were referred to as St. Anthony's fire.