Sunday, January 17, 2021

Saint Anthony and Anchorite Monasticism (Fr. George Florovsky)

 
By Fr. George Florovsky

The monastic movement developed in the early fourth century, although the essential components of monasticism are found in the earliest life of the Church. Individual anchorites were leaving the cities even earlier than the fourth century. During the time of emperor Decius (emperor from 249 to 251), they were hiding from persecution and turned their forced flight into a voluntary "ordeal," a spiritual struggle. They wandered in the wilderness and lived in caves and on precipices. Even in the cities themselves many led a reserved and aloof life — such was the "gnostic" ideal of Clement of Alexandria. In any event, communes of virgins arose quite early, as evidenced in St. Methodius' Symposium or Banquet of the Ten VirginsΣυμπόσιον ή περι άγνείας — although these were only isolated cases. “The monk did not yet know the great desert," says St. Athanasius, if he is the author of the Vita Antonii. One must distinguish, however, between the development of monasticism proper in the fourth century and the features or essential characteristics of that later monastic life which was found in the early life of the Church.

Attraction to the desert — a virtual migration — begins under Constantine. The empire is becoming Christian. The Church is becoming established throughout the world. But it is from this Christian Empire, this Churchified world that the flight begins. One should not think that these people left for the desert because they were finding it harder to live in the world — a life was hardly any easier in the desert, except for the excessive tax collections — see the complaints of Lactantius on taxes. What is more, the best ones were withdrawing from the world not so much from everyday misfortunes as from everyday "well-being." It is sufficient to recall how harshly St. John Chrysostom spoke of the danger of this well-being which is worse than any persecution.

The Spiritual Essence of the Monastic Ideal.

Monasticism in its developed form from the fourth century on is more than strict vows. And spiritual perfection is no less obligatory in this world for every believer from the power and significance of his baptismal renunciations and promises. Herein lies a sorely troublesome controversy in the history of Christianity, a controversy that still is not addressed adequately in the present Ecumenical Movement. It is a problem that involves the very essence of Christianity, of a Christian vision of God, the world, and redemption, a problem that exploded before the very eyes of Martin Luther who at first was not overly certain about the rejection of monasticism but he quickly became irrevocably convinced that monasticism was anti-Biblical. Herein lies a great controversy, a dispute which still divides Christianity and carries with it two completely different visions of the very nature of spiritual life.

Monasticism in its developed form from the fourth century is primarily a social movement, an experimental answer to a social question. Ascetic renunciation is not only "abstention" or a refusal of everyday advantages or excesses; it is not some ordeal undertaken above and beyond the call of duty. It is a renunciation of the world in general and of everything in it, and first of all a renunciation of the world system, of social contacts — not so much a renunciation of the Cosmos as a renunciation of the Empire or of any political system, a renunciation not of God's creation but of man's worldly city. This is precisely what both Luther and Calvin failed to understand in their evaluation of the essence of monasticism. True, later monasticism, especially in the Latin West, was defined by vows and considered "a state of life." But even within that structure there was certainly the ideal of monasticism as a renunciation of the worldly city. The most harmful influence on Latin monasticism, as known by Luther and Calvin, was the rise of the "merit system" in the Latin West. A monasticism without the "merit system" and the "system of indulgences" would have presented a different face. And, to be sure, not all monasticism in the Latin West had a negative visage!

Origen himself once observed that Christians live “contrary to the laws of the worldly city” — άντι πολιτευόμεθα This is most especially true of monks. Monasticism is a “different residence” outside of the “present worldly city” and a kind of new and special “city” — πολιτεία The worldly city became Christian but the antithesis was not eliminated. In the Christian world monasticism is a “different” city, a kind of “anti-city” because it is different. Monasticism is always a withdrawal from the world, an exit from the natural social structure, a rejection and renunciation of all civil ties, of family and relations, of the fatherland and all its political associations. A monk must be completely “homeless” in the world — αοικος, as St. Basil the Great put it.

However, this is not a withdrawal to anarchic freedom. Ancient monasticism is very social. Even the hermits usually live together in special colonies or settlements. But the adequate incarnation of the monastic idea was precisely the community, the coenobium. The coenobium is first of all a social organism, a fraternity, a sobornost, as the Russians would say. The monks left for the desert in order to build a new society there — and a new and autonomous society arose in the outlying districts of the empire. When reading ancient descriptions of monastic life, one receives the impression that one is crossing a bonier and entering some new and special land.

All of the originality of monasticism and its historical significance lie in this social "other-existence." Monasticism is the Church appearing in its social "other-existence" as a "new residence, not of this world." The Christian world is polarized and Christian history unfolds in an antinomic tension between the Empire and the Desert, between all forms of earthly social life and that new, other-worldly form of social and spiritual existence impregnated by the essence of the Christian vision of unceasing prayer, of the struggle to follow the command of Christ to "be perfect," regardless of how distant that goal may be, regardless of how far from that target and goal one may be, and no matter how often one falls from that goal. It is the goal and it is the vision that stands before us in the monastic ideal — indeed, in the very essence of the Christian goal for all believers enunciated by Christ in the Gospels, by the epistles in the New Testament, by the early Church Fathers, and by the Christian liturgy — πάσαν την βιωτίκήν άποθωμέθα μέριμναν [“Let us put away all worldly care”]. Indeed, the liturgical life of the Church boldly proclaims the warning: “Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation."

The monastic movement began in Egypt and the monastic path immediately forked. St. Antony was the first to go out into the “great desert” — the word hermit comes from the Greek word meaning desert, έρημί της ερημια. For many long years he worked in strict seclusion. Admirers came to him to learn from him. He finally gave in to their insistence — after they even broke the door of his shelter. The great anchorite allowed them to settle nearby and to build a "monastery"; that is, individual cells "similar to the tents of nomadic tribes." Thus arose the first colony of anchorites — the word derives from the Greek word for “to withdraw,” άναχαρέω.

They lived separately without communicating with each other and without violating their seclusion and solitude in vain. All the same, they formed a certain united "fraternity" joined by the spiritual leadership of a single teacher and father. Similar settlements begin to arise in other places as well — around the famous hermit St. Ammon (d. c. 350) in the Nitrian desert, that region in Libya lying to the west of the mouths of the Nile. In its strict etymological meaning the words “monasticism” and “monastery” denoted a hermit's cell or a group of cells — from μόνος or μοναχός. Not far from this were the so-called “cells” — and even deeper into the desert was in the skete — from the Coptic shiit which means "great plain." Here the organization of joint life becomes more definite.

But the struggle remains and there develops different attitudes within the monastic life toward that life. Those living in "cells" were also hermits. The hermit lives alone and works in a secluded cell. He avoids people, abides in his cell, and bemoans his sins. "The man who has known the sweetness of the cell avoids his neighbor,” says abbot Theodore. Yet there is another attitude. “If a man will say in his heart — Ί am alone with God in this world1 — he will find no peace,” a “saying” of abbot Alonius.

St. Antony and the Anchoritic Life.

The Vita Antonii [The Life of Antony] is not only a rich source for the life of St. Antony, not only a rich source for the beginning of monasticism, but also the oldest monastic biography we possess. Traditionally the authorship has been ascribed to St. Athanasius. That is a debated subject. However, there is still no serious evidence to preclude St. Athanasius from having written an original, or a part of an original, to which others may later have added. In any event, it is not the authorship which is of importance but the content. It was St. Gregory of Nazianzus who wrote that the Vita Antonii gives us the image, the form, the mould of early monastic life. The Vita reveals a dynamism in the spiritual life of monasticism, a process that gives deeper and deeper birth to spiritual growth which ultimately gives birth in a form of spiritual "paternity."

The author writes that he has received a request "to give you an account of the blessed Antony's way of life." Those requesting this account wanted to know "whether die things told of him are true." There was a desire to "imitate" St. Antony's way of life and the author agrees that "the life of Antony is a sufficient pattern of discipline" — actually the Greek word used for "discipline" is "asceticism." The author advises that they believe the things they heard and further encourages them to discover more about his life — "but think rather that they have told you only a few things, for at all events they scarcely can have given circumstances of so great import in any detail. And because I, at your request, have called to mind a few circumstances about him, and shall send as much as I can tell in a letter, do not neglect to question those who sail from here: for possibly when all have told their tale, the account will hardly be in proportion to his merits." The author writes that he was "eager to learn any fresh information" when he received the request and wanted to send certain monks who had known Antony well to ask about his life. But the "season for sailing was coming to an end" and the author "hastened to write... what I myself know, having seen him many times." The author asserts that he was Antony's "attendant for a long time." The author is judicious and advises that they should have truth as their objective "that no one should disbelief through hearing too much, nor on the other hand by hearing too little should despise the man."

The description of Antony's early life and what led him to his "ordeal" conveys a realistic picture of asceticism at that time. "Antony... was by descent an Egyptian. His parents were of good family and possessed considerable wealth [at Coma in Middle Egypt according to the historian Sozomen]. Since his parents were Christians, Antony was raised in the same faith." The author writes that Antony disliked school — "he could not endure to learn letters." The reason given is ambiguous — "not caring to associate with other boys." The text implies that Antony was, as it were, by character, prone to solitude and isolation. Antony attended Church services regularly — "with his parents he attended the house of the Lord, and neither as a child was he idle nor when older did he despise them." He was "attentive" at the Church services and "kept what was read in his heart." That he was an obedient son is stressed. The author has immediately portrayed his character as one prone to solitude, as one deeply serious about his religion, and as one that was obedient. Antony's attitude towards the affluence of his family is important — "though as a child brought up in moderate affluence, he did not trouble his parents for varied or luxurious fare, nor was this a source of pleasure to him."

Then came the death of both parents. "He was left alone with one little sister: his age was about eighteen or twenty, and on him the care both of home and his sister rested." Six months after the death of his parents Antony was, as was his custom, in the house of the Lord "communing with himself and reflecting." He was reflecting on "how the Apostles left everything and followed the Savior [Matthew 4:20], and how they in Acts [4:35] sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the feet of the Apostles for distribution to the needy." "Pondering over these things he entered the church and it happened that the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, 'If you wish to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and come follow me and you will have treasure in heaven’ [Matthew 19:21]. Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the saints, and as though the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers — they were three hundred acres — αρουραι — productive and very fair.” The author writes that he did this "that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister." Some scholars interpret this in a sense that is not in the letter or spirit of the text — that he did this to avoid taxes. Antony then gathered the remaining "moveable possessions," sold them, and gave it to the poor, "reserving a little however for the sake of his sister."

Again in church, Antony hears the Gospel from Matthew 6:34 — "Therefore be not anxious for the morrow." It appears that this is what prompted him to give whatever was left to the poor and to set him on the path of his "ordeal." That there was already an established structure for asceticism, especially for virgins, is clear from the text. "Having committed his sister to known and faithful virgins, and having placed her in a house for virgins — εις παρθενώνα — to be brought up, he from that time devoted himself outside his house to asceticism, taking no thought for himself and training himself with patience." The author then adds the important statement — "because there were not yet so many monasteries in Egypt, and no monk at all knew yet of the distant desert." The text makes it clear that there already existed an ascetical tradition for virgins and an unstructured monastic life. "All who wished to give heed to themselves practiced asceticism in solitude near their own village."

Antony imitated the life of "an old man" in a neighboring village. Whenever Antony heard "of a good man anywhere, like a prudent bee, he went forth and sought him." Though the word "vow" is not explicitly used, it is clear that Antony has already made decisions that fall within the spirit of a vow. One such decision or "vow" is that "he confirmed his purpose not to return to the abode of his fathers nor to the remembrance of his kinfolk, but to keep all his desire and energy for perfecting asceticism." What would have pleased Luther and Calvin, at least in part, is that Antony "worked with his hands, having heard, 'he who is idle, let him not eat'." [II Thessalonians 3:10]. The money Antony received for his labors was used to buy bread, and the rest "he gave to the needy." While laboring, Antony also continued in the spiritual life of prayer: "He was constant in prayer, knowing that a man ought to pray in secret unceasingly" [Matthew 5:7; Π Thessalonians 5:17].

The ideal of spiritual brotherhood in love is then portrayed. Antony became "beloved by all." He observed the special areas of "zeal and asceticism" where others were more advanced than he. "He observed the graciousness of one; the unceasing prayer of another; he took knowledge of another's freedom from anger and another's loving-kindness. He gave heed to one as he watched, to another as he studied; one he admired for his endurance, another for his fasting and sleeping on the ground; the meekness of one and the long-suffering of another he watched with care, while he took note of the piety towards Christ and the mutual love which animated all."

The text of the Vita Antonii also stresses that Antony remembered the Scriptures read in church — "none of the things that were written fell from him to the ground, but he remembered all, and afterwards his memory served him for books." The text elsewhere speaks of his regard for reading. What is often missed by some commentators on Antony is the life of oral tradition. Modern man is too often a slave to the written read, too often forgets that societies flourished once on nothing but the oral word. The men of antiquity would memorize enormous portions of their traditional culture. It is merely the phenomenon of the printed word which has allowed modern man to fall into a form of slavery to it, to read a text rather than to hear and memorize it. One scholar writes that "a number of Scripture passages were very familiar to [Antony], but of a connected and deep knowledge of Scripture in him, or in these anchorites generally, we find no trace." Such an evaluation is inaccurate and is based on the modem approach of analysis of Scripture by the written word. Antony — and the early monks in general — knew most, if not all, of the New Testament "by heart." Moreover, their knowledge of Scripture extended also to the Old Testament, large portions of which were committed to memory. That he was not able to "connect" Scripture is an evaluation based on no fact, and implies that man is incapable of structuring or connecting material that is remembered "in the heart."

Antony's next step on the path of his "ordeal" was to "strive to unite the qualities of each." The ideal of of ascetic quest is to progress without jealousy of others and without provoking jealousy in others. This ideal is clearly portrayed in the Vita Antonii. "And this he did so as to hurt the feelings of nobody, but made them rejoice over him. So all they of that village and the good men in whose intimacy he was, when they saw that he was a man of this sort, used to call him Beloved of God. And some welcomed him as a son, others as a brother."

The Vita Antonii reveals that opposition to the ascetical and monastic life strikes from suggestions of the devil, who always strives to prevent this path, this "ordeal." The demonic means of attempting to prevent this path can be both subtle and blatant, always suggesting to the would-be ascetic the ambiguity of the path, always suggesting that it may not be reasonable. The attempt is "to whisper to him the remembrance of his wealth, care for his sister, claims of kinfolk, love of money, love of glory, the various pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life." And then come the suggestions of "the difficulty of virtue and its labor, the infirmity of the body, and the length of time." This, the Vita Antonii declares, did not work, precisely because of Antony's "settled purpose." There then follows a description of Antony's spiritual struggle with the devil's attempt to uproot Antony from his path of "ordeal" by confronting him through the weakness of the flesh, through sexual temptation. "For they are the first snare for the young — he attacked the young man, disturbing him by night and harassing him by day, so that even onlookers saw the struggle which was taking place between them. The devil would suggest foul thoughts and Antony would counter them with prayers. The devil would fire him with lust and Antony, as one who seemed to blush, would fortify his body with faith, prayers, and fastings. And one night the devil... even took upon himself the shape of a woman and imitated all her acts simply to beguile Antony. But Antony, his mind filled with Christ and nobility inspired by Christ, and considering the spirituality of his soul, quenched the coal of the devil's deceit. Again the enemy suggested the ease of pleasure. But Antony, like a man filled with rage and grief, turned his thoughts to the threatened fire and the gnawing worm... and passed through the temptation unscathed." The comments in the Vita Antonii on this struggle are quite Athanasian. "For the Lord was working with Antony, the Lord who for our sake became flesh and gave the body victory over the devil, so that all who truly fight can say [1 Corinthians 15:10]: 'Not I but the grace of God with me'." Here the Vita Antonii not only expresses the synergistic path by stating that "the Lord was working with Antony" but explicitly supports this from St. Paul, a passage which speaks of the primacy of the grace of God. This passage must not be forgotten when one encounters the spiritual struggle in Eastern and Byzantine ascetical and monastic spirituality. The essence of the vision, the essence of the struggle always knows of the initiative of God and the primacy of grace regardless of how the texts may often emphasize the aspect of human activity. The Vita Antonii then describes how the devil appeared to Antony as a young boy — taking a visible shape "in accordance with his mind" — and speaking to him "in human voice." "I am the friend of whoredom, and have taken upon me incitements which lead to it against the young. I am called the spirit of lust." The words of the comment on this in the text are important. Antony has triumphed in his first encounter. Yet the text explains: "This was Antony's first struggle against the devil, or rather this victory was the Savior's work in Antony." In this statement is the essence of the basic fundamental theological understanding of the spiritual "ordeal" in Eastern and Byzantine ascetical and monastic thought. The second part of the comment is added almost parenthetically. Indeed, in many texts of ascetical and monastic literature it will be omitted. But if it is omitted, it is done so because it is the obvious presupposition of the entire Christian life, of the entire spiritual "ordeal." This is the authentic synergism of the Eastern and Byzantine tradition — both Antony is "working" and God is "working," yet it is clear that all comes from God, that even in man's spiritual "ordeal" the work, the energy, the strength, and the victory come from our Lord, indeed is the work of our Lord. The author then quotes from Romans 8:3-4.

But the "ordeal" continues. The spiritual life never ceases, as is manifestly made clear by the New Testament. "But neither did Antony, although the evil one had fallen, henceforth relax his care... nor did the enemy, as though conquered, cease to lay snares for Antony." Again Antony's knowledge of the New Testament is invoked by the author. "But Antony, having learned from the Scriptures [Ephesians 6:11] that the methods — μεθοδείας — of the devil are many, zealously continued his asceticism, realizing that though the devil had not been able to deceive his heart by bodily pleasure, he would endeavor to ensnare him by other means." Antony's resolve was to increase his repression of "the body" to keep it "in subjection" [I Corinthians 9:27]. "He therefore planned to accustom himself to a severer mode of life." The entire purpose of this stricter form of asceticism is to weaken the body to implement the words of St. Paul [II Corinthians 12:10]: "when I am weak, then I am strong." Antony said that "the fiber of the soul is then sound when the pleasures of the body are diminished." The author writes that Antony had reached "this truly wonderful conclusion" — "that progress in virtue, and renunciation of the world for the sake of it, should not be measured by time, but by desire and firmness of purpose." Antony, as though he were at the "beginning of his asceticism," rejected thoughts of the past and "applied greater pains for advancement, often repeating the words of Paul" from Philippians 3:14:"Forgetting those things of the past, and stretching forward." Although the second aspect of St. Paul's though in verse 14 is not quoted in the Vita Antonii, it is implied by the text: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul then adds: “Therefore as many as [are] perfect, let us think this way” — όσοί ουν τέλειοι, τούτο φρονώμεν. That these texts from St. Paul express a spiritual dynamism, a growth in spirituality, is clear. It is also clear that the goal is the “high calling” — άνω κλησεως — and that this “high calling” or “calling from above” is linked with “perfection.” Antony, it would appear, is implementing the teaching of the New Testament. The author then quotes from I Kings 18:15 — "the Lord lives before whose presence I stand today." The author underscores the significance of "today" for the dynamic process of the spiritual "ordeal." "For Antony observed that in saying 'today' the prophet [Elijah] did not compute the time that had gone by, but daily, as though ever commencing." And again the primacy of the will of God is placed in its proper perspective: "he eagerly endeavored to make himself fit to appear before God, being pure in heart and ever ready to submit to God's counsel and to God alone." And Antony found in Elijah a prototype of the hermit: "And he used to say that from the life of the great Elijah the hermit ought to see his own as in a mirror."

The next step on Antony's path in the "ordeal" is to enter the "tombs." The "enemy was fearful that in a short time Antony would fill the desert with asceticism." The text claims that a multitude of demons physically attacked Antony in the tombs and "so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain." What follows in the text is again the "providence of God" which protects those "who hope in God." Here is again the two wills, the two activities of God and man participating in the process. This time the language is the same as one would find in the Scriptures. Though by itself the language might imply that man's hope solicits God's activity, the context — as the general context in Scripture — refers one to the presupposition of the initiative of God. The language is merely reflective of human realism.

Antony is carried back to church in the condition similar to a corpse. But he recovers enough so that he is able, with help, to return to the tombs to confront the enemy again. Antony exclaims that he will not flee from "their beatings" and quotes from Romans 8:35 — "nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.'1 Antony then sings from Psalms 27:3 — "though a camp be set against me, my heart shall not be afraid." Antony challenges the demons, who have appeared in the form of "beasts and creeping things" by exclaiming: "For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us." The text points out that "the Lord was at hand." Antony challenges God: "Where were you? Why did you not appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?" The text relates that "the voice" of God spoke to him: "Antony, I was here, but I waited to see your fight. Since, therefore, you have endured... I will ever be a help to you, and will make your name known everywhere." Antony's response is to rise and to pray. He "received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly."

Antony's next step on the path of his "ordeal" is to leave for the desert. It is to be noted that Antony almost always responds to the attack of the enemy by quoting Scripture. In his first encounter in the desert he refers to Acts 8:20. "More and more confirmed in his purpose," Antony established himself in an abandoned fort, into which "he descended as into a shrine, and abode within by himself, never going forth nor looking at any one who came. Thus he spent a long time asceticizing himself, and received loaves, let down from above, twice in the year." When acquaintances would come, instead of finding him dead, they heard him singing from the Psalms. "Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered! Let those who hate him, flee before his face! As smoke vanishes, let them vanish! As wax melts before the face of fire, so let the wicked perish from the face of God!" [Psalm 68:1-2]. And from Psalm 118:10:"All nations compassed me about, and in the name of the Lord I cut them off."

The result of Antony's "ordeal" gave birth. He became "the childless father of an innumerable offspring." As one scholar has correctly observed: "after the transition from the ordinary life to the cenobitic life, the passing on from this in turn to more and more complete anchoritism, until this anchoritism itself flowers in spiritual paternity. There is nothing static about this idea; on the contrary everything tends continually to go beyond what has already been achieved... [there is] the purely evangelical character of Antony's vocation." As the Vita Antonii relates, Antony "continued his asceticism in solitude for nearly twenty years." The time came when those who wanted to imitate his asceticism — and his acquaintances — "began to cast down and wrench off the door by force."

The description that follows in the Vita Antonii is one of a very well-balanced spiritual person. "Then for the first time he was seen outside the fort by those who came to see him. And they, when they saw him, wondered at the sight, for he had the same habit of body as before, and was neither fat, like a man without exercise, nor lean from fasting and striving with the demons, but he was just the same as they had known him before his isolation. And again his soul was free from blemish, for it was neither contracted as if by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure, nor possessed by laughter or dejection, for he was not troubled when he beheld the crowd, nor overjoyed at being saluted by so many. But he was altogether calm, as being guided by reason and abiding in a natural state. Through him die Lord healed the bodily ailments of many present, and cleansed others from evil spirits. And God gave grace to Antony in speaking, so that he consoled many that were sorrowful, and set those at variance at one, exhorting all to prefer the love of Christ before all that is in the world. And while he exhorted and advised them to remember the good things to come, and the loving-kindness of God towards us, 'Who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all' [Romans 8:32], he persuaded many to embrace the solitary life. And thus it happened in the end that cells arose even in the mountains, and the desert was colonized by monks, who came forth from their own people, and enrolled themselves for the citizenship in heaven."

"While Antony was thus speaking all rejoiced. In some the love of virtue increased, in others carelessness was thrown aside, the self-conceit of others was stopped. And all were persuaded to despise the assaults of the Evil One, and marveled at the grace given to Antony from the Lord for the discerning of spirits. So their cells were in the mountains, like tabernacles, filled with holy bands of men who sang Psalms, loved reading, fasted, prayed, rejoiced in the hope of things to come, labored in alms-giving, and preserved love and harmony one with another. And truly it was possible, as it were, to behold a land set by itself, filled with piety and justice. For then there was neither the evil-doer, nor the injured, nor the reproaches of the tax collector. But instead a multitude of ascetics, and the one purpose of them all was to aim at virtue"

Antony speaks much of his experience with the demons. Yet, he puts even his experience within a proper balance in his teaching to others. He warns them not to fear demons, how to discern whether a vision or an appearance is from God or demonic forces, and not to be tempted to "cast out demons." "It is not fitting to boast at the casting forth of the demons, nor to be uplifted by the healing of diseases. Nor is it fitting that he who casts out devils should alone be highly esteemed, while he who casts them not out should be considered nothing. But let a man learn the asceticism of each and either imitate, rival, or correct it. For the working of signs is not ours but the Savior's work. And so he said to his disciples: 'Rejoice not that the demons are subject to you, but that your names are written in heaven1 [Luke 10:20]. For the fact that our names are written in heaven is a proof of our virtuous life, but to cast out demons is a favor of the Savior who granted it. Therefore to those who boasted in signs but not in virtue, and said: 'Lord, in your name did we not cast out demons, and in your name did many mighty works?' [Matthew 7:22]. He answered, Truly I say to you, I know you not,1 for the Lord knows not the ways of the wicked. But we ought always to pray, as I said above, that we may receive the gift of discerning spirits; that, as it is written [I John 4:1], we may not believe every spirit."

There are appearances of angels, according to Antony, and he offers advice on how to discern whether a vision or appearance is from God or demonic forces. The vision of "the holy ones is not fraught with distraction." Antony quotes from Matthew 12:19 — "for they will not strive, nor cry, nor shall any one hear their voice." "But it comes so quietly and gently that immediately joy, gladness and courage arise in the soul. For the Lord who is our joy is with them, and the power of God the Father. And the thoughts of the soul remain unruffled and undisturbed, so that it, enlightened as it were with rays, beholds by itself those who appear. For the love of what is divine and of the things to come possesses it, and willingly it would be wholly joined with them if it could depart along with them. But if, being men, some fear the vision of the good, those who appear immediately take fear away — as Gabriel did in the case of Zechariah Luke 1:13]; and as the angel did [Matthew 28:5] who appeared to the women at the holy sepulchre; and as he did who said to the shepherds in the Gospel, 'Fear not1. For their fear arose not from timidity, but from the recognition of the presence of superior beings. Such then is the nature of the visions of the holy ones."

Antony has much to say about fear, about its harmful effect on man, about eradicating it through a firmness of faith. "And let this also be a token for you: whenever the soul remains fearful there is a presence of the enemies. For the demons do not take way the fear of their presence as the great archangel Gabriel did for Mary and Zechariah, and as he did who appeared to the women at the tomb. But rather, whenever they see men afraid, they increase their delusions that men may be terrified all the more. And, at last attacking, they mock them, saying, 'fall down and worship'... But the Lord did not suffer us to be deceived by the devil, for he rebuked him whenever he framed such delusions against him, saying, 'Get behind me, Satan, for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve' [Matthew 4:10]. More and more, therefore, let the deceiver be despised by us, for what the Lord has said, this for our sakes he has done: that the demons, hearing like words from us, may be put to flight through the Lord who rebuked them in those words."

"But the inroad and the display of the evil spirits is fraught with confusion, with din, with sounds and cryings such as the disturbance of boorish youths or robbers would occasion. From which arise fear in the heart, tumult and confusion of thought, dejection, hatred towards them who live a life of asceticism, indifference, grief, remembrance of kinfolk and fear of death, and finally desire of evil things, disregard of virtue and unsettled habits. Whenever, therefore, you have seen something and are afraid, if your fear is immediately taken away and in place of it comes joy unspeakable, cheerfulness, courage, renewed strength, calmness of thought and all those I named before, boldness and love of toward God — take courage and pray. For joy and a settled state of soul show the holiness of him who is present. Thus Abraham beholding the Lord rejoiced [John 8:56]. So also John at the voice of Mary, the Bearer of God — Θεοτοκος — leapt for gladness [Luke 1:41]. But if at the appearance of any there is confusion, knocking without, worldly display, threats of death and the other things which I have already mentioned, know then that it is an onslaught of evil spirits." Again and again Antony emphasizes that "the Lord is with us."

The Vita Antonii is rich with penetrating, well-balanced spiritual advice. But attention should be called to a few other aspects of the Vita. The author writes that Antony "was tolerant in disposition and humble in spirit" and that he "observed the rule of the Church most rigidly, and was willing that all the clergy should be honored above himself. For he was not ashamed to bow his head to bishops and priests, and if ever a deacon came to him for help he discoursed with him on what was profitable, but gave place to him in prayer, not being ashamed to learn himself... And in addition, his countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Savior."

The Vita Antonii describes Antony's attitude towards the Arians. "And once also the Arians, having lyingly asserted that Antony's opinions were the same as theirs, he was displeased and wroth against them. Then being summoned by the bishops and all the brethren, he descended from the mountain, and having entered Alexandria, he denounced the Arians, saying that their heresy was the last of all and a forerunner of Antichrist. And he taught the people that the Son of God was not a created being, neither had he come into being from non-existence, but that he was the Eternal Logos and Wisdom of the Essence of the Father. And therefore it was impious to say, 'there was a time when he was not1, for the Logos was always co-existing with the Father. Therefore have no fellowship with the most impious Arians. For there is no communion between light and darkness [II Corinthians 6:14]... When they say that the Son of the Father, the Logos of God, is a created being, they do not differ at all from the heathen, since they worship that which is created, rather than God the Creator, the Lord of all."

The Vita Antonii gives interesting encounters of Antony with Greeks, through whom he discoursed by using an interpreter. One conversation touches on faith and demonstrative arguments. Antony asks certain "wise" Greeks who had come to him to ask for "a reason for our faith in Christ": "As you prefer to lean upon demonstrative arguments, and as you, having this art, wish us also not to worship God until after such proof, do tell us first how things in general and specially the recognition of God are accurately known. Is it through demonstrative argument or the working of faith! And which is better, faith which comes through the inworking of God or demonstration by arguments?... To those who have the inworking through faith, demonstrative argument is needless, or even superfluous. For what we know through faith this you attempt to prove through words, and often you are not even able to express what we understand. So the inworking through faith is better and stronger than your professional arguments. We Christians therefore hold the mystery not in the wisdom of Greek arguments, but in the power of faith richly supplied to us by God through Jesus Christ... We persuade by faith which manifestly precedes argumentative proof." Antony then asks them to cast out the demons — "behold, there are here some vexed with demons." After Antony cleansed the men from demons, the philosophers "were astonished." It is Antony's answer which is vital: "Why do you marvel at this? We are not the doers of these things, but it is Christ who works them by means of those who believe on him... it is faith through love which is wrought in us towards Christ." Here once again the authentic perspective is given, a perspective which is always present, always so inherently obvious and known that it merely becomes a presupposition in ascetical and monastic life.

The author considers the death of Antony important. "It is worth while that I should relate, and that you... should hear what his death was like. For this end of his is worthy of imitation. According to his custom, he visited the monks in the outer mountain. Having learned from providence that his own end was at hand, he said to the brethren, This is my last visit to you which I shall make. And I shall be surprised if we see each other again in this life1. And when they heard it, they wept, and embraced, and kissed the old man. But he, as though sailing from a foreign city to his own, spoke joyously, and exhorted them 'not to grow idle in their labors, nor to become faint in their asceticism, but to live as though dying daily'. And as he had said before, 'zealously to guard the soul from foul thoughts, eagerly to imitate the saints, and to have nothing to do with the Meletian schismatics... nor have any fellowship with the Arians... Observe the traditions of the fathers, and chiefly the holy faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, which you have learned from the Scripture, and of which you have often been put in mind by me'. But when the brethren were urging him to abide with them and there to die, he did not permit it for many other reasons... Having bidden farewell to the monks in the outer mountain, he entered the inner mountain where he was accustomed to abide. And after a few months he fell sick. Having summoned those who were there... he said to them: Ί, as it is written, go the way of the fathers, for I perceive that I am called by the Lord. And be watchful and destroy not your long asceticism, but as though now making a beginning, zealously preserve your determination. For you know the treachery of the demons, how fierce they are, but how little power they have. Therefore, fear them not, but rather ever breathe Christ and trust him. Live as though dying daily. Give heed to yourselves and remember the admonition you have heard from me... Therefore be the more earnest always to be followers first of God and then of the saints, that after death they also may receive you as well-known friends into the eternal habitations.... Bury my body, therefore, and hide it underground yourselves, and let my words be observed by you that no one may know the place but you alone. For at the resurrection of the dead 1 shall receive it incorruptible from the Savior. And divide my garments. To Athanasius the bishop give one sheepskin and the garment whereon I am laid, which he himself gave me new, but which with me has grown old. To Serapion the bishop give the other sheepskin, and keep the hair garment yourselves. For the rest fare you well, my children, for Antony is departing, and is with you no more'. His countenance appeared joyful — he died and was gathered to the fathers... his fame has been blazoned everywhere... For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God. That this was the gift of God no one will deny... Read these words, therefore, to the rest of the brethren that they may learn what the life of monks ought to be; and may believe that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ glorifies those who glorify him."

Negative Evaluations of the Vita Antonii.

The lack of appreciation of the Vita Antonii is exemplified by Harnack. "If I may be allowed to use strong language, I should not hesitate to say that no book has had a more stultifying — verdummender — effect on Egypt, Western Asia, and Europe than the Vita Antonii... It would be impossible to believe more sincerely in demons than Christians did in the second century. But that age was yet ignorant of the fantastic tricks with them, which almost turned Christendom into a society of deceived deceivers (this expression was first applied to Christians by Plotinus — έξηπάτων καί αυτοί ήπατημένοι). When we reflect that the Vita Antonii was written by an Athanasius, nothing can again surprise us." Harnack testifies to the great influence of the Vita Antonii, an influence which he, of course, considers to be extremely harmful. Nygren's comment on the influence of the Vita Antonii is factual, not passionate as is Harnack's. Yet he still manages to color it negatively. "Athanasius is the great advocate of Virginity — he finds one of the best proofs of the divinity of Christ in the fact that Christ has succeeded as no other in winning humanity to the virtue of Virginity — and monachist piety, a fact particularly revealing for the structure of his thought. As the author of the Vita Antonii, Athanasius has helped perhaps more than any other to mould the ascetic ideal of Christianity. It is significant that it was the story of the hermit Antony which was the occasion of Augustine's conversion." Nygren finds in Augustine's account of this in his De Confessione 8, 6, 15 the "Eros tendency." Nygren interprets the comparison of the hermit's life with the building of a tower indicative of Eros thinking and quotes from Holl's Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Kirchengeschichte (II, p. 396) as a kind of evidence: "The monkish striving to come near to God is given a naive, outward interpretation when the Stylite climbs on to a pillar in order to lessen the distance between himself and heaven." Nygren has gone from the influence of the Vita Antonii on St. Augustine to the Stylites in order to indicate that in St. Augustine's appreciation of the Vita Antonii there was an Eros tendency, a tendency which of course is unauthentic Christianity. Another Protestant scholar writes that St. Antony "is the most celebrated, the most original, and the most venerable representative of this abnormal and eccentric sanctity... The whole Nicene age venerated in Antony a model saint. This fact brings out most characteristically the vast difference between the ancient and modern, the old Catholic and the evangelical Protestant conception of the nature of the Christian religion. The specifically Christian element in the life of Antony, especially as measured by the Pauline standard, is very small." Unfortunately the standard by which these scholars evaluate St. Antony and all of ancient Christianity is a standard quite foreign to that of the ancient Church, a standard of a wholly different understanding of Christianity which first intrudes upon the life of Christianity through Luther. Rationalists and secularists likewise find monasticism repulsive. Gibbon's comments are well-known. "There is perhaps no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper or more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic. A hideous, distorted and emaciated maniac, without knowledge, without patriotism, without natural affection, spending his life in a long routine of useless and atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his delirious brain, had become the ideal of the nations which had known the writings of Plato and Cicero and the lives of Socrates and Cato."

The Writings of St. Antony.

Antony also carried on a correspondence with both monks, emperors, and high officials. None of the letters addressed to political persons, which he dictated in Coptic, is extant. Seven letters do exist — these are letters addressed to Egyptian monasteries. St. Jerome is the first to mention these letters in his De viris illustribus (88). St. Jerome had read them in a Greek translation. The collection has come down to us in late Latin translations of other translations. The first of the seven authentic letters also survives in Syriac. In Coptic the seventh survives, as well as the first part of the fifth letter and the end of the sixth. A version in a Georgian translation has recently been discovered.

What is known as the Rule of St. Antony is not authentic. Extant in two Latin translation, its very nature reveals that it was composed by several hands. Numerous sermons have also been attributed to Antony. That he gave sermons or discourses is obvious. A collection of twenty sermons exists in a Latin translation, none of which are authentic — Sermones ad filios suos monachos. Another sermon, also preserved in Latin, is also spurious — Sermo de vanitate mundi et resurrectione mortuorum.

The Influence of Egyptian Monasticism through St. Athanasius.

It must not be forgotten that the person who first introduced monasticism to the Latin West was St. Athanasius. During his exile in 340, St. Athanasius brought with him to Rome two monks from the Egyptian desert, one of whom was Ammonius; the other Isidore. Rome was stunned. But the initial reaction of disgust and contempt soon changed to one of admiration and then imitation. Two additional visits to Rome by St. Athanasius strengthened the beginning of the monastic movement in the Latin West. St. Athanasius influenced even the northern part of the Latin empire — during his exile in 336 he spent time in Trier, and wherever St. Athanasius went he spread the knowledge of monasticism.

From The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers.
 
 
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