Saint Anthony

Extract from St Jerome's Life of Paulus the Hermit

7        . . . The blessed Paul had already lived on earth the life of heaven for a hundred and thirteen years, and Anthony at the age of ninety was dwelling in another place of solitude (as he himself was wont to declare), when the thought occurred to the latter, that no monk more perfect than himself had settled in the desert. However, in the stillness of the night it was revealed to him that there was farther in the desert a much better man than he, and that he ought to go and visit him. So then at break of day the venerable old man, supporting and guiding his weak limbs with a staff, started to go: but what direction to choose he knew not. Scorching noontide came, with a broiling sun overhead, but still he did not suffer himself to be turned from the journey he had begun. Said he, “I believe in my God: some time or other He will show me the fellow-servant whom He promised me.” He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, “Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living?” The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.  

8. Anthony was amazed, and thinking over what he had seen went on his way. Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a manikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet. When he saw this, Anthony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer to him the fruit of the palm-trees to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Anthony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this: “I am a mortal being and one of those inhabitants of the desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs, and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learnt, came once to save the world, and ‘whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’” As he uttered such words as these, the aged traveller’s cheeks streamed with tears, the marks of his deep feeling, which he shed in the fullness of his joy. He rejoiced over the Glory of Christ and the destruction of Satan, and marvelling all the while that he could understand the Satyr’s language, and striking the ground with his staff, he said, “Woe to thee, Alexandria, who instead of God worships monsters! Woe to thee, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the whole world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you instead of God worship monsters.” He had not finished speaking when, as if on wings, the wild creature fled away. Let no one scruple to believe this incident; its truth is supported by what took place when Constantine was on the throne, a matter of which the whole world was witness. For a man of that kind was brought alive to Alexandria and shewn as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.  

9. To pursue my proposed story. Anthony traversed the region on which he had entered, seeing only the traces of wild beasts, and the wide waste of the desert. What to do, whither to wend his way, he knew not. Another day had now passed. One thing alone was left him, his confident belief that he could not be forsaken by Christ. The darkness of the second night he wore away in prayer. While it was still twilight, he saw not far away a she-wolf gasping with parching thirst and creeping to the foot of the mountain. He followed it with his eyes; and after the beast had disappeared in a cave he drew near and began to look within. His curiosity profited nothing: the darkness hindered vision. But, as the Scripture says, perfect love casteth out fear. With halting step and bated breath he entered, carefully feeling his way; he advanced little by little and repeatedly listened for the sound. At length through the fearful midnight darkness a light appeared in the distance. In his eager haste he struck his foot against a stone and roused the echoes; whereupon the blessed Paul closed the open door and made it fast with a bar. Then Anthony sank to the ground at the entrance and until the sixth hour or later craved admission, saying, “Who I am, whence, and why I have come, you know. I know I am not worthy to look upon you: yet unless I see you I will not go away. You welcome beasts: why not a man? I asked and I have found: I knock that it may be opened to me. But if I do not succeed, I will die here on your threshold. You will surely bury me when I am dead.”  

“Such was his constant cry: unmoved he stood. To whom the hero thus brief answer made:  

“Prayers like these do not mean threats; there is no trickery in tears. Are you surprised at my not welcoming you when you have come here to die?” Thus with smiles Paul gave him access, and, the door being opened, they threw themselves into each other’s arms, greeted one another by name, and joined in thanksgiving to God.  

10. After the sacred kiss Paul sat down and thus began to address Anthony. “Behold the man whom you have sought with so much toil, his limbs decayed with age, his grey hairs unkempt. You see before you a man who ere long will be dust. But love endures all things. Tell me therefore, I pray you, how fares the human race? Are new homes springing up in the ancient cities? What government directs the world? Are there still some remaining for the demons to carry away by their delusions?” Thus conversing they noticed with wonder a raven which had settled on the bough of a tree, and was then flying gently down till it came and laid a whole loaf of bread before them. They were astonished, and when it had gone, “See,” said Paul, “the Lord truly loving, truly merciful, has sent us a meal. For the last sixty years I have always received half a loaf: but at your coming Christ has doubled his soldier’s rations.”  

11. Accordingly, having returned thanks to the Lord, they sat down together on the brink of the glassy spring. At this point a dispute arose as to who should break the bread, and nearly the whole day until eventide was spent in the discussion. Paul urged in support of his view the rites of hospitality, Anthony pleaded age. At length it was arranged that each should seize the loaf on the side nearest to himself, pull towards him, and keep for his own the part left in his hands. Then on hands and knees they drank a little water from the spring, and offering to God the sacrifice of praise passed the night in vigil. At the return of day the blessed Paul thus spoke to Anthony: “I knew long since, brother, that you were dwelling in those parts: long ago God promised you to me for a fellow-servant; but the time of my falling asleep now draws nigh; I have always longed to be dissolved and to be with Christ; my course is finished, and there remains for me a crown of righteousness. Therefore you have been sent by the Lord to lay my poor body in the ground, yea to return earth to earth.”  

12. On hearing this Anthony with tears and groans began to pray that he would not desert him, but would take him for a companion on that journey. His friend replied: “You ought not to seek your own, but another man’s good. It is expedient for you to lay aside the burden of the flesh and to follow the Lamb; but it is expedient for the rest of the brethren to be trained by your example. Wherefore be so good as to go and fetch the cloak Bishop Athanasius gave you, to wrap my poor body in.” The blessed Paul asked this favour not because he cared much whether his corpse when it decayed were clothed or naked (why should he indeed, when he had so long worn a garment of palm-leaves stitched together?); but that he might soften his friend’s regrets at 302his decease. Anthony was astonished to find Paul had heard of Athanasius and his cloak; and, seeing as it were Christ Himself in him, he mentally worshipped God without venturing to add a single word; then silently weeping he once more kissed his eyes and hands, and set out on his return to the monastery which was afterwards seized by the Saracens. His steps lagged behind his will. Yet, exhausted as he was with fasting and broken by age, his courage proved victorious over his years.  

13. At last wearied and panting for breath he completed his journey and reached his little dwelling. Here he was met by two disciples who had begun to wait upon him in his advanced age. Said they, “Where have you stayed so long, father?” He replied, “Woe to me a sinner! I do not deserve the name of monk. I have seen Elias, I have seen John in the desert, and I have really seen Paul in Paradise.” He then closed his lips, beat upon his breast, and brought out the cloak from his cell. When his disciples asked him to explain the matter somewhat more fully he said, “There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”  

14. He then went out, and without taking so much as a morsel of food returned the same way he came, longing for him alone, thirsting to see him, having eyes and thought for none but him. For he was afraid, and the event proved his anticipations correct, that in his absence his friend might yield up his spirit to Christ. And now another day had dawned and a three hours’ journey still remained, when he saw Paul in robes of snowy white ascending on high among the bands of angels, and the choirs of prophets and apostles. Immediately he fell on his face, and threw the coarse sand upon his head, weeping and wailing as he cried, “Why do you cast me from you, Paul? Why go without one farewell? Have you made yourself known so late only to depart so soon?”  

15. The blessed Anthony used afterwards to relate that he traversed the rest of the distance at such speed that he flew along like a bird; and not without reason: for on entering the cave he saw the lifeless body in a kneeling attitude, with head erect and hands uplifted. The first thing he did, supposing him to be alive, was to pray by his side. But when he did not hear the sighs which usually come from one in prayer, he fell to kisses and tears, and he then understood that even the dead body of the saint with duteous gestures was praying to God unto whom all things live.


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