St. Antony of the Desert
Publisher: TAN Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
This is the classic, fascinating and almost fabulous life of St. Antony of the Desert, the first hermit and the Father of Monasticism, all as recorded in the inimitable style of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c.297-373 A.D.).From St. Antony’s life, for example, we learn that there are swarms of devils everywhere, but that they are powerfulness to harm us if we use the Holy Name of Jesus and the sacramentals of the Church to ward them off. We also see how stalwart the Saints were in every crisis of life, how they defended the integrity of the Faith with every fiber of their being and fought heresy unmercifully. There are many, many points of interest in this book: e.g., how in speaking with some pagan Greek philosophers, St. Antony reminded them that their “gods” had been banished by the early Christian missionaries because they were devils, and how, because St. Antony overcame the devil, Our Lord promised to make him “renowned everywhere.” With the life of St. Antony, monasteries began to spring up in the mountains and in the desert because people were drawn to imitate him. St. Antony of the Desert is a beautifully simple, unsophisticated biography which is nonetheless replete with interesting stories that are so charmingly unique that they could only be true. Written with a charisma and dignity that are hard to explain, this warn and wonderful book will touch the heart of every reader.
"When enjoyments of the body are weak, then is the power of the soul strong."
"He practiced a high and more intense ascetism; he fasted constantly; his clothing was hair within and skin without, and this he kept until his death. He never bathed his body in water for cleanliness, nor even washed his feet, nor would he consent to put them in water at all without necessity. Neither was he ever seen undressed, not till he died and was buried did any ever see the body of Antony uncovered."
Preface by St. Athanasius
It is a good rivalry that you have entered on with the monks in Egypt, trying to equal them or surpass them in your practice of virtue. For with you also there are now monasteries, and the name of monk is in repute. This purpose deserves praise, and may God fulfill it according to your prayers.
And since, too, you have inquired of me about the blessed Antony’s way of life, wishing to learn how he began his religious life and what he was before it, and what the end of his life was like and whether the things that are said about him are true, in order to bring yourselves to imitate him; with the greatest willingness I do your bidding. For I, too, gain much help from merely remembering Antony; and I know that you also when you hear, besides admiring the man, will wish to imitate his purpose. For the life of Antony is to monks a sufficient guide to religious life. Do not, then, disbelieve what you have heard about him from those who have told you; rather believe that you have heard but little from them. For indeed it would be very hard for them to relate all, seeing that even I, whatever I may write by letter at your urging, shall yet give you but little account of him. Do you therefore cease not to question those who sail your way, and then perhaps as each tells what he knows, the story may become somewhat more worthy of the man.
Now when I received your letter, I wanted to send for some of the monks who used to be most constantly with him, so that I might learn more and send you a fuller account. But as the sailing season was ending and the letter carrier pressed me, I have hastened to write to your goodness what I myself know (for I saw him often), and what I was able to learn from himself; for I was his assistant for no little time and poured water on his hands. Throughout I have been most careful to give the facts, so that no one need doubt when he hears more; and, on the other hand, that no one may think little of the man through not learning enough about him.
This book is about the life and teachings of St. Antony who was an Egyptian monk and hermit that lived in the desert. Written by St. Athanasius who saw Antony often, and was his long time assistant, the book is divided into four "books": How Antony Trained Himself, Antony's Teachings, Antony's Work For Others, and Antony's Last Years.
Book 1, which covers Antony's battles with the demons, has a lot of exciting content. The most compelling feature of the book is without a doubt the interplay between Antony and the devil. Athanasius writes it to sound like an active battle between Antony and the devil.
In Book 2, Athanasius quotes lengthy areas of Antony's preaching and lectures, especially on the demons and hell, which is also interesting. Similarly, he offers advice regarding how to fight temptation. Antony was actually illiterate, so Athanasius recorded his lectures. Antony's approach to philosophy and theology is simplistic albeit useful, as the Church did not yet have the benefit of St. Thomas Aquinas nor St. Augustine, nor any significant Church council.
The last two books serve as narratives of Antony's works, wisdom, and interactions with both believers and nonbelievers. Also, as with all saints, there are plenty of documented miracles attributed to St. Antony. A brief summation of his lifestyle reads:
He practiced a high and more intense ascetism; he fasted constantly; his clothing was hair within and skin without, and this he kept until his death. He never bathed his body in water for cleanliness, nor even washed his feet, nor would he consent to put them in water at all without necessity. Neither was he ever seen undressed, not till he died and was buried did any ever see the body of Antony uncovered.
The heroism of St. Antony dwarfs that of fictional comic book heroes like batman and superman. Catholic culture needs to regain its footing and displace these fictional, secular heroes with the real, unsung heroes of the world like St. Antony.