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September 9, 2013

Monastic History: Origins of Monasticism (Part 3 of 3)

Antony of Egypt (251-356 AD) cont.


Retreating deeper into the desert, symbolizing his deepening combat with the devil, Antony came upon an old abandoned fortress where he spent the next twenty years of his life cloistered in spiritual combat. Though he had locked himself in the fortress, his reputation for holiness drew many people into the desert, seeking him for spiritual wisdom. At this point in the story, the author, St. Athanasius, partially begins to reveal his underlying
St. Antony of Egypt, Desert Father
intentions for writing the text; for, he tells us that when Antony emerges from the fortress for the first time, his skin is beautiful, his eyes are bright, and his teeth are white (this typically is not the expected image of an ascetical man who has been locked up in a fort for many years). However, contrary to the heretical Arian sects and the dualistic/neo-platonic views of the body prevalent in his time, Antony’s beautiful bodily appearance is intended to show that holiness heals the disharmony of body and soul, and brings us back to a preternatural state. Antony’s appearance seems to personify humanity before the fall of Adam and Eve. Therefore, since God created the physical world and called it “good”, and because Christ Himself took on our human flesh through the Incarnation, for Antony (and Athanasius), the body is not seen as “evil”, deserving to be punished, as the Arians believed, but rather, the body is good!

In addition to giving us a natural aversion to the heresy of Arianism, during Antony’s life, a time in which monasticism was widely practiced but not properly structured, St. Athanasius presents Antony as a prototype for monks, a model for emulation. Overall, Antony is a model for a monk’s spiritual formation; he is a model of discipline and holiness. For Antony, the focus of monasticism is not the Arian torture of our “evil” human bodies but rather, it is the primacy of charity and a complete focus on Christ, acknowledging our own weakness and inability to do anything without Him; victories of the ascetical life are victories of Christ conquering within us, body and soul. In this white martyrdom, the motivation and focus should be “for the kingdom of God”. Therefore, the greatest glories of the ascetical life are not merely ascetical prowess but the litmus test of charity.

To read the Life of Antony, by St. Athanasius: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2811.htm

Pax et Gaudium

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness