The East and West unite, to-day, in honouring St. Antony, the Father of Cenobites. The Monastic Life existed before his time, as we know from in-disputable testimony; but he was the first Abbot, because he was the first to bring Monks under the permanent government of one Superior or Father.
Antony began with seeking solely his own sanctification; he was known only as the wonderful Solitary, against whom the wicked spirits waged an almost continued battle: but, in course of time, men were attracted to him by his miracles and by the desire of their own perfection ; this gave him Disciples; he permitted them to cluster round his cell; and Monasteries thus began to be built in the desert. The age of the Martyrs “was near its close; the persecution under Dioclesian, which was to be the last, was over as Antony entered on the second half of his course: and God chose this time for organizing a new force in the Church. The Monastic Life was brought to bear upon the Christian world; the Ascetics, as they were called, not even such of them as were consecrated — were not a sufficient element of power. Monasteries were built in every direction, in solitudes and in the very cities; and the Faithful had but to look at these communities living in the fervent and literal fulfillment of the Counsels of Christ, and they felt themselves encouraged to obey the Precepts. The apostolic traditions of continual prayer and penance were perpetuated by the Monastic system; it secured the study of the Sacred Scriptures and Theology ; and the Church herself would soon receive from these arsenals of intellect and piety her bravest defenders, her holiest Prelates, and her most zealous Apostles.
Yes, the Monastic Life was to be and give all this to the Christian world, for the example of St. Antony had given her a bias to usefulness. If there ever were a Monk to whom the charms of solitude and the sweetness of contemplation were dear, it was our Saint; and yet, they could not keep him in his desert, when he could save souls by a few days spent in a noisy city. Thus, we find him in the streets of Alexandria, when the pagan persecution was at its height; he came to encourage the Christians in their martyrdom. Later on, when that still fiercer foe of Arianism was seducing the Faith of the people, we again meet the great Abbot in the same capital, this time, preaching to its inhabitants, that the Word is consubstantial to the Father, proclaiming the Nicene faith, and keeping up the Catholics in orthodoxy and resolution. There is another incident in the life of St. Antony, which tells in the same direction, inasmuch as it shows how an intense interest in the Church must ever be where the Monastic Spirit is. We are alluding to our Saint’s affection for the great St. Athanasius, who, on his part, reverenced the Patriarch of the Desert, visited him, promoted the Monastic Life to the utmost of his power, used to say that he considered the great hope of the Church to be in the good discipline of Monasticism, and wrote the Life of his dear St. Antony.
But, to whom is due the glory of the Monastic Institute, with which the destinies of the Church were, from that time forward, to be so closely connected, as that the period of her glory and power was to be when the monastic element flourished, and the days of her affliction were to be those of its decay? Who was it that put into the heart of Antony and his disciples the love of that poor and unknown, yet ever productive, life? It is Jesus, the humble Babe of Bethlehem. To him, then, wrapt in his swaddling-clothes, and yet the omnipotent God, be all the glory! It is time to hear the account of some of the virtues and actions of the great St. Antony, given by the Church in her Office of his Feast.
|Antonius Ægyptius, nobilibius et christianis parentibus natus, quibus adolescens orbatus est, cum ingressus Ecclesiam ex Evangelio audivisset: Si vis perfectus esse, vade et vende omnia quæ habes, et da pauperibus; tanquam ea sibi dicta essent, sic Christo Domino obtemperandum existimavit. Itaque, vendita re familiari, pecuniam omnem pauperibus distribuit. Quibus solutus impedimentis, cœlestis vitæ genus in terris colere instituit. Sed cum in periculosum illus certamen descenderet, ad fidei præsidium, quo erat armatus, adhibendum sibi putavit subsidium reliquarum virtutum, quarum tanto studio incensus fuit, ut quemcumque videret aliqua virtutis laude excellentem, illum imitari studeret.||Antony was born in Egypt, of noble and christian parents, who left him an orphan at an early age. Having, one day, entered a Church, he heard these words of the Gospel being read: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast, and give to the poor. He took them as addressed to himself, and thought it his duty to obey these words of Christ his Lord. Selling therefore his possessions, he distributed all the money among the poor. Being freed from these obstacles, he resolved on leading on earth a heavenly life. But at his entrance on the perils of such a combat, he felt, that besides the shield of faith, wherewith he was armed, he must needs fortify himself with the other virtues; and so ardent was his desire to possess them, that whomsoever he saw excelling in any virtue, him did he study to imitate.|
|Nihil igitur eo continentius, nihil vigilantius erat. Patientia, mansuetudine, misericordia, humilitate, labore, ac studio divinarum Scripturarum superabat omnes. Ab hæreticorum et schismaticorum hominum, maxime Arianorum, congressu et colloquio sic abhorrebat, ut ne prope quidem ad eos accedendum diceret. Humi jacebat, cum eum necessarius somnus occupasset. Jejunium autem adeo coluit, ut salem tantummodo ad panem adhiberet, sitim aqua extingueret; neque se ante solis occasum cibo aut potu recreabat; sæpe etiam biduum cibo abstinebat, sæpissime in oratione pernoctabat. Cum talis tantusque Dei miles evasisset Antonius, sanctissimum juvenum hostis humani generis variis tantationibus aggreditur, quas ille jejunio, et oratione vincebat. Nec vero frequens de satana triumphus securum reddebat Antonium, qui diaboli innumerabiles artes nocendi noverat.||Nothing, therefore, could exceed his continency and vigilance. He surpassed all in patience, meekness, mercy, humility, manual labor, and the study of the Sacred Scriptures. So great was his aversion for the company of, or conversation with, heretics, especially the Arians, that he used to say, that we ought not even to go near them. He lay on the ground, when necessity obliged him to sleep. As to fasting, he practiced it with so much fervor, that his only nourishment was bread seasoned with salt, and he quenched his thirst with water; neither did he take this his food and drink until sunset, and frequently abstained from it altogether, for two successive days. He very frequently spent the whole night in prayer. Antony became to valiant a soldier of God, that the enemy of mankind, ill-brooking such extraordinary virtue, attacked him with manifold temptations; but the Saint overcame them all by fasting and prayer. Neither did his victories over Satan make him heedless, for he knew how innumerable are the devil’s artifices for injuring souls.|
|Itaque contulit se in vastissimam Ægypti solitudinem, ubi quotidie ad Christianam perfectionem proficiens, dæmones (quorum tanto erant acriores impetus, quanto Antonius ad resistendum fortior evadebat) ita contempsit, ut illis exprobraret imbecillitatem: ac sæpe discipulos suos excitans ad pugnandum contra diabolum, docensque quibus armis vinceretur: Mihi credite, dicebat, fratres: pertimescit satanas piorum vigilias, orationes, jejunia, voluntariam paupertatem, misericordiam et humilitatem, maxime vero ardentem amorem in Christum Dominum, cujus unico sanctissimæ Crucis signo debilitatus aufugit. Sic autem dæmonibus erat formidolosus, ut multi per Ægyptum ab illis agitati, invocato nomine Antonii liberarentur: tantaque erat ejus fama sanctitatis, ut per litteras se ejus orationibus Constantinus Magnus et filii commendarent. Qui aliquando quintum et centesimum annum agens, cum innumerabiles sui instituti imitatores haberet, convolcatis monachis, et ad perfectam christianæ vitæ regulam instructis, sanctitate et miraculis clarus migravit in cœlum, decimosexto Kalendas Februarii.||Knowing this, he betook himself into one of the largest deserts of Egypt, where such was his progress in christian perfection, that the wicked spirits, whose attacks grew more furious as Antony’s resistance grew more resolute, became the object of his contempt, so much so, indeed, that he would sometimes taunt them for their weakness. When encouraging his disciples to fight against the devil, and teaching them the arms wherewith they would vanquish him, he used often to say to them: “Believe me, Brethren, Satan dreads the watchings of holy men, and their prayers, and fasts, and voluntary poverty, and works of mercy, and humility, and, above all, their ardent love for Christ our Lord, at the mere sign of whose most holy Cross, he is disabled, and put to flight.” So formidable was he to the devils, that many persons, in Egypt, who were possessed by them, were delivered by invoking Antony’s name. So great, too, was his reputation for sanctity, that Constantine the Great and his Sons wrote to him, commending themselves to his prayers. At length, having reached the hundred and fifth year of his age, and having received a countless number into his institute, he called his Monks together; and having instructed them how to regulate their lives according to christian perfection, he, venerated both for the miracles he had wrought, and for the holiness of his life, departed from this world to heaven, on the sixteenth of the Calends of February (January 17).|
The Churches of the West, during the Middle-Ages, have left us several Sequences in honour of St. Antony. They are to be found in the ancient Missals. As they are not, by any means, remarkable as liturgical pieces, we shall content ourselves with inserting only one, omitting the three which begin: Alone Confessor; — In hac die lætabunda; — Antonius humilis.
|Pis voce prædicemus,
Et devotis celebremus
|Let us piously proclaim the praises of Antony, and celebrate his name in sacred hymns.|
|Dei Sanctus exaltetur,
Et in suis honoretur
Sanctis, auctor omnium.
|Let us honor God’s Saint; and God, the author of all, be honored in his Saints!|
|Hic contempsit mundi florem,
Opes ejus et honorem:
|Antony despised, in obedience to the Gospel, the beauty, and riches, and honors of the world.|
|Et confugit ad desertum:
Ut non currat in incertum
In hoc vitæ stadio.
|He fled into the desert, that he might not run at an uncertainty, in the race of his life.|
|Mira fuit ejus vita:
Clarus fulsit eremita.
Sed mox hostis subdoli
|Wonderful was his life. He was the celebrated hermit. But, soon does the crafty enemy|
|Bella perfert: sæpe concutitur
Gravi pugna: verum non vincitur
|Wage war against him. The combat is fierce and oft renewed; but he is not vanquished by the devil’s attacks.|
|Ictu crebro flagellatur:
Et a sævis laceratur
|The demons scourge him with many blows, and his flesh is cruelly torn by the angry enemy.|
|Lux de cœlo micuit:
Et clara personuit
Dei vox de nubibus.
|But, a light shone down from heaven; and the sweet voice of God was heard speaking from above:|
|Quia fortis in agone
|“Because thou hast bravely fought in the combat, thy name shall be published in every country.|
|Te clamabit totus orbis.
Pro pellendis item morbis
|“The whole earth shall proclaim thy glory. Thou shalt be invoked against the disease of the Fire.”|
|Id, Antoni, nunc impletum
Conspicamur, et repletum
Mundum tuo nomine.
|This, O Antony! we see fulfilled, and the world resounds with thy name.|
|Hic implorat gens devota;
Tibi pia defert vota
Pro tuo munimine.
|The devout servants of God call on thy name, and fervently pray to thee for help and protection.|
|Nunc in forma speciosæ
Nunc in massæ specie,
|Sometimes, again, it is in the appearance of a beautiful woman, and sometimes under the form of a piece of gold.|
|Dæmon struit illi fraudes;
Sed, qui tanta, vafer, audes,
Succumbis in acie.
|That the devil lays snares for the holy man: but, after all thy daring, O crafty tempter! thou art defeated in the fight.|
|Mille fraudes, mille doli
Sunt inanes: illi soli
Cedit orcus ingemens,
|Yea, vain are his thousand frauds and tricks; and all hell falls back bemoaning that one single-handed man has repelled them.|
|Militem hunc veneratum,
Et robustam ejus manum
Horret hostis infremens.
|Roaring with rage, the enemy trembles before this venerable soldier, whose hand so roughly deals its blows.|
|Non lorica corporali
Fultus, inimico tali
Hic athleta restitit.
|The brave combatant resists these mighty enemies, and yet he wears no breast plate such as soldiers use.|
|Aqua potus, terra lectus
Illi guit: his protectus
Armis, victor exstitit.
|His drink is water, his bed the ground; these were his arms, and by these he conquered.|
|Herba fuit illi victus:
Palmæ frondes et amictus,
Ac cum bestiis conflictus,
|Herbs were his food; the palm leaf gave him raiment; and his companions were the wild beasts of the wilderness.|
Atque somni parcitate
|He restrained lust by assiduous prayer, frequent manual labor, and short sleep.|
Et philosophis profanis,
Paulum visit, nec inanis
Fit via, nec irrita.
|He confutes the Arians and the profane Philosophers; he visits Paul the Hermit, nor was the journey fruitless or vain;|
|Nam vonvenit hunc viventem,
Inde sanctam ejus mentem
cœlos vidit ascendentem,
Carne terræ reddita.
|For he found him alive, and then saw his holy soul mounting up to heaven, and buried his body.|
|O Antoni, cum beatis
Nunc in regno claritatis
Gloriaris; hic gravatis
Mole carnis, pietatis
Tuæ pande viscera.
|O Anthony! thou art now in glory, with the Blessed, in the kingdom of light; show thy affectionate pity on us, who are here weighed down by the burden of the flesh.|
|Ne nos rapiat tremendæ
Mors gehennæ, manum tende,
Nos a morbido defende
Igne, nobis et impende
Gloriam post funera.
|Stretch out thy hand, lest the death of terrible hell seize upon us. Defend us from the burning distemper, and assist us to gain heaven when our life is spent.|
The Greek Church is enthusiastic in her praises of St. Antony. We extract the following stanzas from her Menæa.
|xvii Die Januarii|
|Quando in sepulchro teipsum gaudens inclusisti, Pater, propter Christi amorem, sufferebas quam fortiter dæmonum insultus, oratione et charitate istorum fumo debiliora depellens tentamenta; tunc plauserunt Angelorum ordines clamantes: Gloria roboranti te, Antoni.||When, O Father! thou didst shut thyself in a sepulcher, with joy, for the love of Christ, thou didst most bravely endure the attacks of the demons, putting to flight, by prayer and charity, their smoke-like temptations; and the choirs of Angels applauding, cried out: Glory, O Antony! be to Him that strengthens thee.|
|Helias demonstratus es alter, habens celebres discipulos, novos Eliseos, sapiens, quibus et gratiam tuam duplicem dereliquisti, raptus tanquam in curru, æthereus pater; nunc ab illis decoratus, omnium recordaris, beatissime, tuam celebrantium cum amore venerabilem festivitatem, o Antoni.||Thou was as another Elias, surrounded by thy glorious disciples, the new Eliseuses: to whom thou, their wise father, taken up as it were to heaven in a chariot, didst leave thy twofold grace; now, that they are thy ornament above, thou art mindful of all us who lovingly celebrate thy venerable feast, O Antony!|
|In terris Angelum, in cœlis Dei virum, mundi ornamentum, bonorum et virtutum florem, asceticorum gloriam, Antonium honoremus; plantatus enim in domo Domini effloruit justissime, et quasi cedrus in deserto multiplicavit greges ovium Christi spiritualium in sanctitate et justitis.||Let us honor Antony who was an Angel on earth, the man of God in heaven, the ornament of the world, the flower of good men and of virtues, the glory of Ascetics; for being planted in the house of the Lord, he bloomed in perfect justice, and, as a cedar in the desert, he multiplied the flocks of Christ’s spiritual sheep, in holiness and justice.|
|O illuminate Spiritus radiis, quando te divinus amor combussit, et animam evolare fecit ad desiderabile charitatis fastigium, tunc despexisti carnem et sanguinem, et extra mundum factus es, multa ascesi et tranquillitate ipsi unitus, quo repletus es; exinde quæsisti bona et resplenduisti sicut stella irradians animas nostras, Antoni.||O Antony! illumined by the rays of the Spirit! when divine love consumed thee, and made thy soul take her flight to the summit thou didst long for of charity—then didst thou despise flesh and blood, and become a stranger to this world, in deep spirituality and peace united to Him, with whom thou wast filled. Then didst thou seek after true goods, and shine as a star reflecting light on our souls.|
|Tu qui dæmonum sagitas as jacula contrivisti charitate divini Spiritus, et malitiam insidiasque ejus omnibus patefecisti, divinis coruscans illustrationibus, Monarchorum effectus es fulgidissimum luminare, et eremi primum decus, et supremus ægrotantium medicus, et Archetypus virtutum, Antoni Pater.||Thou that didst, by the love of the Holy Spirit, break the arrows and darts of the demons, laying open their malice and their snares to all men; thou that didst shine with the divine teachings, thou wast made, O Antony! the brightest luminary of Monks, the grandest glory of the desert, the ablest physician of the sick, the Archetype of virtue.|
|Asceticum super terram professus exercitium, Antoni, passionum ictus in torrente lacrymarum omnes hebetasti; scala divina et veneranda, ad cœlos elevans, mederis passionum infirmitatibus eorum qui ad te cum fide exclamant: Gaude. Orientis stella deauratissima, Monarchorum lampadifer et pastor; gaude, celebrande, tu deserti alumne, et Ecclesiæ inconcussa columna; gaude errantium dux illustrissime; gaude, or gloriatio nostra, et orbis terrarum decor fulgidissime.||Professing on earth the life of an Ascetic, O Antony! thou didst deaden in the torrent of thy tears all the blows of thy passions. Thou art the holy and venerable ladder, that raises men to heaven; that thou healest of the infirmities of their passions them that cry to thee with faith: Rejoice, most richly gilded Star of the East, the lamp-bearer and shepherd of Monks! Rejoice, illustrious Saint, child of the desert, unshaken pillar of the Church! Rejoice, most glorious Chieftain! Rejoice, O thou our glory, and brightest ornament of the whole earth!|
|Columna splendida et virtutibus obfirmata, et nubes obumbrans effectus es, his qui in deserto ad cœlum e terra Deum contemplantur, præpositus; crucis baculo passionum rumpens mare, spiritualem autem arduamque ad cœlum in facilem mutatus viam, invenisti, beatissime, incorruptibilem hæreditatem; cum incorporeis throno assistens Christi, quem deprecare animabus nostris dare magnam misericordiam.||God made thee a bright pillar solid in virtue, and a shade-giving cloud, to lead the way to such as, in the journey from earth to heaven, contemplate God. By the rod of the Cross, thou didst break up the sea of the passions; and changing the spiritual and difficult way to heaven into one that is easy, thou didst obtain, O most blessed Antony! the incorruptible inheritance. Pray to that Christ, at whose throne thou assistest with the Angelic spirits, that he bestow his great mercy on our souls.|
|Vitæ derelinquens perturbationes, crucem tuam humeris deferens, totum te commisisti Domino, et extra carnem, Pater, et mundum factus, Sancti effectus es confabulator Spiritus, ideoque ad zelum populos evigilans, civitates vacuas fecisti, civitatem in deserto transferens. Antoni Deifer, deprecare Christum Deum dare peccatorum remissionem celebrantibus cum amore tuam sanctam commemorationem.||Leaving the distractions of this life, and carrying thy cross on thy shoulders, thou didst commit thy whole self to the Lord; and estranging thyself, O Father! from the flesh and the world, thou wast admitted into intimate communication with the Holy Spirit; and therefore didst thou rouse up the people to fervor, emptying the cities of their inhabitants, and changing the desert into a city. O Antony, that bearest God within thee! beseech Christ our God, that he give remission of sin to all us who lovingly celebrate thy holy commemoration.|
We unite, great Saint! with the Universal Church, in offering thee the homage of our affectionate veneration, and in praising our Emmanuel for the gifts he bestowed upon thee. How sublime a life was thine, and how rich in fruit were thy works ! Verily, thou art the Father of a great people, and one of the most powerful auxiliaries of the Church of God. We beseech thee, therefore, pray for the Monastic Order, that it may re-appear in all its ancient fervour; and pray for each member of the great Family. Fevers of the body have been often allayed by thy intercession, and we beg for a continuance of this thy compassionate aid — but the fevers of our soul are more dangerous, and we beg thy pity and prayers that we may be delivered from them. Watch over us, in the temptations, which the enemy is unceasingly putting in our way; pray for us, that we may be vigilant in the combat, prudent in avoiding dangerous occasions, courageous in the trial, and humble in our victory. The angel of darkness appeared to thee in a visible shape; but he hides himself, and his plots from us; here again, we beg thy prayers, that we be not deceived by his craft. May the fear of God’s judgments, and the thought of eternity, penetrate into the depth of our souls. May Prayer be our refuge in every necessity, and Penance our safe-guard against sin. But above all, pray that we may have that, which thou didst counsel above all — the Love of Jesus — of that Jesus, who, for love of us, deigned to be born into this world, that so he might merit for us the graces wherewith we might triumph — of that Jesus, who humbled himself even so far as to suffer temptation, that so he might show as how we were to resist and fight.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)