Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dead Theologians Society: St. Anthony of Egypt

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Egypt, one of the "Desert Fathers" of the church. In 271, at the age of 20, Anthony took seriously Jesus' words regarding the selling of possessions. Anthony gave all his wealth to the poor and moved to the desert to live the ascetic life of a monk, but was continually sought out by pilgrims for spiritual direction and advice.

In the early 300s, Anthony created a loosely-organized group of cells, which can be considered the world's first monastery. The story of Anthony's life (compiled by St. Athanasius later in the fourth century) greatly influenced St. Augustine, who was a toddler when Anthony died. Augustine went on to serve the church himself and leave many of his own writings behind, including his "Rule" for monastic life, written in 400, which led to great growth and vitality of the monastic vocation within the church over the next thousand years. These men helped to "normalize" the ascetic life of the hermit within Christianity.

In 311, in a renewed time of persecution, Anthony preached and taught throughout Alexandria, willing to accept martyrdom should it come his way. His life was spared, and he continued as a church leader, active in the fight against the Arian heresy, which denied the deity of Christ and thus the Trinity. At this point, Anthony was nearly 90. He died at 105.

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