HOME CHAT NAB PRAYERS FORUMS COMMUNITY RCIA MAGAZINE CATECHISM LINKS CONTACT
 CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC DICTIONARY  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Home
 
Bible
 
Catechism
 
Chat
 
Catholic Encyclopedia
 
Church Fathers
 
Classics Library
 
Church Documents
 
Discussion
 
Mysticism
 
Prayer
 
Prayer Requests
 
RCIA
 
Vocations
 
Ray of Hope
 
Saints
 
Social Doctrine
 
Links
 
Contact
 







The Paradise Of The Holy Fathers Volumes 1 and 2 by Saint Athanasius Of Alexandria

IN approaching the consideration of Christian monasticism in Egypt, it will be well to remember that the more the ancient religions of the world are studied, the plainer it is that in all ages, both in Asia and Africa, certain kinds of men have, for various reasons, devoted themselves to a life of asceticism which was more or less severe. It is foreign to our purpose to adduce detailed proofs of this statement here, and it is unnecessary, for anyone who will take the trouble to read the history of the leaders of the great religious movements which have taken place in China, and India, and Western Asia, and also the literature of ancient Egypt, cannot fail to be convinced of this fact. Men who were tired of the world, or who had experienced great disappointments, or who wished to impress their views and ideas concerning spiritual matters on their fellow men, forsook the habitations of men and retired into mountains and deserts, where they fasted, prayed, kept vigils, and meditated, and sometimes devoted their lives to ministering to the wants, both material and spiritual, of the poor and needy. They preserved their bodies chaste, and despised the possessions of this world. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the asceticism practised by the monks of Egypt differed in many particulars from that of men of other countries, and also that its essential characteristics were founded on views which were quite distinct from those which made the devout priests of the pre-Christian religions of Egypt pass their time in solitude, silence, reflection and study, and caused them to adopt lives of poverty and austere self-abnegation.

The Christian monks of Egypt, like investigators of our own time, often discussed the question, “Who were the first monks?” Some held the view that the first who led lives of virginity and holiness in the desert were the Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist, and seemed to have assumed that the lives of the monks of Egypt were the counterparts of these great desert teachers. Some were firmly convinced that Christian monasticism began with St. Anthony, who was born about 250, and died about 355, whilst others again asserted boldly that the first Christian monk who dwelt in the desert was Paul the Anchorite, “who ended [his career] in the days of Decius and Valerianus” (A. D. 249–253, 253–270) (Vol. I, p. 197). Now we find from the life of Paul, attributed to Palladius in the Syriac version, that this man was the son of wealthy parents who died when he was sixteen years of age; he was educated in the learning of both the Greeks and the Egyptians, and he loved God with his whole heart. His sister’s husband was always lying in wait to deliver him over to those who were persecuting the Christians, and at length he found it necessary to flee to the mountains, where he found a rock-cave wherein he lived for many years. When he was 113 years old, he was visited by St. Anthony, who travelled across the desert, and held converse first with a hippo-centaur, and next with a satyr. Now, according to the story, Anthony was at this time 90 years old, but this is impossible, for it is said in the same story that Paul “ended” in the days of Decius and Valerianus, in other words, that Anthony was a youth when Paul was a very old man. Assuming, however, that Anthony was 90 years old when he visited Paul, and that Paul was 113 years old at the time, it is tolerably certain that Paul had lived the life of an anchorite some twenty-three years longer than Anthony. If, on the other hand, we accept the statement that Paul died between 249 and 270 aged 113 years, it would follow that he was born about 150, and that he lived the life of a Christian monk before the close of the second century. It is impossible to think from any point of view that Paul was the only Christian who retired to the desert, whether he was born in the second or in the third century, but the history of his life is valuable as showing that a tradition, which was extant when the writer compiled his life, asserted that he was the first of the Christian monks who lived in the desert. What we are probably intended to understand by the writer of the life of Paul is that Paul was an anchorite in the desert to the east of the Nile, between the river and the Red Sea, before St. Anthony, and that when he first settled there Christian monks in general had not chosen that desert as a place of abode.

When we consider the trials and tribulations in the midst of which the Christians of Egypt lived during the second century, it is difficult not to think that large numbers of them forsook the towns and villages and fled to the mountains and deserts, the men to avoid military service, and the women to escape dishonour and persecution. A tradition states that during the reign of Antoninus Pius (138–161) an abbot called Frontonius, hating the world and longing for solitude, collected seventy brethren and led them into the Nitrian Desert, where they cultivated the ground, and lived exceedingly austere lives (Acta Sanctorum, April 14). For one systematically arranged “flight from the world” such as this, there must have been hundreds of which no record now exists. Taking all the probabilities of the case into consideration, we are justified in stating that by the year 300 there were in all the mountains and deserts of Egypt a large number of Christian monks and solitary ascetics. It is doubtful if brotherhoods existed at this time; indeed, the histories of the ascetics which come first in the book Paradise indicate that they did not, for from these we learn that each recluse did what seemed right in his own eyes. Each man was entirely devoted to the saving of his own soul, and apparently cared for nothing and no one else. Each tried to lead a more austere life than that of his neighbour, believing that through the multitude of his fastings, vigils, and prayers he could make himself acceptable to God. Some, no doubt, repented of their evil deeds and thoughts with absolute sincerity, and their repentance lasted for years at a time, but repentance had never been a characteristic of the Egyptian, as we may see from the older literature of Egypt.

Up to about B. C. 2400 the Egyptian based all his hopes of reaching heaven upon the performance of ceremonies and the recital of formulæ, which would enable him to learn the great and secret name of the God of the other world. His moral code was of the highest character, and he often boasts in his inscriptions that he was good and dutiful to his father and mother, and affectionate to his brothers and sisters, and that he never did harm to any man because he feared an unfavourable judgement in the Hall of Osiris. In no inscription, however, known to me is there any mention of sorrow or regret for the commission of any sin or offence.

In the religious texts written about B. C. 1500, when, probably under Asiatic influence, a more spiritual conception of religion existed among the priests, we find clear indications that the doctrine of retribution was accepted by them. Good deeds and pious acts performed on earth secured for the doer when in the other world a regular and unfailing supply of offerings, and a favourable hearing when his soul was weighed in the Balance in the Hall of Osiris, and, in the Fields of the Blessed, a grant of land, the extent of which was in proportion to his good deeds upon earth. The funerary inscriptions which describe the lives of those whom they commemorate are full of protestations put into the mouths of deceased persons as to the righteousness and integrity of their lives, and in the Books of the Dead they deny the commission of forty-two sins and offences. Nowhere, however, do we find that the deceased persons express regret or contrition for such offences against the law as they must certainly have committed. Indeed, it seems as if the Egyptian regarded sin merely as a breach of an obligation to the moral law from which he could free himself by his own subsequent good works, or by the payment of offerings. There is no word in the hieroglyphic texts for “repentance,” and in making the Coptic version of the New Testament the translators were obliged to borrow the Greek word μετάνοια when they needed to express the idea of repentance. The fundamental ideas which underlie the words “repentance,” “conscience,” and “faith,” as understood by modern Christian peoples, seem to have been unknown to the ancient Egyptian, and it seems to me that they were only partially understood by the earliest of the Christian monks. The Christian and Egyptian monks trusted very largely to the efficacy of their own works for salvation. Hence their prolonged fasts, their multitudinous prayers, their constant vigils, their excessive manual labour, and their ceaseless battle against the cravings and desires of the body. The greatest monk was he who could fast the longest, rest and sleep the least, pray the greatest number of prayers, keep vigil the longest, work the hardest, endure best the blazing heat of the day and the bitter cold of the night, and who could reduce his body to the most complete state of impassibility. When hunger, thirst, cold, silence, watching and praying had reduced the body, the spiritual nature and faculties sprang into active operation, and the monks saw visions and received revelations of a supernatural character.

Whether we regard Abbâ Paul or St. Anthony as the first monk who dwelt in the desert, it is quite certain that the systematic establishment of monasticism in Egypt is due to the latter. During the first half of his life St. Anthony was surrounded by a large number of monks who emulated his mode of life, and who were more or less under his spiritual direction and guidance. Very early in the fourth century, perhaps, before 310, he gathered together a considerable number of monks, and they came and lived with him in a monastery not far from the Red Sea. Up to that time he had lived in Pispir, the “outer mountain,” which appears to have been situated about sixty-five miles to the south of Cairo, eight miles to the north of the modern town of Beni Suwêf, and several miles inland from the west bank of the Nile. The monastery to which he betook himself with his community of monks was about twenty-five miles from the Red Sea, and the most direct route to it from the Nile is by the old desert road which runs almost due east from the village of Bayâd, about eighty miles to the south of Cairo. It stood on the “inner mountain,” as the place is called in the history of St. Anthony. The Monastery of Paul (not Paul the Simple) lay some twenty miles to the south-east of that of St. Anthony.

The next great event in the history of Christian monasticism in Egypt was the founding, about 320, of the famous Monastery of Tabenna, near the modern town of Denderah, in Upper Egypt, by Pachomius, who was born a few years before the close of the third century. When he had finished his discipleship, an Angel appeared to him and told him to go and collect the wandering monks, to live with them, and to lay down such laws as he should tell him for their guidance. The Angel then gave him a book (or tablet), wherein were written six laws. According to these a monk might eat and drink, or fast, as he pleased; no pressure was to be put upon him to do either. The strong were to labour hard, and the weak according to their strength, and each was to be encouraged to do his utmost. Monks were to live three by three in cells, and were to eat together in one house. They were not to sleep lying down, but seats were to be provided, so that when sitting down they might “support their heads.” They were to sleep in sleeveless garments, wear skull caps with crosses worked in purple upon the fronts of them, and partake of the Eucharist on Saturdays and Sundays. The monks were to be divided into twenty-four grades, each of which was to bear the name of a letter of the alphabet.

In addition to these rules the Angel ordered that no man should be received into that monastery until he had toiled three years; the same period, we may note in passing, which Isidore ordered Palladius to serve. Though the monks ate together, they were to cover their faces with their cowls, and were not to converse with each other or look about. The rule of Pachomius seems to have been attractive to many, for the company of monks in the house in which he lived numbered 1,300, and there were several other houses near, each containing from one to three hundred monks. Each monk worked at a trade, and we learn (Vol. I, p. 146) that there were in the community gardeners, blacksmiths, bakers, carpenters, fullers, makers of baskets, mats, nets, and sandals, and one scribe. As each man worked he repeated the Psalms and selected passages from the Scriptures. Of the articles made by the monks a certain number were sold to the people of the neighbouring villages, but from the story told in Vol. I, p. 300, we see clearly that Pachomius did not allow an excessive profit to be made by the dealer who disposed of the surplus goods. From the Askètikon (Vol. I, pp. 283ff) we may conclude that Pachomius was an able and just administrator, and one who detested excess of any kind among his followers. He urged every man to do his best, but he was most severe in his dealings with the vainglorious, and with those who undertook tasks beyond their power to fulfil. In illustration may be quoted the story (Vol. I, p. 291) of the cook who neglected his duly appointed work of cooking vegetables for the brethren for two months, and devoted his time to the plaiting of mats. He excused himself by saying that the brethren used not to eat all that he cooked, and that much food was therefore wasted, to say nothing of the forty flasks of oil which were mixed daily with the peas and vegetables, but Pachomius refused to accept his excuse, and having ordered the five hundred mats which the cook had made to be brought to him, he threw them into the fire.

Another monk sighed for martyrdom, and begged Pachomius to pray that he might become a martyr, but there was little chance of this happening, for there was peace in the world, and Constantine was reigning. Pachomius told him to lead the life of a monk blamelessly, and to make his life pleasing to Christ, and then he should enjoy the companionship of the martyrs in heaven. This, however, did not satisfy the monk, and in spite of the warnings of his abbot, he continued to crave for martyrdom. Two years later Pachomius despatched a number of monks to an island in the river to the south to cut reeds for the mat-makers, and he sent the monk who wished to become a martyr to them with some money for their expenses, which he took an ass to carry. When he came to the place on the river bank opposite to the island, a company of the Blemmyes came down to draw water, and finding the monk there, they made him dismount, and having seized the ass and his money, they carried him off to the mountains. Then they made a feast and poured out libations to their gods, and urged the monk to join them in their worship. He refused at first to do so, but when they came against him with drawn swords in their hands and threatened to kill him, he took wine and poured out a libation to their gods, and denied God. When he returned to his monastery and confessed what he had done, Pachomius condemned him to solitary confinement, to one meal a day of bread and salt, to perpetual vigil and tears, and to plait two palm-leaf mats each day. After ten years of this penance he died (Vol. I, p. 304).

On the other side of the river near the monastery of Pachomius there were several nunneries, some of which were maintained by the work of the monks. Of the nuns who dwelt in these Palladius tells two stories (Vol. I, p. 147). A sister was seen by another talking to a man who asked her for work, and some time later, during a dispute between these two nuns, she who had seen the other talking with the man accused her of committing an act of infamy. This accusation distressed the innocent sister greatly, and at length she went and drowned herself secretly; her accuser, terrified at the result of her calumny, also drowned herself secretly. The second story is that of a sister who had been possessed of a devil, and who permitted her companions to treat her with contempt; she waited upon them in the refectory, and performed so many menial duties that Palladius says she became the “broom of the whole nunnery.” It was, however, revealed to Abbâ Piterius, who lived in the Porphyrites, that a nun of Tabenna was more excellent than he, and he asked his superior to give him permission to go and see her. When he arrived there, all the nuns came in to be blessed by him except the sister who made herself the servant of them all, and when he asked for her, she had to be dragged into his presence. As soon as she appeared, Piterius bowed down before her, and in answer to the remonstrances of the other sisters, declared that she was their “mother and his,” and that he entreated God to grant him a portion with her in the Day of Judgement. On this the sisters who had been in the habit of buffeting her, and throwing the “rinsings of vessels” over her, and insulting her, expressed contrition and asked her pardon. These stories are told in such detail that Palladius must have heard them himself at Tabenna, where he cannot have failed to stay during his travels in Egypt.

Now whilst Anthony was directing a community of monks on the “Inner Mountain,” and Pachomius was Abbot of Tabenna, numbers of other monks were leading lives of austerity in the Desert of Nitria, or the Natron Valley (Wâdî-an-Natrûn), as it is generally called, and in the Desert of Scete. To reach Nitria Palladius was obliged to cross Lake Mareotis, which occupied him a day and a half. The main portion of the valley lies a little to the north-west of Cairo, and can be reached in two days by camel. When he arrived there he found a company of about 5,000 monks, who lived in twos and threes, or in groups; besides these there were 600 anchorites who lived, each by himself, in the neighbouring desert. The making of bread for these occupied seven bakers. Each monk lived as he pleased, either by himself or with others. Here in a courtyard stood a large church, which was served by eight priests, and the monks attended divine service on Saturday and Sunday. In the courtyard were three palm trees, with a whip hanging on each; one whip was used for beating the monks who committed acts of folly, another was used for chastising thieves, and the third for beating strangers who misbehaved. Close to the church was a guest-house, in which the visitor might stay as long as he pleased, provided he was willing to work in the bakery or refectory. At Nitria there were physicians and confectioners and wine merchants, but no man was needy, for every one had to work at the weaving of flax. At night-fall the monks began to sing psalms and to pray, and the visitor who heard the singing of the monks rising up round about him, might, “his mind being exalted,” imagine that he was in the “Paradise of Eden,” i.e., heaven.

In Nitria Palladius heard of Ammon, Nathaniel, Paul the Simple, Hor, and Pambo, and he saw Ammonius, Benjamin the Physician, Macarius, and many others, and from the facts which he relates it is clear that Nitria had been inhabited by monks for more than one hundred years before he arrived there. One portion of the Nitrian Valley, because of the steep, precipitous rocks in it, was called “Klimax,” i.e., “the Ladder,” and as no water was to be had nearer than twelve miles, it was usually considered to be uninhabitable. Here, notwithstanding, for fifteen years lived Ptolemy the Egyptian (Vol. I, p. 136), who collected in sponges the dew which fell in the months of December and January, and having squeezed these out into jars he obtained a supply of water for the whole year. It is sad to learn that he went mad, and scoffed at the Eucharist, and that he finally departed to Egypt, where he gave himself over to prodigal and riotous living.

Another interesting portion of the Nitrian Valley was called “The Cells,” because here were situated the abodes of the monks who were hermits in the strictest sense of the word. Each man lived by himself in a cell at some distance from any neighbour, and only mixed with his fellows when he went to the Church of Nitria, which was some miles distant, on Saturday and Sunday.

Now we know from other sources that during the second half of the fourth century a large and important society of monks lived near the modern town of Sûhâk, about 320 miles south of Cairo. Their rallying point was the famous “White Monastery,” which stood on the skirt of the desert on the west bank of the Nile, and was dedicated to the great ascetic Abbâ Shenuti by the Empress Helena. Shenuti was born about 333, and died at midday on July 2, 451, aged 118 years! He became a monk when a boy, and for years was under the direction of his uncle Bgûl, and for nearly 100 years he possessed very great influence. It is difficult to understand why Palladius makes no mention of him, and why he does not describe the rule of his monks, which was a very severe one. Shenuti was a man of violent temper and a strenuous opponent of Nestorius and his followers, and we can only surmise that Palladius omitted all reference to him because he disapproved of his personal characteristics. It would be wrong to think that he had no knowledge of the great communities of monks which flourished in the neighbourhood of Sûhâk and Akhmîm (Panopolis).

Another great host of monks lived at Oxyrrhynchus, about 125 miles south of Cairo, where, we learn from The History of the Monks, there were thirteen churches (Vol. I, p. 337). “The city was so full of the habitations of the brethren that the walls thereof are wellnigh thrust out with them, so many were the brethren.” Five thousand monks lived inside the city, and five thousand outside, and the praises of God rose up to heaven every hour of the day and night. Besides these the Bishop had under his charge twenty thousand nuns. Strangers were cordially welcomed at Oxyrrhynchus; and the writer of The History of the Monks says that his cloak and other garments were wellnigh torn off his back by the eager hands of those who contended with each other for the pleasure of receiving him into their houses.

At Lycus, near the modern city of Asyût, was another famous community of monks, the most famous of these being John the Carpenter. He was born about 304, became a monk about 330, and five years later he took up his abode on the top of the mountain of Lycus, where he lived until his death, which took place about 394. He possessed the gift of prophecy and worked miracles, and his counsel was sought by all, from Theodosius the Emperor to the humblest monk. During the earlier years of his life as a monk he ate nothing cooked by fire, not even bread, and towards the close of his life his food consisted of dried herbs only. He founded no community of monks, but large numbers of ascetics must have regarded him as their spiritual father (See Vol. I, pp. 169ff. and 320ff.)

During the period of his banishment to Egypt, Palladius wandered about the country and paid visits to many monasteries and solitaries. He found Antinoë so interesting that he spent four years there. The town lay on the east bank of the river, and its site is marked to-day by the village of Shêkh Abâdah. At Antinoë there were twelve nunneries, and Palladius met there Emmâ Talîdâ, the head of sixty virgins, and the virgin Taor. Close to the town lived some twelve hundred men “who worked with their hands and lived the life of spiritual excellence” (Vol. I, p. 180). In the desert of Antinoë lived Elijah the hermit, who was 110 years old when the writer of The History of the Monks became acquainted with him, and who had lived there for seventy years. His daily food consisted of three ounces of bread and three olives, which he ate in the evening; in his earlier years he partook of food only once a week (Vol. I, p. 340).

From what has been said above it is clear that during the fourth century Egypt was filled with monks of all kinds, and that the monastic life was general there. During the two preceding centuries the followers of the ascetic life were content to lead solitary lives in isolated places on the borders of the towns and villages, and in the mountains and deserts, but after the persecutions of Decius and Diocletian, they found that their personal safety depended upon their living together in organized communities. The formation of societies, or brotherhoods, was quickly followed by the building of substantial monasteries, which were provided with courts enclosed by strong outer walls and gates, and the resistance which could be offered to intruders by some hundred of monks armed with the stout stick or cudgel of the Egyptian peasant was not small. Palladius, unfortunately, gives no description of the monasteries which he saw, but it is tolerably certain that their main features resembled those of the great buildings, half monastery half fortress, of which a fine example remains in the ruined monastery of St. Simeon near Aswân. If the numbers of the monks in Nitria, Antinoë, Oxyrrhynchus, Panopolis, and other places, given by Palladius and the author of the History of the Monks, be correct, it is clear that the whole body of the ascetics of Egypt must have formed a veritable army which was sufficiently strong to resist any unpopular measure of the Government. This fact, no doubt, explains why the heads of great religious houses were often consulted by the authorities on matters of State, and why their advice was so often followed by the leaders of military expeditions against the barbarians to the south of Egypt.

iv. The Supernatural Element in the Book “Paradise”

IN perusing the lives of the holy men given in the Book Paradise and in The History of the Monks the reader will find described a series of incidents and events in which the supernatural element plays a prominent part, and some critics have asserted that they constitute a proof that these works are not genuine. Palladius was, no doubt, credulous in respect of miracles and supernatural occurrences in general, but, in my opinion, the evidence that he was so is a proof that he lived at a time when the Christian world believed in the things which he describes, and the details given by him convince me that his knowledge of the particular events which he records was acquired at first hand. Those who are familiar with the magic of the Dynastic Egyptians find few miraculous occurences in the histories of the monks of which parallels do not exist in the pagan literature of Egypt. The monks certainly rejected the old gods of the country, but the folk-lore survived, and with it the beliefs and superstitions which belonged to the mythology of a remote past and which were never wholly eradicated. To the Cross were transferred the powers and attributes of the old Egyptian amulet ānkh, and the histories of the monks supply many instances of its use as an amulet. Thus when Anthony made over himself the Sign of the Cross the devil “was straightway terrified” (Vol. I, p. 10); and on another occasion the devil, seeing the Sign, “passed away quickly in the form of a flame of fire” (p. 16). Anthony protected himself against a being half-man half-ass by the Sign of the Cross (p. 44). One day the devil appeared to Macarius the Egyptian and explained his system of wiles and fraud; the “chosen athlete” made the Sign over himself and the devil disappeared (p. 278). John of Lycus made the Sign over some oil which he sent to a woman who had cataract in her eyes; she smeared her eyes therewith three times, and after three days she saw (p. 322). Poemen made the Sign over a youth whose face “had been turned backwards by the Evil One,” and the youth was healed (Vol. II, p. 144). A certain father was about to drink from a vessel, and when a holy woman made the Sign over it, the devil fell from the vessel in the form of a flash of fire (Vol. II, p. 269). The brethren said, “The demons fear and tremble, not only by reason of the Crucifixion of Christ, but even at the Sign of the Cross, whether it be depicted upon a garment or made in the air” (Vol. II, p. 299). The “name of the Cross” even was a “word of power,” wherewith Anthony put to flight the fiery phantoms which attacked him by night (Vol. I, p. 43).

The monks, like the Apostles (St. Matthew 7:22) used the Name of Christ as a word of power. A haughty and insolent devil “once appeared to Anthony, and said, ‘I am the power of God,’ ” whereupon the old man blew a puff of wind at him, and rebuked him in the Name of Christ, and the devil and all his host disappeared (Vol. I, p. 33). On another occasion Anthony held converse with Satan, but when Satan heard him mention the “Name of Christ his form vanished and his words came to an end” (Vol. I, p. 35). One night when Satan had brought a troop of devils in the form of beasts against Anthony, at the mention of the Name of Christ Satan was driven away “like a sparrow before a hawk” (Vol. I, p. 44). By the Name of Christ Anthony drove out a devil from a maiden (Vol. I, p. 59), and it was well known that he performed all his healings by means of prayer and the mention of the Name of Christ (Vol. I, p. 68). Now Anthony was an Egyptian, and he did in such matters as a pagan Egyptian priest would have done, only his prayer took the place of the old magical formula, and the Name of Christ was used instead of the name of an old Egyptian god. Abbâ Benus adjured a hippopotamus which devoured the crops in a certain village in the Name of Jesus Christ, and the beast departed forthwith, and did no further harm (Vol. I, p. 337); and the fathers went so far as to say that laymen might drive away devils by the Name of Christ and the Sign of the Cross (Vol. II, p. 300).

When we remember that Anthony was, notwithstanding his natural shrewdness and virtues, an uneducated Egyptian, we need feel no surprise at the stories of his conflicts with devils and phantoms. His wandering among the tombs must have made him familiar with the painted reliefs in them and with the figures of gods and mythological beings in whom his ancestors believed, and the vivid imagination which he inherited from his ancestors endued them with life and movement. He was unacquainted with the literature of ancient Egypt, for he could neither read nor write, and therefore he could not know that the paintings only represented the attempts made by funerary artists to give form to the weird conceptions of the supposed denizens of the other world, both good and evil, which his forefathers had evolved out of their own minds.

It is noteworthy that many of the stories which relate the appearances of the Devil are told in connexion with men of Egyptian origin. Thus Palladius tells us (Vol. I, p. 115) that a certain Egyptian who wished to gain the love of another man’s wife hired a magician to employ his sorceries in order to make the woman love him or to make her husband hate her and cast her out; the magician failed to make the woman unfaithful, but he succeeded in transforming her into a mare. After three days the husband of the woman took the mare to Macarius the Egyptian, to whom God had revealed the matter, and when the brethren announced her arrival to the holy man, Macarius told them that the appearance of the woman to them in the form of a mare was due to an “error of sight” (hypnotic suggestion?) on the part of those who saw her. He then threw water which he had blessed over her, and she straightway appeared in the form of a woman to every man there; after eating some sacramental bread she was healed. To Macarius also they brought a man possessed of a fiery devil (Vol. I, p. 117), who, when he had eaten three baskets of bread and drunk three bottles of water, vomited them in the form of “smoky vapour.” Under the treatment of Macarius the man became content with three pounds of food per day, and was healed. Nathaniel, another Egyptian recluse, was sorely tempted to leave his cell to help a young man whose laden ass was said to have fallen in the bed of the river. He refrained, however, and the young man, who was the Devil, and his ass disappeared in a whirlwind (Vol. I, p. 113). When Macarius the Alexandrian went to the garden of Jannes and Jambres “seventy devils” came forth against him in the form of ravens; these devils were, no doubt, mere birds, but the imagination of the saint turned them into devils (Vol. I, p. 119). On one occasion, when Macarius was one hundred years old, Palladius heard him “striving with his soul and with Satan,” and saying to the Evil One, “Thou canst do nothing unto me, get thee gone” (Vol. I, p. 124). One day a man possessed of a devil was brought to Paul the Simple and Anthony, and when the ordinary means failed to drive him out, Paul appealed to Christ, and swore that he would neither eat nor drink until the devil had come out of the man. Thereupon the devil cried out that he was being ill-treated, and when he asked Paul where he should go, the holy man said, “To the uttermost depths of the abyss.” On this the devil came out, and transformed himself into “a mighty dragon seventy cubits long,” which wriggled its way down to the Red Sea (Vol. I, p. 128). The serpent is a well-known representative of the Evil One in Egyptian mythology, and the length of the monster here given suggests that the holy man regarded the creature before him as akin to Āpep, the arch-enemy of Horus and Rā. Pachomius, the Abbot of Tabenna, was also vexed by devils, and we are told (Vol. I, p. 290) that one day, whilst he was journeying in the desert of Ammon, “certain legions of devils rose up against him and “thronged him, both on his right hand and on his left,” and they clung to him until he reached the monastery. On another occasion, when he and Theodore were walking through the monastery by night, a woman appeared to them whose beauty was so great as to be indescribable, and even Theodore, who looked at the phantom, was exceedingly perturbed, and his face changed colour (Vol. I, p. 304). In answer to his questions she told Pachomius that she was the daughter of the Calumniator, and that she had received power to fight against him.

Another survival of the old Egyptian belief in the power of men, under certain circumstances, to cast spells is recorded in the history of Apollo (Vol. I, p. 351). The ten villages which were round about his place of abode, near Hermopolis, i.e., the city of the god Thoth, were filled with men who worshipped a wooden idol, and they carried him in procession from village to village, whilst the priests and people danced before him. One day Apollo saw them carrying on their “devilish sports,” and he knelt down and prayed, and immediately all the people became spell-bound where they stood, and being unable to move they were obliged to remain there the whole day long in the fierce heat of the sun, and each was parched with thirst. Then certain of the inhabitants sent oxen to drag away the idol, but they also became spell-bound, and could move neither the idol nor themselves. At length it was recognized that the sports had been stopped by Apollo, and the people sent and begged for his help. He went quickly and prayed over the men who were spell-bound, and removed the spell, and they at once believed in Christ, and burned their idol, and were baptized.

The supernatural powers of Apollo were exercised in many other ways. During a dispute in a village about certain boundaries, the leader of the barbarians declared that there could never “be peace until death.” To this Apollo replied, “It shall be as thou sayest, but none except thyself shall die; and the earth shall not be thy grave, but the bellies of wild beasts.” That night the man died, and on the following morning his remains were found horribly mangled by vultures and hyenas. The faith that was in the holy man enabled him to kill snakes, asps, vipers, and all kinds of reptiles, and in a time of famine he fed the hungry folk from baskets of bread which always remained full through his miraculous powers.

In connexion with Apollo mention is made of another Egyptian called Ammon, who slew a mighty serpent (Vol. I, p. 352). The monster was wont to slay sheep and cattle, and when the people begged the saint to free them from him, he went and knelt down at the place where the serpent usually passed, and prayed. Whilst he was praying, the serpent came and tried to strike him, but as soon as Ammon had called upon Christ to destroy him, the reptile burst asunder.

The instances quoted above are sufficient to illustrate the miraculous powers attributed to the ascetics of Egypt, and it is clear that the monks believed that they were able to cast out devils from the human body, and to destroy their evil works. The author of The History of the Monks boldly states that, at the time when he was writing, they raised the dead, and like Peter, walked on the water, and performed everything which the Redeemer and His Apostles performed.








Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com