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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

WHETHER the Egyptians or others are to be regarded as the founders of this philosophy, it is universally admitted that it was carried to perfection by Antony, an ascetic, virtuous, and renowned monk. His fame was so widely spread throughout the deserts of Egypt, that the Emperor Constantine sought his friendship, entered into epistolary correspondence with him, and urged him to proffer any request that he might desire. He was an Egyptian by birth, and belonged to an illustrious family of Coma, a village situated near the town, called by the Egyptians Heraclea. He was but a youth when he lost his parents; he bestowed his paternal inheritance upon his fellow-villagers, sold the rest of his possessions, and distributed the proceeds among the needy; for he was aware that philosophy does not merely consist in the relinquishment of property, but in the proper distribution of it. He obtained the acquaintance of the most eminent men of his time, and strove to imitate all the virtues displayed by others. Believing that the practice of goodness would become delightful by habit, though arduous at the onset, he entered upon a course of rigid and increasing austerity, and day by clay his zeal seemed to augment, just as if he were always re-commencing his undertaking. He subdued the voluptuousness of the body by labour, and restrained the passions of the mind by the aid of divine wisdom. His food was bread and salt, his drink water, and he never broke his fast till after sunset. He often remained two or more days without eating. He watched, so to speak, throughout the night, and continued in prayer till day-break. If at any time he indulged in sleep, it was but for a little while on a mat spread upon the ground, but generally he lay upon the ground itself. He rejected the practice of anointing with oil, and of bathing, regarding such habits as likely to relax the body by moisture; and it is said that he never at any time saw himself naked. He neither possessed nor admired learning, but he valued a good understanding, as being prior to learning, and as being the origin and source of it. He was exceedingly meek and philanthropic, prudent and manly; cheerful in conversation and friendly in disputations, even when others used the controverted topics as occasion for strife. He possessed so much skill and sagacity, that he restored moderation, and stilled altercations at their very commencement, and tempered the ardour of those who conversed with him. Although, on account of his extraordinary virtues, he received the gift of foretelling future events, he never regarded this power as being superior to virtue, nor did he counsel others to seek this gift rashly, for he considered that no one would be punished or rewarded according to his ignorance or knowledge of futurity: for true blessedness consists in the service of God, and in obeying His commands. “But,” said he, “if any man would know the future, let him seek spiritual purification, for then he will have power to walk in the light, and to foresee things that are to happen, for God will reveal the future to him.” He never suffered himself to be idle, but exhorted all those who seemed disposed to lead a good life to diligence in labour, to self-examination and confession of sin before Him who created the day and the night; and when they erred, he urged them to record the transgression in writing, that so they might be ashamed of their sins, and be fearful lest they should come to the knowledge of others. He zealously defended those who were oppressed, and in their cause often resorted to the cities; for many came out to him, and compelled him to intercede for them with the rulers and men in power. All the people honoured him, listened with avidity to his discourses, and yielded assent to his arguments; but he preferred to remain unknown and concealed in the deserts. When compelled to visit a city, he never failed to return to the deserts as soon as he had accomplished the work he had undertaken; for he said, that as fishes are nourished in the water, so the desert is the world prepared for monks; and as fishes die when thrown upon dry land, so monks lose their gravity in the world. His deportment was polite and courteous towards all, and free from the very appearance of pride. I have given this concise account of the manners of Antony, in order that an idea of his philosophy may be formed, by analogy, from the description of his conduct in the desert.

He had many renowned disciples, of whom some flourished in Egypt, and others in Lybia, Palestine, Syria, and Arabia; like their master, they all dwelt in solitude, and subjugated themselves, and they instructed others in philosophy and virtue. But it would be difficult to find the disciples of Antony or their successors, for they sought concealment more earnestly than many ambitious men, by means of pomp and show, now seek popularity and renown.

We must relate, in chronological order, the history of the most celebrated disciples of Antony, and particularly that of Paul, surnamed the Simple. It is said that he dwelt in the country, and was married to a beautiful woman, and that, having surprised her in the act of adultery, he declared, with a smiling and placid countenance, that he would live with her no longer; that he left her with the adulterer, and went immediately to join Antony in the desert. It is further related, that he was exceedingly meek and patient; and that, being aged and unaccustomed to monastic severity, Antony put his strength to the proof by various trials; and that, having given evidence of perfect philosophy, he was sent to live alone, as no longer requiring a teacher. And God Himself confirmed the testimony of Antony; for Paul manifested his illustrious character by his wonderful works and by his power in expelling demons, in which he even surpassed his teacher.








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