The Gospel is the Power of Yahuwah

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My tongue will be the pen of a ready writer "Messiah in Us the Hope of glory


Find this book on Messiah in us in lulu.com by Michael Adi Nachman


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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Israel and the Resurrection

We are now in Israel where the gospel originated. We remember that the resurrection of Messiah Yahushua on the third day was a universe changing event! Have you been changed!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Time to Preach the Gospel in Norway

Tired but some how not ready to sleep.
On the way to Stavanger
where the gospel will be preached
Dreamt of the royal family again
and my connection with them
could it be that
i am really royalty
let's see!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pray for all in authority!

Yahuah has given us the weapons we as followers of Jesus have in order to establish his kingdom in our world. The main weapon is prayer. So pray for kings and all those in authority, including the Bildeberger group and the wicked leaders like Ahmedinejad! Our weapon is prayer!
Yahuah be with you! No power is greater than the power of Yahuah and when the prophets prophets there words had the final say in what happened in many nations!

Monday, July 07, 2008

How does one get blessed?


Yahuah is all around. We may not percieve him but he fills the heavens and the heaven of the heavens. Yahuah is a faithful God and in the context of Yahuah I would like to ask the question how do we get blessed? The answer lies in the Bible. This is obvious for this is the book that Yahuah had written, the most blessed book and the most influential book in all history. Well Jabez gives us one way to get blessed. In the covenantal relationship Jabez had as an israeli he could cry out to Yahuah in the context of the covenant that Yahuah would bless him. He cried out and asked Yahuah that he would bless him richly, repeatedly and intensively. The Bible records that Yahuah answered Jabez cry. We ought to cry out a little more also huh?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saint Antony: The Way of Perfection

INTRODUCTION

“…The demons, as if breaking through the building’s four walls, and seeming to enter through them, were changed into the form of beasts and reptiles…altogether the sounds of all the creatures that appeared were terrible, and their ragings were fierce.
Struck and wounded by them, Antony’s body was subject to yet more pain. But unmoved and even more watchful in his soul he lay there...”[i]

This kind of battle against demons is foreign to most people of the 21.century. The strict and extreme asceticism of the Desert Fathers does not have a good reputation either, in our hedonic age were pleasure and prosperity is the way to fulfillment. My own interest in St. Anthony stems from a love for the desert and desert retreats, for the vastness, beauty, silence and solitude of it. Nevertheless, St. Anthony, the 3rd century hermit from Egypt, did not go to the desert to enjoy the beauty, though at one point he did say that he loved the place. No matter the reason he went, what he found was temptations and demons, confronted with his fears, limitations and inclinations, in his quest for purity and perfection.

In writing this paper, I will have to try to put aside some of my presumptions and prejudices against asceticism, which mainly stems from the fact that I have grown up in a North European, Protestant environment. Many of us have an admiration for simplicity and a longing for solitude, but at the same time we often regard ascetic endeavors as a suspiciously Catholic way of trying to earn salvation by works. Christianity has always had to deal with questions concerning the relationship between soul and body, the sacred and the profane, and it seems to have answered these questions differently, in different contexts at different times. My purpose with this paper is to investigate St. Anthony’s asceticism: it’s geographical connections, it’s Biblical basis, it’s theological implications and it’s historical context and consequences

Sources
In my investigation I have been more interested in the ideological background and implications of Antony’s asceticism, than in discussing whether the actual events took place or not. “The Life of St. Antony”, the classic biography about the hermit Antony of Egypt, is written by the contemporary bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius. The Life or Vita (in Latin) of Athanasius might not be a historically authentic biography, but it gives a good insight in the thinking of that day and of the view people had of Anthony, since Athanasius was a contemporary of him. The accuracy of St. Athanasius is in many cases, however, confirmed from other sources.
The Life terms Antony ‘unlettered’, but he may have dictated his teaching. A series of seven letters ascribed to him exist, but their authenticity is questionable. They where written originally in Coptic, and a part of those survived. Versions of all of them exist in Georgian and Latin.[ii] I have chosen to use the seven letters, The Letters of St. Antony the Great in Derwas J. Chitty’s translation, as a source of reconstructing Antony’s teaching, as these letters were impacting the Church. Other sources I have used are secondary literature, mainly about the life of St. Antony, the Desert Fathers, desert spirituality and asceticism.

I have called this paper “The Way of Perfection” because of the Bible verse St Antony presumably was called by: “if thou wilt be perfect…”[iii] In his asceticism, Antony strived for perfection and called for a repentance in body and soul to purify them both. The subtitle also needs a commentary. In Antony’s own words it would probably be more correct to say: “His battle against the fallen self”. Antony does not use the word ‘flesh’ much in the documents that I have investigated; nevertheless, he uses other expressions that correspond with the meaning of “flesh” as it is expressed in Paul’s writings. “Antony’s battle against the flesh” was the title I had before I even started investigating him, and it reflects my associations to a dualistic battle between Spirit and flesh, good and evil. At the starting point of my research, I wanted to find out to what degree Antony, as a representative for the desert fathers and the early monastic movement, were influenced by dualistic thinking, and to what extent they were based on an authentic Biblical understanding. I found that the “flesh” was a good notion to discuss, in that connection, because it involves metaphysical aspects as well as ethical, and it is a central Biblical notion which can be used in placing Antony’s asceticism in a Biblical context.

I. THE HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL SETTING

St. Antony was born in an Egypt where Greek was the dominant culture and language. He was also born of Christian parents, in a time where Christianity was spreading rapidly, taking over the cities, but still victim of waves of persecution.

The religious and philosophical center of Egypt, Alexandria, was a vast and tolerant city of two nations, Greek and Egyptian, with the Jews as a third nation[iv]. From the middle of the 3rd century the Christians grew in numbers, and Alexandria became a center of Christian learning. The great theologians and Church Fathers Origines and Clement, had both their seats in Alexandria and were both influenced by a Greek love for discussion and the desire to find a rational basis for their beliefs and ideas, which in turn led to great confusion and strife in the Christian world[v]. The bishop Clement sought, according to Waterfield, to reconcile Greek sciences with the Holy Scriptures. He also claims that Christianity was influenced by Plato and of his view of the world as an imperfect copy of an ideal world, with the conclusion that the present world was of no importance. We will investigate this claim and the historic background more thoroughly in the part about Antony’s place in the history of asceticism.

Egypt is mainly a desert country, except for the rich and fertile areas along the river Nile, as it was in the time of St. Antony. From his time and forward more and more people were moving out of the cities and fertile areas to desolate places, to almost inaccessible places in the desert and the mountains. From AD 200 there was a series of terrible persecutions of the Christians by Roman Emperors. The end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century has been called “Era of Martyrs”, and thousands escaped to the desert during this time.

Otto F.A. Meinardus says in Monasticism of Egypt,[vi] that one major reason for the withdrawal of the Christians into the desert was their periodic persecution; another reason was probably their desire for solitude, detachment and the possibility of living a Biblical life of renouncement, as they understood it. The desert life was as much warfare as solitude though;[vii] it was an ambiguous retreat: a separation from the distractions and pressures of ordinary human community, but the wilderness held more significant challenges and dangers.[viii]

In the desert the pilgrim was deprived from everything given. The inner life could freely play its part without being choked by the impressions of busy city life. The silence made it possible to hear ones thoughts more clearly, and hopefully even the voice of God, when the mind had calmed down into the pace of the desert. But demons where also met in the desolate places, when the senses were deprived of its usual stimuli, and lack of food and sleep made its well known impact on the human organism and the ascetic started seeing things others did not. Whatever caused these visions; they were taken as a part of the spiritual quest and made usually sense theologically. In the Bible Jesus also meets the devil after a long fast. But even if it was the fast that caused him to see the evil one, it does not diminish or reduce the reality, importance or impact of the experience.

‘Pagan’ means ‘rural’ or from the countryside, and refer to the heathen costumes that still lingered in the countryside. Christianity grew first in the cities, while the countryside was still heathen. The Christian cities where therefore surrounded by pagans and pagan costumes. Paul called the pagan gods demons.[ix] And in this case the unseen spiritual powers took the forms of Egyptian animal gods, inhabiting deserted temples, statues, caves and desert areas. Stories of the warrior-monks of the desert fighting demons showed how Christ was turning back worldliness and paganism, spreading his lordship, even over the demon-filled desert.[x]

The outsiders’ view of the monks were, according to Benedicta Ward in The Lives of the Desert Fathers, that they lived as true citizens of heaven. They where the walls of the cities, keeping the world in its being. They were defenders and guardians of the world’s peace, armed against the demons for the sake of mankind. Prayers were a great action to be fulfilled in the society, purifying the atmosphere by their presence. The monk was a focus of spiritual power for his neighbors. The view the monk had of himself, on the contrary, was primarily as the poor man, the sinner, defined by his own need. He kept the walls of the city by being involved with mankind in the deepest sense. They also made the desert blossom through their agricultural projects, and it was rare for anyone in need to be found near the monasteries. At the same time they mocked the world with their own poverty. [xi]

The desert is a simple place where you only have to worry about three things: beating the temperature, finding food and water, and not getting lost. This simplicity; the desert’s relentless pitting of man against the elemental forces of nature, and the great joy and beauty to be discovered in it by those who mastered it, parallel the spiritual understanding of St Antony. The desert was like a macro cosmos of the human self, where the passions of the flesh were engaged in a continuous battle for supremacy and dominion over the soul. Just as thirst led to death if water was not found, so could passions lead to spiritual death if not properly trained and tamed.

One of the Fathers said: “God beareth with the sins of those who live in the world, but He will not endure the sins of those who live in the desert”.[xii] There were somehow other rules for the desert dwellers than for ordinary people; they were like soldiers on the battlefield who would die if they were not awake and fit.

II. ST ANTONY AS THE “FATHER OF MONKS”

St. Antony was not the first monk[xiii], but very much thanks to bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, he was later to be called “the Father of Monks”. Athanasius motives for writing his biography might have been mixed. Antony was already a popular figure, and if he could attach Antony to his side of the battle against the Arian heresy, he would probably win more support. Nevertheless, it is not unlikely that Antony had an orthodox faith; many of the letters attributed to him and stories about him are testimonies of that.

As mentioned St Antony was not the first ascetic. Already holy men were living as solitaries on the fringes of villages. Antony’s distinctive contribution was his transfer of the monastic life from the periphery of established communities to the isolated and barren wilderness.[xiv] When he, after 20 years solitude, came out of his fortress, he persuaded many to take up the solitary life. “And so, from then on, there were monasteries in the mountains and the desert was made a city of monks…”[xv]

Renunciation of the world had nourished the growth of Christianity from the start. Within cities, Christian philosophers and teachers learned from the ascetic lifestyles of their non-Christian counterparts[xvi]. There were two distinct forms of monasticism evolving at this time:
1) Anchoritic monasticism: a hermit living alone or in small ascetic houses (from the greek word anachorein, to withdraw, to leave
2) Cenobitic monasticism: cenobite – from koinos bios “common life” a more elaborate form of village asceticism, later to dominate monasticism.
Gradually, the withdrawal from the world in these lifestyles, practiced often in the towns and villages of Egypt, became separate spatially as more and more ascetics withdrew into the desert.

III. THE LIFE OF ST ANTONY

The Life was according to the author Athanasius, written and dispatched to the monks abroad, so that they might lead themselves in imitation of Antony, for “Antony’s way of life provides monks with a sufficient picture for ascetic practice”[xvii]

Antony was born between 250 and 252 A.D. of wealthy parents, and reared in a Christian manner. He had already as a child certain ascetic traits, for he was always content with what he had and always obedient to his parents. Six months after he lost his parents and was left with a much younger sister to take care of, he received a calling from God. It was a call he understood to mean renouncing the world, through the words of Jesus quoted in the gospel of Matthew 19:21: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast…” As a wealthy boy of about 18 or even 20 Antony started on a path of renunciation.[xviii]

Antony’s spiritual journey into the desert was in two stages according to Tim Vivian in his book Journeying into God:
1) an evangelical stage of hearing and heeding to God’s call, and 2) a leave-taking, a separation which became geographical, in a further and further movement into the isolation of the desert, until he moved to a fortress in what he called the “inner mountain” far to the south of Alexandria, were there were no other humans. In spite of his increasing inaccessibility, he became a destination for pilgrims; he had a constant stream of visitors, and he was forced to be involved with people and their affairs.

What were Antony’s motives for withdrawing from the community? Was the responsibility of caring for home and a younger sister too much for him, or was it a real call from God? Maybe it was a mixed motivation. We will never know, but we do know that he was not the only one who understood the Christian call for perfection in this manner, although his response to the call became a pattern for later generations, and an ideal of Christian piety throughout the monastic revivals of Church history.

Antony’s leave-taking started with a visit to a man who lived a solitary life in the neighboring village, to learn from him. At first Antony also remained close to his village, and whenever he heard about a zealous person he went to him to learn. The devil, Athanasius writes, could not bear seeing such purpose in a youth, and attempted to lead him away from the discipline, through memories of past pleasures and the thought of the rigor of virtue that awaited him. Antony overcame these temptations and others with faith, prayers and fasting. [xix]

Did Antony regard salvation to be accessible to every Christian? I have not found any quotations of Antony that speaks directly about salvation and how a person is saved and what it exactly involves, but he does speak about the grace of God on the way to perfection. The enemy fell and his power diminished because “ the Lord made his sojourn with us”[xx] The healings Antony did, were also not from Antony himself, but “the Lord bringing his benevolence to effect through Antony.”[xxi] After he was almost killed by demons, Christ revealed himself in a beam of light and came to his rescue from the assaults of the demons.[xxii]

It has been suggested that this part of the biography is very much meant as a confrontation with the heresy of Arian. Robert C. Gregg argues in his introduction to The Life[xxiii] that Athanasius, throughout the book, demonstrates how an orthodox understanding of salvation controlled Antony’s discipline and advance in virtue. The victories and miracles were not his own accomplishments, but works of Christ. The instance with the beam of light clearly bears the stamp of Athanasius’s Nicene Christology – “the help and deliverance of creatures can derive only from the Son’s divine brilliance”.[xxiv]

Antony himself writes in The Letters of St. Antony the Great: “by the Spirit we were sanctified by Christ”[xxv] So it is not by works, although he says in another place: “unless each one of you hate all nature of earthly possession, and renounce it and all its works… he cannot be saved.”[xxvi] Here it looks as if asceticism is necessary for salvation. The soul labors until God has pity upon him and purifies him. He seems to advocate a cooperation of man’s labor and God’s grace.

In a prolonging of the question above, we can also ask: did Antony receive deification and merit through discipline? Athanasius’ story start with a conversion, “to the convertibility of one en route to Christian salvation.”[xxvii] Here the answer to the earlier question might lie: Athanasius’s Christian salvation means consistently deification. Antony became a man-god by the god-man; or in the words of the Church Father Ireneus on Jesus: “He became as we are that we might become as He is.”[xxviii]

Antony’s goal was to be a ‘lover of God’, and therefore he did not allow any distractions to draw him away from God.[xxix] He seemed to long for a complete identification with Christ, and in many instances in the biography it also seems that Athanasius depict Antony as deified or at least in the very likeness of Christ. When Antony comes forth from the tombs he had been living in, after 20 years of solitude and ascetic life in chapter 14, he comes forth as someone who has been initiated into the old, pagan mysteries, where the neophyte was buried/laid in a coffin and raised again to new life and union with the godhead. “ Antony came forth as though from a shrine, having been led into divine mysteries and inspired by God” [xxx] and he did all kinds of good deeds.

Athanasius’ Antony says that God works for good with everyone who chooses the good; and that we need to die daily to avoid sinning.[xxxi] Is Antony putting a yoke on his shoulders, is it a burdensome path he has chosen, a legalistic way? When the devil first tempted him, that was one of the fears he brought up in him: the thought of the rigor of virtue and the great labor that was ahead of him, but he overcame this temptation, and later Athanasius writes that Antony bore the labor with ease.[xxxii]

This leads us to another question: whether his asceticism was excessive and in some way pathological? Many times he did not sleep in the night, ate only bread and salt once a day, slept often on the bare ground and so forth. Still his asceticism was far more moderate than many of the hermits that came after him. Balance and equilibrium was highly valued by him. When he came forth in chapter 14, he was neither fat nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons. He also argued that the “straight path” of Isaiah 40:3, in his interpretation one of discipline, is the natural way of the soul.[xxxiii] At the same time he ‘yearned to suffer martyrdom’[xxxiv] as many other devoted believers of that time. It is as if excessive asceticism takes the place that martyrdom and natural suffering for Christ had in the lives of the early believers.[xxxv]

Battle against demons:
Who are the foes in Antony’s battle? Some of them are: the passions, the belly, the body; particular elements that stem from two main sources of spiritual downfall to be found in Antony’s design: the fallen self, and the demons. The latter will help us to understand the former. The confrontations with the demons might be connected with Antony’s purpose to fight the flesh for the sake of perfection. At the same time The Life says that the demons actually fear the ascetics.[xxxvi]

The Vita suggests that the devil starts his attack with a certain kind of ‘intellectual interruption’. First when Antony has expelled the demons’ temptations from the interior of the mind, the demons begin to attack externally. They also work hardening of heart, selfishness, sensual desires and all kind of sinful attributes, all of them deceits whereby they make us their slaves: “we serve as bodies for them [the evil spirits]”,[xxxvii] and “they [the evil spirits] envy us at all times, with their evil counsel, and hidden persecution, and subtle malice, and spirit of seduction, and their blasphemous thoughts, and their infidelities which they sow in our heart every day.”[xxxviii] The demonic denotes everything that was hostile to man, also summed up all that was anomalous and incomplete in man.

Battle against the flesh:
The other great source of downfall in the Life is the human, fallen self, capable of just as much spiritual unrest and destruction as the demons. The difference is the self’s ability to being transformed into good, while the other remains forever evil. On the other hand, Antony is clear that neither the body nor the demons were created evil from the beginning: By the freedom given by God, angels became demons and the human self – body and soul, became a distraction and hindrance along the ascetic path. This brings us to Antony’s understanding of ‘body’ and ‘flesh’




IV. ST ANTONY’S NOTION OF THE ‘FLESH’ COMPARED WITH THE BIBLICAL NOTION

One of the things Antony warns the monks against is “the pleasures of the flesh”.[xxxix] Here he is most likely to mean the body only, for he also warns explicitly against lewd thoughts and vanity, which in Paul’s understanding might have been characterized as ‘fleshly’ as well. Some scholars claim that in the Life, the body is not evil, but simply misused, and thus evil in its effects. Properly transformed back into its created state, it is a wholly good gift and blessing from God. Through ascetic discipline we are reclaiming ourselves from the fallen state.

In The Letters Antony uses the expression ‘heavy body in which we dwell’.[xl] We can here see that the body is something which draws the soul or the spirit down towards earthly things, material things, which is not of the good, clearly shown in this quotation: “Jesus knew that the devil derives his power from the material things of this world.”[xli] Another place he uses the expression ‘body of corruption’: “Our intellectual nature, hidden in the body of corruption – not from the beginning, - and is to be freed from it.”[xlii] He also says that the rational man knows himself in his intellectual substance, not to be dissolved with the body.[xliii] The expressions ‘intellectual body’ and ‘intellectual substance’[xliv] appear to be synonymous with ‘spirit’ or the ‘rational soul’ in Antony’s vocabulary. The quotation indicates that the soul’s goal is to get free from the body, as in Gnostic and other Greek teaching. But does this mean freedom from the body as such, or freedom from the dominion of the body? The answer to that question would actually clarify whether Antony is dualistic oriented or not (which I will discuss more further down).

Lets go on to look at some definitions of the word ‘flesh’:[xlv]
Flesh – sarx – has various senses: i) the human in contrast to the divine; ii) fallen and sinful nature in contrast to human nature as originally created and dwelling in communion with God; iii) the body in contrast to the soul. ‘Flesh’ is applied generally to the whole animal creation, and is used both in NT and OT with a variety of meanings: physical, metaphysical, and ethical, the latter especially in Paul’s writings. In his writings it most often denotes degeneracy, weakness; counterpart of divine strength.[xlvi] The literal translation of the word ‘flesh’ to Hebrew is ‘basar’ which stems from a root that denotes its freshness. Can also mean ‘body’, ‘person’, ‘mankind’, ‘self’, ‘skin’.[xlvii] Gen. 6:12 says that all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth”, and Psalm 78:39: “… they were but flesh. A breath that passes away and does not come again”, speaking about the temporality of the human flesh, here probably a soul-body constitution.

When ‘flesh’ is used in the second sense of the above definition, it is important to distinguish it from ‘body’ – soma. In Gal 5:19-21 Paul lists the works of the flesh and mentions ‘sedition’, ‘heresy’ and ‘envy’, which has no special connections with the body, and must be understood to include also aspects of the soul. To find a similar expression in the Hebrew Bible, we need to go to the word ‘yeser’. In the 2nd century B.C it meant something like ‘disposition’ or ‘possibility to choose’. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the word ‘yeser’ implies ‘human creatureliness’ in the sense of corporality and desire. In rabbinical texts it means ‘inclination’, ‘urge’, ‘desire’, ‘tempter’. “Yeser hara’ can be translated as the ‘evil inclination’ and in that sense it can be compared with both Paul’s and Antony’s notion of flesh – the evil impulse which dwells in the body (it is not the body). However, they cannot be taken as completely coinciding notions, on the bases of the differences in worldviews, even inherent in the languages.[xlviii]

In canonical Judaism the spiritual life is not being trained, nor is the body being destroyed as a thing evil in itself.[xlix] To the Semites in the earliest times the soul was simply the physical breath, always closely connected with the body. The Egyptian conception was that the soul was a concrete entity that left the body at the moment of death, and it was not holier than the body.[l] The seemingly ascetic practices in Judaism depend on a dualism of pure an impure, clean and unclean, rather than on a dualism of body and soul. It was the holiness of God that called forth certain restrictions with respect to the world and the body, and the restrictions were usually only for brief periods to effect ritual purity.[li] The ascetic impulse of the Essene community came, according to Mircea Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion, from non-Semitic sources, possibly from a dualistic Zoroastrian origin, but could also have been a natural heightening of the Levitical, priestly purity. Others argue that the dichotomy in the Qumran community is not even between soul and body, but between the present age and the age to come, and that many of the ascetical tendencies in the NT, was of an eschatological nature as well and could not be interpreted in dualistic terms.[lii]

Both in Romans and Galatians we can clearly see a dichotomy of ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ and ‘spirit.’ “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh.”[liii] ‘Flesh’ has here an ethical and metaphysical connotation that we can recognize in Antony’s ‘pleasure of the flesh’ and his notion of the ‘fallen self’. Paul continues: “…if you live according to the flesh you will die: but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”[liv] Being “led by the Spirit of God” may involve progressively putting to death the sinful appetites of the lower, sinful nature. We can ask what comes first, the leading of the Spirit, or the putting to death, disciplining of our flesh? 1. Cor 9:27 talk explicitly about the disciplining of the body, bringing it into subjection; 2. Thimothy 2:4 teach us to endure hardship as a soldier, and in verse 22 to flee our youthful lusts. Paul meets many difficulties and experiences persecution, and in this context, he writes the verse: “When I am weak, then I am strong”[lv]. Antony is quoting this Scripture in chapter 7 in “Life”, to encourage ascetic life. Antony seems to impose on himself, some of the sufferings that is imposed on Paul by others or circumstances.

An article on asceticism in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity[lvi] states that Paul’s attitude to marriage and celibacy is more eschatological than ascetical motivated. In opposition to Marcion, the Church Father Tertullian protests against the rising tide of ascetic denial of marriage in his time. In OT it is clear that marriage and childbearing were national fundamental virtues in Israel. He who would “walk by the Spirit”[lvii] must turn away from all works of the flesh, but this is no angel-like spirituality or “hating of one’s own flesh” in the Neo-Platonic or Oriental dualistic meaning, no one-sided bodily exercise and mortification: “for physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things”.[lviii] The article in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity[lix] also argues that there is no sharp dualism between body and soul in Paul. His ascetic stances are rather motivated by a belief in the imminent return of Christ, a sense of shortness of time. Antony is interpreting many verses literally, that might have been interpreted in an eschatological context. The shortness of time referred to in the Scriptures, Antony reads as an attitude to life in general: “As we rise daily, let us suppose that we shall not survive till evening…”[lx]

O. Zockler argues in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics that acts of ascetic discipline and training in virtue are contemplated in the NT as allowable, or even as necessary according to time and circumstances, in the sphere of Christianity.[lxi] Paul himself submit to fastings, watchings, cold, nakedness, etc;[lxii] and ‘bruises’ and ‘subdues’ his body after the manner of athletes.[lxiii] The body in Corinthians though, has a positive connotation in being called the “Temple of the Holy Spirit”.[lxiv] The body is sown in corruption, but raised in incorruption.[lxv] It is the seed of the resurrection. All creation awaits this redemption.

In the gospel of John the ‘flesh’ denotes human nature in contrast to divine nature: “The Word became flesh”, but not sinfulness. Flesh in Christ was only in the “likeness of sinful flesh”. Yet, he was tempted, experienced hunger, suffering and death, and his body was not glorified before after the resurrection. This leads us to the question whether Jesus needed to fight his flesh, and whether he gave his followers an ascetic pattern to follow. In Matthew 6:16 Jesus anticipated fasting, but His disciples did not emphasize it during His lifetime,[lxvi] and this attitude coincides with St Paul’s doctrine of Christian freedom.[lxvii] He excludes here any emphasis on such practice as necessary.

The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness can be read as a preparation for his ministry as earlier mentioned. It lasted for 40 days, as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, lasted for 40 years. In both cases the stay in the wilderness was never an end in itself, but a stage on the path to freedom and fruitfulness. In the case of Israel, they had come out of Egypt, but Egypt had not come out of them. They rebelled and they fell into temptations, and several of these temptations had to do with the desires and cravings of the belly. Even one of Jesus’ temptations was connected with the body and the belly: the temptation of making stones to bread. Jesus overcame the devil’s temptation with Scripture, as did Antony on many occasions.[lxviii] Jesus said: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”.[lxix] He seems here to encourage vigilance to a certain degree, even though this was said in the context of the garden of Gethsemane. “The Jesus of the gospel was not ascetic”, claims the writer of the article in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, on the basis of Matthew 11:19: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. Even so, the blessings on the poor and the woes on the rich in the Sermon of the Mount suggest an association of spiritual wealth with earthly poverty. The call to forsake one’s parents and sell what one had, the article argues, were again eschatological motivated.[lxx]

The meaning of the word ‘flesh’ in the Bible seem to gradually extend from a physical to a metaphysical to an ethical sense, and according to the Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical literature, there is no idea of essential sin as lying in the flesh. Flesh in itself is neither bad nor sinful. It is the heart that gives entrance to sin and puts itself in Gods place, and by this the inner man, the spirit, looses his energy to govern the flesh, and the flesh starts opposing the divine commands, and gives rise to the “lusts of the flesh”. Both selfishness and sensualism, has then their seat in the flesh, and is signified in Gal 5:19 as “works of the flesh” Those interpreters who consider it as meaning, exclusively the bodily, sinful side of human nature, may fall into the errors of the Manichaens.[lxxi]

VI. ST ANTONY IN THE HISTORY OF ASCETECISM

Let us start this part with a definition: ‘Asceticism’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘training’ or ‘exercise’, ‘practice’. The ‘athlete’ was one trained, and one might be an ‘athlete’ in virtue. The ascetic became the spiritual athlete of Church History.[lxxii]

“Every system of morals enforces the discipline of the will”.[lxxiii] Ascesis is discipline, a practice of denying self for a higher goal. The average peasant’s life in the time of Antony, was involuntarily ascetic. The extreme nature of the desert monk’s asceticism may be seen in this context. Asceticism was designed to help the monk achieve apatheia – a clearly focused “single” and pure heart. This is also a stoic ideal that Clement upholds.[lxxiv]

One of the tasks Antony gave himself, was to achieve a state of ‘unceasing prayer’, a constant communion with God. To acquire this state required training, both of body and spirit. The powers of the body were ‘dragging down’ the soul of the monk with their habits, and had therefore to be tamed. Those habits could for instance be tamed through:
- fasting
- vigilance
- poverty
- denying oneself comfort
- concede little time to the body
As a part of his asceticism, Antony also went to great lengths to foster in others and in himself, intellectual (in the meaning of ‘spiritual’) attitudes as humility, patience, gentleness, love, and chastity, always striving to view one’s life as one of continually new beginnings.

In investigating Antony’s place in the history of asceticism we need to consider the different forms of asceticism and look at possible roots and streams of thoughts concerning them. According to T.C.Hall[lxxv] we can differentiate between these two conceptions in the history of asceticism:
1) Disciplinary asceticism: Discipline of the body for some ultimate purpose. Preserves the original meaning of the word.
2) Dualistic asceticism: Not training, but destroying the body or negation of its importance, that the soul may be free. Based on a metaphysical dualism which separates soul and body, God and the world, material and spiritual, into sharply contrasted realities.
Some practices that seem ascetic might be the mere survival of past costumes or work as symbols of self-mortification.[lxxvi] To primitive man a famine was viewed as an infliction of demons, and self-inflicted periods of hunger (fasting) could be the remedy for the conciliation of the demons. We can also separate between an inward form of asceticism (prayers in the heart, control of the mind etc) and an outward form (fasting, poverty, sexual abstinence and so on). Both forms of asceticism were already known to classical antiquity, especially in the teachings of Pythagoras and Socrates downwards. The Stoic school, the Cynics and the later Platonists beginning with Plutarch all valued the ascetic habit of life. The moral strictness and the earnest demand for virtue, formed the connecting link between the Jewish, Christian ideal of life and the ‘wisdom’ of the Greco-Roman philosophers.[lxxvii]

“Very early in its history the transformation of Christianity from a life to a philosophy of life began”, T.C. Hall claims. He argues that this change is already evident in several NT books, notably the Ephesians to Hebrews, with influence of Philo and Alexandrine Judaism. The Judaism with which the Christian Church found herself dealing was often not that of the OT, but a Hellenistic Judaism based on Greek dualism. The Jewish Philo of the 1st century equates quite significantly ‘philosopher’ and ‘ascetic’.[lxxviii] In Neo-Platonism the Oriental mysticism was united definitely with Greek metaphysics. Asceticism was the way of freedom from the fleshly. The way of salvation was escape from the body by pure thought or reason. The Letters of St Antony talk about the need to attain self-knowledge – love for the true self, and thereby for God. “For he who knows himself, knows God”.[lxxix] Here we can sense a connection to Gnostic teaching on knowledge (‘gnosis’) as a way to salvation and the Socratic “know thyself”.

In Hall’s opinion, the influence of Origen and of the Neo-Platonic conception on the Oriental Church was to emphasize dogma and the details of rituals on the basis of an extreme literal interpretation of Scripture.[lxxx] Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion characteristically calls Origen the “father of monastic theology”. [lxxxi] Hall goes on to argue that this development culminated in what he consider to be the ‘world-flight’ of Paul of Thebes, in his retreat to the desert. He also argues that this was only the logic of the transposition of Christian values preached by Cyprian and Origen, and that the heretical Manicheism and Gnosticism, fought by the Church, had eventually forced upon the Church their dualistic Oriental conception of life. From there the path was short to the hermit seclusion and the absolute isolation of the individual, as in the case of Antony and Simeon Stylites.[lxxxii]

Antony practiced asceticism alone in the fortress of the ‘Inner mountain’ for 20 years, until he came out, ‘pure in his soul’, maintaining “utter equilibrium, like on guided by reason”[lxxxiii]. Athanasius draws quite a stoic picture of him, according to its apatheia[lxxxiv] ideal: His soul was “not constricted by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure, nor affected by either laughter or dejection”.[lxxxv] Antony resembles here, in my opinion, more a stoic philosopher or an oriental Buddha, than a Semitic Jesus who cried, was angry, suffered and was troubled at times. Nevertheless, Antony came out of his solitude healing, comforting, and helping, in line with a Christian compassion ethics, and in the likeness of Jesus’ ministry after his 40 days of solitude and fasting in the wilderness.

Scholars, like Chitty, seem to disagree deeply with T.C. Hall and answers the question of Antony’s possible dualism differently: “Nothing could be further from St. Antony than any kind of Manichaen dualism”.[lxxxvi] Chitty supported his assertion with the quotation I earlier used in the ‘flesh’ part, in Antony’s own words: “our bodies where made for the resurrection”.[lxxxvii] It was in his theology made good, and it will once again be restored to its good function. Antony used to say: “The mind of the soul is strong, when the pleasures of the body are weak”[lxxxviii], he did not say: “when the body is weak”.

Antony himself speaks on asceticism in chapter 22 of Life that much prayer and asceticism is needed, but he also gives a warning in The Letters that many who have pursued asceticism throughout their life, was killed by lack of discernment.[lxxxix]




VI. THE IMPACT OF HIS BATTLE AND HIS TEACHINGS

Antony confronted the Church and its members with a radical definition of Christian identity and purpose. He became a “type of the Christian, the ideal portrait of the human being, as he should be”. The behavior and pursuits of the ascetic set the terms for the Church’s ideal of the life of devotion. Antony’s regimen became integral elements of ascetic piety: the importance of work, the role of scripture in prayer and exorcism, practice of fasting and sleeping on the ground, simple and harsh dress, and disregard for bodily needs and pleasures.[xc]

St Antony inspired many to follow an ascetic path. The Church Father Augustine was one of those who were greatly affected by St. Antony’s example as it is found in the Life. Even one of the emperors wrote to him for advice. The anchoritic ideal, personified in Antony and much of what he stood for, could be incorporated into the communal life of the monasteries. During each monastic revival, they looked back to ancient Egypt, to inaugurate a new Egypt and they called upon St. Antony, his example and his writings.[xci]

Much has happened in the history of the Church as well as in the history of asceticism since Antony’s time, and there has clearly been a later negative view of the body as sinful in itself. The practice of asceticism were at times corrupted as an end in itself, making the monk even more carnally minded than before he started his ascetical practices. There have been many examples of excessive, pathological and more or less hysterical mortification that shows a clear contempt for the body and almost a masochistic quest for pain and humiliation. In other instances asceticism in the Church has given birth to great saints and deep teaching. And it is not always easy to discern the difference. One way to discern could maybe be to ask if the motivation of the ascetic endeavors is a positive one, one of seeking God and his kingdom.

Antony’s goal was that of perfection and purification, but he also knew that the human nature was weak and fragile. Antony likened the discipline of the body with the shooting of arrows: if you draw the bow too hard, it will break.

CONCLUSION

Were my presumptions and prejudices affirmed during this research? I guess I feared somehow that my investigation of Antony’s asceticism would prompt me to follow in his footsteps in a literal manner. If Antony’s life and endeavors was an ideal to me as a Christian, it means that I would have to stay unmarried and live a strictly ascetic life if I wanted to be a devoted follower of Christ. Celibacy has been highly celebrated in the Catholic and Orthodox Church since Antony’s time, in spite of the value the Bible places on marriage and children. I will of course not blame Antony solely for this development, but still we must admit that he is an important contributor to the monastic development with its focus on celibacy and an ascetic lifestyle.

I feel that the material I gathered and read was not substantial to draw a final conclusion on Antony’s dualistic tendencies. On one hand I can see that Gnostic and Greek streams of thought and practices probably influenced him to some degree, on the basis of similarities of teachings, practices, phrases and expressions. However, a certain similar phenomenon placed before in time, is not necessarily the cause of the later phenomenon. Besides, two similar words used in a different contexts can have totally different meanings, and opposite, two different words can have the same meaning. My knowledge of the history and of the original languages I am referring to in this paper is very limited. Therefore I had to depend in great length on secondary sources that didn’t always document their argumentation very well. I had to deal mostly with their conclusions, as was the case with T.C. Hall who promoted the view that the early hermits were dualistic and pagan influenced, while Paul and the apostles were not, at least not to that degree. The ones that claimed the opposite view (that the hermits did not have dualistic traits) documented their claim even less.

The changes that occurred in theological emphasis and understanding of asceticism in late antiquity could also have developed from within Christianity itself, according to the Church’s need, time and context. Many Biblical scriptures are in a kind of ‘seed’ form and can be taken in several different directions. Everything can be used and misused. Also Paul adapts his message to his adherents and to the context. His theology seem to evolve from life lived and events experienced, and his epistles were written to peoples at different levels with different needs. I agree with the scholars who do not see in Paul or any of the other Biblical figures an urge to excessive asceticism. But even if Antony were influenced by non-Biblical sources, it does not need to undermine the authenticity of his teachings.

Through this research, I have learned to see Antony not as a person who is either right or wrong, and whom I need to follow or reject. Instead, I now see his life as a parable of an inner journey, his asceticism and renouncements as ideals of inner attitudes of devotion, detachment, generosity, endurance and trust. In this way I can relate to him and his spiritual inheritance in the middle of the world I am living in. The desert becomes a place in my heart, a desert which I can go to and have my solitude and my battles.

“In the desert of the heart, let the healing fountain start; in the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise.”
W.H. Auden.

“The desert is where, in profound and deepest silence, and only there, you hear the breaking of idols”
Tim Vivian
























NOTES

[i] Athanasius, The Life of Antony and the letters to Marcellinus, p. 38

[ii] See Archimandrite Kallistos Ware in the foreword of The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty
[iii] Matthew 19:21
[iv] See Gordon Waterfield, Egypt.
[v] See ibid.

[vi] See Michael W. Mcdellan, Monasticism of Egypt, p. 92

[vii] See Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 7
[viii] See ibid., p. 8
[ix] 1 Cor. 10:21
[x] See Diana Severance, Exorcizing the Desert, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/64h/

[xi] See Bendicta Ward SLG, The Lives of the Desert Fathers, Chapter II
[xii] Quoted by James Goehring, Exorcizing the Desert, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/64h
[xiii] ‘monk’ is derived from monachos, Greek word for ‘solitary one’
[xiv]See Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 8
[xv] Ibid., p. 42
[xvi] See James Goehring, Exorcizing the Desert, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/64h

[xvii] Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 2
[xviii] See ibid., p. 30-31
[xix] See ibid., p. 33-35
[xx] Ibid., p. 52
[xxi] Ibid., p. 92
[xxii] See ibid., p. 39
[xxiii] See ibid., p. 12
[xxiv]Athanasius, The Life, quote by Robert C. Gregg in the introduction, p. 13
[xxv] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 27
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 15
[xxvii]Athanasius, The Life, quote by William A. Clebsch in the preface, p. xv.
[xxviii] Quote from ibid., p. xvi
[xxix] See Tim Vivian, Journeying into God, p. 9
[xxx] Athanasius, The Life, p. 42
[xxxi] See ibid., p. 45
[xxxii] See ibid., p. 33-36
[xxxiii] See ibid., p. 46
[xxxiv] Ibid., p. 66
[xxxv] See also Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 22
[xxxvi] See ibid., p. 54
[xxxvii] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 19
[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 18
[xxxix] Athanasius, The Life, p. 72
[xl] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 20
[xli] Ibid., p. 11
[xlii] Ibid., p. 22
[xliii] See ibid., p. 9, my cursive
[xliv] Ibid., p. 27
[xlv] See glossary in The Philokalia, p. 361
[xlvi] See Encyclopedia of Biblical, theological, and Ecclesiastical literature, p. 593

[xlvii] See The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, King James Version
[xlviii] See G.H. Cohen Stuart, The struggle in man between good and evil, p. 81 and 115

[xlix] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 65
[l] See The Encyclopedia of Religion, chief editor: Mircea Eliade, p.110
[li] See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 104
[lii] See ibid., p. 104
[liii] Gal 5:16-17
[liv] Rom 8:13
[lv] 2. Cor. 12:10
[lvi]See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 106
[lvii] Gal 5:16
[lviii]1. Tim. 4:8
[lix]See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 105
[lx]Athanasius, The Life
[lxi]See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 74
[lxii] 2. Cor. 6:5
[lxiii] 1. Cor. 9:7
[lxiv] 1. Cor. 6:19
[lxv] 1. Cor. 15:42
[lxvi] Matt. 9:14
[lxvii] Gal 5:1ff
[lxviii] See Exodus, Luke 4 and Matthew 4
[lxix] Matthew 26:41
[lxx]See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 105
[lxxi] See Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical literature, editor McClintock, Vol. 3, p. 593-595
[lxxii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 73
[lxxiii] T.C. Hall in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, Introduction to “Asceticism, p. 64
[lxxiv] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 75
[lxxv] The author of the introduction of “Asceticism” in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, see Vol. 2, p. 63
[lxxvi] Wearing sandals had for instance no ascetic significance in warm countries, but in cold countries it became a symbol of self-denial. See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 63
[lxxvii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 73
[lxxviii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, Introduction to “Asceticism, p. 63
[lxxix] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 14
[lxxx] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, Introduction to “Asceticism, p. 67
[lxxxi] The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 10 p. 35
[lxxxii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 67
[lxxxiii] Tim Vivian, Journeying into God, p. 23
[lxxxiv] Meaning ‘control of passions’, Cassian rendered it ‘purity of heart’. See glossary in The Philokalia, p. 361
[lxxxv] Athanasius, The Life, p. 42
[lxxxvi] The letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, quote from introduction, p. ix
[lxxxvii] Ibid., quoted by Chitty on p. ix
[lxxxviii] See Tim Vivian, Journeying into God, p.18
[lxxxix] See The letters of St. Antony the Great, p. 23
[xc]See Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 6-7
[xci] See ibid., p. 15-16

Mona

Saint Antony: The Way of Perfection

INTRODUCTION

“…The demons, as if breaking through the building’s four walls, and seeming to enter through them, were changed into the form of beasts and reptiles…altogether the sounds of all the creatures that appeared were terrible, and their ragings were fierce.
Struck and wounded by them, Antony’s body was subject to yet more pain. But unmoved and even more watchful in his soul he lay there...”[i]

This kind of battle against demons is foreign to most people of the 21.century. The strict and extreme asceticism of the Desert Fathers does not have a good reputation either, in our hedonic age were pleasure and prosperity is the way to fulfillment. My own interest in St. Anthony stems from a love for the desert and desert retreats, for the vastness, beauty, silence and solitude of it. Nevertheless, St. Anthony, the 3rd century hermit from Egypt, did not go to the desert to enjoy the beauty, though at one point he did say that he loved the place. No matter the reason he went, what he found was temptations and demons, confronted with his fears, limitations and inclinations, in his quest for purity and perfection.

In writing this paper, I will have to try to put aside some of my presumptions and prejudices against asceticism, which mainly stems from the fact that I have grown up in a North European, Protestant environment. Many of us have an admiration for simplicity and a longing for solitude, but at the same time we often regard ascetic endeavors as a suspiciously Catholic way of trying to earn salvation by works. Christianity has always had to deal with questions concerning the relationship between soul and body, the sacred and the profane, and it seems to have answered these questions differently, in different contexts at different times. My purpose with this paper is to investigate St. Anthony’s asceticism: it’s geographical connections, it’s Biblical basis, it’s theological implications and it’s historical context and consequences

Sources
In my investigation I have been more interested in the ideological background and implications of Antony’s asceticism, than in discussing whether the actual events took place or not. “The Life of St. Antony”, the classic biography about the hermit Antony of Egypt, is written by the contemporary bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius. The Life or Vita (in Latin) of Athanasius might not be a historically authentic biography, but it gives a good insight in the thinking of that day and of the view people had of Anthony, since Athanasius was a contemporary of him. The accuracy of St. Athanasius is in many cases, however, confirmed from other sources.
The Life terms Antony ‘unlettered’, but he may have dictated his teaching. A series of seven letters ascribed to him exist, but their authenticity is questionable. They where written originally in Coptic, and a part of those survived. Versions of all of them exist in Georgian and Latin.[ii] I have chosen to use the seven letters, The Letters of St. Antony the Great in Derwas J. Chitty’s translation, as a source of reconstructing Antony’s teaching, as these letters were impacting the Church. Other sources I have used are secondary literature, mainly about the life of St. Antony, the Desert Fathers, desert spirituality and asceticism.

I have called this paper “The Way of Perfection” because of the Bible verse St Antony presumably was called by: “if thou wilt be perfect…”[iii] In his asceticism, Antony strived for perfection and called for a repentance in body and soul to purify them both. The subtitle also needs a commentary. In Antony’s own words it would probably be more correct to say: “His battle against the fallen self”. Antony does not use the word ‘flesh’ much in the documents that I have investigated; nevertheless, he uses other expressions that correspond with the meaning of “flesh” as it is expressed in Paul’s writings. “Antony’s battle against the flesh” was the title I had before I even started investigating him, and it reflects my associations to a dualistic battle between Spirit and flesh, good and evil. At the starting point of my research, I wanted to find out to what degree Antony, as a representative for the desert fathers and the early monastic movement, were influenced by dualistic thinking, and to what extent they were based on an authentic Biblical understanding. I found that the “flesh” was a good notion to discuss, in that connection, because it involves metaphysical aspects as well as ethical, and it is a central Biblical notion which can be used in placing Antony’s asceticism in a Biblical context.

I. THE HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL SETTING

St. Antony was born in an Egypt where Greek was the dominant culture and language. He was also born of Christian parents, in a time where Christianity was spreading rapidly, taking over the cities, but still victim of waves of persecution.

The religious and philosophical center of Egypt, Alexandria, was a vast and tolerant city of two nations, Greek and Egyptian, with the Jews as a third nation[iv]. From the middle of the 3rd century the Christians grew in numbers, and Alexandria became a center of Christian learning. The great theologians and Church Fathers Origines and Clement, had both their seats in Alexandria and were both influenced by a Greek love for discussion and the desire to find a rational basis for their beliefs and ideas, which in turn led to great confusion and strife in the Christian world[v]. The bishop Clement sought, according to Waterfield, to reconcile Greek sciences with the Holy Scriptures. He also claims that Christianity was influenced by Plato and of his view of the world as an imperfect copy of an ideal world, with the conclusion that the present world was of no importance. We will investigate this claim and the historic background more thoroughly in the part about Antony’s place in the history of asceticism.

Egypt is mainly a desert country, except for the rich and fertile areas along the river Nile, as it was in the time of St. Antony. From his time and forward more and more people were moving out of the cities and fertile areas to desolate places, to almost inaccessible places in the desert and the mountains. From AD 200 there was a series of terrible persecutions of the Christians by Roman Emperors. The end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century has been called “Era of Martyrs”, and thousands escaped to the desert during this time.

Otto F.A. Meinardus says in Monasticism of Egypt,[vi] that one major reason for the withdrawal of the Christians into the desert was their periodic persecution; another reason was probably their desire for solitude, detachment and the possibility of living a Biblical life of renouncement, as they understood it. The desert life was as much warfare as solitude though;[vii] it was an ambiguous retreat: a separation from the distractions and pressures of ordinary human community, but the wilderness held more significant challenges and dangers.[viii]

In the desert the pilgrim was deprived from everything given. The inner life could freely play its part without being choked by the impressions of busy city life. The silence made it possible to hear ones thoughts more clearly, and hopefully even the voice of God, when the mind had calmed down into the pace of the desert. But demons where also met in the desolate places, when the senses were deprived of its usual stimuli, and lack of food and sleep made its well known impact on the human organism and the ascetic started seeing things others did not. Whatever caused these visions; they were taken as a part of the spiritual quest and made usually sense theologically. In the Bible Jesus also meets the devil after a long fast. But even if it was the fast that caused him to see the evil one, it does not diminish or reduce the reality, importance or impact of the experience.

‘Pagan’ means ‘rural’ or from the countryside, and refer to the heathen costumes that still lingered in the countryside. Christianity grew first in the cities, while the countryside was still heathen. The Christian cities where therefore surrounded by pagans and pagan costumes. Paul called the pagan gods demons.[ix] And in this case the unseen spiritual powers took the forms of Egyptian animal gods, inhabiting deserted temples, statues, caves and desert areas. Stories of the warrior-monks of the desert fighting demons showed how Christ was turning back worldliness and paganism, spreading his lordship, even over the demon-filled desert.[x]

The outsiders’ view of the monks were, according to Benedicta Ward in The Lives of the Desert Fathers, that they lived as true citizens of heaven. They where the walls of the cities, keeping the world in its being. They were defenders and guardians of the world’s peace, armed against the demons for the sake of mankind. Prayers were a great action to be fulfilled in the society, purifying the atmosphere by their presence. The monk was a focus of spiritual power for his neighbors. The view the monk had of himself, on the contrary, was primarily as the poor man, the sinner, defined by his own need. He kept the walls of the city by being involved with mankind in the deepest sense. They also made the desert blossom through their agricultural projects, and it was rare for anyone in need to be found near the monasteries. At the same time they mocked the world with their own poverty. [xi]

The desert is a simple place where you only have to worry about three things: beating the temperature, finding food and water, and not getting lost. This simplicity; the desert’s relentless pitting of man against the elemental forces of nature, and the great joy and beauty to be discovered in it by those who mastered it, parallel the spiritual understanding of St Antony. The desert was like a macro cosmos of the human self, where the passions of the flesh were engaged in a continuous battle for supremacy and dominion over the soul. Just as thirst led to death if water was not found, so could passions lead to spiritual death if not properly trained and tamed.

One of the Fathers said: “God beareth with the sins of those who live in the world, but He will not endure the sins of those who live in the desert”.[xii] There were somehow other rules for the desert dwellers than for ordinary people; they were like soldiers on the battlefield who would die if they were not awake and fit.

II. ST ANTONY AS THE “FATHER OF MONKS”

St. Antony was not the first monk[xiii], but very much thanks to bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, he was later to be called “the Father of Monks”. Athanasius motives for writing his biography might have been mixed. Antony was already a popular figure, and if he could attach Antony to his side of the battle against the Arian heresy, he would probably win more support. Nevertheless, it is not unlikely that Antony had an orthodox faith; many of the letters attributed to him and stories about him are testimonies of that.

As mentioned St Antony was not the first ascetic. Already holy men were living as solitaries on the fringes of villages. Antony’s distinctive contribution was his transfer of the monastic life from the periphery of established communities to the isolated and barren wilderness.[xiv] When he, after 20 years solitude, came out of his fortress, he persuaded many to take up the solitary life. “And so, from then on, there were monasteries in the mountains and the desert was made a city of monks…”[xv]

Renunciation of the world had nourished the growth of Christianity from the start. Within cities, Christian philosophers and teachers learned from the ascetic lifestyles of their non-Christian counterparts[xvi]. There were two distinct forms of monasticism evolving at this time:
1) Anchoritic monasticism: a hermit living alone or in small ascetic houses (from the greek word anachorein, to withdraw, to leave
2) Cenobitic monasticism: cenobite – from koinos bios “common life” a more elaborate form of village asceticism, later to dominate monasticism.
Gradually, the withdrawal from the world in these lifestyles, practiced often in the towns and villages of Egypt, became separate spatially as more and more ascetics withdrew into the desert.

III. THE LIFE OF ST ANTONY

The Life was according to the author Athanasius, written and dispatched to the monks abroad, so that they might lead themselves in imitation of Antony, for “Antony’s way of life provides monks with a sufficient picture for ascetic practice”[xvii]

Antony was born between 250 and 252 A.D. of wealthy parents, and reared in a Christian manner. He had already as a child certain ascetic traits, for he was always content with what he had and always obedient to his parents. Six months after he lost his parents and was left with a much younger sister to take care of, he received a calling from God. It was a call he understood to mean renouncing the world, through the words of Jesus quoted in the gospel of Matthew 19:21: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast…” As a wealthy boy of about 18 or even 20 Antony started on a path of renunciation.[xviii]

Antony’s spiritual journey into the desert was in two stages according to Tim Vivian in his book Journeying into God:
1) an evangelical stage of hearing and heeding to God’s call, and 2) a leave-taking, a separation which became geographical, in a further and further movement into the isolation of the desert, until he moved to a fortress in what he called the “inner mountain” far to the south of Alexandria, were there were no other humans. In spite of his increasing inaccessibility, he became a destination for pilgrims; he had a constant stream of visitors, and he was forced to be involved with people and their affairs.

What were Antony’s motives for withdrawing from the community? Was the responsibility of caring for home and a younger sister too much for him, or was it a real call from God? Maybe it was a mixed motivation. We will never know, but we do know that he was not the only one who understood the Christian call for perfection in this manner, although his response to the call became a pattern for later generations, and an ideal of Christian piety throughout the monastic revivals of Church history.

Antony’s leave-taking started with a visit to a man who lived a solitary life in the neighboring village, to learn from him. At first Antony also remained close to his village, and whenever he heard about a zealous person he went to him to learn. The devil, Athanasius writes, could not bear seeing such purpose in a youth, and attempted to lead him away from the discipline, through memories of past pleasures and the thought of the rigor of virtue that awaited him. Antony overcame these temptations and others with faith, prayers and fasting. [xix]

Did Antony regard salvation to be accessible to every Christian? I have not found any quotations of Antony that speaks directly about salvation and how a person is saved and what it exactly involves, but he does speak about the grace of God on the way to perfection. The enemy fell and his power diminished because “ the Lord made his sojourn with us”[xx] The healings Antony did, were also not from Antony himself, but “the Lord bringing his benevolence to effect through Antony.”[xxi] After he was almost killed by demons, Christ revealed himself in a beam of light and came to his rescue from the assaults of the demons.[xxii]

It has been suggested that this part of the biography is very much meant as a confrontation with the heresy of Arian. Robert C. Gregg argues in his introduction to The Life[xxiii] that Athanasius, throughout the book, demonstrates how an orthodox understanding of salvation controlled Antony’s discipline and advance in virtue. The victories and miracles were not his own accomplishments, but works of Christ. The instance with the beam of light clearly bears the stamp of Athanasius’s Nicene Christology – “the help and deliverance of creatures can derive only from the Son’s divine brilliance”.[xxiv]

Antony himself writes in The Letters of St. Antony the Great: “by the Spirit we were sanctified by Christ”[xxv] So it is not by works, although he says in another place: “unless each one of you hate all nature of earthly possession, and renounce it and all its works… he cannot be saved.”[xxvi] Here it looks as if asceticism is necessary for salvation. The soul labors until God has pity upon him and purifies him. He seems to advocate a cooperation of man’s labor and God’s grace.

In a prolonging of the question above, we can also ask: did Antony receive deification and merit through discipline? Athanasius’ story start with a conversion, “to the convertibility of one en route to Christian salvation.”[xxvii] Here the answer to the earlier question might lie: Athanasius’s Christian salvation means consistently deification. Antony became a man-god by the god-man; or in the words of the Church Father Ireneus on Jesus: “He became as we are that we might become as He is.”[xxviii]

Antony’s goal was to be a ‘lover of God’, and therefore he did not allow any distractions to draw him away from God.[xxix] He seemed to long for a complete identification with Christ, and in many instances in the biography it also seems that Athanasius depict Antony as deified or at least in the very likeness of Christ. When Antony comes forth from the tombs he had been living in, after 20 years of solitude and ascetic life in chapter 14, he comes forth as someone who has been initiated into the old, pagan mysteries, where the neophyte was buried/laid in a coffin and raised again to new life and union with the godhead. “ Antony came forth as though from a shrine, having been led into divine mysteries and inspired by God” [xxx] and he did all kinds of good deeds.

Athanasius’ Antony says that God works for good with everyone who chooses the good; and that we need to die daily to avoid sinning.[xxxi] Is Antony putting a yoke on his shoulders, is it a burdensome path he has chosen, a legalistic way? When the devil first tempted him, that was one of the fears he brought up in him: the thought of the rigor of virtue and the great labor that was ahead of him, but he overcame this temptation, and later Athanasius writes that Antony bore the labor with ease.[xxxii]

This leads us to another question: whether his asceticism was excessive and in some way pathological? Many times he did not sleep in the night, ate only bread and salt once a day, slept often on the bare ground and so forth. Still his asceticism was far more moderate than many of the hermits that came after him. Balance and equilibrium was highly valued by him. When he came forth in chapter 14, he was neither fat nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons. He also argued that the “straight path” of Isaiah 40:3, in his interpretation one of discipline, is the natural way of the soul.[xxxiii] At the same time he ‘yearned to suffer martyrdom’[xxxiv] as many other devoted believers of that time. It is as if excessive asceticism takes the place that martyrdom and natural suffering for Christ had in the lives of the early believers.[xxxv]

Battle against demons:
Who are the foes in Antony’s battle? Some of them are: the passions, the belly, the body; particular elements that stem from two main sources of spiritual downfall to be found in Antony’s design: the fallen self, and the demons. The latter will help us to understand the former. The confrontations with the demons might be connected with Antony’s purpose to fight the flesh for the sake of perfection. At the same time The Life says that the demons actually fear the ascetics.[xxxvi]

The Vita suggests that the devil starts his attack with a certain kind of ‘intellectual interruption’. First when Antony has expelled the demons’ temptations from the interior of the mind, the demons begin to attack externally. They also work hardening of heart, selfishness, sensual desires and all kind of sinful attributes, all of them deceits whereby they make us their slaves: “we serve as bodies for them [the evil spirits]”,[xxxvii] and “they [the evil spirits] envy us at all times, with their evil counsel, and hidden persecution, and subtle malice, and spirit of seduction, and their blasphemous thoughts, and their infidelities which they sow in our heart every day.”[xxxviii] The demonic denotes everything that was hostile to man, also summed up all that was anomalous and incomplete in man.

Battle against the flesh:
The other great source of downfall in the Life is the human, fallen self, capable of just as much spiritual unrest and destruction as the demons. The difference is the self’s ability to being transformed into good, while the other remains forever evil. On the other hand, Antony is clear that neither the body nor the demons were created evil from the beginning: By the freedom given by God, angels became demons and the human self – body and soul, became a distraction and hindrance along the ascetic path. This brings us to Antony’s understanding of ‘body’ and ‘flesh’




IV. ST ANTONY’S NOTION OF THE ‘FLESH’ COMPARED WITH THE BIBLICAL NOTION

One of the things Antony warns the monks against is “the pleasures of the flesh”.[xxxix] Here he is most likely to mean the body only, for he also warns explicitly against lewd thoughts and vanity, which in Paul’s understanding might have been characterized as ‘fleshly’ as well. Some scholars claim that in the Life, the body is not evil, but simply misused, and thus evil in its effects. Properly transformed back into its created state, it is a wholly good gift and blessing from God. Through ascetic discipline we are reclaiming ourselves from the fallen state.

In The Letters Antony uses the expression ‘heavy body in which we dwell’.[xl] We can here see that the body is something which draws the soul or the spirit down towards earthly things, material things, which is not of the good, clearly shown in this quotation: “Jesus knew that the devil derives his power from the material things of this world.”[xli] Another place he uses the expression ‘body of corruption’: “Our intellectual nature, hidden in the body of corruption – not from the beginning, - and is to be freed from it.”[xlii] He also says that the rational man knows himself in his intellectual substance, not to be dissolved with the body.[xliii] The expressions ‘intellectual body’ and ‘intellectual substance’[xliv] appear to be synonymous with ‘spirit’ or the ‘rational soul’ in Antony’s vocabulary. The quotation indicates that the soul’s goal is to get free from the body, as in Gnostic and other Greek teaching. But does this mean freedom from the body as such, or freedom from the dominion of the body? The answer to that question would actually clarify whether Antony is dualistic oriented or not (which I will discuss more further down).

Lets go on to look at some definitions of the word ‘flesh’:[xlv]
Flesh – sarx – has various senses: i) the human in contrast to the divine; ii) fallen and sinful nature in contrast to human nature as originally created and dwelling in communion with God; iii) the body in contrast to the soul. ‘Flesh’ is applied generally to the whole animal creation, and is used both in NT and OT with a variety of meanings: physical, metaphysical, and ethical, the latter especially in Paul’s writings. In his writings it most often denotes degeneracy, weakness; counterpart of divine strength.[xlvi] The literal translation of the word ‘flesh’ to Hebrew is ‘basar’ which stems from a root that denotes its freshness. Can also mean ‘body’, ‘person’, ‘mankind’, ‘self’, ‘skin’.[xlvii] Gen. 6:12 says that all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth”, and Psalm 78:39: “… they were but flesh. A breath that passes away and does not come again”, speaking about the temporality of the human flesh, here probably a soul-body constitution.

When ‘flesh’ is used in the second sense of the above definition, it is important to distinguish it from ‘body’ – soma. In Gal 5:19-21 Paul lists the works of the flesh and mentions ‘sedition’, ‘heresy’ and ‘envy’, which has no special connections with the body, and must be understood to include also aspects of the soul. To find a similar expression in the Hebrew Bible, we need to go to the word ‘yeser’. In the 2nd century B.C it meant something like ‘disposition’ or ‘possibility to choose’. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the word ‘yeser’ implies ‘human creatureliness’ in the sense of corporality and desire. In rabbinical texts it means ‘inclination’, ‘urge’, ‘desire’, ‘tempter’. “Yeser hara’ can be translated as the ‘evil inclination’ and in that sense it can be compared with both Paul’s and Antony’s notion of flesh – the evil impulse which dwells in the body (it is not the body). However, they cannot be taken as completely coinciding notions, on the bases of the differences in worldviews, even inherent in the languages.[xlviii]

In canonical Judaism the spiritual life is not being trained, nor is the body being destroyed as a thing evil in itself.[xlix] To the Semites in the earliest times the soul was simply the physical breath, always closely connected with the body. The Egyptian conception was that the soul was a concrete entity that left the body at the moment of death, and it was not holier than the body.[l] The seemingly ascetic practices in Judaism depend on a dualism of pure an impure, clean and unclean, rather than on a dualism of body and soul. It was the holiness of God that called forth certain restrictions with respect to the world and the body, and the restrictions were usually only for brief periods to effect ritual purity.[li] The ascetic impulse of the Essene community came, according to Mircea Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion, from non-Semitic sources, possibly from a dualistic Zoroastrian origin, but could also have been a natural heightening of the Levitical, priestly purity. Others argue that the dichotomy in the Qumran community is not even between soul and body, but between the present age and the age to come, and that many of the ascetical tendencies in the NT, was of an eschatological nature as well and could not be interpreted in dualistic terms.[lii]

Both in Romans and Galatians we can clearly see a dichotomy of ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ and ‘spirit.’ “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh.”[liii] ‘Flesh’ has here an ethical and metaphysical connotation that we can recognize in Antony’s ‘pleasure of the flesh’ and his notion of the ‘fallen self’. Paul continues: “…if you live according to the flesh you will die: but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”[liv] Being “led by the Spirit of God” may involve progressively putting to death the sinful appetites of the lower, sinful nature. We can ask what comes first, the leading of the Spirit, or the putting to death, disciplining of our flesh? 1. Cor 9:27 talk explicitly about the disciplining of the body, bringing it into subjection; 2. Thimothy 2:4 teach us to endure hardship as a soldier, and in verse 22 to flee our youthful lusts. Paul meets many difficulties and experiences persecution, and in this context, he writes the verse: “When I am weak, then I am strong”[lv]. Antony is quoting this Scripture in chapter 7 in “Life”, to encourage ascetic life. Antony seems to impose on himself, some of the sufferings that is imposed on Paul by others or circumstances.

An article on asceticism in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity[lvi] states that Paul’s attitude to marriage and celibacy is more eschatological than ascetical motivated. In opposition to Marcion, the Church Father Tertullian protests against the rising tide of ascetic denial of marriage in his time. In OT it is clear that marriage and childbearing were national fundamental virtues in Israel. He who would “walk by the Spirit”[lvii] must turn away from all works of the flesh, but this is no angel-like spirituality or “hating of one’s own flesh” in the Neo-Platonic or Oriental dualistic meaning, no one-sided bodily exercise and mortification: “for physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things”.[lviii] The article in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity[lix] also argues that there is no sharp dualism between body and soul in Paul. His ascetic stances are rather motivated by a belief in the imminent return of Christ, a sense of shortness of time. Antony is interpreting many verses literally, that might have been interpreted in an eschatological context. The shortness of time referred to in the Scriptures, Antony reads as an attitude to life in general: “As we rise daily, let us suppose that we shall not survive till evening…”[lx]

O. Zockler argues in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics that acts of ascetic discipline and training in virtue are contemplated in the NT as allowable, or even as necessary according to time and circumstances, in the sphere of Christianity.[lxi] Paul himself submit to fastings, watchings, cold, nakedness, etc;[lxii] and ‘bruises’ and ‘subdues’ his body after the manner of athletes.[lxiii] The body in Corinthians though, has a positive connotation in being called the “Temple of the Holy Spirit”.[lxiv] The body is sown in corruption, but raised in incorruption.[lxv] It is the seed of the resurrection. All creation awaits this redemption.

In the gospel of John the ‘flesh’ denotes human nature in contrast to divine nature: “The Word became flesh”, but not sinfulness. Flesh in Christ was only in the “likeness of sinful flesh”. Yet, he was tempted, experienced hunger, suffering and death, and his body was not glorified before after the resurrection. This leads us to the question whether Jesus needed to fight his flesh, and whether he gave his followers an ascetic pattern to follow. In Matthew 6:16 Jesus anticipated fasting, but His disciples did not emphasize it during His lifetime,[lxvi] and this attitude coincides with St Paul’s doctrine of Christian freedom.[lxvii] He excludes here any emphasis on such practice as necessary.

The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness can be read as a preparation for his ministry as earlier mentioned. It lasted for 40 days, as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, lasted for 40 years. In both cases the stay in the wilderness was never an end in itself, but a stage on the path to freedom and fruitfulness. In the case of Israel, they had come out of Egypt, but Egypt had not come out of them. They rebelled and they fell into temptations, and several of these temptations had to do with the desires and cravings of the belly. Even one of Jesus’ temptations was connected with the body and the belly: the temptation of making stones to bread. Jesus overcame the devil’s temptation with Scripture, as did Antony on many occasions.[lxviii] Jesus said: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”.[lxix] He seems here to encourage vigilance to a certain degree, even though this was said in the context of the garden of Gethsemane. “The Jesus of the gospel was not ascetic”, claims the writer of the article in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, on the basis of Matthew 11:19: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. Even so, the blessings on the poor and the woes on the rich in the Sermon of the Mount suggest an association of spiritual wealth with earthly poverty. The call to forsake one’s parents and sell what one had, the article argues, were again eschatological motivated.[lxx]

The meaning of the word ‘flesh’ in the Bible seem to gradually extend from a physical to a metaphysical to an ethical sense, and according to the Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical literature, there is no idea of essential sin as lying in the flesh. Flesh in itself is neither bad nor sinful. It is the heart that gives entrance to sin and puts itself in Gods place, and by this the inner man, the spirit, looses his energy to govern the flesh, and the flesh starts opposing the divine commands, and gives rise to the “lusts of the flesh”. Both selfishness and sensualism, has then their seat in the flesh, and is signified in Gal 5:19 as “works of the flesh” Those interpreters who consider it as meaning, exclusively the bodily, sinful side of human nature, may fall into the errors of the Manichaens.[lxxi]

VI. ST ANTONY IN THE HISTORY OF ASCETECISM

Let us start this part with a definition: ‘Asceticism’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘training’ or ‘exercise’, ‘practice’. The ‘athlete’ was one trained, and one might be an ‘athlete’ in virtue. The ascetic became the spiritual athlete of Church History.[lxxii]

“Every system of morals enforces the discipline of the will”.[lxxiii] Ascesis is discipline, a practice of denying self for a higher goal. The average peasant’s life in the time of Antony, was involuntarily ascetic. The extreme nature of the desert monk’s asceticism may be seen in this context. Asceticism was designed to help the monk achieve apatheia – a clearly focused “single” and pure heart. This is also a stoic ideal that Clement upholds.[lxxiv]

One of the tasks Antony gave himself, was to achieve a state of ‘unceasing prayer’, a constant communion with God. To acquire this state required training, both of body and spirit. The powers of the body were ‘dragging down’ the soul of the monk with their habits, and had therefore to be tamed. Those habits could for instance be tamed through:
- fasting
- vigilance
- poverty
- denying oneself comfort
- concede little time to the body
As a part of his asceticism, Antony also went to great lengths to foster in others and in himself, intellectual (in the meaning of ‘spiritual’) attitudes as humility, patience, gentleness, love, and chastity, always striving to view one’s life as one of continually new beginnings.

In investigating Antony’s place in the history of asceticism we need to consider the different forms of asceticism and look at possible roots and streams of thoughts concerning them. According to T.C.Hall[lxxv] we can differentiate between these two conceptions in the history of asceticism:
1) Disciplinary asceticism: Discipline of the body for some ultimate purpose. Preserves the original meaning of the word.
2) Dualistic asceticism: Not training, but destroying the body or negation of its importance, that the soul may be free. Based on a metaphysical dualism which separates soul and body, God and the world, material and spiritual, into sharply contrasted realities.
Some practices that seem ascetic might be the mere survival of past costumes or work as symbols of self-mortification.[lxxvi] To primitive man a famine was viewed as an infliction of demons, and self-inflicted periods of hunger (fasting) could be the remedy for the conciliation of the demons. We can also separate between an inward form of asceticism (prayers in the heart, control of the mind etc) and an outward form (fasting, poverty, sexual abstinence and so on). Both forms of asceticism were already known to classical antiquity, especially in the teachings of Pythagoras and Socrates downwards. The Stoic school, the Cynics and the later Platonists beginning with Plutarch all valued the ascetic habit of life. The moral strictness and the earnest demand for virtue, formed the connecting link between the Jewish, Christian ideal of life and the ‘wisdom’ of the Greco-Roman philosophers.[lxxvii]

“Very early in its history the transformation of Christianity from a life to a philosophy of life began”, T.C. Hall claims. He argues that this change is already evident in several NT books, notably the Ephesians to Hebrews, with influence of Philo and Alexandrine Judaism. The Judaism with which the Christian Church found herself dealing was often not that of the OT, but a Hellenistic Judaism based on Greek dualism. The Jewish Philo of the 1st century equates quite significantly ‘philosopher’ and ‘ascetic’.[lxxviii] In Neo-Platonism the Oriental mysticism was united definitely with Greek metaphysics. Asceticism was the way of freedom from the fleshly. The way of salvation was escape from the body by pure thought or reason. The Letters of St Antony talk about the need to attain self-knowledge – love for the true self, and thereby for God. “For he who knows himself, knows God”.[lxxix] Here we can sense a connection to Gnostic teaching on knowledge (‘gnosis’) as a way to salvation and the Socratic “know thyself”.

In Hall’s opinion, the influence of Origen and of the Neo-Platonic conception on the Oriental Church was to emphasize dogma and the details of rituals on the basis of an extreme literal interpretation of Scripture.[lxxx] Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion characteristically calls Origen the “father of monastic theology”. [lxxxi] Hall goes on to argue that this development culminated in what he consider to be the ‘world-flight’ of Paul of Thebes, in his retreat to the desert. He also argues that this was only the logic of the transposition of Christian values preached by Cyprian and Origen, and that the heretical Manicheism and Gnosticism, fought by the Church, had eventually forced upon the Church their dualistic Oriental conception of life. From there the path was short to the hermit seclusion and the absolute isolation of the individual, as in the case of Antony and Simeon Stylites.[lxxxii]

Antony practiced asceticism alone in the fortress of the ‘Inner mountain’ for 20 years, until he came out, ‘pure in his soul’, maintaining “utter equilibrium, like on guided by reason”[lxxxiii]. Athanasius draws quite a stoic picture of him, according to its apatheia[lxxxiv] ideal: His soul was “not constricted by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure, nor affected by either laughter or dejection”.[lxxxv] Antony resembles here, in my opinion, more a stoic philosopher or an oriental Buddha, than a Semitic Jesus who cried, was angry, suffered and was troubled at times. Nevertheless, Antony came out of his solitude healing, comforting, and helping, in line with a Christian compassion ethics, and in the likeness of Jesus’ ministry after his 40 days of solitude and fasting in the wilderness.

Scholars, like Chitty, seem to disagree deeply with T.C. Hall and answers the question of Antony’s possible dualism differently: “Nothing could be further from St. Antony than any kind of Manichaen dualism”.[lxxxvi] Chitty supported his assertion with the quotation I earlier used in the ‘flesh’ part, in Antony’s own words: “our bodies where made for the resurrection”.[lxxxvii] It was in his theology made good, and it will once again be restored to its good function. Antony used to say: “The mind of the soul is strong, when the pleasures of the body are weak”[lxxxviii], he did not say: “when the body is weak”.

Antony himself speaks on asceticism in chapter 22 of Life that much prayer and asceticism is needed, but he also gives a warning in The Letters that many who have pursued asceticism throughout their life, was killed by lack of discernment.[lxxxix]




VI. THE IMPACT OF HIS BATTLE AND HIS TEACHINGS

Antony confronted the Church and its members with a radical definition of Christian identity and purpose. He became a “type of the Christian, the ideal portrait of the human being, as he should be”. The behavior and pursuits of the ascetic set the terms for the Church’s ideal of the life of devotion. Antony’s regimen became integral elements of ascetic piety: the importance of work, the role of scripture in prayer and exorcism, practice of fasting and sleeping on the ground, simple and harsh dress, and disregard for bodily needs and pleasures.[xc]

St Antony inspired many to follow an ascetic path. The Church Father Augustine was one of those who were greatly affected by St. Antony’s example as it is found in the Life. Even one of the emperors wrote to him for advice. The anchoritic ideal, personified in Antony and much of what he stood for, could be incorporated into the communal life of the monasteries. During each monastic revival, they looked back to ancient Egypt, to inaugurate a new Egypt and they called upon St. Antony, his example and his writings.[xci]

Much has happened in the history of the Church as well as in the history of asceticism since Antony’s time, and there has clearly been a later negative view of the body as sinful in itself. The practice of asceticism were at times corrupted as an end in itself, making the monk even more carnally minded than before he started his ascetical practices. There have been many examples of excessive, pathological and more or less hysterical mortification that shows a clear contempt for the body and almost a masochistic quest for pain and humiliation. In other instances asceticism in the Church has given birth to great saints and deep teaching. And it is not always easy to discern the difference. One way to discern could maybe be to ask if the motivation of the ascetic endeavors is a positive one, one of seeking God and his kingdom.

Antony’s goal was that of perfection and purification, but he also knew that the human nature was weak and fragile. Antony likened the discipline of the body with the shooting of arrows: if you draw the bow too hard, it will break.

CONCLUSION

Were my presumptions and prejudices affirmed during this research? I guess I feared somehow that my investigation of Antony’s asceticism would prompt me to follow in his footsteps in a literal manner. If Antony’s life and endeavors was an ideal to me as a Christian, it means that I would have to stay unmarried and live a strictly ascetic life if I wanted to be a devoted follower of Christ. Celibacy has been highly celebrated in the Catholic and Orthodox Church since Antony’s time, in spite of the value the Bible places on marriage and children. I will of course not blame Antony solely for this development, but still we must admit that he is an important contributor to the monastic development with its focus on celibacy and an ascetic lifestyle.

I feel that the material I gathered and read was not substantial to draw a final conclusion on Antony’s dualistic tendencies. On one hand I can see that Gnostic and Greek streams of thought and practices probably influenced him to some degree, on the basis of similarities of teachings, practices, phrases and expressions. However, a certain similar phenomenon placed before in time, is not necessarily the cause of the later phenomenon. Besides, two similar words used in a different contexts can have totally different meanings, and opposite, two different words can have the same meaning. My knowledge of the history and of the original languages I am referring to in this paper is very limited. Therefore I had to depend in great length on secondary sources that didn’t always document their argumentation very well. I had to deal mostly with their conclusions, as was the case with T.C. Hall who promoted the view that the early hermits were dualistic and pagan influenced, while Paul and the apostles were not, at least not to that degree. The ones that claimed the opposite view (that the hermits did not have dualistic traits) documented their claim even less.

The changes that occurred in theological emphasis and understanding of asceticism in late antiquity could also have developed from within Christianity itself, according to the Church’s need, time and context. Many Biblical scriptures are in a kind of ‘seed’ form and can be taken in several different directions. Everything can be used and misused. Also Paul adapts his message to his adherents and to the context. His theology seem to evolve from life lived and events experienced, and his epistles were written to peoples at different levels with different needs. I agree with the scholars who do not see in Paul or any of the other Biblical figures an urge to excessive asceticism. But even if Antony were influenced by non-Biblical sources, it does not need to undermine the authenticity of his teachings.

Through this research, I have learned to see Antony not as a person who is either right or wrong, and whom I need to follow or reject. Instead, I now see his life as a parable of an inner journey, his asceticism and renouncements as ideals of inner attitudes of devotion, detachment, generosity, endurance and trust. In this way I can relate to him and his spiritual inheritance in the middle of the world I am living in. The desert becomes a place in my heart, a desert which I can go to and have my solitude and my battles.

“In the desert of the heart, let the healing fountain start; in the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise.”
W.H. Auden.

“The desert is where, in profound and deepest silence, and only there, you hear the breaking of idols”
Tim Vivian
























NOTES

[i] Athanasius, The Life of Antony and the letters to Marcellinus, p. 38

[ii] See Archimandrite Kallistos Ware in the foreword of The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty
[iii] Matthew 19:21
[iv] See Gordon Waterfield, Egypt.
[v] See ibid.

[vi] See Michael W. Mcdellan, Monasticism of Egypt, p. 92

[vii] See Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 7
[viii] See ibid., p. 8
[ix] 1 Cor. 10:21
[x] See Diana Severance, Exorcizing the Desert, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/64h/

[xi] See Bendicta Ward SLG, The Lives of the Desert Fathers, Chapter II
[xii] Quoted by James Goehring, Exorcizing the Desert, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/64h
[xiii] ‘monk’ is derived from monachos, Greek word for ‘solitary one’
[xiv]See Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 8
[xv] Ibid., p. 42
[xvi] See James Goehring, Exorcizing the Desert, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/64h

[xvii] Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 2
[xviii] See ibid., p. 30-31
[xix] See ibid., p. 33-35
[xx] Ibid., p. 52
[xxi] Ibid., p. 92
[xxii] See ibid., p. 39
[xxiii] See ibid., p. 12
[xxiv]Athanasius, The Life, quote by Robert C. Gregg in the introduction, p. 13
[xxv] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 27
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 15
[xxvii]Athanasius, The Life, quote by William A. Clebsch in the preface, p. xv.
[xxviii] Quote from ibid., p. xvi
[xxix] See Tim Vivian, Journeying into God, p. 9
[xxx] Athanasius, The Life, p. 42
[xxxi] See ibid., p. 45
[xxxii] See ibid., p. 33-36
[xxxiii] See ibid., p. 46
[xxxiv] Ibid., p. 66
[xxxv] See also Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 22
[xxxvi] See ibid., p. 54
[xxxvii] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 19
[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 18
[xxxix] Athanasius, The Life, p. 72
[xl] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 20
[xli] Ibid., p. 11
[xlii] Ibid., p. 22
[xliii] See ibid., p. 9, my cursive
[xliv] Ibid., p. 27
[xlv] See glossary in The Philokalia, p. 361
[xlvi] See Encyclopedia of Biblical, theological, and Ecclesiastical literature, p. 593

[xlvii] See The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, King James Version
[xlviii] See G.H. Cohen Stuart, The struggle in man between good and evil, p. 81 and 115

[xlix] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 65
[l] See The Encyclopedia of Religion, chief editor: Mircea Eliade, p.110
[li] See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 104
[lii] See ibid., p. 104
[liii] Gal 5:16-17
[liv] Rom 8:13
[lv] 2. Cor. 12:10
[lvi]See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 106
[lvii] Gal 5:16
[lviii]1. Tim. 4:8
[lix]See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 105
[lx]Athanasius, The Life
[lxi]See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 74
[lxii] 2. Cor. 6:5
[lxiii] 1. Cor. 9:7
[lxiv] 1. Cor. 6:19
[lxv] 1. Cor. 15:42
[lxvi] Matt. 9:14
[lxvii] Gal 5:1ff
[lxviii] See Exodus, Luke 4 and Matthew 4
[lxix] Matthew 26:41
[lxx]See Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor Everett Ferguson, p. 105
[lxxi] See Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical literature, editor McClintock, Vol. 3, p. 593-595
[lxxii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 73
[lxxiii] T.C. Hall in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, Introduction to “Asceticism, p. 64
[lxxiv] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 75
[lxxv] The author of the introduction of “Asceticism” in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, see Vol. 2, p. 63
[lxxvi] Wearing sandals had for instance no ascetic significance in warm countries, but in cold countries it became a symbol of self-denial. See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 63
[lxxvii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, editor James Hastings p. 73
[lxxviii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, Introduction to “Asceticism, p. 63
[lxxix] The Letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, p. 14
[lxxx] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, Introduction to “Asceticism, p. 67
[lxxxi] The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 10 p. 35
[lxxxii] See Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 67
[lxxxiii] Tim Vivian, Journeying into God, p. 23
[lxxxiv] Meaning ‘control of passions’, Cassian rendered it ‘purity of heart’. See glossary in The Philokalia, p. 361
[lxxxv] Athanasius, The Life, p. 42
[lxxxvi] The letters of St. Antony the Great, translation by Derwas J. Chitty, quote from introduction, p. ix
[lxxxvii] Ibid., quoted by Chitty on p. ix
[lxxxviii] See Tim Vivian, Journeying into God, p.18
[lxxxix] See The letters of St. Antony the Great, p. 23
[xc]See Athanasius, The Life, Introduction, p. 6-7
[xci] See ibid., p. 15-16

Mona