Tuesday, 7 February 2012


                            St Anthony of the desert

In her introduction to 'The Desert Fathers', Helen Waddell writes,   'for the ascetic and mystic, a swift translation to eternity and the passing of youth in the denial of youth, must seem great gain.' She is writing about  the tale of two young hermits, blood brothers, both of whom died edifying deaths within a short time of each other, having adopted the penitential life of the desert fathers.  Their deaths brought sadness even to the abbot Macarius, a hardened veteran of the desert well used to death, who would take other Fathers to their cell, saying,  'come and see the place of martyrdom of these lesser pilgrims'. 
Helen Waddell recognises the grief of this deeply spiritual hermit, as indicative of the power of matter, and a measure of the depth of  warfare between the spirit and the flesh. Yet, she writes that the world is living in grief, with the tragedy of generations of young lives lost in the Great War, and every day countless young lives continuing to be lost in the cause of science, exploration, and the furtherance of human endeavour. Yet she recognises that a man must follow his star, and that we do not grudge it that men should do so, leaving wife and children, lands and even reason for the purpose of great achievements. Such men, with their usually laudatory but worldly ambition, are regarded as brave frontiersmen worthy of praise and admiration.
          However, the Desert Fathers who gave up absolutely everything in their desire to serve God, are so often condemned and denigrated as fanatics, for in the sympathetic words of Helen Waddell, 'the only field of research in which a man may make no sacrifices, under pain of being called a fanatic, is God.'

'Fanatic', a. & n. - person filled with excessive and mistaken enthusiasm, esp. in religion (Concise Oxford Dictionary)

Of Love
A brother asked a certain old man, saying, "There be two brothers, and one of them is quiet in his cell, and prolongs his fast for six days, and lays much travail on himself: but the other tends the sick. Whose work is the more acceptable to God?"  And the old man answered, "If that brother who carries his fast for six days were to hang himself up by the nostrils, he could not equal the other, who does service to the sick."

Of Patience
They used to tell of a certain brother, how he was neighbour to a certain great old man, and that he used to go in and steal whatever the old man had in his cell.  The old man saw him, but would not upbraid him, but forced himself to work the harder with his hands, saying, "I think that my brother is needy."  And he exacted more from himself than was his wont and straitened his belly, so that in want did he eat bread.
            Now when the old man came to die, the brethren stood about him.  And gazing on him who thieved, he said to him, "Come close to me."  And he held his hands and kissed them, saying, "I thank these hands, my brother, since because of them I go to the kingdom of God."  And he, cut to the heart, did penance and became an upright monk, taking pattern from the deeds of that great old man.

Of Humility
There came certain folk to an old man in the Thebaid, bringing with him one vexed by the devil, that the old man might heal him.  And after much pleading, the old man said to the devil, "Go out from this that God made." And the devil made answer: "I go, but I ask thee one question, and do thou answer me: who be the goats and who  the lambs?"  And the old man said, "The goats indeed be such as I: but who the lambs may be, God knows."  And hearing it, the devil cried out with a great voice, "Behold, because of this humbleness of thine, I go." And he went out that same hour.

Of Discretion
'At one time there came from the city of Rome a monk that had had a great place in the palace, and he dwelt in Scete near by the church and he had with him one servant that ministered unto him.  And the priest of the church, seeing his infirmity and knowing that he was a man delicately nurtured, used to send him such things as the Lord gave him or were brought into the church.  And when he had spent twenty-five years in Scete, he became a man of contemplation, of prophetic spirit and notable.  And one of the great Egyptian monks, hearing of his fame, came to see him, hoping to find a more austere discipline with him. 
            And when he had come in he greeted him: and they prayed, and sat down.  But the Egyptian, seeing him softly clad, and a bed of reeds and a skin spread under him and a little head-rest under his head, and his feet clean with sandals on them, was inwardly scandalised, because in that place it was not the custom so to live, but rather in stern abstinence.  
            But the old Roman, having discernment and vision, perceived that the Egyptian was scandalised within himself, and said to his servant, "Make us good cheer today, for the sake of this Father who hath come."  And he cooked a few vegetables that he had, and they rose up at the fitting time and did eat: he had also a little wine, by reason of his infirmity, and they drank it.  And when evening was come, they said the twelve psalms, and slept: and in like fashion during the night.  And rising in the morning the Egyptian said, "Pray for me."  And he went away not edified.
           And when he had gone a little way, the old man, desiring to heal his mind, sent after him and called him back.  And when he had come, he again welcomed him joyfully, and questioned him, saying, "Of what province art thou?" And he answered, "I am an Egyptian." And he said to him, "Of what city?" And he answered, "I am of no city at all, nor have I ever dwelt in any city." And he said to him, "Before thou wert a monk, what didst thou do in the place where thou didst dwell?" And he answered, "I was a herd in the fields." And he said to him, "Where didst thou sleep? And he answered, "In the field." And he said, "Hadst thou any coverlet?"
And he answered, "What should I do with bedding sleeping in the fields?" And he said, "How didst thou sleep?" And he answered, "On the bare ground." And he said, "What didst thou eat in the field, and what kind of wine didst thou drink?" And he answered, "I ate dry bread, and any sort of salt fish if I could come by it, and I drank water." And the old man said, "It was hard toil." And he said, "Was there a bath on the estate where thou could wash thyself?" And he said, "Nay, but I used to wash in the river, when I wished to." 
           And when the old man had drawn all this from his replies and understood the manner of his former life and his toil, being wishful to profit him he told him of his own past life when he was in the world, saying, "I, this poor man that you see, am of that great city, Rome, and held the highest place in the palace, beside the Emperor." And when the Egyptian heard him begin to speak, he was struck with compunction, and listened eagerly to hear what he would say.  And he went on: "So then, I left Rome and came into this solitude." And again he said, I whom you see, had great houses and much wealth, and despising them I came to this small cell." And again he said, "I, whom you see, had beds decked with gold and coverlets most precious: and for these God hath given me this mattress of papyrus and this skin. And my garments were
costly beyond price, and for them I use these poor rags." Again he said, "in the keeping of my table, much gold was expended: and for this He gives me these few herbs and a small cup of wine. Many were the slaves who served me, and for these lo! God had put compassion in this one man's heart, to tend me.  For a bath I pour a little water on my feet, and I wear sandals because of my infirmity.  And again for the pipe and lyre and other kinds of music wherein I delighted at my feasts, I say to myself twelve psalms by day, and twelve by night.  But for those sins of mine that I then sinned, I offer now in quiet this poor and useless service unto God. Wherefore consider, Father, and be not scandalised because of my infirmity."  
         And the Egyptian, hearing these things and turning upon himself said, "Sorrow upon me, that I out of much tribulation and heavy toil, did rather come to rest and refreshing in the monastic life, and what I had not, I now have: but thou from great worldly delight art come of thine will into tribulation, and from high glory and riches art come into humility and poverty." And he went away mightily profited, and became his friend, and would often come to him to learn of him: for he was a man of discerning, and filled with the fragrance of the Holy Ghost.

                               St Anthony and St Paul

That One Ought to Live Soberly
The abbot Agatho said, "A monk ought not to have his conscience able to accuse him in aught whatsoever." Now when the aforesaid abbot Agatho was dying, he remained for three days motionless, holding his eyes open.  And the brethren shook him, saying, "Father, where art thou?" And he answered, "I stand in sight of the divine Judgement." And they said, "Art thou afraid?" And he said, "Here I have toiled with what strength I had to keep the commandments of God: but I am a man, and I know not whether my works have been pleasing in His sight." The brethren say to him, "And hast thou no confidence that thy works are according to God?" And the old man said, "I do not presume, until I have come before God: for the judgments of God are other than the judgments of men." And when they would have questioned him for further speech, he said to them, "Show me your love and speak not to me, for I am busy." And this said, straightway with joy he sent forth his spirit. For they saw him gathering his spirit together, as one who greets his dear friends.  He had great guard in all things, and used to say that without watchfulness a man may climb to no virtue.

Of Patience and Fortitude
'A certain brother who lived solitary was disturbed in mind, and making his way to the abbot Theodore of Pherme he told him that he was troubled.  The old man said to him, "Go, humble thy spirit and submit thyself, and live with other men." So he went away to the mountain, and dwelt with others.  And afterwards he came back to the old man and said to him, "Nor in living with other men have I found peace."  And the old man said, "If thou canst not be at peace in solitude, nor yet with men, why dids't thou will to be a monk? Was it not that thou shouldst have tribulation? Tell me now, how many years hast thou been in this habit?"  And the brother said, "Eight". And the old man said,  "Believe me, I have been in this habit seventy years, and not for one day could I find peace:  and thou wouldst have peace in eight?"

  St Anthony meeting the hippocentaur in the desert

That One Ought Not to Judge Any Man
Once a brother in Scete was found guilty, and the older brethren came in assembly and sent to the abbot Moses, asking him to come: but he would not.  Then the priest sent to him saying, "Come: for the assembly of brethren awaits thee." And he rose up and came.  But taking with him a very old basket, he filled it with sand and carried it behind him.  And they went out to meet him, asking, "Father, what is this?"  And the old man said to them, "My sins are running behind me and I do not see them,  and I am come today to judge the sins of another man."  And they heard him, and said naught to the brother, but forgave him.

Ack. 'The Desert Fathers' - translated by  Helen Waddell. Published Constable & Co. London. 1936.                              
'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us all, and guide and protect our Holy Father, our bishops, priests and religious, and all your people.'


A Catholic Comes Home said...

Hope you dont mind,but I tagged you in Mac's meme

whitesmokeahoy said...

Sandy, "I don't mind at all" says he desperately, "but I will have to give this some thought, and I'm not a very quick thinker!" Brian.

Ches said...

Off topic: I've tagged you in a meme!


whitesmokeahoy said...

Thanks for the thought.
You tagged me on my 'umblepie' site, but came through on this 'whitesmokeahoy' site.
Sandy ('A Catholic Comes Home') has already tagged me on this site, but if it helps, and is not punishable with excommunication, I am happy to reply on the 'umblepie' site! I hope this is within the rules! It certainly gives me greater scope! Brian.

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