Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A.D. 356

A.D. 356 is one of the traditional dates for the death of Saint Anthony. Anthony, you may recall, is considered the father of monasticism. He was celebrated as such by Anthanasius, who wrote his hagiography.

Athanasius's hagiography divides the live of Anthony into various parts. Anthony was born an Egyptian Christian. Athanasius claims that he was uneducated and unsociable. After his parents died, about the time that he was nineteen, he heard Matthew 19:21, about selling everything and giving to the poor, read in Church and decided to do just that. He did so and fled into the desert. This was a typical anachoresis practice. Roman tax burdens being what they were, many people found that they could not really make ends meet after taxes and so fled the country (the Greek verb for that was anachoreo).

Anthony spent years in the desert fighting demons, but also growing his own garden, free from the encumbrances of the state and its taxes. It would not be the last time that someone was lionized for going Galt.

Athanasius takes pains to present Anthony as someone respected by the emperors, and rejecting those Athanasius despised: the Manichaeans, the Miletians, the Arians, the pagans. Athanasius spends no time describing Anthony's rebuffing of the Manichaeans or the Miletians, but quite a few on Anthony's apologetics against the Arians and the pagans.

By the time that Anthony died, a whole generation had grown up, raised children and were seeing grand children since Constantine had made Christianity legal. Even though Christianity had supposedly triumphed, there was still a need to defend the faith.