Antony of Egypt, The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

ANTONY of EGYPT (251?–356), an Egyptian landowner in the Fayum revered as the founder and “father of monks”.  Around 270 he sold his possessions and entrusted his young sister to a communities of consecrated virgins.  He apprenticed himself to male ascetics living in the outskirts of his village, who became his role models and teachers. Their asceticism was strict but not overly severe, emphasizing fasting, prayer, kindness, and many of the classical virtues.  Less is known of these earliest male apotaktikoi (“renouncers”) than of their feminine counterparts. It is certain, however, that the earliest Christian monks and nuns were powerfully influenced by the heroism of martyrs who were revered as intercessors and spiritual guides, and by the teachings Clement of Alexandria (d.215) and Origen (d.254) who encouraged both asceticism and the study of sacred scripture.

    Antony’s extraordinarily popular biography by Athanasius (d. 373) depicts him as a model of perseverance and virtue in whom the struggle against temptation yields inner harmony and balance.  Athanasius portrays him as the chief exemplar of the eremitical life, withdrawing deeper into the desert by successive stages, eventually finding peace around the year 311 in a mountain cave near the Red Sea, where he settled with a few disciples and lived in semi-solitude until his death in 356.  Antony was not a complete recluse, however; and even in extreme old age he returned at irregular intervals to his former hermitage, an abandoned fort near the Nile, to offer spiritual advice to pilgrims.

From "Christian Monasticism." (L. Dysinger), the Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, 2012.



About 269 Antony gave away his possessions, and devoted himself to a life of asceticism, and c.285 retired completely into the desert, to the ‘Outer Mountain’ at Pispir, where he is said to have fought with demons under the guise of wild beasts. The holiness and ordered discipline of his life, esp. compared with the more eccentric austerities of other solitaries, attracted a number of disciples; and c.305 he came out of his solitude to organize them into a community of hermits who lived under rule (an innovation) but with little common life comparable to that of the later religious orders. About 310 Antony retired again into solitude to his ‘Inner Mountain’ (still called Dęr Mar Antonios, near the Red Sea), but he later exercised his influence in support of the Nicene party in the  Arian controversy, in which he was closely associated with St  Athanasius. Towards the end of his life the numbers of those who turned to the solitary life of the desert increased and his authority grew correspondingly. The evidence for his life is the ‘Vita Antonii’, traditionally regarded as by Athanasius, though many scholars attribute it to an Athanasian milieu rather than to Athanasius himself. Feast day, 17 Jan.

The seven Epp. of Antony, mentioned by  Jerome (De vir. ill. 88) and surviving in toto only in a Lat. tr. pr. in J. P. Migne, PG 40. 977–1000, are prob. genuine; Georgian version with Coptic fragments, ed. G. Garitte (CSCO 148; 1955, with Lat. tr., ibid. 149; 1955); Eng. tr. by D. J. Chitty (Fairacres Publications, 50; Oxford, 1975); Fr. tr., with introd. by A. Louf, OCR (Spiritualité Orientale, 19; Bellefontaine, 1976). The collection of twenty Epp. printed PG 40. 999–1066, a working over of the earlier set through the Arabic, appears to contain nothing further authentic. A letter to Abbot Theodore and his monks ‘On proper Repentance’ (PG 40. 1065) seems to be genuine; but the twenty Sermons (40. 961–78) and the so-called ‘Rule of St Antony’ (40. 1065–79) are spurious. Crit. ed. of the ‘Vita Antonii’ (PG 26. 835–978) by G. J. M. Bartelink (SC 400; 1994). It survives also in a number of early versions; Lat. text ed. G. Garitte (Études de Philologie, d’Archéologie et d’Histoire anciennes publiées par l’Institut Historique Belge de Rome, 3; 1939); it is also ed. H. Hoppenbrouwers, OSB (Latinitas Christianorum Primaeva, 14; Nijmegen, 1960), and by G. J. M. Bartelink, with introd. by C. Mohrmann, and Ital. tr. (Vite dei Santi, 1 [Milan] 1974); Syriac text ed. R. Draguet (CSCO 417, with discussion and Fr. tr., 418; 1980). Modern Eng. trs. by R. T. Meyer (ACW 10; 1950) and R. C. Gregg (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1980). L. Bouyer, Cong. Orat., La Vie de Saint Antoine (1950); B. Steidel, OSB (ed.), Antonius Magnus Eremita 356–1956: Studia ad Antiquum Monachismum Spectantia (Studia Anselmiana, 38; 1956). H. Dörries, ‘Die Vita Antonii als Geschichtsquelle’, Nachr. (Gött.), 1949, pp. 357–410, repr., with additional material, in Dörries, Wort und Stunde, 1 (Göttingen, 1966), pp. 145–224. S. Rubenson, The Letters of St Antony: Origenist Theology, Monastic Tradition and Making of a Saint (Bibliotheca Historico-Ecclesiastica Lundensis, 24; 1990). J. Quasten, Patrology, 3 (Utrecht and Westminster, Md., 1960), pp. 39–45, 148–53; Altaner and Stuiber (1978), pp. 261 f., 276, 604, with further bibl. CPG, 2 (1974), pp. 60–3 (nos. 2330–50), and pp. 16 f. (no. 2101), and Suppl. (1998), pp. 69 f. G. Bardy in Dict. Sp. 1 (1937), cols. 702–8, s.v.


Adapted from E.A. Livingstone, Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford, 2000


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