1902 Encyclopedia > St Anthony (Anthony the Great)

St Anthony
(also known as: Anthony the Great)
Founder of Christian monasticism
(c. 251-356)

SAINT ANTHONY, the founder of monasticism, was born at the village of Coma in Egypt 251 A.D. Inheriting a large fortune, he thought it his duty to distribute it among his neighbours and the poor, and to live a rigidly ascetic life. He spent several years in solitude, where according to tradition he was sorely tempted by the devil. Many disciples flocked to his retreat at Fayoom, and built their cells around his, thus forming the earliest monastic community. (See ABBEY.) Anthony visited Alexandria when upwards of a hundred years old, and took an im-portant part in the controversy with the Arians,—a fact to which we are probably indebted for the record of the life of the saint written by Athanasius. Soon after returning to his cell he died (356 A.D.), his last injunction being that the place of his burial should be kept secret. Seven Latin translations of his letters are extant in the Bibliotheca Patrum. Many miracles were believed to have been wrought by his intervention, among others, the cure of what was called the "sacred fire," and afterwards " St Anthony's fire" (Erysipelas). For this reason he is usually represented with a fire by his side, as typical of the inflammatory disease which he was supposed to relieve. The festival of Saint Anthony is observed on the 17th of January, under which date the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists contains a Latin translation of Athanasius's life of the saint, and other documents giving an account of his miracles. The events of his life—in particular his temptation by the devil and his meeting with St Paul—form the subjects of celebrated pictures by Caracci, Guido, Velasquez, and others. For further details of Anthony's connection with the monastic system, see MONASTICISM.

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