A few misc notes on The Life of Antony by St. Athanasius

I already posted twice about two especially curious passages of demonology in Athanasius’s original hagiography of St. Antony of the Desert. Here are the other most interesting passages I came across, with a few notes. Page numbers are from the Gregg edition, which seemed very readable to me.

A great quote comparing economics and the gospel:

The entire life span of men is very brief when measured against the ages to come, so that all our time is nothing in comparison with eternal life. Everything in the world is sold for what it is worth, and someone trades an item for its equivalent. But the promise of eternal life is purchased for very little.

An interesting passage about worshipping the creature rather than the creator. Great metaphors near the end.

You wish to say that these things are told by you in the manner of myth, and you allegorize the rape of Persephone, referring it to the earth, and the lameness of Hephaestus to fire, and Here to the air, and Apollos to the sun, and Artemis to the moon, and Poseidon to the sea, nonetheless you do not worship God himself – on the contrary, you serve the creature instead of the God who created all things. Perhaps it was because of the creation’s beauty that you composed such tales. Nevertheless it is fitting for you to go only so far as to admire, not to deify, the things created, lest you render the honor due the maker to the things made. Otherwise, the time has come for you to transfer honor due the architect to the house he has made or that due the general to the soldier.

This passage here – if applied to secular humanism and scientism of today – sounds like it could have been written just yesterday rather than in the fourth century. Amazingly timeless!

Your religion was never persecuted, and in every city it is honored among men, and yet our doctrines flourish and increase beyond yours. Your views perish, though acclaimed and celebrated far and wide. But the faith and teaching of Christ, ridiculed by you and persecuted frequently by rulers, has filled the world. For when did the knowledge of God shine with such brilliance? When did moderation and virtue of virginity so manifest itself? Or when was death so despised, if it was not when the cross of Christ came?

From the Letter to Marcellinus, an excellent description of how the psalms function as a workbook or activity manual for the rest of scripture.

For in other other books one hears only what one must do and what one must not do. And one listens to the Prophets so as solely to have knowledge of the coming Savior. One turns his attention to the histories, on the basis of which he can know the deeds of the kings and saints. But in the Book of Psalms the one who hears, in addition to learning these things, also comprehends and is taught in it the emotions of the soul, and, consequently, on the basis of that which affects him and by which he is constrained, he also is enabled by this book to possess the image deriving from the words. Therefore, through hearing, it teaches not only not to disregard passion, but also how one must heal passion through speaking and acting. Now there certainly are in the other books preventative words that forbid wickedness, but in this book is also prescribed how one must abstain. Of such a sort is the commandment to repent – for to repent is to cease from sin. Herein is prescribed also how to repent and what one must say in the circumstances of repentance. In the Psalms it is written and inscribed how one must bear sufferings, what one must say to one suffering afflictions, what to say after afflictions, how each person is tested, and what the words of those who hope in God are. Furthermore, there is a command to give thanks in all circumstances, but the Psalms also teach what one must say when giving thanks.

And finally, an interesting footnote I came across on how from early on the Christian church put the brakes on zealous young men who were a little too eager to go get themselves killed doing something stupid in the name of God.

From an early point there was suspicion within the Church of those who were too eager for martyrdom. Anthony’s unwillingness “to hand himself over” is more dramatically presented in the nearly ritual attempts of Bishop Polycarp to evade his pursuers in Mart. Polycarp 5-6. The author of the martyrology states clearly in the preceding section: “Therefore brethren, we do not commend those who surrender themselves, for such is not the teaching of the Gospel.” The Council of Elvira in Spain in 305 reached the decision that overzealous Christians whose provocative actions involved the smashing of idols were not to be regarded, if apprehended and punished, as martyrs.
p.139, note 99

Contrast this with how the leaders of Islam over the centuries and recently, have frequently NOT done as much to curtail this sort of thing.