Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Life of Antony. (Vita Antoni.): Preface.
p. 195 Life of Antony.
The life and conversation of our holy Father, Antony: written and sent to the monks in foreign parts by our Father among the Saints, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.
Athanasius 983 the bishop to the brethren in foreign parts.
You have entered upon a noble rivalry with the monks of Egypt by your determination either to equal or surpass them in your training in the way of virtue. For by this time there are monasteries among you, and the name of monk receives public recognition. With reason, therefore, all men will approve this determination, and in answer to your prayers God will give its fulfilment. Now since you asked me to give you an account of the blessed Antonys way of life, and are wishful to learn how he began the discipline, who and what manner of man he was previous to this, how he closed his life, and whether the things told of him are true, that you also may bring yourselves to imitate him, I very readily accepted your behest, for to me also the bare recollection of Antony is a great accession of help. And I know that you, when you have heard, apart from your admiration of the man, will be wishful to emulate his determination; seeing that for monks the life of Antony is a sufficient pattern of discipline. Wherefore do not refuse credence to what you have heard from those who brought tidings of him; but think rather that they have told you only a few things, for at all events they scarcely can have given circumstances of so great import in any detail. And because I at your request have called to mind a few circumstances about him, and shall send as much as I can tell in a letter, do not neglect to question those who sail from here: for possibly when all have told their tale, the account will hardly be in proportion to his merits. On account of this I was desirous, when I received your letter, to send for certain of the monks, those especially who were wont to be more frequently with him, that if I could learn any fresh details I might send them to you. But since the season for sailing was coming to an end and the letter-carrier urgent, I hastened to write to your piety what I myself know, having seen him many times, and what I was able to learn from him, for I was his attendant for a long time, and poured water on his hands 984 ; in all points being mindful of the truth, that no one should disbelieve through hearing too much, nor on the other hand by hearing too little should despise the man.
This heading, preserved in the Evagrian version, is probably the original one. Compare the statement to the same effect in Vit. Pachom. 63. The preface to the Evagrian version is important as bearing on the question of interpolation. It runs as follows: Evagrius, presbyter, to his dearest son Innocent, greeting in the Lord. A word-for-word translation from one language to another obscures the sense and as it were chokes the corn with luxuriant grass. For in slavishly following cases and constructions, the language scarcely explains by lengthy periphrasis what it might state by concise expression. To avoid this, I have at your request rendered the Life of the blessed Antony in such a way as to give the full sense, but cut short somewhat of the words. Let others try to catch syllables and letters; do you seek the meaning.195:984
Cf. 2 Kings iii. 11: the expression merely refers to personal attendance (contrast §§47, 93). The text is uncertain, as some mss., both Greek and Latin read, was able to learn from him who was his attendant, &c. The question of textual evidence requires further sifting. In support of the statement in the text we may cite Ap. c. Ar. 6, where Ath. is called one of the ascetics, which may, but need not, refer to something of the kind.
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