Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Life of Antony. (Vita Antoni.): Sections 72-79
72. And Antony also was exceeding prudent, and the wonder was that although he had not learned letters, he was a ready-witted and sagacious man. At all events two Greek philosophers once came, thinking they could try their skill on Antony; and he was in the outer mountain, and having recognised who they were from their appearance, he came to them and said to them by means of an interpreter, Why, philosophers, did ye trouble yourselves so much to come to a foolish man? And when they said that he was not a foolish man, but exceedingly prudent, he said to them, If you came to a foolish man, your labour is superfluous; but if you think me prudent become as I am, for we ought to imitate what is good. And if I had come to you I should have imitated you; but if you to me, become as I am, for I am a Christian. But they departed with wonder, for they saw that even demons feared Antony.
73. And again others such as these met him in the outer mountain and thought to mock 1120 him because he had not learned letters. And Antony said to them, What say ye? which is first, mind or letters? And which is the cause of which—mind of letters or letters of mind? And when they answered mind is first and the inventor of letters, Antony said, Whoever, therefore, hath a sound mind hath not need of letters. This answer amazed both the bystanders and the philosophers, and they departed marvelling that they had seen so much understanding in an ignorant man. For his manners were not rough as though he had been reared in the mountain and there grown old, but graceful and polite, and his speech was seasoned with the divine salt, so that no one was envious, but rather all rejoiced over him who visited him.
74. After this again certain others came; and these were men who were deemed wise among the Greeks, and they asked him a reason for our faith in Christ. But when they attempted to dispute concerning the preaching of the divine Cross and meant to mock, Antony stopped for a little, and first pitying their ignorance, said, through an interpreter, who could skilfully interpret his words, Which is more beautiful, to confess the Cross or to attribute to those whom you call gods adultery and the seduction of boys? For that which is chosen by us is a sign of courage and a sure token of the contempt of death, while yours are the passions of licentiousness. Next, which is better, to say that the Word of God was not changed, but, being the same, He took a human body for the salvation and well-being of man, that having shared in human birth He might make man partake in the divine and spiritual nature 1121 ; or to liken the divine to senseless animals and consequently to worship four-footed beasts, creeping things and the likenesses of men? For these things, are the objects of reverence of you wise men. But how do you dare to mock us, who say that Christ has appeared as man, seeing that you, bringing the soul from heaven, assert that it has strayed and fallen from the vault of the sky into body 1122 ? And would that you had said that it had fallen into human body alone, and not asserted that it passes and changes into four-footed beasts and creeping things. For our faith declares that the coming of Christ was for the salvation of men. But you err because you speak of soul as not generated. And we, considering the power and loving-kindness of Providence, think that the coming of Christ in the flesh was not impossible with God. But you, although calling the soul the likeness of Mind 1123 , connect it with falls and p. 216 feign in your myths that it is changeable, and consequently introduce the idea that Mind itself is changeable by reason of the soul. For whatever is the nature of a likeness, such necessarily is the nature of that of which it is a likeness. But whenever you think such a thought concerning Mind, remember that you blaspheme even the Father of Mind Himself 1124 .
75. But concerning the Cross, which would you say to be the better, to bear it, when a plot is brought about by wicked men, nor to be in fear of death brought about under any form whatever 1125 ; or to prate about the wanderings of Osiris and Isis, the plots of Typhon, the flight of Cronos, his eating his children and the slaughter of his father. For this is your wisdom. But how, if you mock the Cross, do you not marvel at the resurrection? For the same men who told us of the latter wrote the former. Or why when you make mention of the Cross are you silent about the dead who were raised, the blind who received their sight, the paralytics who were healed, the lepers who were cleansed, the walking upon the sea, and the rest of the signs and wonders, which shew that Christ is no longer a man but God? To me you seem to do yourselves much injustice and not to have carefully read our Scriptures. But read and see that the deeds of Christ prove Him to be God come upon earth for the salvation of men.
76. But do you tell us your religious beliefs. What can you say of senseless creatures except senselessness and ferocity? But if, as I hear, you wish to say that these things are spoken of by you as legends, and you allegorize the rape of the maiden Persephone of the earth; the lameness of Hephæstus of fire; and allegorize the air as Hera, the sun as Apollo, the moon as Artemis, and the sea as Poseidon; none the less, you do not worship God Himself, but serve the creature rather than God who created all things. For if because creation is beautiful you composed such legends, still it was fitting that you should stop short at admiration and not make gods of the things created; so that you should not give the honour of the Creator to that which is created. Since, if you do, it is time for you to divert the honour of the master builder to the house built by him; and of the general to the soldier. What then can you reply to these things, that we may know whether the Cross hath anything worthy of mockery?
77. But when they were at a loss, turning hither and thither, Antony smiled and said—again through an interpreter—Sight itself carries the conviction of these things. But as you prefer to lean upon demonstrative arguments, and as you, having this art, wish us also not to worship God, until after such proof, do you tell first how things in general and specially the recognition of God are accurately known. Is it through demonstrative argument or the working of faith? And which is better, faith which comes through the inworking (of God) or demonstration by arguments? And when they answered that faith which comes through the inworking was better and was accurate knowledge, Antony said, You have answered well, for faith arises from disposition of soul, but dialectic from the skill of its inventors. Wherefore to those who have the inworking through faith, demonstrative argument is needless, or even superfluous. For what we know through faith this you attempt to prove through words, and often you are not even able to express what we understand. So the inworking through faith is better and stronger than your professional arguments.
78. We Christians therefore hold the mystery not in the wisdom of Greek arguments, but in the power of faith richly supplied to us by God through Jesus Christ. And to show that this statement is true, behold now, without having learned letters, we believe in God, knowing through His works His providence over all things. And to show that our faith is effective, so now we are supported by faith in Christ, but you by professional logomachies. The portents of the idols among you are being done away, but our faith is extending everywhere. You by your arguments and quibbles have converted none from Christianity to Paganism. We, teaching the faith on Christ, expose your superstition, since all recognise that Christ is God and the Son of God. You by your eloquence do not hinder the teaching of Christ. But we by the mention of Christ crucified put all demons to flight, whom you fear as if they were gods. Where the sign of the Cross is 1126 , magic is weak and witchcraft has no strength.
79. Tell us therefore where your oracles are now? Where are the charms of the Egyptians? Where the delusions of the magicians? When did all these things cease and grow weak except when the Cross of Christ arose? Is It then a fit subject for mockery, and not rather the things brought to nought by it, and convicted of weakness? For this is a marvellous thing, that your religion was never persecuted, but even was honoured by men in every city, while p. 217 the followers of Christ are persecuted, and still our side flourishes and multiplies over yours. What is yours, though praised and honoured, perishes, while the faith and teaching of Christ, though mocked by you and often persecuted by kings, has filled the world. For when has the knowledge of God so shone forth? or when has self-control and the excellence of virginity appeared as now? or when has death been so despised except when the Cross of Christ has appeared? And this no one doubts when he sees 1127 the martyr despising death for the sake of Christ, when he sees for Christs sake the virgins of the Church keeping themselves pure and undefiled.
Cf. c. Gent. 1, de Incar. 1, 41, 48. 7.215:1121
Cf. de Incar. 54. 3; 2 Pet. i. 4.215:1122
Cf. Plat. Phædr. 274 B: but the resemblances is not close and the relation of this passage to the Phædrus is probably mediate. I cannot see that the doctrine referred to here is necessarily different from that of Plotinus (Enn. IV. iii. 15).215:1123
Plotinus (Enn. V. i. 3) taught that the soul was, as it were, an image of Mind, as the uttered word is of the word in the soul (cf. Philo. Vit. Mos. iii. 13).216:1124
It is certainly startling to find Antony, ignorant of Greek and of letters, reasoning with philosophers upon the doctrines of Neoplatonism. His whole life, excepting two short visits to Alexandria, had been spent out of ear-shot of such discussions. Yet it is not easy to say exactly how much a man of strong mind and retentive memory may have picked up from the conversation of those who visited him upon subjects so widely discussed as these speculations were.216:1125
De Incar. 24. 3.216:1126
De Incar. 47. 4.217:1127
Compare de Incar. 48. 2.
Next: Section 80
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