Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter VI. Of the system of the Anchorites and its beginning.
Of the system of the Anchorites and its beginning.
Out of this number of the perfect, and, if I may use the expression, this most fruitful root of saints, were produced afterwards the flowers and fruits of the anchorites as well. And of this order we have heard that the originators were those whom we mentioned just now; viz., Saint Paul 2077 and Antony, men who frequented the recesses of the desert, not as some from faintheartedness, and the evil of impatience, but from a desire for loftier heights of perfection and divine contemplation, although the former of them is said to have found his way to the desert by reason of necessity, while during the time of persecution he was avoiding the plots of his neighbours. So then there sprang from that system of which we have spoken another sort of perfection, whose followers are rightly termed anchorites; i.e., withdrawers, because, being by no means satisfied with that victory whereby they had trodden under foot the hidden snares of the devil, while still living among men, they were eager to fight with the devils in open conflict, and a straightforward battle, and so feared not to penetrate the vast recesses of the desert, imitating, to wit, John the Baptist, who passed all his life in the desert, and Elijah and Elisha and those of whom the Apostle speaks as follows: “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts, in mountains and in dens and in caves of the earth.” Of whom too the Lord speaks figuratively to Job: “But who hath sent out the wild ass free, and who hath loosed his bands? To whom I have given the wilderness for an house, and a barren land for his dwelling. He scorneth the multitude of the city and heareth not the cry of the driver; he looketh round about the mountains of his pasture, and seeketh for every green thing.” In the Psalms also: “Let now the redeemed of the Lord say, those whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;” and after a little: “They wandered in a wilderness in a place without water: they found not the way of a city of habitation. They were hungry and thirsty: their soul fainted in them. And they cried unto the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them out of their distress;” whom Jeremiah too describes as follows: “Blessed is the man that hath borne the yoke from his youth. He shall sit solitary and hold his peace because he hath taken it up upon himself,” and there sing in heart and deed these words of the Psalmist: p. 482 “I am become like a pelican in the wilderness. I watched and am become like a sparrow alone upon the house-top.” 2078
Paul was from very early days celebrated as the first of the anchorites. Indeed S. Jerome, who wrote his life (Works, Vol. ii. p. 13 ed. Migne) calls him “auctor vitæ monasticæ” (Ep. xxii. ad Eustochium). He is said to have fled to the Thebaid from the terrors of the Decian persecution, and to have died there in extreme old age. Antony has already been several times mentioned by Cassian. See the Institutes V. iv.: Conference II. ii.; III. iv., etc.482:2078
Heb. 11:37, 38, Job 39:5, Ps. 107:2, 4, Lam. 3:27, 28, Ps. 102:7, 8.
Next: Chapter VII. Of the origin of the Sarabaites and their mode of life.
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