Thursday, January 17, 2008

St. Anthony of Egypt

This painting is titled The Temptation of St. Anthony (ca. 1500) by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516) from the Netherlands. It is displayed in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, Portugal.

At the age of 20, St. Anthony was inspired by the Gospel passage “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21). So first he made sure his sister was well provided for and then he gave away a large inheritance and all his possesions. He than pursued a life of solitude in the desert.

People were fascinated by him and were drawn to seek his guidance. He advised people to base their lives on the Gospel. The painting above represents the spiritual battles he fought and won through his prayer and sacrifice. They represent temptations to pride, wealth, power, lust, excesses of food and drink and the Devil who is represented as a pig.

At the age of 54, he founded a simple monastery with scattered cells for those who wanted to follow him as monks. St. Anthony gave spiritual and material support to prisoners during the great persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. Later he also gave vigorous support to those who were combatting the Arian heresy which was tearing apart the Church. The Arians denied the Divinity of Christ.

He died at the ripe old age of 105 in the year 356. He instructed his followers to bury his body in a secret grave, because he didn't want his grave to be a place of veneration. He left no writings, but some of his teachings was recorded in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

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