Life of St Paul (continued), Book Ia (Also St Hilarion, further down this page)Life No 2
To conclude this little work, let me ask those who don't know the extent of their inheritance, who live in marble halls, and who make sure that an only son will benefit from all their wealth, whether this old man ever lacked anything in his nakedness. You drink from precious goblets, he was satisfied with his cupped hands, you wear tunics of golden thread, his clothing was rougher than that of your meanest slave. But to him in his deepest poverty the gates of paradise were opened, you with your gold will inherit hell. He, naked, was clothed with Christ, you in your silks have lost Christ's covering. Paul, buried in barren dust, will rise again in glory, you vaunting yourselves in sumptuous tombs, will burn with all your works. I beg you, share, share out at least some of your cherished riches. Why are your dead entombed in golden shrouds? How is it that your ambition is not slaked even in the midst of the tears of mourning? Do you imagine that the bodies of the dead will not rot if wrapped in silk?
Whoever you are that reads this story, I beg that you will remember Jerome, a sinner, who if the Lord were to give him a choice, would much prefer the tunic of Paul with all its merit than the purple of kings and their kingdoms.
The Life of Antony
by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria
translated into Latin by Evagrius priest of Antioch.
Can be obtained, with notes and introduction, from Benedict Baker, Coed Glas, Talgarth Road, Bronllys, Brecon, Powys, LD3 0HN. Price £4.50 including p&p. Published by Fellowship of Solitaries (www.solitaries.org.uk ) who also have other publications on the solitary life.
Life No 3
The Life of Saint Hilarion, Monk [Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on October 21]
by Jerome, presbyter & divine
I beg that you will remember me in your holy prayers, Dame Asella (nonna Asella), glory and ornament of virgins that you are. [She was the sister of Marcella whose Life appears in Book 1d of the Vitae. She had lived a virgin life on the Aventine in Rome from the age of ten] And as I begin to write about the life of the blessed Hilarion, I call upon the holy Spirit, who dwelt in him and showered him with virtues, to inspire me likewise with the words to describe him, so that my words may do justice to his deeds. For (as Crispus says) [Gaius Sallustius Crispus, a Roman historian, 86-34 BC] those who live virtuously are praised only in so far as there are talented writers to sing their praises. When Alexander the Great of Macedon, whom Daniel calls brass (Daniel 2.35), leopard (ibid. 7.6) and he-goat (ibid. 8.5), came to Achilles' tomb, he addressed him thus:
"Blessed are you, O hero forever young, for your merits have been extolled by no less than Homer himself."
Just so may I sing the life and deeds of this great man as if it were Homer still with us to understand him and fall under his spell.
I know that the holy Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, was an associate of Hilarion for a very long time, and has written a short letter in his praise which has had some circulation, but it is one thing to praise the dead in a general sort of way, and quite another to praise his virtues in serious detail. I begin this work about him not to diminish him but to extol him, and so I condemn those grumblers who, not content with criticising my account of Paul, now complain about Hilarion. Some cavil at his solitariness, others at his gregariousness. It is as if someone who was perpetually hidden away did not really exist, whereas someone in full view of many can only expect to be vilified. The Pharisees of old did exactly the same and more, criticising both John the Baptist fasting in the desert, and our Lord and Saviour eating and drinking in the midst of much company (Matthew 11.18-19). I block my ears to those rabid dogs, and, notwithstanding, set my hand to bringing this work to fruition. And I pray, O most holy Virgin, that you may be ever in Christ and mindful of me in your prayers.
The Life [Appears as a separate work in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Oxford, 1893, not as a letter addressed to anyone in particular. Written probably in 390.]
Hilarion came from the village of Thabatha, which is about five miles from the town of Gaza in southern Palestine. Born of parents who worshipped idols, he was the rose among the thorns. They sent him to Alexandria to study with a Grammarian, and the records show that at each stage of his life there he was both clever and well behaved. In short, he was skilled in speaking and popular with all. His belief in the Lord Jesus was greater than anyone's. He took no pleasure in the bloodstained sand and cruelty of the circus, nor in the decadence of the theatres. He was totally committed to the congregation of the Church.
Having heard of the celebrated name of Antony, which was being noised abroad among all the peoples of Egypt, he was seized with a desire to live like him and made his way to the desert. Once he had seen him he changed his lifestyle completely. He stayed with Antony for two months, observing his way of life and the integrity of his character. How instant in prayer he was, how humble in his dealings with the brothers, how severe in reproof, how eager in giving encouragement! Not even illness could make him break the accustomed severity of his abstinence from food.
But then Hilarion found himself unwilling to put up any longer with the numbers of people coming to Antony seeking help to overcome their passions and various attacks of the demons. He said that as he was a desert dweller it was not right that he should be surrounded by crowds of city people. So Hilarion all the more decided that just as Antony was now a strong man enjoying the rewards of victory, so it behoved him to start as Antony had done. He had not yet done any military service, so he returned to his native land with one or two monks. His parents were now dead, and he gave part of his inheritance to his brothers, setting aside some for the poor, but keeping back nothing for himself, fearing the example of the punishment given to Ananias and Sapphira in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5.1-5). And he was even more mindful of the words of the Lord: 'He who has not renounced everything he has cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14.33). He was fifteen years old.
Stripped of his possessions, clothed only in the armour of Christ, he went along the coast into the desert which begins on the left of the seventh milestone from Maiuma, the market town of Gaza, as you go down to Egypt. This was a dangerous place because of robbers, and his friends and relations had warned him about it, but his way of avoiding death was simply to despise death. Such bravery at such a young age would have been quite unbelievable had it not been for the flame burning in his breast which showed itself in the light of faith sparkling in his eyes. His cheeks were smooth, his body slender and delicate, but he cared not for any discomforts either of cold or of heat.
He wore a tunic of sackcloth, with an over-garment of skins which Antony had given him as a parting present, and he also had a rough blanket. He lived in this vast and terrible solitude between the marshes and the sea, subsisting on fifteen figs a day, eaten after sunset. And because, as I have said, it is a region noted for its robbers, there was no one living there. When the devil noticed his presence he agonised about what he might do to convert this young man to himself. 'I shall ascend into the heavens, and set my throne above the stars, and I shall be like unto the Most High' had once been his boast (Isaiah 14.13), but now he could see himself being beaten by a mere boy. To avoid being trampled on, he knew what youthful sin he could tempt him with. He tickled his senses, suggesting how his pubescent body could be aflame with unlooked for pleasures. This little Christian novice was compelled to think about things which he had never thought about before, and a whole parade of ideas flooded through his mind about things of which he had had no experience. He got angry with himself and beat his breast with his fists as if he could drive his thoughts away by physical blows.
"You little donkey!" he said to his body, "I'll see to it that you don't trample me underfoot. I'll not give you any barley. Nothing but chaff! I will tame you by means of hunger and thirst, I will weigh you down with heavy burdens, I will subject you to both cold and heat! So you will end up thinking of nothing but food instead of lust!"
Every three or four days he maintained life in his gradually weakening body by the juice of herbs and a few figs. He prayed and sang psalms constantly, and cultivated the earth with a mattock, matching the labour of his fasting to the labour of his physical work. He also wove baskets from rushes, in imitation of the monks of Egypt and the saying of the Apostle: 'Whoso will not work, let him not eat' (2 Thessalonians 3.10). His flesh became so dry and wasted that it scarcely cleaved to his bones.
At night he began to hear squalling babies, bleating sheep, bellowing cattle, wailing women, roaring lions, marching armies, and the noise as of an approaching horde of barbarians, striking terror into the heart just from the sound of it, even before coming into sight. But he understood that these were all tricks of the demons, and he flung himself down, making the sign of the cross of Christ on his forehead. Protected by that helmet and by the breastplate of faith he battled all the more strongly as he lay there, looking about here and there, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that was so frightening to listen to. Suddenly, without any warning, he could see in the light of the moon a four-wheeled chariot with frenzied horses bearing down upon him. He called on Jesus, and suddenly the whole terrifying spectacle was swallowed up into a hole in the ground before his very eyes.
"'The horse and his rider he has cast into the sea'" (Exodus 15.21), he said, "and 'Some put their trust in chariots, some in horses, but we will rejoice in the name of our God' (Psalms 20.7)."
Many were his temptations, and various the tricks of the devil, night and day. This book would not be big enough for me to relate them all. How many naked women did he see lying about? How many large banquet tables appeared to him as he fasted? Sometimes a howling wolf and a little barking fox jumped out at him as he prayed; a gladiator fight made a fine show in front of him as he sang psalms, and a slaughtered man fell at his feet, begging for burial. He put his forehead in the dust as he prayed, but he could not concentrate; his mind, following a natural human bent, strayed away to think about I know not what. A charioteer jumped on his back, kicked him in the ribs and belaboured his shoulders with a riding-whip.
"Come on!" he shouted. "Gallop! Wake up! You want to get your barley, don't you?"
From the age of sixteen till he was twenty the sun and the rain kept on beating down on the little shelter he had made for himself out of reeds and grasses. Then he made a little cell for himself, which remains to this day, four feet wide and five feet high. That was much lower than his own height, though it was a bit longer than his body fully stretched out. As you can imagine, it was more like a coffin than a house. He did cut his hair, to be sure, once a year at Eastertide, but to the day of his death he slept on a bed of rushes laid upon the bare earth. Once he had put his sackcloth on he never washed it. It was quite superfluous to wash your clothes, he said. Nor did he change his other garment until it had been reduced to rags. When not reciting the prayers and psalms as if he were in the presence of God, he kept the holy Scriptures in his mind. But since there is a lot to tell you about his great deeds through all the stages of his life, I will first of all summarise his various regimes for you, before returning to the order of my tale.
From the age of twenty-one to twenty-seven, he ate half a pint of lentils soaked in cold water for the first three years, and dry bread with salt and water for the next three. From twenty-seven to thirty he subsisted on wild herbs and the raw roots of certain bushes. From thirty to thirty-five his food was half a loaf of barley-bread and a little bit of vegetable cooked without any oil. At this point he found that his eyes were becoming misty and his whole body began to burn with a sort of rough and scabrous impetigo, so he added a little oil to his diet and continued in this abstemious regime till the age of sixty-three, with no fruit, no pulse or anything tasty. When he felt that his body was getting weaker and the end of his life was getting near, he gave up bread, so that from his sixty-fourth year till the age of eighty, with incredible strength of mind, it was as if he were coming anew to the service of God, at an age when others begin to be a bit more relaxed. He would make a sort of weak broth of flour mingled with oil, and weight out about five ounces of it, to serve for both food and drink. And he went on like this, never eating before sunset, never relaxing his fasting, not even for holy days or when he was ill.
But now I must return to my story. One night when he was aged eighteen and still living under his rough shelter, a band of robbers came, perhaps because they thought he might have something which they could steal, or else simply because they thought they might be held in contempt if they were not able to instil fear in such a mere boy. They ran about between the sea and the marshes from dusk to sunrise without being able to find where he was sleeping. It was not until the day had dawned that they were able to find him.
"What would you do," they asked him, half jokingly, "if robbers came to visit you?"
"Nakedness fears no robbery," he replied.
"Yes, but you might easily get killed."
"Possibly, possibly, but I'm still not afraid of robbers, for I'm quite prepared to die."
They could not but admire the firmness of his faith, and after admitting to him how they had been blindly stumbling about all night, they promised to amend their ways in future.
By the time he was twenty-two years old his reputation was widely known through all the towns of Palestine, including Eleutheropolis, [A town about one day's journey from Jerusalem on the road to Ascalon.]
where there was a woman who felt herself to be despised by her husband, because although they had been married for fifteen years she had not borne him any children. She was the first person bold enough to invade the privacy of the blessed Hilarion. Without fear or mistrust she embraced his knees.
"Forgive my boldness," she said, "but please listen to my troubles. Why are you looking away? Why try to run away from someone who needs your help? Don't look at me as a woman, but just as someone utterly miserable. Don't forget that it was my sex who gave birth to the Saviour, and 'it is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick' (Mark 2.17)".
This was the first time he had seen a woman in all that time, but he stopped resisting and asked her why she had come and why she was weeping. After learning the cause of her distress, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, urged her to have faith, and shed tears himself as she departed. After a year had passed she had a son.
That was the first of the signs he did. A much greater one made him even more widely known. Aristaeneta was the wife of Elpidius who later became commander-in-chief of the praetorian guard. She was highly regarded among their colleagues and even more so among the Christians. She and her husband and three children were returning to Palestine from a visit to Antony when they stopped at Gaza, where her three children all fell ill of a fever and were given up for dead by the doctors. The poor woman wept, inconsolable, running from one son to another, scarcely knowing which one to grieve for first. The disease may have been caused by something in the air, or perhaps (as was afterwards made plain) simply in order that the name of Hilarion, the servant of God, might be glorified. For when she was told that there was a monk in the neighbouring desert, she hardly needed any persuasion from her husband to lay aside all her dignity of state and act simply like a mother. She mounted a mule, and accompanied by servants and eunuchs made her way to Hilarion.
"In the name of the cross and blood of Jesus, our most merciful God," she cried to Hilarion, "I beg that God may send the servant of God to Gaza, that my three sons may be restored to me, that the name of the Lord our Saviour may be glorified in that city of the gentiles, and the temples of the ungodly be cast down."
"No, I can't do that," he replied. "I never leave my cell. I never go into the villages, let alone the cities."
She flung herself to the ground.
"Hilarion, servant of God," she cried over and over again, "restore my three sons to me! Antony welcomed us in Egypt. We need you to care for us in Syria."
Everyone there dissolved into tears. Hilarion wept in spite of himself. What more can I say? The woman would not go until Hilarion had promised that after sunset he would go into Gaza.
When he got there he went to the beds of each one of them, and saw their dry and feverish limbs. He called upon the name of Jesus, and - O marvellous wonder! - sweat burst forth from them like three fountains. Within the hour they had taken food, recognised their grieving mother, and blessing God, had kissed the hands of the holy man. When this became known far and wide, people from Syria and Egypt flocked to him, and many believed in Christ and formed a monastery. For at that time there were no monasteries in Palestine, no monk in Syria before Hilarion. He was the first, the founder and teacher of this way of life in the province. The Lord Jesus had the old man Antony in Egypt; in Palestine he had the young Hilarion.
Facidia is a village near the town of Rhinocorura in Egypt. Ten years ago a blind woman was brought from this village to Hilarion by a number of monks who were with her. They told Hilarion that she had spent all her money on doctors.
"If you had given to the poor," said the holy man, "what you have spent on doctors, you would have been cured by the true doctor, Jesus."
She cried, and begged for mercy, whereupon Hilarion, following the example of the power of the Saviour, spat in her eyes and her sight was restored.
There was a charioteer in Gaza who was struck by a demon so that he could move none of his limbs nor turn his head. He was carried to Hilarion in a litter, the only movement possible for him being that of his tongue which he used to pray for help. He was told that he could not be healed unless he believed in Jesus and promised to give up his former profession. He believed, he promised, he was cured, rejoicing more in the salvation of his soul than in that of his body.
Another example: There was a very strong young man called Marsitas in the region of Jerusalem who had such confidence in his own strength that he was able to carry about three hundred pounds [quindeceim modios A 'modium' equals approximately one peck. A peck of water weighs about 20 lbs] on his shoulders for quite a long time. This would win a prize in a weightlifting contest, as it was more than a beast of burden could carry. This man became infested with a malicious demon; chains, fetters, even locked doors proved no obstacle to him. He attacked many people by biting off their noses or ears, he broke the feet of some, and the jaws of others. Everyone was so terrified of him that they treated him like a wild bull and tied him up with chains and ropes which they wound around him in every possible way. They took him to the monastery where the Brothers took one look at him and were petrified with fear (for he was enormously large), and went to tell the Father [i.e. Hilarion.] about him. He sat down and ordered Marsitas to be brought to him and loosed of his bonds.
"Bow your head, and come here," he said. Trembling, the poor wretch bent his head and dared not disobey. All the aggression drained out of him, and he began to lick Hilarion's feet as he sat there. Hilarion spoke words of power to the demon infesting the young man, and twisted it out of him, so that at the end of seven days it had completely departed.
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