Tag Archives: monk

The original desert father

Another of my entries for the Zondervan Dictionary of Spirituality,this one features “the original desert father,” Antony of Egypt. Antony, too, features in my Patron Saints for Postmoderns.

Antony of Egypt (251-356). Egyptian monastic pioneer. He is often (though incorrectly) called the first monk and founder of monasticism: he himself imitated a tradition of “holy solitaries”—men who lived ascetic lives at the edges of Egyptian towns. His innovation was that when he heard the word of the Gospels preached—“Sell all you have, give to the poor, and come, follow me”—he sold his belongings, gave away the proceeds, and moved out into the desert to live as a hermit. This he did decades before Constantine’s legalization of Christianity—so spiritual declension of the church under state sponsorship was not the initial impetus for Christian monasticism. Athanasius’s Life of Antony is our only source on the Egyptian monk’s life, aside from a few “sayings” and a small set of letters. Athanasius’s book paints a prototypical holy man. Continue reading

A pope worth knowing

This is my profile of Gregory the Great for the Zondervan Dictionary of Spirituality. He is indeed a pope worth knowing–and one of the ten figures in my Patron Saints for Postmoderns.

Gregory the Great (ca. 540–604). Pivotal medieval pope. “The Great” is the customary honorific for Pope Gregory, the first practicing monk to be elected to the papacy (590 – 604). Roman Catholics designate him Doctor of the Church and one of six Latin Fathers. Born of noble blood and ascending to the secular prefecture of Rome before entering the monastery, he became pope at a time of barbarian invasion, plague, drought, famine, and the abdication of responsibility by the old Roman senatorial class. He filled the leadership void, negotiating peace with the invaders, draining the coffers of the church on behalf of the suffering, and leading penitential parades beseeching God to turn back the plague. His leadership in Rome is considered a key moment in the rise of the papacy to Western power both ecclesiastical and secular. However, appalled by claims of the Patriarch John of Constantinople to be “ecumenical patriarch,” Gregory styled himself “Servant of the servants of God” (though still assuming the Western primacy of the Roman bishop). Continue reading