The following is a brief look at the writings of St. Athanasius on The Life of St. Anthony; as well as, a reflection on a theme that stood out to me and how it’s applicable to my spiritual journey, and maybe yours.
St. Athanasius focuses on St. Anthony’s call to the “eremitic” life, meaning solitary life, and the Saints battle to attain holiness through radical asceticism and what is sometimes called “white martyrdom”. Through the words of St. Anthony, we see that he understood the call to be separate from the world in order to battle against the demons on their turf, so to speak. St. Athanasius understood this as an incarnational approach. This life was focused on God condescending, or coming down, to meet his people, crossing and even eliminating the great divide that separates us from him. This focus shows, St. Athanasius believed, that St. Anthony was a model of the Christian’s struggle against the evil in this world.
Through my reading of the Life of this great saint, I can see parallels to the sins and vices that plague me, and the ways in which I can also battle against them. One thing to note as a foundation to this battle, is the discipline that St. Anthony subjected himself to. Without this discipline it becomes impossible for the will to overcome these temptations. The will must be disciplined in order to be open and prepared to receive the grace that is offered to us by God. Discipline strengthens the will and creates a firm foundation in which the individual can practice the life of virtue. This sort of discipline entails the dying to self, daily, renewing commitment; pressing forward toward our eternal end. St. Anthony saw this call to attain temperance, not just in the body, but also, and more importantly in the mind, taking control of even the smallest thought. He spoke extensively about the demons and their master using disordered thought, confusion, bad memories, instability, and even terror. (58)
In my spiritual journey, this is a battle that I fight daily; not to dwell on myself, my mistakes or my pain for example, giving them too much power, and therefore giving power to the demons that attach themselves to those vices or weaknesses. When we dwell on these things, we become static; never able to move forward. I love what St. Anthony says about paying them no mind; to have faith and emulate the holy ones in their courage. The courage was not in themselves; it was in the Lord. He has overcome them and therefore they have no power, save that that’s given to them by the Lord himself in order to test or strengthen us. St. Anthony’s courage was found within the words of Christ taken from Holy Scripture. It is so important to be immersed in Holy Scripture and I, therefore, feel a conviction regarding my inaptitude in the recitation of the Word of God. How can I fight temptation, if my mind is not immersed in the Word? Not on occasion, but daily. Not just reading, but in contemplation. St. Athanasius clearly sees the Life of St. Anthony as an example of great piety and witness to the power of prayer; especially the recitation of the Psalms for the Christian people. (25) This lesson is something that I pray will stay with me, as I continue my spiritual journey.