CITIES OF THE DESERT: THE  RISE  OF MONASTICISM


It was in the Egyptian deserts, late in the third century, that Christian asceticism was born. At first, the retreat of individual Christians to the wastelands was a flight not only from temptation, but from a hostile world; but, after the Edict of Milan, the number of hermits - if anything - increased, almost as if in reaction to the Church's new social respectability. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the enthusiasm for the monastic life became so great that, as a famous quip put it, the desert had become a city.


The ascetic life was held in high regard among both Christians and pagans; hence the Christian 'desert fathers' (and, for that matter, desert mothers) were drawn from every class and station. They saw their embrace of poverty and their devotion to prayer and fasting not just as obedience to Christ's commandments, but also as an imitation of his example, and of the example of John the Baptist.

The Way of the Pure Heart


The ascetics' chief concerns were the purification of the heart and the perfection of charity in their wills. The former required detachment from worldly affairs and possessions, the purging of lust, envy, ambition and anger from the soul, discipline of the mind and appetites, resistance to diabolic temptations and the cultivation of true humility. The latter required selfless service to others, a refusal to pass judgment and the practice of radical forgiveness. Indeed, many of the desert fathers' stories and sayings have been preserved, and they provide a remarkable picture of the desert as a school where one learnt the art of forgiving others without reserve.


Built in the sixth century AD, St Simeon Monastery stands on a hilltop near the city of Aswan in Upper Egypt. Early Arabic and Coptic sources call this institution Anba Hatre, after an anchorite who retired to the desert to imitate the life of St Anthony.



The problem with any such movement when it becomes popular is that it can become as much a fashion as a vocation, and attract persons not really suited to the life. By the late fourth century and well into the fifth, there were some monks who — far from living according to the exacting precepts of charity established by the great desert ascetics - were typical, volatile products of the brutal lower class milieu of the Egyptian cities. Such men, no doubt in all good conscience, did not hesitate during times of strife between pagans and Christians, or during times of doctrinal dispute within the Church, to indulge in vandalism or even in violence in defence of what they saw as the true faith. Yet, for all their infamous antics, they were not able to prevent the original ideals of the desert fathers from continuing to bear fruit in later generations.


(WELLLL......THIS  SHOULD  BE  TELLING  YOU  SOMETHING;  THEY  WERE  OFTEN   NOT  ACTING  AT  ALL  LIKE  CHRIST......VANDALISM  AND  EVEN  VIOLENCE..... GET  THE  PICTURE..... SO-CALLED  CHRISTIANS  FROM  PLANET  PLUTO  -  Keith Hunt)


Anthony the Great


The earliest desert fathers were hermits or 'anchorites', who pursued their spiritual disciplines mostly in isolation. The most famous of these was St Anthony of Egypt (251-356), a child of wealthy parents who from an early age led a sober life of self abnegation, and who in 285 sold all his worldly goods, gave the money to the poor, and withdrew to the desert west of Alexandria, and then to an old abandoned Roman fort on a mountain near the Nile. There he remained for 20 years, sustained by local Christian villagers, who passed food — and received spiritual counsel — through a small aperture in the wall.


(TALK  ABOUT  WEIRED  PEOPLE,  DOING  WEIRED  THINGS  -  Keith Hunt)


In 305, Anthony emerged from his cell, quite sane and healthy. Other hermits had gathered near his retreat over the years, and so he set about forging them into a more orderly monastic community. He preached, gave spiritual advice to visitors, participated in theological arguments, debated with non-Christians, and even apparently visited Alexandria twice. After the Edict of Milan, he retired further into the desert, receiving visitors, sometimes venturing out to visit the monastery he had organized, and devoting himself to prayer and contemplation. He died at the age of 105. His Life, by the great Alexandrian bishop St Athanasius (c.293—373), became one of the most popular, widely disseminated and influential books of Christian antiquity.


(During his years of isolation in the desert, St Anthony is said to have endured every possible assault by the devil, including enticing mirages of women or terrifying visions of wild beasts, and even physical attacks by demons. His temptation by the devil provided rich subject matter for numerous painters; this depiction (1647) is by the Flemish artist David Teniers the Younger)



(IN  ALL  HIS  LONG  LIFE  HE  WAS  OFF-BEAT,  AND  WAS  NOT  FOLLOWING  CHRIST'S  DIRECTION  OF  GOING  FORTH  WITH  THE  GOSPEL,  BUT  GOING  FURTHER  INTO  THE  DESERT  -  Keith Hunt)


Pachomius and Macarius


Perhaps almost as important as Anthony for the later development of Christian monasticism was St Pachomius (c. 290—346), a former soldier who withdrew to the desert in around 314, and who was the originator of  'coenobitic' - or regulated communal - monasticism. He was the first to construct a monastic settlement in which all the monks' cells were situated within the same walls, and in which uniform hours were prescribed for prayer, meals, work and sleep. During his life, he established nine monasteries and two convents, which together housed more than 7000 persons. His monastic rule also set the pattern for all later rules, such as that of St. Basil the Great (329-79) in the East and that of St Benedict of Nursia (c.480-c.547) in the West.


As beloved as Anthony, and perhaps more important for the evolution of the contemplative dimension of Christian monasticism, was St Macarius the Great (300-91), who took up the hermit's life at about the age of 30, and soon won unsought renown as a spiritual guide, a master of spiritual discourses, a healer, and a prophet. He was a 'mystical theologian' primarily, who wrote about the light of God shining within the sanctified soul, and about the presence of God within the heart transfigured by love.


Of works written by Macarius himself, however, many scholars are willing to recognize only one, his "Epistle to the Friends of God"; but there are 50 Macarian Homilies, composed either by him or by disciples of his teachings, which occupy an honoured place within the tradition of Christian contemplative writings. And there are a number of other texts ascribed to him that might better be described as belonging to a greater 'Macarian tradition'. All of these writings are to this day especially cherished in the Eastern Christian world.


(AND  THEY  ARE  USELESS,  BUT  FOR  THE  BLINDED  MINDS  OF  THOSE  IN  THE  EAST  WHO  THINK  HE  WAS  SOMETHING,  WHEN  HE  WAS  NOTHING  IN  THE  WORK  OF  SPREADING  THE  TRUE  GOSPEL,  WHILE  HE  LIVED  AS  A  HERMIT  -  Keith Hunt)


AN ENTERPRISING DEVIL


Beginning in the late fourth century, various collections of short anecdotes about the desert fathers - mostly brief souvenirs of their spiritual instructions and personal examples - were compiled, and came collectively to be known as the Apophthegmata Patrum ('Sayings of the Fathers'). They provide a fascinating portrait of the life of the Christian Thebaid (the upper Egyptian desert), as well as of many of the individual monks: Abba Anthony, Abba Macarius, Abba Evagrius, Abba Sisois, Abba John the Dwarf and so on. The Sayings also contain a number of legends that vividly express the high esteem in which the desert fathers were held.


One story tells of Satan holding court, receiving the adoration of his demonic lieutenants and inquiring into their recent exploits. The first of the demons to approach the throne reports that he has caused riots, wars and much bloodshed; but when he reveals that it took him a month to do so, Satan has him chastised. A second demon tells how he has raised storms at sea and sunk ships, sending many men to their deaths; but, on learning that it took him 20 days, Satan also punishes him severely. A third demon relates how he sowed discord at a wedding, resulting in the death of the bridegroom; but, as this took him ten days, he too is scourged for his idleness. A fourth demon then reports that for 40 years he tormented a single monk of the desert, before finally succeeding in making the hermit have a lustful thought in the night. On hearing this, Satan rises from his throne to kiss his servant; then he places his own crown on the demon's head, and commands the latter to sit beside him on his throne, proclaiming: 'You have performed a brave and mighty deed!'


(MORE  YES  DEMONIC  IDEAS  FROM  THESE   "DESERT"  GUYS,  WHO  THOUGHT  THEY  WERE  DOING  GOD  SERVICE  BY  LIVING  IN  THE  DESERT  AS  BASIC  RECLUSES,  AND  ACTING  IN  OUTWARD  APPEARANCE  AS  BEING  "HOLY"  AND  "RIGHTEOUS"  -  Keith Hunt)



The Great Evagrius


The most brilliant man ever to join the ranks of the desert fathers was Evagrius Ponticus (346—99), who not only possessed the sort of formal philosophical and theological training that most of his fellow monks lacked, but who in fact had abandoned a theological career in Constantinople to take up the ascetic life. His writings were remarkable not only for their philosophical sophistication, but for the precision with which they described the methods, psychological states, and special experiential qualities of the contemplative life. For instance, his exposition of the eight spiritually destructive logismoi - that is, self-sustaining sequences of desire, imagination, will and intellectual intention - exhibits a degree of psychological subtlety and moral insight unprecedented in the contemplative literature of Christians or pagans.


Evagrius' contributions to later Christian thought were immense and crucial, but — like Origen - he was never canonized as a saint, and for many of the same reasons as Origen. Theologically, Evagrius was an heir to the Origenist tradition, and so many of his teachings were condemned at the same time as Origen's, at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. But his writings constituted a kind of subterranean current within the theology of later centuries; and they re-emerged into plain view in the great 18th-century Eastern Orthodox mystical anthology, the Philokalia.

....................


WELL  EVEN  THE  BASIC  ROMAN  CHURCH  THOUGHT  THESE  GUYS  TO  BE  "NUTS"  AND  OFF-THE-BEAM,  EVEN  WITH  THEIR  SO-CALLED  "psychological  subtlety"  AND  THEIR  "special  experimental  qualities"  AGAIN  FROM  OUTER-SPACE,  AS  FAR  AS  USEFULNESS  TO  TRUE  CHRISTIANITY.


THERE  IS  NO  TEACHING  WHATSOEVER  IN  THE  NEW  TESTAMENT  FOR  ANY  CHRISTIAN/MINISTER/PASTOR/EVANGELIST/PROPHET,  TO  GO  OFF  INTO  THE  WILDERNESS  AND  LIVE  A  NOMADIC  LIFE,  GIVE  UP  EVERYTHING,  AND  APPEAR  TO  BE  SO  RIGHTEOUS.  THIS  WAS  ALL  THE  FALSE  IDEAS  OF  MEN,  NO  DOUBT  INSPIRED  BY  SATAN  THE  DEVIL,  CERTAINLY  NOT  BY  CHRIST  -  Keith Hunt