Antony embodies a holy belligerence to evil that still inspires.
Athanasius: The Life of Antony of Egypt
A Paraphrase by Albert Haase, O.F.M.
Foreword by Shane Claiborne
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
Is there such a thing as holy belligerence? The Life of Antony of Egypt by Athanasius shows that an aggressive attitude toward Satan and heretics can be appropriate. Antony reminds me that though our ancient foe seeks to work his woe, he is no match for Christ and those who have found refuge in him. “We conquer the enemy with godly thoughts and hope-filled feelings. Such thoughts and feelings expose the demons for who they truly are: worthless kindling for the eternal fires of hell,” (60) Antony said.
He continually exhibits a holy disdain toward anything that opposes God. He does not mince words when he believes the truth is at stake, “Stay away from the schismatics and the Arians, as I have, because they are heretics and enemies of Christ. Form your community around the Lord and the saints so that, after you die, they will recognize you as old friends and walk hand-in-hand with you into the heavenly mansion prepared for you” (98).
The fantastic stories scattered throughout read like legend. Whatever the truth, Antony’s life is inspiring. He is extremely devout, yet like the author, Athanasius, he is humble and intensely practical. There is a wealth of wisdom pertaining to spiritual formation, battling demons and living the Christian life.
This encourages deeper devotion without advocating a slavish following of Antony’s practices. We are all different, and God’s dealings vary with the individual. Antony’s asceticism, though foreign to our modern culture, which has gone to the opposite extreme, encourages discipline. Aside from his example, readers can gain from a godly perspective. The righteous disdain for Satan and his forces is revelatory. It’s not some crazy ranting; it’s the mature perspective of someone who lives by the truth of Scripture.
The editor provides occasional context and instruction in shaded boxes that appear in the text. One particularly illuminating insight pertains to the “noonday devil”: “Within the desert tradition, acedia was often referred to as the ‘noonday devil’ and is better translated as ‘throwing in the towel.’ The hermit would begin his life and spiritual and spiritual formation in the desert with enthusiasm and gusto. However, by midday (figuratively speaking; hence the name ‘noonday devil’), the sun would be beating down upon him and he would become discouraged and want to give up the entire challenge of spiritual formation. And so he would throw in the towel and return to his former way of life” (54-55).
The book includes three pastoral letters written by Athanasius. The last, which is a fragment, covers the canon of Scripture. Haase writes, “This Easter letter fragment, of which there is a shorter version found in Greek and a longer version found in Coptic, is the first written documentation of the ‘canonical’ books of the Christian Scriptures. Athanasius’s list simply records the unofficial consensus of the church which would be subsequently endorsed by church councils in Rome (382), Hippo Regius (393) and Carthage (397)” (117). This also touches on what are known as the apocryphal books and how they are viewed by various groups. Athanasius does not see them as authentic and authoritative Scripture.
Haase makes this ancient classic easy to read and his comments are helpful. The stories about Antony are fascinating, which makes this engrossing. This can be read quickly, but as the editor suggests in relation to Scripture, far more can be gained by “treasuring” and “pondering” the passages that speak to readers.