Friday, January 17, 2014

St. Anthony and the Modern Christian Predicament

Today is the day the Church commemorates St. Anthony, who was a Desert Father, and generally regarded to be the founder of what became the monastic movement in Christianity. He lived from approximately 251-356 A.D., so during his long life, he experienced persecution by the Roman Empire, as well as the legalization of Christianity under Emperor Constantine.

These days, Christians spend a lot of time on social media talking about two aspects of the modern Christian predicament: (1) The growing atheist movement in the West, and in particular, the attack on faith by writers such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and (2) The growing persecution of Christians in the East, which I have written about on prior occasions:

These words from St. Anthony (which, at times, sound a lot like something Luther would write) remind us that our predicament is not new, as he wrote these words in response to the pagan philosophers who were challenging Christianity:

"We Christians, therefore, do not possess the mystery through the wisdom of Greek words but through the power of faith supplied to us by God through Jesus Christ.  And so you will know that what I am saying is true, look now: although we do not know how to write, we believe in God, recognizing through his words his universal providence.  And that our faith works, look now: we depend on our faith in Christ while you wage war with sophistries; and while your idols and delusionary practices have got you nowhere, our faith is spreading everywhere.

You people, with all your syllogisms and sophistries, are not persuading us to convert form Christianity to paganism: we, on the other hand, teaching faith in Christ, are stripping you of your superstitions, with everyone recognizing that Christ is God and the Son of God.  You, with all your fine and fancy words, do not hinder the teaching of Christ: we, on the other hand, invoking the name of Christ crucified, are putting to flight all the demons, whom you fear as Gods.  Wherever one sees the sign of the cross, magic loses its power and sorcery has no effect.....

[Y]our beliefs have never been persecuted, and yet our religion blossoms and flourishes more than yours.  What is more, your religion, celebrated and protected on all sides, is falling into ruin, whereas the faith and teaching of Christ, ridiculed by you and often persecuted by emperors, has filled the whole world!...

These signs suffice to demonstrate that faith in Christ is the only worship of God.  But if still you do not believe, seeking logical proofs through words, we will not offer proof by means of "plausible Greek wisdom", as our teacher said (1 Corinthians 2:4), but will persuade by means of the faith that is clearly outpacing your wordy fabrications."

(Quoted at pp. 60-61 of "The Desert Fathers: Saint Anthony and the Beginnings of Monasticism" by Peter H. Gorg).

St. Anthony reminds us that the mysteries of God are infinitely greater than what our human minds can grasp, and that God's glory transcends our human suffering.  So, even though we lament the modern Christian predicament, if we pay attention to the witness of the saints who have gone before us, there is hope.

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