17 January 2012

17 January - Saint Anthony, Abbot

“In Thebais, St. Anthony, abbot and spiritual guide of many monks.  He was most celebrated for his life and miracles, of which St. Athanasius has written a detailed account.  His sacred body was found by divine revelation, during the reign of the emperor Justinian, and brought to Alexandria, where it was buried in the church of St. John the Baptist.”

Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Egypt, Abbot and Hermit. (born 251- died 356), patron of herdsmen, especially swineherds.  Spare St. Anthony’s pig today!

As a young man, Anthony took to heart the words of the gospel "Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor".  He divided his inheritance with his sister, gave away his share of it to the poor, and retired to the outskirts of town to live the life of an ascetic.  Eventually, that wasn't enough, and he moved out into the desert, occasionally returning to live near other hermits, then moving farther away again.

At one point, he shut himself up in a ruined fortress for 20 years, only coming out at the end of that time to be a spiritual guide to the hermits who had taken up residence in the caves around his place of solitude.  After organizing them, he again withdrew to a solitary life, emerging to combat Arianism, and at one point paying a visit to Saint Paul the Hermit.

He suffered much through the attentions of demons, whether by temptations to sensuality and gluttony, or by physical beatings and torments, but through all of it he emerged victorious, and died in an odor of sanctity at age 105.

In the Swiss canton of Ticino, in Rome and Madrid (and doubtless other places), animals – particularly horses, mules, donkeys, and dogs – were blessed today.  Washed, brushed, belled and beribboned, they would stand before the church doors until Mass had ended, when the priest would come and bless them in the name of Saint Anthony, their patron.

A plague spread across Europe in 1089, which in this instance was probably ergotism.  Miraculous cures were reported of those who implored God's mercy through the intercession of Saint Anthony, especially those who prayed before his relics; the inflammatory disease (and a couple of others) became known as Saint Anthony's Fire.

In art, he is often depicted with a pig nearby (as in the above image).  The reasons given for this bit of iconography are various: that (like Merlin) the pig was a pet; or that pork fat was used in the treatment of skin diseases, therefore, by association, Saint Anthony became the patron of swineherds; or that it is neither of the above - the hog represents the gluttony and sensuality over which he triumphed.

Whatever the reason, the old saying "to follow someone about like a tantony pig" means to stick as close to that person as St. Anthony's favorite is said to have done to the saint.

Look closely and you can see the bells which are also part of his iconography - one hanging from his cane, one on the pig's collar, and one in the belfry.

According to Athanasius, Anthony is said to have enjoined his fellow monks to “write down their thoughts and actions and exhibit the record to one another, which probably was the beginning of habitual confession among monastic orders…” A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (1880)

Sounds familiar.  Giving it a modern application, perhaps St. Anthony should be the patron of the blogosphere and those of us, who “write down their thoughts and actions and exhibit the record to one another…”  And while we are at it, we should follow his example and fight off the temptations which attack bloggers and readers and commentators alike.  You know what they are and how seductive they are. 

Begone, foul temptation!

Renowned shepherd Anthony, who restores the crucified, and destroys healthful maladies, and quenches the heat of the fire, O holy father, pray to the Lord on behalf of us unhappy ones.

Pray for us, blessed father Anthony.

That we be made worthy.

O God, who grants by the intercession of blessed Anthony Thy confessor that the fire of illness be quenched and coolness be present for sick limbs, make us, we beseech, by his favors and prayers free from the fires of hell, and cause us to be presented whole in mind and body to Thee happily in glory.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end.  Amen.

Artwork: "St. Anthony", Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c1440