Tag Archives: Abbot

St. Anthony, Abbot

January 12, 2017



A Variety of Names.  St. Anthony (251-356) is known by a number of different titles:  St. Anthony, the Abbot; St. Anthony, the Father of Monks; St. Anthony, the Patriarch of Monks; St. Anthony, the Hermit; St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Anthony of the Desert, and St. Anthony the Great.  He is commemorated each year on January 17.  He is not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) who lived over 800 years later and is remembered on June 13.

The Early Years.  St. Anthony was born in Koman near Memphis in Upper Egypt around 251 AD.   His parents died when he was a late teenager, and he was left to care for his younger sister and the family home.  When he was twenty he reflected on how the apostles left everything, sold their possessions, and followed Jesus (Lk 5:11; 18:28; Acts 2:45; 4:34-35), and then, at church shortly thereafter he heard the gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mt 19:21).  It seemed to Anthony that God was speaking directly to him.  He had inherited approximately 200 acres of fertile farmland which he proceeded to sell, along with most of the family possessions, and distributed it to the poor, and he retained a small amount to care for his sister and himself.   Not long afterward, he was in church again and heard the passage, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34).  At this he sold the rest, took his sister to a convent to be raised by a community of sisters, and decided to live a simple, solitary life.

Life as a Hermit.  In 272, Anthony moved a short distance from his home into the desert to live an austere life of self-denial alone in a tomb in a cemetery.  He was guided by the Bible verse, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10b), so he did manual labor to support himself, and spent the remainder of his time in prayer and Scripture reading.  He memorized many passages.  He struggled mightily with temptation and had violent bouts with the devil.  He lived a strict ascetical lifestyle.  He did works of penance, particularly severe fasts, eating only bread and water once a day.  He wore sackcloth as his outer cloak, and a hair shirt for his undergarment which constantly irritated his skin.  In 285 he moved further into the desert to live in an abandoned fort in even greater solitude.

A Magnet and Guide.  Others were so attracted to Anthony that they joined him in the desert.  In 305 he organized a monastery at Fayum with a rule that the monks should live in solitude except for communal worship. Sometime after 312, he organized a second monastery at Pispir.  He instructed the monks to take up hobbies such as weaving baskets and mats to prevent idleness and ward off temptation.  The monks regarded Anthony as an abbot, and history regards him as the founder of monasticism.

Desert Departures.  Anthony left the desert twice, but only briefly.  He always desired to be a martyr so he went to Alexandria in 311 during the height of the Emperor Maximin’s persecution against Christians.  The oppression started to subside around the time of his arrival, he was never harmed, and returned to the desert.  Later he returned to Alexandria in 355 to help St. Athanasius fight the Arian heresy, after which he once again returned to solitude.  He died in the desert in 356 at the age of 105.

Patronage and Symbol.  St. Anthony is the patron saint of grave diggers and weavers, and his symbol is a T-shaped or Tau Cross.  He is invoked for release from worldly attachments.

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St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor

August 19, 2011


St Bernard

St. Bernard preaching to the Crusaders in 1147 AD. Stained glass at St. Edward in Minneota

St. Bernard (1090-1153) was born in 1090 near Dijon, Burgundy, France, into an upper class family.  Despite his religious upbringing, he was unbridled at times during his youth.  Upon his mother’s death, he underwent a conversion and worked diligently to live a more temperate life.

Bernard joined the Cistercian community at Citeaux in 1112 at the age of twenty-two.  The monastery was cloistered and observed a rigorous and austere lifestyle.  Bernard was so motivated to live the spiritual live and so convinced of its value that he convinced thirty of his relatives and friends, including four of his own brothers, to accompany him upon entering.

Shortly thereafter, Bernard was sent to found a new Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux, and by the age of twenty-five he became the abbot, the major superior of the community, a ministry he performed for the next thirty-eight years.  As a monk, he was a person of exceptional holiness, and through his fine example he was able to inspire the others to live more virtuous lives.  As a superior, he was overly strict at first, but was able to adjust.  He energetically reformed and revitalized the Order.  The Cistercians experienced tremendous growth as the Clairvaux monastery increased to over seven hundred members and sixty-eight new monasteries were founded in places such as England, France, Ireland, Sicily, Spain, Sweden, and Syria.

Abbot Bernard’s special spiritual gifts could not be confined to the cloister, and he made many journeys across Europe. In 1130 two popes claimed the papacy at once, Innocent II, who had been elected legitimately, and Anaclete II, who had not, and through Bernard’s intervention, the validity of Innocent’s election was confirmed and order and unity was restored to the Church.  As he preached more widely, his reputation spread, which gave him the status to move into problem situations.  Bernard helped the Lombards reach an accord with Emperor Lothaire II; in 1140 he successfully challenged the heretical teaching of Abelard; in 1142 he mediated a dispute in York, England; and in 1145 he went to southern France to challenge the Albigensian heresy, and he subsequently became known as the Hammer of the Heretics.  In 1146, the newly-elected Pope, Eugene III, asked him to preach the Second Crusade, and he rallied Christians across Europe to confront the Turks who had conquered Edessa in 1144.

St. Bernard also was a prolific author.  Some of his major works were De Diligendo Deo, On Loving God, a profound mystical reflection; De consideratione, On Consideration, a treatise on papal spirituality; a collection of sixty-eight sermons on the Canticle of Canticles; and hundreds of other sermons, letters, and Scripture commentaries.  He also had a deep devotion to Mary, and often said, Omnia per Mariam, “All through Mary.”

St. Bernard excelled as a preacher.  His words were well-chosen and highly-descriptive, so poetic that they were “honey sweet,” “honey” to the ears, and he became known at the Doctor mellifluus, “The Honey-Sweet Doctor.”  The bee hive became his symbol, and he emerged as the patron saint of beekeepers, wax makers, and candle makers.

Bernard died on August 20, 1153, and only twenty-one years later, in 1174, he was canonized a saint, and he is regarded by many as the most important saint of the Twelfth Century, so great that it is sometimes called the Bernardine Period.  Seven centuries later, in 1830, he was declared a Doctor of the Church.  He is also the patron saint of Gibraltar.

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