St. Anthony the Great (251 – 356)
The Action of Divine Providence
Providence is manifested in events which occur in accordance with divine necessity — such as the daily rising and setting of the sun, and the yielding of fruits by the earth. Law, similarly, is manifested in events which occur in accordance with human necessity.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,” p. 347, v. 120. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
Creation Declares its Creator
For creation, as if written in characters and by means of its order and harmony, declares in a loud voice its own Master and Creator…. For this reason, God, by his own Word, gave creation such order as is found therein, so that while He is by nature invisible, men might yet be able to know Him through His works.
~ “Treatise Against the Pagans,” Ref. 746-747, in The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 320.
The Meaning of Creation
For man’s sake God has created everything: earth and heaven and the beauty of the stars. Men cultivate the earth for themselves, but if they fail to recognize how great is God’s Providence, their souls lack all spiritual understanding.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,” p. 349, v. 133. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
Creation and the Power over Good and Evil
God, being eternally good and bounteous, gave man power over good and evil. He made him the gift of spiritual knowledge so that, through contemplating the world and what is in it, he might come to know Him who created all things for man’s sake. But the impious are free to choose not to know. They are free to disbelieve, to make mistakes and to conceive ideas which are contrary to the truth. Such is the degree to which man has power over good and evil.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,” p. 348, v. 125. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
Contemplation of Nature Gives Knowledge of God
For one who has faith and determination, it is not difficult to gain spiritual understanding of God. If you wish to contemplate Him, look to the providential harmony in all things created by His Logos.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,” p. 353, v. 160. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
The Souls of Animals
Because some people impiously dare to say that plants and vegetables have a soul, I will write briefly about this for the guidance of the simple. Plants have a natural life, but they do not have a soul.
Man is called an intelligent animal because he has intellect and is capable of acquiring knowledge. The other animals and the birds can make sounds because they possess breath and soul. All things that are subject to growth and decline are alive; but the fact that they live and grow does not necessarily mean that they all have souls.
There are four categories of living beings. The first are immortal and have souls, such as angels. The second have intellect, soul and breath, such as men. The third have breath and soul, such as the animals. The fourth have only life, such as plants. The life of plants is without soul, breath, intellect or immortality. These four attributes, on the other hand, presuppose the possession of life.
~ Philokalia, Volume 1, Section on St. Anthony, Faber and Faber, London, 1979, p. 354.
St. Anthony is one of the founders of Christian monasticism in Egypt. Saints and emperors journeyed to his desert cave for counsel. He maintained a small subsistence garden and is known for his rigorous asceticism and his struggles with demonic forces. He acquired an intimate knowledge of God’s presence through prayer, but also through the animals and the things in the created world. Once when a visiting philosopher asked how such a learned man as he got along in the desert without the benefit of books, Anthony replied, “My book is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, they are at my hand.” St. Anthony is known for his great love and affection for all the animals which surrounded his desert abode. He reposed in the Lord on Mt. Colzim near the Red Sea at the age of 105.
The Reason for Man’s Creation
Why was man created? In order that, by apprehending God’s creatures, he might contemplate and glorify Him who created them for man’s sake. The intellect responsive to God’s love is an invisible blessing given by God to those whose life by its virtue commends itself to Him.
A man is free (to fulfill this role) if he is not a slave to sensual pleasures, but through good judgement and self-restraint he masters the body and with true gratitude is satisfied with what God gives him, even though it is quite scanty.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,” p. 337, v. 55-56. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
The Animals and the Garden in the Desert
Anthony was drawn to the desert at an early age after he heard a sermon from the Gospel of St. Matthew in which Christ said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” Anthony then sold all of his belongings and went deep into the Egyptian desert.
He moved to a place near a small spring and planted a few vegetables in order that visitors would find a little relief from the rigor of that hard trip to his remote location. At first, however, when the antelope and other beasts came to the spring for water, they would often damage his crops. One time he came to one of the animals and said, “Why do you hurt me when I do you no injury? Leave, and in the name of the Lord do not come here any longer.” From that time on, they did not come near his little garden.
~ Abridged from Joanne Stefanatos, Animals and Man: A State of Blessedness, Light and Life Press, Minneapolis, 1992, p. 88.
Creation of the Animals
God, by His Logos, created the different kinds of animals to meet the variety of our needs: some for our food, others for our service. And He created man to apprehend them and their actions and to appraise them gratefully. Man should therefore strive not to die, like the non-rational animals, without having attained some apprehension of God and His works.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,” p. 336, v. 47. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.
The Directing Power of Providence
God’s Providence controls the universe. It is present everywhere. Providence is the sovereign Logos of God, imprinting form on the unformed materiality of the world, making and fashioning all things. Matter could not have acquired an articulated structure were it not for the directing power of the Logos who is the Image, Intellect, Wisdom and Providence of God.
~ Philokalia, Vol. 1, “On The Character of Men,”p. 353, v. 156. Eds. Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware. Faber & Faber, 1979.