ANTHONY, SAINT, the first Christian monk, was born in Egypt about 250. At the age of twenty he began to practise an ascetical life in the neighbourhood of his native place, and after fifteen years of this life he withdrew into solitude to a mountain by the Nile, called Pispir, now Der el Memun, opposite Arsinoë in the Fayum. Here he lived strictly enclosed in an old fort for twenty years. At last in the early years of the 4th century he emerged from his retreat and set himself to organize the monastic life of the crowds of monks who had followed him and taken up their abode in the caves around him. After a time, again in pursuit of more complete solitude, he withdrew to the mountain by the Red Sea, where now stands the monastery that bears his name (Der Mar Antonios). Here he died about the middle of the 4th century. His Life states that on two occasions he went to Alexandria, to strengthen the Christians in the Diocletian persecution and to preach against Arianism. Anthony is recognized as the first Christian monk and the first organizer and father of Christian monachism (see Monasticism). Certain letters and sermons are attributed to him, but their authenticity is more than doubtful. The monastic rule which bears his name was not written by him, but was compiled out of these writings and out of discourses and utterances put into his mouth in the Life and the Apophthegmata Patrum. According to this rule live a number of Coptic Syrian and Armenian monks to this day. The chief source of information about St Anthony is the Life, attributed to St Athanasius. This attribution, as also the historical character of the book, and even the very existence of St Anthony, were questioned and denied by the sceptical criticism of thirty years ago; but such doubts are no longer entertained by critical scholars.
The Greek Vita is among the works of St Athanasius; the almost contemporary Latin translation is among Rosweyd’s Vitae Patrum (Migne, Patrol. Lat. lxxiii.); an English translation is in the Athanasius volume of the “Nicene and Post-Nicene Library.” Accounts of St Anthony are given by Card. Newman, Church of the Fathers (Historical Sketches) and Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints (Jan. 17). Discussions of the historical and critical questions raised will be found in E. C. Butler’s Lausiac History of Palladius (1898, 1904), Part I. pp. 197, 215-228; Part II. pp. ix.-xii.