Anthony the Great (251-356)
• one of the earliest hermits
• Athanasius of Alexandria wrote the Life of Anthony, which became an extremely popular hagiography
• heard what Jesus said to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19.21 and sold his possessions to give to the poor
• trained under an old hermit (a.k.a eremite or anchorite) before going off alone
• practiced extreme asceticism and isolation
• repeatedly tempted and beaten by demons
• lived in a tomb, then an abandoned Roman fort, then on a mountain
• Athanasius had Anthony come to Alexandria to endorse the eternality of the Son over against the subordinationists
• studied 7 years under a hermit named Palaemon near Anthony in the Egyptian desert
• went off on his own and lived as an anchorite
• started a monastery for hermits unable physically or mentally to live alone
• known as founder of cenobitic monasticism
• developed a rule to govern monastery life
• monasteries dotted the desert in Egypt, Judea, and Syria
Basil Caesarea (329-379)
• grew up wealthy and well-educated
• became a Christian and donated his fortune to the poor
• studied with monks in Egypt and influenced by Pachomius
• returned to Caesarea and began founding monasteries
• diminished the austerity of Pachomian monasteries and adapted to life in the city where monks ran orphanages, hospices, and hospitals
• designed a rule for monasteries, incorporating interspersed periods of worship and manual or scholarly labor
• adapted and popularized monastery life in the Greek-speaking east
• died in 40s probably because of ascetic practices
Benedict of Nursia (480-547)
• gave up wealth and career as a nobleman
• became a hermit for 3 years before a nearby monastery conscripted him to be their abbot
• they tried to poison him, but it didn’t work
• he left and started his own monastery
• developed the Rule of St. Benedict, which became influential in the Latin-speaking west
• at the end of his Rule, he mentions Basil of Caesarea and his Rule
• Although Anthony the Great was not the first hermit, he became the father of all monks.
• Anthony practiced extreme isolation and asceticism while battling demons in the African desert.
• Many found Anthony’s lifestyle attractive and sought him out, no matter how far away he settled.
• Nearby villages and cities saw the desert fathers and mothers’ battles with spirits as a benefit to society.
• Pachomius wrote a rule of community life and started several monasteries, becoming the founder of cenobitic monasticism.
• Basil of Caesarea learned from Pachomius’ monasticism and brought it to Cappadocia.
• Basil wrote a less austere rule (than Pachomius’) and pioneered having monasteries in populated areas that ran orphanages, hospices, and hostels.
• Benedict of Nursia learned from Basil’s rule and developed his own.
• Basil’s rule held sway in the Greek-speaking East and Benedict’s rule dominated the Latin-speaking West.
• Benedict’s communities emphasized renunciation, humility, and obedience as well as eight services per day, working through all 150 Psalms each week.