St. Athanasius the Father of Western Monasticism

Fr. Georges Florovsky 1893-1979

It must not be forgotten that the person who first introduced monasticism to the Latin West was St. Athanasius. During his exile in 340, St. Athanasius brought with him to Rome two monks from the Egyptian desert, one of whom was Ammonius; the other Isidore. Rome was stunned. But the initial reaction of disgust and contempt soon changed to one of admiration and then imitation. Two additional visits to Rome by St. Athanasius strengthened the beginning of the monastic movement in the Latin West. St. Athanasius influenced even the northern part of the Latin empire — during his exile in 336 he spent time in Trier, and wherever St. Athanasius went he spread the knowledge of monasticism. (The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers)

Catholic Encyclopedia

The introduction of monasticism into the West may be dated from about A.D. 340 when St. Athanasius visited Rome accompanied by the two Egyptian monks Ammon and Isidore, disciples of St. Anthony. The publication of the “Vita Antonii” some years later and its translation into Latin spread the knowledge of Egyptian monachism widely and many were found in Italy to imitate the example thus set forth. The first Italian monks aimed at reproducing exactly what was done in Egypt and not a few — such as St. Jerome, Rufinus, Paula, Eustochium and the two Melanias — actually went to live in Egypt or Palestine as being better suited to monastic life than Italy. (Monasticism, Western)

Philip Schaff 1819-1893

[M]any have held, that monasticism also came from heathenism, and was an apostasy from apostolic Christianity, which Paul had plainly foretold in the Pastoral Epistles. But such a view can hardly be reconciled with the great place of this phenomenon in history; and would, furthermore, involve the entire ancient church, with its greatest and best representatives both east and west, its Athanasius, its Chrysostom, its Jerome, its Augustine, in the predicted apostasy from the faith. And no one will now hold, that these men, who all admired and commended the monastic life, were antichristian errorists, and that the few and almost exclusively negative opponents of that asceticism, as Jovinian, Helvidius, and Vigilantius, were the sole representatives of pure Christianity in the Nicene and next following age. (History of the Christian Church: Chap IV. 28  “The Rise and Progress of Monasticism”)

Athanasius, the guest, the disciple, and subsequently the biographer and eulogist of St. Anthony, brought the first intelligence of monasticism to the West, and astounded the civilized and effeminate Romans with two live representatives of the semi-barbarous desert-sanctity of Egypt, who accompanied him in his exile in 340. The one, Ammonius, was so abstracted from the world that he disdained to visit any of the wonders of the great city, except the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul; while the other, Isidore, attracted attention by his amiable simplicity. The phenomenon excited at first disgust and contempt, but soon admiration and imitation, especially among women, and among the decimated ranks of the ancient Roman nobility. The impression of the first visit was afterward strengthened by two other visits of Athanasius to Rome, and especially by his biography of Anthony, which immediately acquired the popularity and authority of a monastic gospel. Many went to Egypt and Palestine, to devote themselves there to the new mode of life; and for the sake of such, Jerome afterward translated the rule of Pachomius into Latin. Others founded cloisters in the neighborhood of Rome, or on the ruins of the ancient temples and the forum, and the frugal number of the heathen vestals was soon cast into the shade by whole hosts of Christian virgins. From Rome, monasticism gradually spread over all Italy and the isles of the Mediterranean, even to the rugged rocks of the Gorgon and the Capraja, where the hermits, in voluntary exile from the world, took the place of the criminals and political victims whom the justice or tyranny and jealousy of the emperors had been accustomed to banish thither. (ibid. Chap. IV.40)

Comments

  1. Readers may be interested in my series of blogposts on St Athanasius. Click on the link at the bottom of each article to go to the next in the series.

  2. Thank you for the link Fr. Your input and comments are always welcome.

    Maximus

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