St. Anthony the Great Feast Day Coming Up. This Friday.
Keep in mind where you are in history. The Roman Empire converted to Christianity/Catholicism. Constantine ended persecution and himself converted. NOTE: He did not make Christianity the official religion. That happened about 75 years later under Theodosius, still in the 4th century, but Christianity definitely became the “in” thing under Constantine.
Dying for one's faith was considered the supreme act. Almost a straight path to heaven, but without the twenty virgin whores at your disposal. Ah, and another key difference with Islam: you can never seek it out. It's almost a mix of Islam and Hinduism. Islam: Seek it out; Hinduism: detachment to the point you let it happen . . . wading into the Ganges to be eaten by crocodiles if that's what happens. The Christian martyr has the detachment, but without the morbidity: the martyr also loves life, as a gift of God. They would just assume continue to enjoy it, but he has the religious fervor, but without the militant assertion (and hatred) of the Muslim terrorist.
The Hindu seems to seek in The Existential Gap . . . and disappears. Denial of subject-object. Extreme. The Muslim is soaked in subject-object: God, object, and the twenty virgin whores for me, subject. Pinging back and forth fervently . . . crazed. The Christian martyr appreciates the importance of The Existential Gap, but appreciates it for what it is: a GAP. Between subject-object. It's a cool place to be . . . but not the only place to be.
But with Constantine, martyrdom was no longer likely. Like I said, any dope, regardless of intellectual vigor or will, could be a Christian. And lots of dopes were becoming Christians, thereby making it fashionable.
There was no red martyrdom . . . getting killed. Or even rose martyrdom . . . being despised. In fact, you could argue that converting to Catholicism in the fourth century was a cowardly thing to do. And staying Catholic and enjoying the fruits of the state a dishonorable thing.
Enter St. Anthony. And white martyrdom.
His biography is simple, and his biography was the first biography: written by St. Athanasius. A saint on a saint. A rare find. It's a beautiful, if often outlandish, book. It has continued to resonate with people. The great Gustave Flaubert (hardly a monkish ascetic: wrote Madame Bovary; liked to bang prostitutes) pondered the story for 20 years then rewrote it in his own terms.
Born in 251. Parents died. Sold all, provided for his sister, then went to the desert in 285. 20 years in hermitage, then came out. 305. Went back in. Came back out. Always lived by himself, but he came out to act as a spiritual father to those attracted to the way of life. He, combined with toleration for Christians, drove the 4th century rush for the desert. Hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of monasteries. Four remain today, btw.
Sayings of the Desert Fathers. I've seen/dipped into three. Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward. Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton. The Spiritual Meadow by John Moschos. Didn't care for The Spiritual Meadow. Not sure why. Might have to try it again. Tastes change as we change.
Benedicta Ward's is probably my favorite. Consider:
“Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace.”
Great quote. And it shows how someone removed from us by nearly 2,000 years and half a world and ten cultures is relevant. Yes, we won't have the inner peace of a desert monk living off bread, but who can doubt that affairs of the world torture the soul and leave it without peace? Our task is to find that blended life, so in a sense, our task is harder than the desert monk's, though, in reality, his is the hardest of all, but for reasons entirely alien to our way of life.
Another great quote from Anthony: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'” Welcome to being Non-Woke.
And then there are the puzzling ones that, probably because I'm not a desert monk, I have a real time even beginning to appreciate:
“He who wishes to live in solitude in the desert is delivered from three conflicts: hearing, speech, and sight; there is only one conflict for him and that is with fornication.”
I think I'd like to see the original script for that one. Fornication? With whom? Not masturbation? Not sodomy? Fornication? Succubi?
Third Segment: Lightning Segments
Go back to Episode 55. There I talked about how reason/logic can't explain how I got to the CVS. I talked about how the brilliant and learned Samuel Johnson refuted Bishop Berkeley's idealism by kicking a rock . . . which is no refutation at all, but Johnson intuited that no rationale refutation was possible: The stone, according to reason, didn't exist, and that was that . . . until he kicked it.
The point is, experience overrides reason. Experience shows us there's something besides reason/logic. More than reason/logic. But we're using reason/logic to override reason/logic. Well, yeah, and I can't reason/logic my way out of that one either, so we're back to the limits of reason/logic. It's mind numbing, no? It probably ought to induce silence.
But the point is: There is more than reason/logic. We know it, we experience it.
This is where you'll see philosophy is relevant. Philosophy isn't stoner talk. Philosophy gives you a hint of how to live. Here, the hint is: Get into the Existential Gap.