ANTONY IN CONFLICT.
"He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock."
It is a great mistake to suppose we need quit our temporal calling, and go into retirement, in order to serve God acceptably. Christianity is a religion for this world, for the busy and influential, for the rich and powerful, as well as for the poor. A writer of the age of Justin Martyr expresses this clearly and elegantly:—
"Christians differ not," he says, "from other men, in country, or language, or customs. They do not live in any certain cities, or employ any particular dialect, or cultivate peculiar habits of life. They dwell in cities, Greek and barbarian, each where he finds himself placed; and, while they submit to the fashion of their country in dress and food, and the general conduct of life, they yet maintain a system of interior polity, which, beyond all controversy, is admirable and strange. The countries they inhabit are their own, but they dwell like aliens. They marry, like other men, and do not exclude their children from their affections; their table is open to all around them; they live in the flesh, but not according to the flesh; they walk on earth, but their conversation is in heaven."—Ad Diogn. 5.
Yet, undeniable as it is, that there is never an obligation upon Christians to leave, and often an obligation against leaving, their worldly engagements and possessions, still it is as undeniable that such an abandonment is often allowable, and when allowable praiseworthy. Our Saviour expressly told one, who was rich and young, "to sell all and give to the poor;" and surely he does not speak to immortalize exceptions, or extreme cases, or fugitive forms of argument, refutation, or censure. Even looking at the subject in a merely human light, one may pronounce it to be a narrow and shallow system, that same ultra-Protestantism, which forbids all the higher and more noble impulses of the mind, and forces men to eat, drink, and be merry, whether they will or no. But the mind of true Catholic Christianity is expansive enough to admit high and low, rich and poor, one with another.'
If the primitive Christians are to be trusted as witnesses of the genius of the Gospel system, certainly it is of that elastic and comprehensive character which removes the more powerful temptations to schism, by giving, as far as possible, a sort of indulgence to the feelings and motives which lead to it, correcting them the while, purifying them, and reining them in, ere they get excessive. Thus whereas the reason naturally loves to expatiate at will through all things known and unknown, true Catholicism does not, with the schools of Rome, place us within a strict and rigid creed, extending to the very minutest details of thought, so that a man can never have an opinion of his own; yet, while its creed is short and simple, and it is cautious and gentle in its decisions, and distinguishes between things necessary and things pious to believe, between wilfulness and ignorance, still it asserts the supremacy of faith, the guilt of unbelief, and the duty of deference to the Church; so that reason is brought round against and subdued to the obedience of Christ, at the very time when it seems to be launching forth without chart upon the ocean of speculation. And it opposes the intolerance of what are called "sensible Protestants," as much as that of Romanists. Tt is shocked at the tyranny of those who will not let a man do anything out of the way without stamping him with the name of a fanatic. It deals softly with the ardent and impetuous, saying, in effect—" My child, you may do as many great things as you will; but I have already made a list for you to select from. You are too docile to pursue ends merely because they are of your own choosing; you seek them because they are great. You wish to live above the common course of a Christian ;—I can teach you to do this, yet without arrogance." Meanwhile the sensible Protestant keeps to his point, urging every one to be as every one else, and moulding all minds upon his one small model; and, to his surprise, he finds that half his charge have turned schismatics by way of searching for something divine and extraordinary.
These remarks are intended as introductory to some notice of the life of St. Antony, the first hermit, whom I had occasion to notice in a former chapter. A hermit's life, indeed—that is, a strictly monastic or solitary life—may be called unnatural, and is not sanctioned by the Gospel. Christ sent His apostles by two and two; and surely He knew what was in man from the day that He said—" It is not good for him to be alone." So far, then, Antony's manner of life may be said to have no claim upon our admiration; but this part of his pattern did not extend to his imitators, who by their numbers were soon led to the formation of monastic societies, and who, after a while, entangled even Antony himself in the tie of becoming in a certain sense their religious head and teacher. Monachism consisting, not in solitariness, but in austerities, prayers, retirement and obedience, had nothing in it, so far, but what was perfectly Christian, and, under circumstances, exemplary; especially when viewed in its connexion with the relative duties, which were soon afterwards appropriated to it, of being almoner of the poor, educating the clergy, and defending the faith as delivered to us. In short, Monachism became, in a little while, nothing else than a peculiar department of the Christian ministry —a ministry not of the sacraments, or clerical, but especially of the word and doctrine; not indeed by any formal ordination to it, for it was as yet a lay profession, but by the common right, or rather duty, which attaches to all of us to avow, propagate, and defend the truth, especially when our devotion to it has the countenance and encouragement of Church authorities.
St. Antony's life, written by his friend the great Athanasius, has come down to us. Some critics, indeed, doubt its genuineness, or consider it interpolated. Rivetus and' others reject it; Du Pin decides, on the whole, that it is his, but with additions; the Benedictines and Tillemont ascribe it to him unhesitatingly. I conceive no question can be raised with justice about its substantial accuracy; and on rising from the perusal of it, we are able to pronounce Antony an extraordinary man. Enthusiastic he certainly must be accounted; had he lived in this day and this country, he would have been exposed to a considerable (though, of course, not insuperable) temptation to become a sectarian. Panting after some higher rule of life than that which the ordinary forms of society admit of, and finding our present lines too rigidly drawn to include any style of mind that is out of the way, any rule that is not "gentlemanlike," "comfortable," and '' established," he might possibly have broken what he could not bend. The question i3 not whether he would have been justified in so doing; (of course not;) nor whether the most angelic temper of all is not that which settles down content with what is every-day (as Abraham's heavenly guests eat of the calf which he had dressed, and as our Saviour went down to Nazareth, and was subject to His parents ;) but whether such resignation to worldly comforts is not quite as often at least, the characteristic of a very grovelling mind also, —whether there are not minds between the lowest and the highest, of ardent feelings, keen imaginations, and undisciplined tempers, who are under a strong irritation prompting them to run wild,—whether it is not our duty (so to speak) to play with such, carefully letting out line lest they snap it,—and whether our established system is as indulgent and as wise as is desirable in its treatment of such persons, inasmuch as it provides no occupation for them, does not understand how to turn them to account, lets them run to waste, tempts them to schism, loses them, and is weakened by the loss. For instance, had we some regular missionary Seminary, such an institution would in one way supply the deficiency I speak of.
But to return to Antony. Did I see him before me, I might be tempted to consider him somewhat of an enthusiast; but what I desire to point out to the reader is the subdued and Christian form which his enthusiasm took; it was not vulgar, bustling, imbecile, unstable, undutiful; it was calm and composed, manly, intrepid, magnanimous, full of affectionate loyalty to the Church and to the Truth.
Antony was born A. n. 251, while Origen was still alive, while Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, Dionysius bishop of Alexandria, and Gregory Thaumaturgus of Neocasarea; he lived till A.d. 356, to the age of 105, nine years after the birth of St. Chrysostom, and two years after that of St. Augustine. He was an Egyptian by birth, and the son of noble, opulent, and Christian parents. He was brought up as a Christian, and, from his boyhood, showed a strong disposition towards a solitary life. Shrinking from the society of his equals, and despising the external world in comparison of the world within him, he set himself against what is considered a liberal education—that is, the acquisition of foreign languages. At the same time he was very dutiful to his parents, simple and self-denying in his habits, and attentive to the sacred services and readings of the Church.
Before he arrived at man's estate, he had lost both
his parents, and was left with a sister, who was a child, and an ample inheritance. His mind, at this time, was earnestly set upon imitating the Apostles and their converts, who gave up their possessions and followed Christ. One day, about six months after his parents' death, as he went to church, as usual, the subject pressed seriously upon him. The Gospel of the day happened to contain the text— "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell all that thou hast," &c. Antony applied it to himself, and acted upon it. He had three hundred acres1, of especial fertility, even in Egypt; these he at once made over to the uses of the poor of his own neighbourhood. Next, he turned into money all his personal property, and, reserving a portion for his sister's use, gave the rest to the poor. After awhile he was struck by hearing in church the text—" Take no thought for the morrow;" and, considering he had not yet fully satisfied the Evangelical precept, he gave away what he had reserved, placing his sister in the care of some trustworthy female acquaintance, who had devoted themselves to a single life.
He commenced his ascetic life, according to the custom hitherto observed, by retiring to a place not far from his own home. Here he remained for awhile to steady and fix his mind in his new habits, and to gain what advice he could towards the formation of them, from such as had already engaged in them. This is a remarkable trait, as Athanasius records it, as showing how little he was influenced by self-will or sectarian spirit in what he was doing,
1 Arura—three quarters of an English acre.—Gibbon.
how ardently he pursued an ascetic life as in itself good, and how willing he was to become the servant of any who might give him directions in his pursuit. But this will be best shown by an extract:—
"There was, in the next village, an aged man who had lived a solitary life from his youth. Antony, seeing him, 'was zealously affected in a good matter,' and first of all adopted a similar retirement in the neighbourhood of the village. And did he hear of any zealous man anywhere, he used to go and seek him out, like a wise man; not returning home till he had seen him, and gained from him some stock, as it were, for his journey towards holiness. He laboured with his hands, according to the words—' If any one is without work, let him not eat;' laying out part of his produce in bread, part on the poor. He prayed continually, having learned that it is a duty to pray in private without ceasing. So attentive, indeed, was he to sacred reading, that he let no part of the Scripture fall from him to the ground, but retained all, memory serving in place of book. In this way he gained the affections of all; he, in turn, subjecting himself sincerely to the zealous men whom he visited, and marking down, in his own thoughts, the special attainment of each in zeal and ascetic life—the refined manners of one, another's continuance in prayer, the meekness of a third, the kindness of a fourth, the long vigils of a fifth, the studiousness of a sixth. This had a marvellous gift of endurance, that of fasting and sleeping on the ground; this was gentle, that long-suffering; and in one and all he noted the adoration of Christ, and love one towards another. Thus furnished, he returned to his own ascetic re
treat, henceforth combining in himself their separate exercises, and zealously minded to exemplify them all. This, indeed, was his only point of emulation with those of his own age, that he might not come off second to them in good things; and this he so pursued as to annoy no one, rather to make all take delight in him. Accordingly, all the villagers of the place, and religious persons who were acquainted with him, seeing him such, called him God's beloved, and cherished him as a son or as a brother."—§ 4.
Of course this account is the mere relation of a fact; but, over and above its historical character, it evidently is meant as the description of a character which both the writer and those for whom he wrote thought eminently Christian. Taking it then as being, in a certain line, the beau idial of what we should call the enthusiasm of the time, I would request the reader to compare it with the sort of Christianity into which the unhappy enthusiast of the present day is precipitated by the influences of sectarianism; and he will see how much was gained in purity, as well as unity, to Christianity, by that Monastic system which, with us, is supplied by methodism and dissent.
After awhile, our youth's enthusiasm began to take its usual course. His spirits fell, his courage flagged; a reaction followed, and the temptations of this world assaulted him with a violence which showed that as yet he scarcely understood the true meaning of his profession. Had he been nothing more than an enthusiast, he would have gone back to the world. His abandoned property, the guardianship of his sister, his family connexions, the conveniences of wealth, worldly reputation, disgust of the sameness and coarseness of his food, hodily infirmity, the tediousness of his mode of living, and the painfulness of idleness, became instruments of temptation. Other and fiercer assaults arose. However, his faith rose above them all, or rather, as Athanasius says, "not himself, but the grace of God that was in him." Athanasius then proceeds :—
"Such was Antony's first victory over the devil, or rather the Saviour's glorious achievement in him, 'who hath condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.' Not, however, as if Antony, imagining the devil was subdued, was neglectful afterwards and secure; knowing from the Scriptures that there are many devices of the enemy, he was persevering in his ascetic life. He was the more earnest in keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection, lest, triumphing in some things, yet in others he might be brought low. His vigils were often through the whole night. He ate but once in the day, after sunset; sometimes after two days, often after four: his food was bread and salt,—his drink, water only. He never had more than a mat to sleep on, but generally lay down on the ground. He put aside oil for anointing, saying that the youthful ought to be forward in their asceticism, and, instead of seeking what might relax the body, to accustom it to hardships, remembering the Apostle's words—' When I am weak, then am I strong.' He thought it unsuitable to measure either holy living, or retirement for the sake of it, by length of time; but by the earnest desire and deliberate re
solve of being holy. Accordingly, he never himself used to take any account of the time gone by; but, day by day, as if ever fresh beginning his exercise, he made still greater efforts to advance, repeating to himself continually the saying of the Apostle, 'forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forward to those which are before.' "—§ 7.
Such was his life for about fifteen years. At the end of this time, being now thirty-five, he betook himself to the desert, having first spent some days in prayers and holy exercises in the tombs. Here, however, we are necessarily introduced to another subject, which has already entered into Athanasius's text, though it has not been necessary to notice it,— his alleged conflicts with the evil spirits; to it, then, let us proceed.
It is quite certain, then, that Antony believed himself to be subjected to sensible and visible conflicts with evil spirits. It is far from my desire to rescue him from the imputation of enthusiasm; the very drift of my account of him being to show how enthusiasm is sobered and refined by being submitted to the discipline of the Church, instead of being allowed to run wild externally to it. If he were not an enthusiast, or in danger of being such, we should lose one chief instruction his life conveys. This admission, however, does not settle the question to which the narrative of his spiritual conflicts gives rise; so I shall first make some extracts descriptive of them, and then comment upon them.
The following is the account of his visit to the tombs :—
"Thus bracing himself after the pattern of Elias, he set off to the tombs which were some distance from his village; and, giving directions to an acquaintance to bring him bread after some days' interval, he entered into one of them, suffered himself to be shut in, and remained there by himself. This the enemy not enduring, yea, rather dreading, lest before long he should engross the desert also with his holy exercise, assaulted him one night with a host of spirits, and so lashed him, that he lay speechless on the ground from the torture, which, he declared, was far more severe than from strokes which man could inflict. But, by God's Providence, who does not overlook those who hope in Him, on the next day his acquaintance came with the bread; and, on opening the door, saw him lying on the ground as if dead. Whereupon he carried him to the village church, and laid him on the ground; and many of his relations and the villagers took their places by the body, as if he were already dead. However, about midnight his senses returned, and, collecting himself, he observed that they were all asleep except his aforesaid acquaintance; whereupon, he beckoned him to his side, and asked of him, without waking any of them, to carry him back again to the tombs.
"The man took him back: and when he was shut in, as before, by himself, being unable to stand from his wounds, he lay down and began to pray. Then he cried out loudly, ' Here am T, Antony; I do not shun your blows. Though ye add to them, yet nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.' And then he began to sing, 'Though a host should encamp against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid.' The devil has no trouble in devising diverse shapes
of evil. During the night, therefore, the evil ones made so great a tumult, that the whole place seemed to be shaken, and, as if they broke down the four walls of the building, they seemed to rush in, in the form of wild beasts and reptiles But Antony, though scourged and pierced, felt indeed his bodily pain, but the rather kept vigil in his soul. So, as he lay groaning in body, yet a watcher in his mind, he spoke in taunt—' Had ye any power, one of you would be enough to assail me; you try, if possible, to frighten me with your number, because the Lord has spoiled you of your strength. Those pretended forms are the proof of your impotence. Our seal and wall of defence is faith in our Lord.' After many attempts, then, they gnashed their teeth at him, because they were rather making themselves a sport than him. But the Lord a second time remembered the conflict of Antony, and came to his help. Raising his eyes, he saw the roof as if opening, and a beam of light descending towards him; suddenly the devils vanished, his pain ceased, and the building was whole again. Upon this Antony said, 'Where art thou, Lord? why didst thou not appear at the first, to ease my pain?' A voice answered, 'Antony, I was here, but waited to see thy bearing in the contest; since, then, thou hast sustained and not been worsted, I will be to thee an aid for ever, and will make thy name famous in every place.' "—§ 9, 10.
After this preliminary vigil, Antony made for the desert, where he spent the next twenty years in solitude. His biographer gives the following account of his life there :—
"The following day he left the tombs, and his piety becoming still more eager, he went to the old man before mentioned, and prayed him to accompany him into the desert. When he declined by reason of his age and the novelty of the proposal, he set off for the mountain by himself .... and finding beyond the river a fortified spot, deserted so long a while that venomous reptiles abounded there, he went thither, and took possession of it, they farther retreating, as if one pursued them. Blocking up the entrance, and laying in bread for six months (as the Thebans are wont, often keeping their bread a whole year), and having a well of water indoors, he remained, as if in a shrine, neither going abroad himself, nor seeing any of those who came to him. . . . He did not allow his acquaintance to enter; so, while they remained often days and nights without, they used to hear noises within; blows, pitiable cries, such as 'Depart from our realm! what part hast thou in the desert? thou shalt perforce yield to our devices.' At first they thought he was in dispute with some men who had entered by means of ladders; but when they had contrived to peep in through a chink, and saw no one, then they reckoned it was devils that they heard, and, in terror, called Antony. He cared for them more than for the spirits, and coming at once near the door, bade them go away and not fear; 'for,' he said, 'the devils make all this feint to alarm the timid. Ye, then, sign yourselves, and depart in confidence, and let them mock their ownselves."—§ 12, 13.
To enter into the state of opinion and feeling which such accounts imply, it is necessary to observe, that as regards the Church's warfare with the devil, the primitive Christians considered themselves to be similarly circumstanced with the Apostles. They did not draw a line between the condition of the Church in their day and in the first age, but believed that what it had been, such it was still in its trials and in its powers; that the open assaults of Satan, and their own means of repelling them, were such as they are described in the Gospels. Exorcism was a sacred function in the primitive Church, and the energumen took his place with catechumens and penitents, as in the number of those who had the especial prayers, and were allowed some of the privileges, of the Christian body. Our Saviour speaks of the power of exorcising as depending on fasting and prayer, in certain special cases, and thus seems to countenance the notion of a direct conflict between the Christian athlete and the powers of evil, a conflict carried on on the side of the former by definite weapons, for definite ends, and not that indirect warfare merely which the religious conduct of life implies. "This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting." Surely none of Christ's words are chance words; He spoke with a purpose, and the Holy Spirit guided the Evangelists in their selection of them with a purpose; and if so, this text is a rule and an admonition, and was acted upon as such by the primitive Christians, whether from their received principles of interpretation or the traditionary practice of the Church.
In like manner, whether from their mode of interpreting Scripture or from the opinions and practices which came down to them, they conceived the devil to have that power over certain brute animals -which Scripture sometimes assigns to him. He is known on one memorable occasion to have taken the form of a serpent; at another time, a legion of devils possessed a herd of swine. These instances may, for what we know, be revealed specimens of a whole side of the Divine dispensation, viz., the interference of spiritual agencies, good and bad, with the course of the world, under which, perhaps, the speaking of Balaam's ass falls; and the early Christians, whether so understanding Scripture, or from their traditionary system, acted as if they were so. They considered that brute nature was widely subjected to the power of spirits; as, on the other hand, there had been a time when even the Creator Spirit had condescended to manifest Himself in the bodily form of a dove. Their notions concerning local demoniacal influences in oracles and idols, in which they were sanctioned by Scripture, confirmed this belief. Accordingly, they took passages like the following literally, and used them as a corroborative proof:—" Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy." "They shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them." "Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." "I saw three unclean spirits, like frogs .... they are the spirits of devils, working miracles." Add to these, Dan. vii. 3, 4, about the four beasts; Isa. xiii. 21, 22, about satyrs or jackals; and Job xli., about the leviathan, which they interpreted of the evil spirit.
Moreover, there is a ground of deep philosophy on
-which such notions may be based, and which appears to have been held by the primitive Christians; viz., that visible things are types and earnests of things invisible. The elements are, in some sense, symbols and tokens of spiritual agents, good and bad. Satan is called the prince of the power of the air. Still more mysterious than inanimate nature is the family of brute animals, the real intelligence of which, if they have no souls, is a supernatural something which makes use of their outward forms as its organs and instruments. If, on the other hand, they have souls, it is natural to attribute to them a moral nature, and a place, however subordinate, in the great conflict which is going on between good and evil. As to the exact connexion between the visible and invisible, the when, where, how, and how far, this it is doubtless idle to attempt to settle; but surely there is nothing abstractedly absurd in considering certain hideous developments of nature as tokens of the presence of the unseen principle of evil, when we once admit that it exists. Certainly the sight of a beast of prey, with his malevolent passions, savage cruelty, implacable rage, malice, cunning, sullenness, restlessness, brute hunger, and irresistible strength, awakens very awful and complicated musings in a religious mind. Here, then, a philosophical view of nature would be considered, in primitive times, to corroborate the method of Scripture interpretation then adopted.
But, moreover, Scripture itself seemed, in the parallel case of demoniacs, to become its own interpreter. It was notorious that in the Apostolic age devils made human beings their organs; why, then, much more, should not brute beasts be such? The simple question was, whether the state of things in the third century was substantially the same as it was in the first; and this, I say, the early Christians assumed in the affirmative, and certainly, whether they were judges of this question or not, I suppose they were as good judges as we are. The case of demoniacs should be carefully considered, since their sufferings often seem to have been neither more nor less than what would now be attributed to natural diseases, and might be treated (and rightly, nay, perhaps successfully) by medical rules. We have no right to be sure that the demoniac whom the Apostles could not cure, might not have recovered under the remedies usually administered in epilepsy. Again, the woman who was bowed together for eighteen years, and was cured by Christ, is said to have had "a spirit of infirmity," to have been "bound by Satan." If, then, diseases may be tokens of demoniacal presence and power, though ordinarily admitting of medical treatment, why is it an objection to the connexion of the material or animal world with spirits, that the laws of mineral agents, or the peculiarities of brute natures can also be drawn out into system on paper, and counteracted or aided by our knowledge of them? The same objection lies, nay, avails, against the one and the other. The very same scoffing temper which rejects, at once and in the mass, the opinions of the early Church concerning Satan's power, as' " Pagan," "Oriental," and the like, does actually assail the inspired statements respecting it, explains away demoniacal possessions as unreal, and maintains that Christ and His Apostles spoke by way of accommodation, and in the language of their day, when they said that Satan bound us with diseases and plagues, and was "prince of the power of the air."
Dreams are another department of our present state of being, through which, as Scripture informs us, the Supernatural seems to act; and in the same general way; i.e., not always, and by ascertainable rules, but by the virtue of indefinite, though real, connexion with them.
On the whole, then, the ancients seem to have considered all that is seen as but a type or instrument of what is unseen, as external indications, to us practically influential, of the Supernatural. This will explain what seems, at first sight, credulity and superstition in many great men. It is objected to them that they mistook what is natural for what is above nature; and it is condescendingly observed that, had they lived when "science" had made the advances which it has effected in these enlightened days, such men would not have been exposed to such errors. But, in truth, their theory, whether right or wrong, runs much deeper than we sciolists dream; for they take the whole of nature, not certain detached parts of it, to be something supernatural; and the critics in question do not advance one inch towards removing them from their position, by showing a certain connexion and order between various parts of nature which before seemed unconnected, and by using that connexion for certain present and temporal purposes. The plain astronomer speaks as if the sun went round the earth, the physical philosopher as if the earth went round the sun; this may be viewed as a question of practical convenience, the assumption of a theory or fiction necessary as an artifice for arriving at certain practical ends. On the other hand, it does not make the fire from heaven on Sodom less Divine hecause it came from a volcano; nor, in like manner, need a comet or eclipse be less a sign of tumult and change because it proceeds upon a certain physical law. It is another matter whether it is such a sign,—that is a question of fact; and to us mortals, who have a difficulty at arriving at facts, it may be a matter of greater or less probability, and of a probability which may be affected by the circumstance of the phenomenon harmonizing or not with the established order of things; but it is one which modern " discoveries" (as they are called) do not, and cannot settle. And, in like manner, since evil spirits are known before now to have entered into brute animals, it is a question of probabilities whether they do now,—whether certain passages in Scripture which seem to assert it, are, or are not, to be understood literally; and, supposing I found a narrative, such as Antony's, of the Apostles' age, I must think it would be sufficiently agreeable to Scripture doctrine to make me dismiss from my mind all antecedent difficulties in believing it. On the other hand, did the miracle of the swine occur in the life of St. Antony, I venture to maintain that we of this scientific day should not merely suspend our judgment, or pronounce it improbable (which we might have a right to do), but should at once, and peremptorily, pronounce it altogether incredible and false: so as to make it appear that,
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
What I have been saying comes to this, that there are a number of phenomena in the world, tokens of good and evil, which we may or may not, according as we please, refer to the presence and agency of invisible beings,—such as the course of nature, the accidents of life, the bearing upon us of brute animals, the phantoms which occur in dreams, the influences of the imagination, and the like. If we lived in an age of miracles, the (in that case) acknowledged presence of a supernatural power would lead us, doubtless, to refer many things to it, and reasonably, which otherwise we should have left as we found them; and in proportion as we come near in time or place to miraculous agency, in the same proportion will this persuasion affect us. When, then, we read of Antony's sensible contests with the powers of evil, the abstract probability of these is to be decided by the existence, in his day, of such parallel facts as demoniacal possessions, which certainly are witnessed unanimously by his contemporaries; and the really superhuman character of what seem like natural occurrences is to be estimated, not by the mere circumstance that they may be brought under natural laws, as demoniacal possessions also may be by the physician, but by the known actual presence of unseen agents to which they may be referred. Antony's conflict in the tombs may be solved into a dream, or into an attack from jackals; yet this only removes the real agent a step further back. Satan may still have been the real agent at the bottom, and have been discerned by Antony through the shadows of things sensible.
I have no wish to trifle or argue subtilly. We are upon a very deep subject. This earth had been Satan's kingdom; Christ came to end his usurpation; but Satan retreated only inch by inch. The Church of Christ is hallowed ground, but external to it is still the kingdom of darkness. Many serious persons think that the evil powers have, even now, extraordinary powers there, whether through or beyond the order of nature. A venerable bishop, who had had to do with heathen lands, once told the writer of these pages, that he did not-at all doubt, from his own experience, that Satan had power in them which he has not with us. Certainly there are strange stories among them of sorcerers and the like. Nay, how strange are the stories which only in half-heathen, or even Christian places, have come perhaps to our own knowledge! How unaccountable to him who has met with them are the sudden sounds, the footsteps, and the noises which he has heard in solitary places, or when in company with others!
These things being considered, I judge of Antony's life thus:—There may be enthusiasm here; there may be, at times, exaggerations and misconceptions of what, as they really happened, meant nothing. And still, it may be true that that conflict begun by our Lord, when He was interrogated and assaulted by Satan, was continued in the experience of Antony, who lived not so very long after Him. How far the evil spirit acted, how far he was present in natural objects, how far was dream, how far fancy, is little to the purpose. I see, any how, the root of a great truth here, and think that those are wiser who admit something than those who deny all. I see Satan frightened at the invasions of the Church upon his kingdom; I see him retreating step by step; I see him dispossessed by fasting and prayer, as was predicted; and I see him retreating step by step; I see him doing his utmost in whatever way to resist. Nor is there anything uncongenial to the Gospel system that so direct a war should be waged upon him; a war without the ordinary duties of life and of society for its subject-matter and instruments. The text already referred to is (as it were) a canon in sanction of it; our Saviour Himself was forty days in the wilderness, and St. Paul in prison, St. Peter at Joppa, and St. John at Patmos, show that social duties may be providentially suspended under the Gospel, and a direct intercourse with the next world be imposed upon the Christian. And if so much be allowed, certainly there is nothing in Antony's life to make us suspicious of him personally. His doctrine was pure and unimpeachable; and his temper is high and heavenly,—without cowardice, without gloom, without formality, and without selfcomplacency. Superstition is abject and crouching, it is full of thoughts of guilt; it distrusts God, and dreads the powers of evil. Antony at least has nothing of this, being full of holy confidence, divine peace, cheerfulness, and valorousness, be he (as some men may judge) ever so much an enthusiast. But on this subject I shall say something in the next chapter.