In the last post, I gave a number of definitions for you to refer to as I discuss the belief system behind the Monastics of the Roman church in the next few posts.
As we discuss some of the so-called desert fathers, and those termed “Christian” monastics and/or mystics, look to see if repentance from sin, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection are preached and God’s Word is promoted. If not, though it sounds spiritual, it is not of God’s Kingdom of Light and Truth.
Anthony and the Desert “Fathers”
Anthony, an Egyptian from Alexandria, Egypt, has been called the “Father of Monasticism, although “Christian” monasticism had been practiced in the Egyptian deserts before him.
Anthony lived about 13 years in the Nitrate Valley region in Egypt. He was one of the first ascetics to live cut off from civilization in the harsh environment of the salt desert. It was said that the devil tempted Anthony with boredom, laziness, and phantoms of women which he resisted by the power of prayer. Anthony then moved to a tomb where he lived and closed the door on himself, but local villagers brought him food. The story then says that the devil was envious of him when he saw his ascetic life and intense worship, and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious. Again friends found him and carried him to a church.
Anthony, on recovering, this time went further out in the desert and lived for 20 years enclosed in an abandoned Roman fort and communicated with the outside world by a crevice through which food would be passed, saying only a few words. No one was allowed to enter his cell. The story (from his friend Athanasius) says the devil resumed his war against Anthony with phantom wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes and scorpions. Anthony would laugh at them and scorn them. Anthony did not create a monastery, but a monastic community grew up based on his example of living an ascetic and isolated life.
Anthony was a prominent leader among the so-called Desert Fathers. The Desert fathers (tagged as Christian) were hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the same Egyptian Nitrate desert as Anthony. Thinking the desert life would teach them to not be concerned about the things of this world and the solitude would make it easier to follow God better, people from all over went to this region to join monasteries in the 3rd to 7th centuries. They did not realize that there was a problem in their own heart.
You may remember from a previous post that Augustine of Hippo was influenced by Anthony. Augustine spent time in the same Egyptian desert, which according to one source, influenced his beliefs. Augustine (and a John Cassian) “emphasized an ascent to God through periods of purgation and illumination” thinking that it led to unity with the Divine (did they mean the God of the Bible?). This false belief influenced the belief system of the Roman church.
As time went on, these ascetics/monks developed a reputation for supposed holiness and wisdom and the desert life changed from that of the hermit with his own individual spiritual program, to community living with common prayer and meals which developed into what is called “Christian” monasticism. Where is Jesus in this?
Jesus in the wilderness.
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil.…”—Luke 4:1, 2
In the wilderness, the devil wrested scripture trying to tempt Jesus to use His power apart from God’s will, to worship Satan, and to tempt God. Jesus did not flail his body, seek a “divine” experience, practice disciplines, or respond using man’s wisdom. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, used God’s Words (correctly interpreted) to refute Satan.
“And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”—Luke 4:4
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”—Luke 4:8
“And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”—Luke 4:12
When Jesus’ trial was over, Jesus did not stay in the desert, or cloister himself away from people, but started his ministry with people to tell them the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived.
The alkaline desert (called Wadi el Natrun today) that these ascetics, mystics and monastics went to is in the Nitrate Valley region in Egypt. In Greek the region is called Scetes, which means ascetics. In Roman church literature, it is known as the Nitrian desert and is where Natron was mined. Natron is a naturally occurring salt mixture (white to colorless when pure) of hydrated sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and small quantities of household salt and sodium sulfate. Natron deposits occur naturally as a part of saline lake beds in arid environments.
“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.“—Jeremiah 17:5, 6
You may notice that the asceticism, mysticism, and belief systems mentioned in the last post are interrelated with the beliefs of the Desert Monks.The influence of these desert monks have come to influence our own generation in terms of what is called the emergent church.
From the BOOK
“…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…”—Romans 7:18
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”—Galatians 2:16
“Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”—Romans 6:18
“For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”—1 Corinthians 2:2