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Saints Who Fought the Devil: The Temptation of St. Anthony


Public Domain, The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch

Aleteia - published on 10/23/15

Stories meant not to scare you but to increase your trust in God

Saint Anthony (3rd–4th century) was one of the first monks to retire to the desert to devote himself to fasting and prayer. The Church knows his life story thanks to his biographer, St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. “When we visited St. Anthony in the ruins where he lived, we heard a commotion, thousands of voices and the clash of arms. Also, at night, wild beasts would come, and the saint fought them off with prayer,” said Athanasius.

He Spent the Night Alone in an Abandoned Tomb

One day Saint Anthony, then aged 35, decided to spend the night alone in an abandoned tomb. A great multitude of demons came and started beating him, wounding him all over. He lay on the ground as if dead. The claws of the demons prevented him from getting up. According to the hermit the suffering caused by this demonic torture was comparable to no other. The next day, by the Providence of God, a friend came to visit him and carried him on his shoulders to the nearest village for treatment. Anthony came to himself and begged his friend to bring him back to the tomb. Upon arriving there, Saint Anthony exclaimed: “Here is Anthony. I do not flee your beatings nor pain, nor torture; nothing can separate me from the love of God.”

St. Athanasius wrote: “The demons made ​​such a racket that the whole place was shaken, knocking over the four walls of the tomb; they came in droves, taking the form of all kinds of monstrous beasts and hideous reptiles. And the whole place was filled with lions, bears, leopards, bulls, wolves, asps, scorpions. The lions roared, ready to attack; bulls seemed to threaten him with their horns; snakes advanced, crawling on the ground, seeking a place of attack, and wolves prowled around him. They all were making a terrible noise. Groaning in pain, St. Anthony faced the demons, laughing: ‘If you had any power, only one of you would be enough to kill me; but the Lord has taken away your strength, so you want to frighten me by your number. The proof of your powerlessness is that you are reduced to taking the form of senseless animals. If you have any power against me, come on, attack me! But if you cannot do anything, why torment yourselves unnecessarily? My faith in God is my defense against you.’

“But all of a sudden a bright light illuminated the tomb; at that moment, the demons vanished. The pains ceased. When he realized that God was coming to his aid, he asked: ‘Where were you, Lord? Why did you not stop this suffering earlier?’ God answered him, ‘Anthony, I was present at your side. But I waited, observing your fight. And since you have resisted so bravely, I will now always be at your side, and I will make your name famous throughout the world.’ Having heard the words of the Lord, the monk stood up and prayed. He then received such strength that he felt in his body an even greater vigor than before.”

Finally, here are two passages from the Bible that will help you understand the context better:

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6).
And also: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Adapted fromPortugueseby Elizabeth Lavigne.

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