Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saint Anthony Abbot 3

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez 1599 – 1660
San Antonio Abad y San Pablo, primer ermitaño
Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Paul, the first Hermit
Oil on canvas
257 x 188 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Velázquez painted this work for the Hermitage of Saint Paul in the Gardens of the Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid

The work is based on the life of Saint Paul the First Hermit as set out in The Golden Legend which itsef is based on the story narrated by St Jerome:

"Here followeth, the Life of S. Paul the first Hermit.

S. Paul which was the first hermit as S. Jerome writeth, was in the time of Decius and Valerianus, emperors, the year of the incarnation of our Lord two hundred and fifty-six. ...

In this time S. Anthony was a hermit in another desert and was then ninety years of age. And on a time he thought in himself that in the world was none so good ne so great an hermit as he was himself.

Hereupon came to him a revelation as he slept that, beneath all, low down in that desert was an hermit better than he, a all. And whiles they were thus talking a crow came flying and brought to them two loaves of bread ; and when the crow was gone S. Paul said: Be thou glad and joyful, for our Lord is debonair and merciful, he hath sent us bread for to eat. It is forty years passed that every day he hath sent me half a loaf, but now at thy coming he hath sent two whole loaves, and double provender.

And they had question together until evensong time which of them both should entame or begin to take of the bread. At the last the bread departed even between their hands, and then they ate, and drank of the well or fountain. After graces said they had all that night collation together.

On the morn said S. Paul: Brother, it is long sith that I knew that thou dwelledst in this region and in this country, and God had promised to me thy company, I shall now shortly die and shall go to Jesu Christ for to receive the crown to me promised, thou art come hither for to bury my body.

When S. Anthony heard that, anon he began tenderly to weep, and wailed, praying that he might die with him and go in his company. S. Paul said: It is need yet that thou live for thy brethren, to the end that they by the ensample of thee be made firm and taught; wherefore I pray thee return to thine abbey and bring to me the mantle which Athanasius the bishop gave to thee for to wrap in my body.

Then S. Anthony marvelled of this, that he knew of this bishop and of this mantle, and after durst nothing say, but did to him reverence, like as God had spoken to him, and weeping kissed his feet and his hands and came again to his abbey with great travail and labour, for he had from that one part to that other many journeys and foul way, through hayes and hedges, woods, stones, hills and valleys, and S. Anthony of great age and feeble of fasting, and not strong ne mighty.

When he was come to his abbey, two of his disciples, to him most secret, demanded of him saying: Fair father, where have ye been so long? And he answered: Alas! I, wretched sinner, which bear falsely the name to be a monk, I have seen Eli the prophet, I have seen John the Baptist in desert, and certes I have seen S. Paul in Paradise.

Thus speaking and beating his breast he brought the mantle out of his cell, and all stilly without more words, he went again the long way all alone through the desert unto S. Paul the hermit, having great desire to see him, for he was afeard lest he should die ere he might come again to him.

It happed in the second journey, where S. Anthony went through the desert the third hour of the day, he saw the soul of S. Paul, shining, ascend into heaven among a great company of angels, of prophets, and also of apostles, and anon he fell down to the earth weeping and wailing, and crying with a high voice: Alas, Paul! wherefore leavest thou me so soon, which have so little seen thee?

Then he had so great desire to see the corpse or body that he passed all the remnant of his way as soon as a bird flying, like as he was wont to tell and rehearse, and when he came to the cell of S. Paul he found that the body was right up on his knees and the visage and hands addressed towards heaven and supposed he had been alive and had made his prayers, but when he had advised it, he knew well that he was passed out of this world. What weepings and what wailings he made upon the body it were a piteous thing to hear; among all other he said: O holy soul, thy body showeth in death this that thou didst in thy life.

After this he was much abashed how he should bury the body, for he had no instrument to make his sepulchre; then came two lions which much debonairly made a pit after the quantity of his body, and S. Anthony buried his body therein.

And he took with him the coat of S. Paul which was made and and afterward, for great reverence, S. Anthony ware this coat and clad him withal in great and solemn feasts.

Thus this holy man S. Paul died in the year of the incarnation of our Lord two hundred and eighty-eight. Let us then pray to him that he impetre and get us remission of our sins, that after this life we may come to everlasting joy and bliss in heaven. Amen."

Included in the painting is St Anthony asking a centaur the way to the hermit Paul. As he goes on he meets a homed monster with goat's feet, and on the right he is knocking on the door to the cave. The main scene shows the raven bringing the two saints the loafs of bread from heaven. To the left, we see the closing sequence: two lions are digging a grave for St Paul while St Anthony prays beside his corpse.

It uses the medieval device of depicting several incidents in time in the one composition

It was painted during the artist`s middle period during which he painted some of his greatest religious works

The Life of St Anthony was composed by St Athanasius. It can be read in English translation here

Blessed John Henry Newman was a great student of the early Church fathers and in particular of St Athanasius and the Arian Controversy.

In his work Historical Sketches Volume II (1872) there is a section entitled "Church of the Fathers" where he wrote two chapters on St Anthony Abbot: Chapter 5 Antony in Conflict; and Chapter 6 Antony in Calm

Newman wrote:

"Did I see him before me, I might be tempted, with my cut and dried opinions, and my matter-of-fact ways, and my selfishness and pusillanimity, to consider him somewhat of an enthusiast; but what I desire to point out to the reader, and especially to the Protestant, is the subdued and Christian form which was taken by his enthusiasm, if it must be so called. 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. ...

[W]ere I a candid Protestant, I would judge of Antony's life thus:—I should say: "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 also 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 really present in material forms, how far on the other hand was dream, how far imagination, is little to the purpose. I see, anyhow, the root of a great truth here, and think that those are wiser who admit something than those who deny everything. I see Satan frightened at the invasions of the Church upon his kingdom; I see him dispossessed by fasting and prayer, as was predicted; I see him retreating step by step; and 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, with such definite weapons, should be waged upon him; a war which has not the ordinary duties of life and of society for its subject-matter and instruments. That text about fasting and prayer is a canon in sanction of it: our Saviour too Himself was forty days in the wilderness; and St. Peter at Joppa, and St. John at Patmos, show us that duties of this world may be providentially suspended under the Gospel, and a direct intercourse with the next world may be opened 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 surely was pure and unimpeachable; and his temper is high and heavenly,—without cowardice, without gloom, without formality, and without self-complacency. 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."