Athanasius' Life of Antony is not a biography in the modern sense of the word. It is more in the nature of a hagiography, a 'writing of holiness', in accordance with the conventions of the time. Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria from 328–373 and was well acquainted with this extraordinary person called Antony who from the age of about twenty went off by himself to live in the Egyptian desert, which was considered to be the dwelling place of wild beasts and demons, and where a person could seek to serve God in the absence of all secular distractions. People followed him out to the desert to learn from him, and so began what Athanasius called the 'peopling of the desert'. Antony died in 356 at the age of 105, and Athanasius wrote this celebration of his life soon afterwards. It has had an enormous influence in the history of Christianity throughout the ages, so that Antony is often known as the 'Father of Monks'. But the word 'monk' comes from monos, 'alone'. Antony was never a monk as we understand the word today, but 'solitary' he certainly was. And there is much in his teaching which is still valid for the individual Christian today.

The Latin text used as the source of this translation is the second edition of the Vitae Patrum, published in 1628, in which the Vita Antonii appears. The Vitae Patrum is a collection of various ancient patristic documents about the lives of the fathers and mothers of the desert, edited and annotated by Herbert Rosweyde, SJ. The text also appears in the Patrologia Latina of J P Migne (1800–1875).
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