Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/St. Paul the Simple

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 11
St. Paul the Simple

by Francis Joseph Bacchus


The story of Paul, as Palladius heard it from men who had known St. Anthony, was as follows: Paul was a husbandman, very simple and guileless. One day, on discovering the infidelity of his wife, he set off to be a monk. He knocked at the door of St. Anthony's cell. This is the substance of the dialogue which ensued:


Anthony: "What do you want?"

Paul: "To be a monk."

Anthony: "It is quite impossible for you, a man of sixty. Be content with the life of a labourer, giving thanks to God."

Paul: "Whatsoever you teach me I will do."

Anthony: "If a monk you must be, go to a cenobium. I live here alone only eating once every five days."

With this St. Anthony shut the door, and Paul remained outside. On the fourth day St. Anthony, fearing lest he should die, took him in. He set him to work weaving a rope out of palm leaves, made him undo what he had done, and do it again. When it was evening he asked him if he was ready to eat. Just as St. Anthony liked, was the reply. St. Anthony produced some crusts, took one himself, and gave the old man three. Then followed a long grace — one Psalm said twelve times over, and as many prayers. When each had eaten a crust Paul was told to take another.

Paul: "If you do, I will; if you don't, I won't."

Anthony: "I am a monk, and one is enough for me."

Paul: "It is enough for me, for I am going to be a monk."

Then came twelve prayers and as many Psalms, followed by a little sleep till midnight, and then again Psalms were recited till it was day. Finally Paul got what he wanted. After he had lived with Anthony some months, the saint gave him a cell for himself some miles from his own. In a year's time the grace of healing and casting out devils was bestowed upon Paul. Then follows a story of how he was able to exorcize a fiend over whom even St. Anthony had no power. The story of St. Paul in the "Hist. monachorum" is, as regards substantial facts, much the same as that of "Palladius", but the atmosphere is different. In "Palladius" St. Anthony is living quite alone; in the "Historia" he is a kind of abbot of hermits. In "Palladius" he is reluctant to accept Paul; in the "Historia" he invites him to become a monk. In "Palladius" St. Anthony's purpose is to show Paul just what a hermit's life really was; in the "Historia" he subjects him to the rather conventional kinds of tests which any abbot might apply to any postulant. The difference seems to amount chiefly to this: "Palladius" apparently places the story in the time before, and the "Historia" after St. Anthony began to have disciples. For different anecdotes concerning Paul the reader may be referred to Butler's "Lives of the Saints" or to Tillemont.

F.J. BACCHUS