Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt

Welcome to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen! After sixteen bruising, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding battles, we have cut the field of 32 saints in half. We’ve already seen our fair share of hotly contested match-ups, blow-outs, and Cinderellas and we’re only half-way through the bracket. Lent Madness, like Lent, is part endurance race and we encourage those who have come thus far -- both voters and contestants -- to buckle down for the duration and, in the words of Saint Paul, “Run with perseverance the race that is set before you.”

In this round, we move past basic biographies and delve into what we like to call “Quirks and Quotes.” We’ll learn some unusual facts about our saints and hear about them, either in their own words or in words uttered or written about them. Some of our holy men and women are quirkier than others and some are more quotable. As always, remember these match-ups are neither fair nor for the faint of heart. If you want a bland Lenten devotion you’ve come to the wrong place.

Yesterday's Round of 32 ended with the biggest rout of 2014 with Charles Wesley throttling his brother John 80% to 20%. As you make your informed and never irrational choices from here on out, you can always refresh your memory with the first round bios conveniently housed under the bracket tab by Bracket Czar Adam Thomas. Just click the appropriate links for the first round match-ups. Adam has also updated the Match-Up Calendar so you can see precisely when all the Saintly Sixteen action will take place. Print it out and staple it to your refrigerator!

We kick thing off with Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt. In the last round Basil defeated Christina the Astonishing while Antony turned back Mary of Egypt. Away we go!

saint_basil_the_great_smBasil the Great

Basil (330-379) was a prolific writer and preacher. His numerous writings included a treatise on the Holy Spirit; a Lenten series on Creation; writings on the Psalter; sermons on living the Christian life; liturgies and prayers; and hundreds of letters. Essentially, he was a one-man Forward Movement Tract* Rack. A few selections include: 

How to Pray

Prayer is a request for what is good, offered by the devout of God. But we do not restrict this request simply to what is stated in words. We should not express our prayer merely in syllables, but also through the attitude of our soul and in the virtuous actions we do in our life. This is how you pray continually — not by offering prayer in words, but by joining yourself to God through your whole way of life, so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer.

Praying Daily

When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking God for being so generous to you. If you drink wine (or coffee), be mindful of God who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank God for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who ordered things this way. When the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.

 On Attachment to Possessions

The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.

Basil lived what he preached. He ate a bare minimum of food, just enough to survive. He owned only the clothes on his back and used any money he acquired to help the poor and needy. 

Lest anyone think Basil was all sweetness and light, he challenged an entire faction of the Church, including an emperor. When the Emperor's prefect demanded Basil support the Arian heresy or risk torture, exile, and death, Basil’s response was essentially, “Hit me with your best shot,” although much more eloquent. When the prefect, stunned by Basil’s defiance, said he’d never heard a bishop speak like that to him, Basil simply replied, “Perhaps you’ve never met a real bishop before.”

Drop. Microphone.

And forever inspire the Church.

*Tracts are small pamphlets that offer insight and information about all things Episcopal. The quotes are not verbatim, either. 

-- Laurie Brock

unnamedAntony of Egypt

In our first encounter with Antony we saw him sell all of his inheritance, ensure the safety of his younger sister (who later became a “guiding spirit” to other virgins), move out to the desert, wage intense battle with demons, and staunchly defend orthodoxy before his death as an old man.

St. Antony’s biographer, the bishop Athanasius, tells us that when Antony addressed would be monks, he reminded them that “The whole of [a person’s] life is very short measured by the ages to come, so that all our time is as nothing compared to eternal life.” Antony himself lived by this code. It was not enough to give up all he owned, he had to be a “martyr to his conscience” daily (Martin Luther would be proud). To aid in this “[Antony] fasted continually, his clothing was hair on the inside while the outside was skin” and “he never bathed his body in water to remove filth.”

In the Sayings of the Fathers it is reported that a man wished to become a monk. After selling all his possessions but keeping some of the proceeds for himself, he came to Antony. Antony instructed him to go to the local village, buy meat, and attach it to his bare body. The man did so and was hounded by birds and wild animals the entire walk back, his body in tatters from the beasts. Antony looked at him and declared, “Those who have renounced the world but wish to have money are thus attacked and massacred by the demons.”

Speaking of demons, Antony’s many nights in the tombs resisting devils produced a demonology that puts Frank Peretti to shame. Space only allows a brief mention of his battle with an enormously tall demon named Providence. Although demons appear full of confusion, crashing, roaring, and shouting, all Antony had to do to banish his foe was blow a breath at it, speak the name of Christ, and make an effort to strike it. The enemy, along with his fellow demons, vanished in a jiffy.

Antony also had a way with animals. Once when he had planted a garden, wild animals continued to damage the beds. With tact that would make Francis of Assisi jealous, Antony gently caught one of the animals and announced to the other beasts, “Why do you do harm to me when I harm none of you? Go away, and in the Lord’s name do not come near these things again!” He was never bothered by the vermin again. Not even a ferret.

Antony firmly believed in the inherent goodness of human beings. He reminds us, “When you hear the word virtue mentioned, do not be afraid of it or treat it as a foreign word. Really it is not far from us, nor is its home apart from us; no the thing is within us, and its accomplishment is easy if we but have the will.”

Finally, I leave you with the little known fact about Antony’s diet. It is reported by his biographer Davidicus that, in addition to his simple meals of bread and water, he used to eat basil for breakfast.

-- David Creech

Vote!

Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt

  • Basil the Great (87%, 4,305 Votes)
  • Antony of Egypt (13%, 643 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,947

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130 comments on “Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt”

  1. Well, the only thing I liked about Antony was the sentence that mentioned that he firmly believed in the inherent goodness of human nature. Other than that, it was Basil all the way. And I imagine that basil helped the bread and water a great deal.

    1. Agreed, Barbara. Not quite ready to vote for someone who never washed the filth off his body. Of course, he lived in the desert, but still - had had water to drink 😉 A little could have gone to cleanliness even if it's next to godliness. And a bit cruel?

  2. .....so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer. How beautiful is that?! Go Basil!

    1. Yes, that line caught my attention to. I have never read continuous prayer explained so eloquently.

      1. You are so right in my way of thinking. His explaining of continuous prayer was eloquent and made sense. It is a beautiful way to honor God and be thankful for His goodness.

      2. This is the best statement about prayer I have read. Basil was also outspoken in a very good way (with a little "snipe" included.

  3. I am guessing Antony did not coin the phrase 'cleanliness is next to Godliness'. Basil has my vote!

      1. I suspect most of the medieval European saints fall into the category of "didn't bathe regularly". In their defense, records show that it was cold and damp most of the time for a lot of that period, and bathing and washing one's clothes become a lot less attractive when the bathing is done in cold water in an unheated room and the clothes are unlikely to be dry before being put back on again.

        I do think Antony is given a more favourable writeup today -- but I am still voting for Basil to advance.

        1. There is a big difference between not bathing regularly and "never bathing in water". Basil gets my vote as well, but more for his scholarship and humility than lack of smell.

  4. In today's world, I hope we would get Antony the help he needed. Sounds like he was one scary person. Yay Basil!

  5. It seems that Basil is making an early rout of Antony. (But I appreciate the better light shone on Antony in this round- taking into consideration our more modern sensibilities re placement of his sister).

  6. Bishop biographers writing words about a man. Basil shows us the way without words. Then, responding to his astonished emperor, he answers "perhaps you never met a real bishop."
    Basil all the way!

  7. Love Basil - his life, his work, his words. He's named Great for all the right reasons. My vote is his.

  8. Davidicus: Even though I'm a fan of your writing, delicious wit, AND I'm your M-I-L, I have to cast my vote for Basil. I think Antony needs a shrink and medication. 😛

    1. ...and how about a bath? Probably the real reason the animals stayed away from his garden.......

  9. Antony's exemplary life, perhaps embellished by his admirers, was a bit too showy for my taste. Basil had me at his crack about meeting a real bishop.

  10. "Wow, Anthony, your breath could knock a demon off a tombstone!" Also, I'm not sure the Lady Gaga meat suit is the most effective way to teach a lesson on selfishness. Both men are holy and modest and disciplined, but Basil's writings and resolve win my vote today.

    1. A double victory for the "your breath could knock a demon off a tombstone" comment combined with the Lady Gaga reference. Too funny!

  11. I voted, but the system pulled an Antony and ate my vote for Basil for breakfast. My vote wasn't recorded, and the "Vote" feature appeared again. In order not to be hounded by demons for committing fraud, I'll sit this one out. Besides, the contest is running 88% for the Real Bishop anyway.
    That said, Antony deserves credit for creativity and downright chutzpah for the object lesson he gave his would-be disciple. This is one lesson no one would ever forget.

  12. Eat, Pray, Love-- and like my Grandmom used to say, "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Basil the Fragrant gets my vote.

  13. I love the last line of "eating basil for breakfast." But Basil seems to be devouring Antony. I did my part to help that cause.

  14. The lack of washing on Anthony's part was a disappointment. But a Bishop with attitude? Basil gets my vote.

  15. No to Anthony the stinky!!! I've sat next to enough "fragrant" people on the bus to know how disgusting this can be. Go Basil!

  16. Assuming this bio isn't rigged against him, Antony is my worst nightmare for a spiritual guide. Basil, on the other hand, is . . . Great. His prayers are keepers. And he's awesome for showing what real courage looks like in standing your ground! Like his role model, Jesus.

  17. My daughter and I love the audacity of Antony. The meat suit! Catching and talking to animals! Basil gets his weekly shout out with the creed. Give us more Antonies (Antonyes? Antonys?)

  18. “Perhaps you’ve never met a real bishop before.” BURN! I appreciated Basil's teachings on prayer and thought Antony was just a little too close to the border between saintliness and mental illness for my taste.

  19. "The money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor." Who today (or ever) is ready to take that to heart?

    It was a tough choice. Both were holy people with very different callings. It's easy to make fun of ascetics, but I appreciate the intensity of their desire for God alone. Our obsession with wealth is a spiritual sickness, and ascetics are unwelcome reminders of that.