Some Basic Resources for Studying St Antony the Great

Updated: Jan 27

The following contains some bibliographical basics for the study of the life and legacy of the great monastic founder, St Antony of Egypt. It includes information on (1) the Life of Antony by St Athanasios of Alexandria, (2) the Letters of Antony, (3) the Sayings of Antony, (4) the Monastic Rules of Antony, and (5) some archeology of the region.

I. The Life of Saint Antony by Athanasios of Alexandria

Greek Text

J.P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 26 (Paris, 1857), cols. 837-976.

The text in PG is a reprint of the edition published by J. Lopin & B. De Montfaucon, Sancti Patris Nostri Athanasii Archiep. Alexandrini Opera omnia, vol. 1/2 (Paris, 1698), pp. 793-886. Earlier editions of the Life were published in 1627 (Paris) and 1611 (Augsburg); a Latin translation was published in Paris in 1572.

G.J.M. Bartelink, Athanase d’Alexandrie, Vie d’Antoine, Sources Chrétiennes [=SC] 400 (Paris, 1994).

This is a modern critical edition of the Life of Antony and replaces earlier editions, such as that found in PG. The text is extant in more than 165 manuscripts, and Bartelink’s edition is based on around 50 of the most representative; it is supported by an introduction, extensive notes, and a facing-page French translation.

English Translations

H. Ellershaw, Life of Antony, in Select Writings and Letters of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, NPNF 2.4 (New York, 1892), 195-221.

J.B. McLaughlin, St. Antony the Hermit by St. Athanasius (New York, 1924).

Robert Meyer, St. Athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony, ACW 10 (Westminster, MD, 1950).

The above are all translations of the Greek text in PG. The translation by Meyer has a good introduction and valuable notes.

Tim Vivian and Apostolos N. Athanassakis, The Life of Antony by Athanasius of Alexandria: The Greek Life of Antony, The Coptic Life of Antony (and the Encomium on St. Anthony by John of Shmun and A Letter to the Disciples of Antony by Serapion of Thmuis) (Kalamazoo, 2003).

This translation is based on the Greek text established by Bartelink. The English translation of the Greek text is presented with a facing-page English translation of the Coptic version of the life (which is based on the Greek). The translators have provided the work with a good introduction and notes, extensive bibliography, along with translations of additional texts.

II. The Letters of St. Antony

Samuel Rubenson, The Letters of St. Antony: Monasticism and the Making of a Saint (Minneapolis, 1995).

These are seven authentic letters written or dictated by St. Antony. They had long been available in various ancient translations, but scholars did not pay them much attention, or simply denied that they were authentic. The Letters were written most probably in Coptic, of which only a fragment survives. Full collections of all seven letters are extant in Latin, Georgian, and Arabic; Letter 1 is extant in Syriac. (A Greek translation, no longer extant, except for a fragment, was the basis for the Latin translation.) Rubenson’s study was the first of its kind, and offers a thorough analysis of the textual tradition, an English translation of the Letters, and a detailed theological analysis of their contents. He also compares the Antony of the letters to the figure we see in the Life by Athanasios. His findings generally support the image of Antony depicted in the Life, and give us a richer, more complex picture of Antony’s teachings.

III. The Sayings of St. Antony

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Translated by Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI, 1984).

The “Sayings” of St. Antony are extant in various ancient collections, which go under different names (e.g., Apophthegmata, Gerontikon), and which organize the material in different ways: (1) Alphabetical Collections (i.e., by the name of the Desert Father); (2) Anonymous Collections; and (3) Systematic Collections (i.e., by theme or subject, e.g., “On Discernment”). See also John Wortley, The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers: A Select English Translation (Cambridge, 2013); and id., The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Systematic Collection (Kalamazoo, MI, 2012). In these latter collections, the thematic material is usually cited alphabetically by author, so that material from St. Antony will be found at the head of each section. Antony is of course prominent in all these collections, and is second only to Abba Poimen in terms of actual citations. The sayings attributed to Antony number around 120, although only 38 appear in the alphabetical collections (and not all are believed to be authentic). Probably the most accessible collection in English is the alphabetical one cited above, though it is incomplete and based on only a single manuscript. (For a modern critical edition of the Systematic Collection, see SC 387, 474, 498). For a study of Antony’s “Sayings,” see Rubenson, Letters, pp. 152-162. H.R. Johnsé, Reading John Climacus: Rhetorical Argumentation, Literary Convention and the Tradition of Monastic Foundation (Lund, 2007), argues, among other things, that the structure of the Ladder is a deliberate attempt to rework the structure of the systematic collection of the Apophthegmata.

IV. The Monastic Rules of St. Antony

D. Petrakakos, Οἱ μοναχικοί θεσμοί ἐν τῇ Ὀρθοδόξῳ Ἀνατολικῇ Ἐκκλησία (Leipzig, 1907), pp. 26-39 (commentary), pp. 39-42 (text).

These rules (or “canons”) survive in Latin (PL 103:423-428) and Arabic translations; the Latin contains 48 canons, the Arabic 80. They are most probably not from Antony himself but based on the various teachings found in the Life, which they faithfully summarize. Petrakakos provides a modern Greek translation of the Latin and Arabic texts.

V. Archeology

Rodolphe Kasser, et al., Kellia 1965, Recherches suisses d’archéologie copte, 3 vols (Geneva, 1965, 1972, 1977).

These over-sized volumes are the reports of the joint French-Swiss archeological teams that conducted extensive excavations in the Egyptian desert from 1964-1968. Not unlike Schliemann at Troy, Antoine Guillaumont was on hand with a copy of the Apophthegmata, and proved instrumental in identifying ancient sites and structures. The primary focus was the site of the “Cells,” located on the most westerly tributary of the Nile, about 50 miles south of Alexandria. The region is well known from monastic and other early writings, in which it is mentioned between 355 and 900 AD. More than 1,400 buildings were discovered, singly or in elaborate complexes (i.e., monasteries), along with chapels containing stone carvings (capitals, etc.), wall paintings (mostly non-figural), and pottery (decorated with animal and some human figures, including images of saints; vol. 3 deals exclusively with the pottery finds.) The structures are by no means primitive. Various Coptic inscriptions were also found, dating from the sixth to the eighth centuries; coins found on the site date from the first to the eighth century, though most are from after the fourth century. In the region of the Kellia, isolated cells are not the norm, but rather dense accumulations of small dwellings in close proximity, much like sketes on Mt. Athos. See also C.C. Walter, Monastic Archeology in Egypt (Warminster, 1974); and G. Gabra, Coptic Monasteries: Egypt’s Monastic Art and Architecture (Cairo, 2010).