Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Paul, Anchoret
FROM his ignorance of secular learning, and his extraordinary humility, he was surnamed the Simple. He served God in the world to the age of sixty, in the toils of a poor and laborious country life. The incontinency of his wife contributed to wean his soul from all earthly ties. Checks and crosses which men meet with in this life are great graces. Gods sweet providence sows our roads with thorns, that we may learn to despise the vanity, and hate the treachery of the world. When mothers would wean their children, says St. Austin, they anoint their breasts with aloes, that the babe, being offended at the bitterness, may no more seek the nipple. Thus has God in his mercy filled the world with sorrow and vexation; but woe to those who still continue to love it! Even in this life miseries will be the wages of their sin and folly, and their eternal portion will be the second death. Paul found true happiness because he converted his heart perfectly from the world to God. Desiring to devote himself totally to his love, he determined to betake himself to the great St. Antony. He went eight days journey into the desert, to the holy patriarch, and begged that he would admit him among his disciples, and teach him the way of salvation. Antony harshly rejected him, telling him, he was too old to bear the austerities of that state. He therefore bade him return home, and follow the business of his calling, and sanctify it by the spirit of recollection and assiduous prayer. Having said this he shut his door; but Paul continued fasting and praying before his door, till Antony seeing his fervour, on the fourth day opened it again, and going out to him, after several trials of his obedience, admitted him to the monastic state, and prescribed him a rule of life; teaching him, by the most perfect obedience, to crucify in himself all attachment to his own will, the source of pride; by the denial of his senses and assiduous hard labour, to subdue his flesh; and by continual prayer at his work, and at other times, to purify his heart, and inflame it with heavenly affections.1 He instructed him how to pray, and ordered him never to eat before sun-set, nor so much at a meal as entirely to satisfy hunger. Paul, by obedience and humility, laid the foundation of an eminent sanctity in his soul, which being dead to all self-will and to creatures, soared towards God with great fervour and purity of affections.
Among the examples of his ready obedience, it is recorded, that when he had wrought with great diligence in making mats and hurdles, praying at the same time without intermission, St. Antony disliked his work, and bade him undo it and make it over again. Paul did so, without any dejection in his countenance, or making the least reply, or even asking to eat a morsel of bread, though he had already passed seven days without taking any refreshment. After this, Anthony ordered him to moisten in water four loves of six ounces each; for their bread in the deserts was exceeding hard and dry. When their refection was prepared, instead of eating, he bade Paul sing psalms with him, then to sit down by the loaves, and at night after praying together, to take his rest. He called him up at midnight to pray with him: this exercise the old man continued with great cheerfulness till three oclock in the afternoon the following day. After sun-set, each eat one loaf, and Antony asked Paul if he would eat another. Yes, if you do, said Paul; I am a monk, said Antony; And I desire to be one, replied the disciple; whereupon they arose, sung twelve psalms, and recited twelve other prayers. After a short repose, they both arose again to prayer at midnight. The experienced director exercised his obedience by frequent trials, bidding him one day, when many monks were come to visit him to receive his spiritual advice, to spill a vessel of honey, and then to gather it up without any dust. At other times he ordered him to draw water a whole day, and pour it out again; to make baskets and pull them to pieces; to sow and unsew his garments, and the like.2
What victories over themselves and their passions might youth and others, &c., gain! what a treasure of virtue might they procure, by a ready and voluntary obedience and conformity of their will to that of those whom Providence hath placed over them! This they would find the effectual means to crush pride, and subdue their passions. But obedience is of little advantage unless it bend the will itself, and repress all wilful interior murmuring and repugnance. When Paul had been sufficiently exercised and instructed in the duties of a monastic life, St. Antony placed him in a cell three miles from his own, where he visited him from time to time. He usually preferred his virtue to that of all his other disciples, and proposed him to them as a model. He frequently sent Paul to sick persons, or those possessed by the devil, whom he was not able to cure, as not having received the gift, and by the disciples prayers they never failed of a cure. St. Paul died some time after the year 330. He is commemorated both by the Greeks and Latins, on the 7th of March. See Palladius, Rufinus and Sozomen, abridged by Tillemont, t. 7. p. 144. Also by Henschenius, p. 645.