Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Dorotheus, Abbot
HE was surnamed the Theban, because a native of Thebes in Egypt. He retired first into a monastery, but after having learned for some time the exercises of an ascetic life under the most experienced masters, he shut himself up in a cavern in a wilderness nine miles from Alexandria, on the road to Nitria. Here he lived in most austere abstinence and labour. During the greater part of the day, even in the most scorching heat of the sun, he picked up and carried stones, and built cells for other hermits: at night he made cords and baskets of palm-tree leaves, by which he earned six ounces of bread a day, with a handful of herbs, which was his whole subsistence. His watchings were incredible; nor would he allow himself any indulgence in his old age. When his disciples entreated him to afford a little more rest to his enfeebled body, his answer was: This enemy would destroy me; therefore I am resolved to be beforehand with it, and keep it in subjection. It happened that his disciple, Palladius, spying an aspic in the well, durst not drink of the water; but the holy abbot, making the sign of the cross upon the cup, drank, and said: In the presence of the cross of Christ, the devil loseth his power. This Palladius, upon his coming into the wilderness, chose St. Dorotheus, who had then lived an anchoret in the same austere manner sixty years, for his first master. The saint died towards the end of the fourth century, and is honoured in the Greek Menæa.
Palladius gives us the foregoing account of his life in the second chapter of the Lausiac history; and Sozomen, l. 6, c. 29. He mentions another Dorotheus, who also lived in the fourth age, and was the spiritual director of a monastery of three hundred nuns. Ibid. c. 36.1 And a third, an eminent anchoret at the same time near Antinois, c. 97. Another Dorotheus, surnamed the Archimandrite, whom many have confounded with the Theban, flourished two hundred years later near Gaza, was author of twenty-four Ascetic Doctrines, and in his monastery lived St. Dositheus.2
Note 1. These Dorotheuses were superiors of hermits who lived in separate cells; consequently neither could be the Dorotheus who wrote twenty-four doctrines or discourses extant, who speaks of the office of a cellerer, (Doctr. 18,) and in other passages discovers himself to have been an abbot of Cenobites, who lived together in a monastery. We have also eight letters of spiritual advice addressed to monks, by the same hand: in the last of which mention is made of the tyranny of the Saracens, who date their Hegira, or commencement under Mahomet, in 622, and who conquered Damascus and Phnicia in 635, and Palestine two years after. [back]
Note 2. In the life of St. Dositheus it is related that Dorotheus, the Archimandrite, retired to the monastery of Abbot Seridus, near Gaza, and found there two excellent old men, Barsanuphius and Abbot John the prophet. From Evagrius, l. 4, c. 33, it is clear that St. Barsanuphius, an Egyptian, was born in the close of the fifth century, came to this monastery near Gaza, and there shut himself up in a cell in 540, and had lived a recluse above fifty years, famous for many miracles when Evagrius wrote his history, in 594, in the twelfth year of Tiberius. Dorotheus made his profession in this house when Barsanuphius was an old man; consequently he nourished in the declension of the sixth century. A Studite monk, author of a preface to his Doctrines, assures us that he zealously opposed the heresy of Severus the Eutychian, which was espoused by another Dorotheus and a Barsanuphius, very different from the saint above-mentioned; and he exceedingly extols this St. Dorotheuss spirit of prayer, humility, meekness, and self-denial, which also appears from his works, and the life of St. Dositheus, from which F. Janning has collected his most instructive and edifying methods of forming his disciples to obedience, humility, prayer, and every perfect virtue. (Juniic, t. 1, p. 597.) St. Dorotheus has gathered together in his Doctrines, or Ascetic Discourses, excellent precepts and maxims of an interior life, gleaned from the instructions of the most experienced directors among the ancient hermits. Abbot John de Raneé, the reformer of La Trappe, judged this work so profitable, that he translated it into French for the use of his monks, prefixing a life of the author, compiled from several circumstances mentioned in the book itself. This Dorotheus informs us, that in his childhood he had such an aversion to learning, that he took up his book with as great repugnance as if it had been a serpent; but having overcome this obstacle by application, his passion for reading became so strong, that the pleasure he found in reading made him often forget to eat, drink, and sleep. (Doctr. 10.) At his meals, he kept a book open by him, to cast his eye on it whilst he ate; and he had one on his pillow in the night, in which he often read till midnight, and again as often as he awaked. Having afterwards renounced the world, he became a disciple of John, the famous monk of Palestine, who was surnamed the Prophet, and lived some time in the monastery of the Abbot Seridus, but afterwards governed a great monastery between Gaza and Majuma. He intermingles instructive examples with his precepts, and principally inculcates self-denial, humility, meekness, obedience, and assiduous prayer. F. Stilting adds the life of his third abbot of the same name, called the Younger, who flourished in the eleventh century in Pontus near the Euxine sea. He takes notice that he could not find the name of any of these three abbots called Dorotheus in any public calendar; though he doubts not but they were honoured among the saints in some of the oriental provinces; for all writers honour them with that title. See P. Janningi, Dissertatio de tribus SS. Dorotheis præter S. Dorotheum, Ep. et Mart. &c. t. 1, Junii, p. 591. [back]