Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter I.

Of the life and conduct of Abbot Paphnutius.

In that choir of saints who shine like brilliant stars in the night of this world, we have seen the holy Paphnutius, 1199 like some great luminary, shining with the brightness of knowledge. For he was a presbyter of our company, I mean of those whose abode was in the desert of Scete, where he lived to extreme old age, without ever moving from his cell, of which he had taken possession when still young, and which was five miles from the church, even to nearer districts; nor was he when worn out with years hindered by the distance from going to Church on Saturday or Sunday. But not wanting to return from thence empty handed he would lay on his shoulders a bucket of water to last him all the week, and carry it back to his cell, and even when he was past ninety would not suffer it to be fetched by the labour of younger men. He then from his earliest youth threw himself into the monastic discipline with such fervour that when he had spent only a short time in it, he was endowed with the virtue of submission, as well as the knowledge of all good qualities. For by the practice of humility and obedience he mortified all his desires, and by this stamped out all his faults and acquired every virtue which the monastic system and the teaching of the ancient fathers produces, and, inflamed with desire for still further advances, he was eager to penetrate into the recesses of the desert, so that, with no human companions to disturb him, he might be more readily united to the Lord, to whom he longed to be inseparably joined, even while he still lived in the society of the brethren. And there once more in his excessive fervour he outstripped the virtues of the Anchorites, and in his eager desire for continual divine meditation avoided the sight of them: and he plunged into solitary places yet wilder and more inaccessible, and hid himself for a long while in them, so that, as the Anchorites themselves only with great difficulty caught a glimpse of him every now and then, the belief was that he enjoyed and delighted in the daily society of angels, and because of this remarkable characteristic of his 1200 he was surnamed by them the Buffalo.



Paphnutius. The name is not uncommon in the annals of the fourth century: (1) A Deacon who bore it suffered in the persecution of Diocletian; and (2) a Bishop of the same name, who had been a confessor, was mainly instrumental in preventing the rule of celibacy being forced on the clergy by the Council of Nicæa; (3) another was a prominent member of the Meletian schism; while (4) a fourth was present, as Bishop of Sais in Lower Egypt at the Council of Alexandria in 362; and (5) the life of a fifth is given by Palladius (Hist. Laus. lxii.–lxv.) and Rufinus (Hist. Monach. c. xvi.). The one whom Cassian here mentions, surnamed the Buffalo, is apparently a different person from the last mentioned. Further details of his history are given in the Institutes IV. c. xxx. xxxi., and in Conference X. ii., iii. Cassian tells the interesting story of his share in the Anthropomorphite controversy, and the beneficial influence which he then exercised.


i e., his solitariness.

Next: Chapter II. Of the discourse of the same old man, and our reply to it.