St. Paul the Hermit
There are three important versions of the Life of St. Paul: (1) the Latin
version (H) of St. Jerome; (2) a Greek version (b), much shorter than the Latin;
(3) a Greek version (a), which is either a translation of H or an amplification
of b by means of H. The question is whether H or b is the original. Both a and b
were published for the first time by Bidez in 1900 (
Deux versions grecques
inédites de la vie des s. Paul de Thébes, Ghent). Bidez maintains that H was
the original Life. This view has been attacked by Nau, who makes b the original
Analect. Bolland. of 1901 (XX, 121-157). The Life, minor details
excepted, is the same in other versions.
When a young man of sixteen Paul fled into the desert of the Thebaid during the Decian persecution. He lived in a cave in the mountain-side till he was one-hundred-and-thirteen. The mountain, adds St. Jerome, was honeycombed with caves.
When he was ninety St. Anthony was tempted to vain-glory, thinking he was the
first to dwell in the desert. In obedience to a vision he set forth to find his
predecessor. On his road he met with a demon in the form of a centaur. Later on
he spied a tiny old man with horns on his head.
Who are you? asked Antony.
am a corpse, one of those whom the heathen call satyrs, and by them were snared
into idolatry. This is the Greek story (b) which makes both centaur and satyr
unmistakably demons, one of which tries to terrify the saint, while the other
acknowledges the overthrow of the gods. With St. Jerome the centaur may have
been a demon; and may also have been
one of those monsters of which the desert
is so prolific. At all events he tries to show the saint the way. As for the
satyr he is a harmless little mortal deputed by his brethren to ask the saint's
blessing. One asks, on the supposition that the Greek is the original, why St.
Jerome changes devils into centaurs and satyrs. It is not surprising that
stories of St. Anthony meeting fabulous beasts in his mysterious journey should
spring up among people with whom belief in such creatures lingered on, as belief
in fairies does to the present day. The stories of the meeting of St. Paul and
St. Anthony, the raven who brought them bread, St. Anthony being sent to fetch
the cloak given him by
Athanasius the bishop to bury St. Paul's body in, St.
Paul's death before he returned, the grave dug by lions, are among the familiar
legends of the Life. It only remains to add that belief in the existence of St.
Paul seems to have existed quite independently of the Life.
Besides the writings of BIDEZ and NAU, see BUTLER, Lausiac
Hist., etc., pt. i, p. 285, where he critices Amélineau's view that the Coptic
version published by him was the original (Amélineau's view seems to have found
no supporters), and maintains the claim of the Latin. In Journ. of Theolog.
Studies, III, 152, there is a notice concerning Bidez where Amélineau again
expresses the same opinion; later in a notice concerning Nau (ibid., V, 151),
while still inclining to his old opinion, he says that after reading Nau he is
unable to arrive at a decision. The BOLLANDISTS (I, Jan., 602) gave a Latin
translation of a Greek version (the original will be found in Anact. Bol., XI,
563), maintaining it was the original. FUHRMANN in 1750 (Acta Sincera S. Pauli,
etc.) published, as the original, another Greek version.
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