Chapter XX.—Persecution of the Egyptian Monks, and of the Disciples of St. Antony. They were enclosed in a Certain Island on Account of their Orthodoxy; the Miracles which they Wrought.
Lucius went with the general of the soldiers in Egypt, against the monks in the desert; 1463 for he imagined that if he could overcome their opposition by interrupting the tranquillity which p. 358 they loved, he would meet with fewer obstacles in drawing over to his party the Christians who inhabited the cities. The monasteries of this country were governed by several individuals of eminent sanctity, who were strenuously opposed to the heresy of Arius. The people, who were neither willing nor competent to enter upon the investigation of doctrinal questions, received their opinions from them, and thought with them; for they were persuaded that men whose virtue was manifested by their deeds were in possession of truth. We have heard that the leaders of these Egyptian ascetics were two men of the name of Macarius, of whom mention has already been made, 1464 Pambo and Heraclides, and other disciples of Antony.
On reflecting that the Arians could never succeed in establishing an ascendency over the Catholic Church, unless the monks could be drawn over to their party, Lucius determined to have recourse to force to compel the monks to side with him, since he was unable to persuade them. But here again his scheme failed; for the monks were prepared to subject their necks to the sword rather than to swerve from the Nicene doctrines. It is related that, at the very time that the soldiers were about to attack them, a man whose limbs were withered and who was unable to stand on his feet was carried to them; and that when they had anointed him with oil, and commanded him in the name of Christ, whom Lucius persecuted, to arise and go to his house, he suddenly became whole. This miraculous cure openly manifested the necessity of adopting the sentiments of those to whom God himself had testified as possessing the truth, while Lucius was condemned, in that God heard their prayers and had healed the sick.
But the plotters against the monks were not led to repentance by this miracle; on the contrary, they arrested these holy men by night, and conveyed them to an island of Egypt, concealed in the swamps. The inhabitants of this island had never heard of the Christian faith, and were devoted to the service of demons: the island contained a temple of great antiquity which was held in great reverence. It is said that when the monks landed on the island, the daughter of the priest, who was possessed of a devil, went to them. The girl ran screaming towards them; and the people of the island, astonished at her sudden and strange conduct, followed. When she drew near the ship in which were the holy messengers, she flung herself pleadingly upon the ground, and exclaimed supplicatingly in a loud voice, “Wherefore are you come to us, O servants of the great God? for we have long dwelt in this island as our residence; we have troubled no one. Unknown to men, we have concealed ourselves here, and are everywhere surrounded by these marshes. If, however, it please you, accept our possessions, and fix your abode here; we will quit the island.”
Such were her utterances. Macarius and his companions rebuked the demon, and the girl became sane. Her father and all her house, with the inhabitants of the island, immediately embraced Christianity, and after demolishing their temple, they transformed it into a church. On these occurrences being reported at Alexandria, Lucius was overcome with immoderate grief; and, fearing lest he should incur the hatred of his own partisans, and be accused of warring against God, and not against man, he sent secret orders for Macarius and his companions to be re-conveyed to their own dwellings in the wilderness. Thus did Lucius occasion troubles and commotions in Egypt.
About the same period, Didymus the philosopher and several other illustrious men acquired great renown. Struck by their virtue, and by that of the monks, the people followed their doctrines and opposed those of the partisans of Lucius.
The Arians, though not so strong in point of numbers as the other party, grievously persecuted the church of Egypt.
Ruf. ii. 3, 4; Soc. iv. 22, 24; Theodoret, H. E. iv. 21, 22; Chronicon prævium to the Vestal letters, from a.d. 367 to 373, and Chronicon acephalum, 15–19; Greg. Naz. Or. xxv. 11–14, xxxiv. 3; Cod. Theod. xvi. 1, 2; Pœmata, 12, de seipso et de episcopis.358:1464
In iii. 14; Pallad. H. L. xix., xx.