The testimony of Abbot Antony in which he teaches that each virtue ought to be sought for from him who professes it in a special degree.
For it is an ancient and excellent saying of the blessed Antony 823 that when a monk is endeavouring after the plan of the monastic life to reach the heights of a more advanced perfection, and, having learned the consideration of discretion, is able now to stand in his own judgment, and to arrive at the very summit of the anchorites life, he ought by no means to seek for all kinds of virtues from one man however excellent. For one is adorned with flowers of knowledge, another is more strongly fortified with methods of discretion, another is established in the dignity of patience, another excels in the virtue of humility, another in that of continence, another is decked with the grace of simplicity. p. 235 This one excels all others in magnanimity, that one in pity, another in vigils, another in silence, another in earnestness of work. And therefore the monk who desires to gather spiritual honey, ought like a most careful bee, to suck out virtue from those who specially possess it, and should diligently store it up in the vessel of his own breast: nor should he investigate what any one is lacking in, but only regard and gather whatever virtue he has. For if we want to gain all virtues from some one person, we shall with great difficulty or perhaps never at all find suitable examples for us to imitate. For though we do not as yet see that even Christ is made “all things in all,” as the Apostle says; 824 still in this way we can find Him bit by bit in all. For it is said of Him, “Who was made of God to you wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 825 While then in one there is found wisdom, in another righteousness, in another sanctification, in another kindness, in another chastity, in another humility, in another patience, Christ is at the present time divided, member by member, among all of the saints. But when all come together into the unity of the faith and virtue, He is formed into the “perfect man,” 826 completing the fulness of His body, in the joints and properties of all His members. Until then that time arrives when God will be “all in all,” for the present God can in the way of which we have spoken be “in all,” through particular virtues, although He is not yet “all in all” through the fulness of them. For although our religion has but one end and aim, yet there are different ways by which we approach God, as will be more fully shown in the Conferences of the Elders. 827 And so we must seek a model of discretion and continence more particularly from those from whom we see that those virtues flow forth more abundantly through the grace of the Holy Spirit; not that any one can alone acquire those things which are divided among many, but in order that in those good qualities of which we are capable we may advance towards the imitation of those who especially have acquired them.
S. Antony, the “founder of asceticism” and one of the most famous of the early monks, was born about 250 a.d. at Coma, on the borders of Egypt, and died about 355, at the great age of 105. He is frequently mentioned by Cassian in the Conferences.235:824
1 Cor. xv. 28.235:825
1 Cor. i. 30.235:826
Eph. iv. 13.235:827
See especially Conferences XVIII. and XIX.