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E00750: Jerome's Life of *Paul of Thebes (the First Anchorite, S00089) presents him as the first hermit, who spent his entire life in solitude and was discovered only just before his death by *Antony ('the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356, S00098). Written in Latin in the desert of Chalkis (Syria), c. 375.

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posted on 2015-09-29, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Jerome, Life of Paul of Thebes


The aim of the Life of Paul, as Jerome presents it in the prologue, is to answer the question of who was the first Christian monk in the desert (ch. 1). The actual aim is to demonstrate that the title of the first hermit should be given to the formerly unknown Paul of Thebes, and not to Antony whose life had been written by Athanasius of Alexandria (see E00631).

According to Jerome, Paul, a pious and well educated young Christian, goes to the desert during the persecution of 'Decius and Valerian' (that is either in 250 or in 257-260) in order to avoid trial (chs. 2-5). The two following chapters briefly present Paul's hermitage (chs. 6-7). Then the action moves abruptly into the middle of the 4th century when the existence of Paul, which remained hidden for almost hundred years, is revealed in a vision to Antony whom God orders to find the monk who was the real protagonist of the new way of life. Antony sets off to find Paul, meets fabulous creatures, fauns and satyrs, in the desert, and finally meets Paul, who is 113 at this time, at his hermitage. There Antony is witness to a daily miracle: a raven brings a loaf of bread to Paul (chs. 8-9). The two monks spend a short time together (chs. 10-11). Paul predicts his own death and asks Antony to bury him, wrapped in the cloak that he received from bishop Athanasius (ch. 12). Antony returns to his own hermitage to collect the cloak, but while returning to Paul he sees his soul taken into heaven by angels (chs. 13-14). He finds Paul already dead in his hermitage and buries him in a grave dug by two lions (chs. 14-16). The life ends with a rebuke of wealthy Christians (ch. 17).

Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Paul, the First Anchorite : S00089 Antony, 'the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356 : S00098

Saint Name in Source

Paulus Antonius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Chalkis Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jerome of Stridon

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle with animals and plants Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The Life of Paul is the first of the three lives of monks written by Jerome, then a little-known writer seeking fame (for the two later lives, of *Malchus and *Hilarion, see respectively $E00688 and $E00694). It was composed during Jerome's stay in the desert of Chalkis in Syria, c. 375, in the period of his strong fascination with the eremitic life. The Life was written for two purposes. First, to advertise the pious Christian life in solitude, second to demonstrate that this way of life was initiated by a previously unknown Paul of Thebes, and not by Antony whose life, written by Athanasius of Alexandria just a few years earlier, had been already translated into Latin by Evagrius, Jerome's friend and host in Syria (see $E00930). Several scholars have tried to answer the question of whether Paul of Thebes existed or not. Attempts to prove him to be a real person have failed, but his non-existence is of course impossible to prove. Be this as it may, the image of Paul presented in his Life is entirely constructed by Jerome. Paul lives in a paradise-like little oasis, in friendship with animals, and is not troubled by any demons. This image of the desert, and indeed of the monastic life, openly contradicts the vision presented by Athanasius' Life of Antony. The Life of Paul is a life of the saint in whose existence Jerome at least believed, but it is not a cultic text. It was not written in order to launch or propagate a cult. And for a long time it was not used for this purpose.


Edition and French translation: Morales, E.M., and Leclerc, P., Jérôme, Trois vies de moines (Paul, Malchus, Hilarion) (Sources chrétienns 508; Paris: Cerf, 2007). English translation: Fremantle, W.H., Lewis, W., and Martley, W.G., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6 (Buffalo, NY, 1893). Further reading: Bastiaensen, A.A.R., "Jérôme hagiographe," in: G. Philippart (ed.), Hagiographies, vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1994), 97-123. Leclerc, P., "Antoine et Paul: Métamorphose d’un héros," in: Y.-M. Duval (ed.), Jérôme entre l’Occident et l’Orient: XVIe centenaire du départ de saint Jérôme de Rome et de son installation à Bethléem. Actes du Colloque de Chantilly (septembre 1986) (Paris: Études augustiniennes, 1988), 257-265. Vogüé, A. de, "La Vita Pauli de saint Jérôme et sa datation. Examen d’un passage-clé (ch.6)," in Eulogia: Mélanges offerts à Antoon Bastiaensen à l’occasion de son soixante-cinquième anniversaire (Steenburgis: Abbatia S. Petri, 1991), 395-406. Vogüé, A. de, Histoire littéraire du mouvement monastique, vol. 1 (Paris: Cerf, 1991), 150-184. Wiśniewski, R., "Bestiae Christum loquuntur ou des habitants du désert et de la ville dans la Vita Pauli de saint Jérôme," Augustinianum 40 (2000), 105-144.

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