The Saint, the Centaur, and the Satyr

On this feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, I am reminded of a peculiar episode in the life of the saint that St. Jerome records. In full, it reads:

Francesco Guarino, St. Anthony Abbot and Centaur, 1642 (Source)

But to return to the point at which I digressed. The blessed Paul had already lived on earth the life of heaven for a hundred and thirteen years, and Antony at the age of ninety was dwelling in another place of solitude (as he himself was wont to declare), when the thought occurred to the latter, that no monk more perfect than himself had settled in the desert. However, in the stillness of the night it was revealed to him that there was farther in the desert a much better man than he, and that he ought to go and visit him. So then at break of day the venerable old man, supporting and guiding his weak limbs with a staff, started to go: but what direction to choose he knew not. Scorching noontide came, with a broiling sun overhead, but still he did not allow himself to be turned from the journey he had begun. Said he, I believe in my God: some time or other He will show me the fellow-servant whom He promised me. He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living? The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.

Antony was amazed, and thinking over what he had seen went on his way. Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a mannikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer to him the fruit of the palm-trees to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Antony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this: I am a mortal being and one of those inhabitants of the desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs, and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learned, came once to save the world, and ‘whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’ As he uttered such words as these, the aged traveller’s cheeks streamed with tears, the marks of his deep feeling, which he shed in the fullness of his joy. He rejoiced over the Glory of Christ and the destruction of Satan, and marvelling all the while that he could understand the Satyr’s language, and striking the ground with his staff, he said, Woe to you, Alexandria, who instead of God worships monsters! Woe to you, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the whole world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you instead of God worship monsters. He had not finished speaking when, as if on wings, the wild creature fled away. Let no one scruple to believe this incident; its truth is supported by what took place when Constantine was on the throne, a matter of which the whole world was witness. For a man of that kind was brought alive to Alexandria and shown as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.

St. Jerome, The Life of Paul the First Hermit, 7-8.

Let it never be said that the lives of the saints are boring. Artists, like Demonologists, have throughout the centuries returned to these scenes again and again. The Centaur shows up a lot, probably because it’s a subject that permits the artist to show off his own talents at depicting both human and equine anatomy. Yet we can also detect here a certain visual sensibility that can only be described as picturesque delight and fascination.

Jacopo Palma il Giovane, Saint Anthony Abbot asking the Centaur the way (Source)
Osservanza Master, The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, 1430-35, detail (Source)
Benedetto di Montagna, St. Anthony and the Centaur. The depiction of the Centaur as a monk is particularly unusual. (Source)
A less common depiction, St. Anthony and the Satyr (Source)
A medieval depiction of St. Anthony with both the Centaur and the Satyr, by Robert Testard. (Source)
John Mandeville’s take on the scene, with color highlighting the hybridity of the Centaur’s nature. (Source)
St. Anthony meets the Centaur in an illumination by Jean de Limbourg (Source)

Happy New Year and New Decade!

Te Deum, the chant of the New Year. (Source)

Thus concludes Anno Domini MMXIX. It is strange to think that we are about to enter the third decade of the new millennium. I am by temperament a pessimist, but I hope that this decade is an improvement over the last (a time in which I experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth). Let us pray for God’s continuing mercy and Providence.

Here are some blog stats from the last year, for those who are interested.

In 2019, The Amish Catholic received a total of 66,839 views, with a total of 39,175 visitors. My total views were down this year by 1,035, though I received 3,969 more visitors in 2019. My most popular month was March, in which I received 19,066 views and 12,919 visitors. My least popular month was February, with only 3,011 views and 1,369 visitors. This is really all very good news, since I published many fewer pieces in 2019 than in 2018 – this has been my most intense calendar year of studies ever. Including this summary, I published 42 pieces in 2019 – down from 109 in 2018. Had I been a bit more productive, all my other numbers would have gone up this year.

Here are my top 10 posts:

  1. 100 Edifying Lenten Penances (with over 12,000 views, this is my most popular post ever)
  2. 30 Alternate Religious Mottos
  3. Elsewhere: Courage, the Cardinal, and the Sex Abuse Crisis
  4. When the Sacred is Strange: The Art of Giovanni Gasparro (this one is from 2017, but it remains perennially popular)
  5. The Hidden Wound of Christ
  6. We Do Not Need St. Chesterton
  7. The Best Monastic Documentaries (from 2018)
  8. The Ratzinger Letter: A Failure
  9. Chesterton on Cheese (one of my earliest posts, from June of 2017)
  10. Elsewhere: Catholic Kabbalah

Humor keeps the top spots, while works of controversy and commentary appear with greater frequency this year than in the past. Spiritual and academic pieces usually don’t have a terribly wide appeal – which is probably good, because I’m a young layman and a lowly grad student.

I will highlight one academic piece, however, of which I am somewhat proud: my Church Life Journal argument in favor of the fundamental Catholicity of Jansenism and the continuing relevance of these early modern controversies. The Jansenist controversy remains one of the most important and misunderstood chapters in Church history. I hope to expand some of these themes here and elsewhere in the new year.

I suppose I could finish this trying to come up with a list of lessons I’ve learned over the course of the last year – in blogging, in life, etc. The temptation is even greater in view of the closing decade. Yet that often seems rather contrived. I would rather close with what seems to me the best way to end a year and a decade: on a note of gratitude. I could not have gotten where I am today without tremendous help along the way. Friends, family, mentors, and even strangers have made my life better in ways that I cannot begin to describe. Thank you to everyone who has been there along the way. You know who you are.

And thanks to the friends in heaven who have helped with their many prayers. As I concluded 2018, so will I finish the decade – with a prayer that encompasses all of time.

Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Amen.