Long before St Anthony it had been usual for Christians to practice asceticism, abstain from marriage and exercising themselves in self-denial, fasting, prayer, and works of piety; but this they had done in the midst of their families, and without leaving house or home. Later on, in Egypt, such ascetics lived in huts, in the outskirts of the towns and villages, and this was the common practice about 270, when Anthony withdrew from the world. He began his career by practising the ascetical life in this fashion without leaving his native place. He used to visit the various ascetics, study their lives, and try to learn from each of them the virtue in which he seemed to excel. Then he took up his abode in one of the tombs, near his native village, and there it was that the Life records those strange conflicts with demons in the shape of wild beasts, who inflicted blows upon him, and sometimes left him nearly dead.
Fr. Anthony Casamento
Fr Anthony is a priest of the Congregation of St Michael the Archangel, and is currently the Director of Identity and Mission at the Australian Catholic University.