CHURCH FATHERS (43) – Palladius of Helenopolis



Origen had a very strong influence on Christian thought in his time and after. Another example is the influence he had on Palladius of Helenopolis (368-431), author of the hagiographic collection called Historia Lausiaca (because it was addressed to a certain Lauso). This book was quite important because it is an account of monastic life of that time and is a very good source of information. As said before, our Palladius was an admirer of Origen, and was not alone in this. We have seen, however, that certain doctrines of Origen were not orthodox.

His Lausiac History is formed from portraits of people distinguished for their holiness of life. Let us see some examples. Here is talking about holy women: “It is necessary also to mention in my book certain women with manly qualities, to whom God apportioned labors equal to those of men, lest any should pretend that women are too feeble to practise virtue perfectly. Now I have seen many such and met many distinguished virgins and widows.

Among them was the Roman lady Paula,  mother of Toxotius, a woman of great distinction in the spiritual life. She was hindered by a certain Jerome from Dalmatia. For though she was able to surpass all, having great abilities, he hindered her by his jealousy, having induced her to serve his own plan. She has a daughter now living an ascetic life at Bethlehem, Eustochium by name. I have never met her, but she is said to be very chaste, and she has a convent of fifty virgins; I knew also Veneria, wife of Vallovicus the count,  who gallantly distributed her camel’s burden  and was delivered from the wounds which property inflicts. And Theodora the wife of the tribune, who reached such a depth of poverty that she became a recipient of alms and finally died in the monastery of Hesychas near the sea. I knew a lady named Hosia, in every respect most venerable; and her sister Adolia,  who lived in a way not indeed comparable to her, but proportionately to her own capacity. I knew also Basianilla, the wife of Candidianus the general, who practised virtue ardently and scrupulously, and is still even now strenuously engaged in contests. Also the virgin Photina, venerable in the extreme, daughter of Theoctistus the priest near Laodicea. Again, I met in Antioch a most venerable lady who conversed familiarly with God, the deaconess Sabaniana, aunt of John the bishop of Constantinople. And I saw also in Rome the beautiful Asella, the virgin who had grown old in the monastery, a very gentle lady and a supporter of convents. There also I saw men and women recently instructed. I saw also Avita, who was worthy of God, with her husband Apronianus and their daughter Eunomia, all so desirous to please God that they were publicly converted to the life of virtue and continence, and were held worthy on this account to fall asleep in Christ freed from all sin, having become possessed of knowledge and leaving their life in good remembrance.” The “certain Jerome from Dalmatia” was of course Saint Jerome, and Eustochium was the woman to him he sent a famous letter on virginity.

He wrote also about Hippolytus and a story he found in one of his books: “In another very old book inscribed with the name of Hippolytus, a disciple of the apostles, I found this story. There lived in the city of Corinth a high-born and most beautiful virgin who was practising asceticism with a view to (a vow of) virginity. As the time for it approached, they denounced her to the pagan who was the magistrate then, at the time of the persecutors, that is, as one who blasphemed both the times and the emperors and spoke ill of the idols. At the same time also those who traffic in such things were praising her beauty. So the magistrate, being erotic, received the denunciation gladly, like a horse pricking up his ears. And when after setting every device into operation he failed to persuade the woman, then, furious with her, he did not hand her over to punishment or torture, but put her in a brothel and commanded the man who kept the women: ‘Take her, and pay me three pieces of money a day as her hire.’ But he, to earn the requisite sum, intended to hand her over to all comers. So when those who hunt women in this way like so many hawks knew of it they visited this perdition-shop, and paying the tariff talked to her the language of seduction. But she besought them with entreaties, saying: ‘I have a sore which is offensive, and I fear that you will hate me; give me a few days and you will get the chance of having me for nothing.’ So she besought God with petitions in those days. Wherefore also God beholding her chastity inspired a certain young man in the employ of the magister officiorum, fair in character and appearance, with a burning zeal for martyrdom. And having gone off with all outward appearance of lust he came late at night to the keeper of the women and gave him five coins and said to him: ‘Allow me to spend this night with her.’ So he went in to the private chamber and said to her: ‘Get up, save yourself.’ And he made her take off her clothes and put his own on her, both the vests and cloak and all his masculine apparel, and said to her: ‘Veil yourself with the ends of the cloak and go out.’ And so she sealed herself (with the holy sign) and went out and was preserved uncorrupted and undefiled. Next day, therefore, the deed was known. The young official was arrested and thrown to the wild beasts, in order that by him the demon might be put to shame, in that he became a martyr in two senses, both for his own sake and for the sake of that blessed one.”

This collection of life of monks and saints is certainly worthy of being rediscovered to meditate on the good deeds of our fathers and mothers in faith.


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