On Wednesday, October 5, Philip Balla, a 2nd year MDiv student at HDS, presented a talk on Antony the Great, Origin of Alexandria. The legacy of the Egyptian desert monastics of the 4th century were present with the minds (and arguably some of the hearts) of the residents gathered at the CSWR.
The presentation that brought this great and ancient legacy to the forefront focused intensively on Antony and the ancient sources that shed light on his practices, beliefs, and the underpinnings of his theological vision. This manifest itself in an exciting textual review of the Life of Antony, of the letters of Antony, and a survey of the relevant sayings of the desert fathers which lead to be a PowerPoint presentation overflowing with wonderful block text. Through these reviews and surveys the residents of the CSWR got a sense for Antony's asceticism and his commitment to the spiritual disciplines as well as the political motives of those who have tried to claim Antony's legacy for centuries. The presentation culminated in the argument that while Antony never articulates a systematic theology for himself it is clear that his theological underpinnings were heavily influenced by Origen of Alexandria, whose views would later be denounced as "heresy". The CSWR residents were lit aflame with a well-drawn chart (credit: Michael Ennis) describing Origin's theological system which then transitioned the group into a robust small group discussion about how Antony's life, asceticism, and theological vision could interact or not with their own worldwide religious traditions. The group seemed particularly interested in the finer details of Origin's heterodox theological system and many seemed surprised that the incredibly important Christian theologian proposed multiple worlds and multiple lives within these worlds. The great legacy of Egyptian monasticism was well received at the CSWR and the room was certainly full of firey discussion by the end of the presentation, a tribute to the impact of the heated exuberance of the desert on the increasingly cool souls and minds of the CSWR. In this case, it seems, going far outward to glimpse deep inward is a particularly fine idea.
—by Philip Balla, MDiv Student, Harvard Divinity School