St Paul the Simple
(cf II.xxxi) The Servant of Christ, Hierax, as well as Cronius and several other
brothers, told me the story I am going to tell you about Paul the Simple. He was a
peasant farmer of transparently innocent and simple life, and he had taken a most
beautiful woman for a wife who nevertheless was of very lax morals. Led by
providence to an outcome which he was in fact half hoping for, he came back from the
fields unexpectedly one day, went inside, and found her and a man together. When
he saw her and the man she was having sex with he gave a forthright and heartfelt
"Fine, fine," he said. "This means that she is no longer any responsibility of mine. In
Jesus' name I acknowledge her no longer. Go, take her with you, and her children, for
I am leaving to become a monk." Without saying anything to anybody else he took an
eight day journey to holy Antony and knocked on his door.
"What do you want?" asked Antony when he came to the door.
"To become a monk," replied Paul.
"You must be at least sixty. You can't become a monk," said Antony. "Live in the
town, work for your living, trusting in the grace of God. You would not be able to cope
with all the trials of solitude."
"Whatever you told me to do I would do it," the old man replied.
"I have told you," said Antony. "You are old. You can't be a monk. Go away. Or if you
do really want to be a monk go to a cenobium where there are many brothers to
support you in your frailty. I am here all by myself, fasting for five days before
eating." And with these words he tried to drive Paul away.
Refusing to admit him, Antony shut the door and for three days did not go outside,
not even to answer the call of nature. But the old man stayed where he was.
On the fourth day he really had to go outside, but when he opened the door and went
out he saw Paul still there and said, "Go away, old man. Why do you keep on
bothering me? You can't stay here."
"I don't intend to stay anywhere else except here," said Paul.
Antony looked at him and saw that he had nothing with him to sustain life, no bread,
no water or anything else, and he had now been fasting for four days.
"He is so unused to fasting he might die," thought Antony, "and I will be to blame."
And so he took him in.
"If you can be obedient and do what I tell you," said Antony, "you'll be all right."
"I will do whatever you say," Paul replied.
Antony in those days followed just as rigorous a way of life as he did when young. In
order to test the Paul's mettle he said to him, "Stay here and pray, while I go in and
fetch something for you to work with." He then went into his inner room and watched
Paul through the window. For the rest of the week he stayed there without moving,
even though scorched by the heat. At the end of the week he brought some palm
branches which he had soaked in water.
"Take these and weave a rope as you see me doing," he said. The old man wove until
the ninth hour, completing fifteen arms-lengths with great difficulty. Antony inspected
what he had done and was not satisfied with it.  
You've done that very badly," he said. "Undo it and do it again." It was now the
seventh day that this elderly man had been fasting, but Antony was treating him
severely like this to see whether he would give up and abandon the life of a monk.
But he just took the branches and rewove them, and with great labour put right the
unevenness with which he done them at first. Antony saw that he had neither
grumbled, nor been downcast, nor turned aside, nor become resentful to the slightest
degree, and he began to feel sorry for him. And as the sun set he said, "Well, little
father, shall we break some bread together?"
"If you think that's right, abba," replied Paul, thus leaving the decision to Antony
without jumping up eagerly at the mention of food. Antony began to change his mind.
"Get the table ready then," he said. And he did so. Antony put the bread on the
table, four six-ounce rolls. He put one to soak for himself (for they were dry) and
three for Paul. Antony sang a psalm which he knew, and when he had repeated it
twelve times he also said a prayer twelve times. This he did in order to test Paul
further. But the old man prayed too, as promptly and eagerly as the great Antony
himself. (I really think that he would rather feed on scorpions than live falsely.) "Sit
down," the great Antony said to Paul after the twelve prayers, "but we won't eat until
vespers. Wait till the bread is eatable." The time for vespers came and Paul still had
not eaten, when Antony said, "Get up. We'll pray and then sleep." They left the table
and did so.
Half way through the night Antony woke Paul for prayers and went on with them right
through to the ninth hour. But at last when vespers came and the table had been
prepared and they had sung and prayed they sat down to eat. Antony ate one roll and
did not pick up another one. The old man was eating more slowly and still had the
roll which he had started. Antony waited till he had finished and said, "Come, little
father, eat another roll."
"If you have another one, I will," said Paul, "but not if you won't."
"I've had quite sufficient for one who is a monk," said Antony.
"Since I want to be a monk," said Paul, "that's enough for me too, then."
And he got up and said twelve prayers and sang twelve psalms. After the prayers
they slept a little for the first part of the night, then rose and sang psalms again till
He then sent him out to wander in the desert.
"Come back after three days," he said. This he did.
When some brothers came on a visit he paid close attention to Antony and did
whatever Antony wanted. "See to the visitors' needs and keep silence," he said, "and
don't eat anything till they have started on their journey back." At the end of the
third week in which Paul had not eaten anything the brothers asked him why he kept
silent, to which he replied nothing at all. "Why keep silent?" said Antony. "Speak to
the brothers." So he spoke.
Once when Antony was given a jar of honey he told Paul to break the jar. He did so
and the honey spilled. "Now scrape up the honey with this shell," he ordered, "but
don't get any dirt mixed up in it." Once he ordered him to draw water all day.
When his garment got a bit tattered, he told him to just get used to it.
In the end this man had grasped such firm hold on obedience by the divine grace
given him, that he was able to command the demons. When the great Antony saw
that this man had promptly carried out everything he had asked him to do in the way
he ordered his life, he said, "See if you can keep on doing this day by day, brother,
and stay with me."
"I don't know what else you can show me," said Paul. "I do whatever I see you doing,
quite easily and without any strain, the Lord being my helper."
On another day Antony admitted 'in the name of Jesus' that he had indeed become a
monk. The great and blessed Antony had become convinced that the soul of this
servant of Christ had become almost perfected in all things, even though he was
somewhat simple. After a few months Antony was moved by the grace of God to build
a cell for him three or four miles away from his own cell, and said to him, "See now,
by the help of the grace of Christ you have become a monk. Now live by yourself, and
even take on the demons." So a year after Paul the Most Simple came to live with
him, he was highly experienced in a disciplined way of life and was found worthy to
battle against the demons and against all kinds of diseases.
One day there was brought to Antony a young man vexed beyond measure by one of
the most powerful and savage demons, who railed against heaven itself with curses
and blasphemies. Antony had a look at the young man and said to those who had
brought him, "This is not a task for me. I have not yet been given the grace to deal
with this very powerful type of demon. Paul the Simple has the gift of dealing with
this one."
The great Antony went to Paul, that most excellent man, taking them all with him.
"Abba Paul," he said, "Cast out this demon from this person so that he may return
home cured and glorify God." "Why not you?" asked Paul. "It is not for me," said
Antony. "I have other concerns." And the great Antony left the boy there and returned
to his cell.
The unassuming old man stood up and poured out a strong prayer to challenge the
demon and said, "Abba Antony says, 'Depart from this man'" "I will not, you
disgusting, pompous old man," said the demon, with many curses and blasphemies.
Paul put on his sheepskin and belaboured him in the back, crying, "'Go out,' abba
Antony says."
The demon abused both Paul and Antony with curses, saying, "You are disgusting old
men, lazy and greedy, never content to mind your own business. What have you got
in common with us? Why are you browbeating us?" "Either go now," said Paul, "or I
will call upon the power of Christ to bring destruction upon you." But this unclean
demon railed against Jesus also with curses and blasphemies "I am not going," he
This made Paul get angry with the demon. He went outside. It was midday - when
the Egyptian heat bears comparison with the furnace of Babylon. The holy old man
stood up straight, like a statue, on top of a rock, and prayed, "O Jesus Christ, you
were crucified under Pontius Pilate, take note that I will not come down from this
rock, nor will I eat or drink even if I die, until you hear me and cast out this demon
from this man and liberate him from the unclean spirit." And even as the simple and
humble Paul was praying, before he had even finished, the demon cried out, "I'm
going, I'm going, driven out by force, overcome by tyranny. I'm getting out of this
man and won't come back any more. It is the simplicity and humility of Paul which
has driven me out and I don't know where to go."
The moment he went he changed into an enormous dragon about seventy cubits long
which crept off towards the Red Sea. Thus were fulfilled the words of Holy Scripture,
'The righteous man shows his faith by what he does' (Proverbs 12.17), and 'On whom
shall I look, says the Lord, if not on him who is gentle and humble and trembles at
my words?' (Isaiah 66.2). Although lesser (humiliores) demons can be cast out by the
faith of men in authority (principales), it takes humble (humiles) men to be able to
put to flight the demons of greatest power (principales). Such were the miracles of
the humble Paul the Simple, and there were many others he did, even greater than
these. He was known as Simple by all the brothers.
[1] Vitae Patrum Chapter XXVIII.
Lives of the Saints