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I don’t know

The meeting of Anthony the Great and Father Paul

St. Anthony the Great, also known as St. Anthony of Egypt, was a monk who died around the year 356 A.D. He is one of the desert fathers and a lot has been written about his life by his student, Athanasius the Great, who many may know from the Athanasian Creed used by Roman Catholics, Lutherans an Anglicans.

There are many anecdotes known from the desert fathers and mothers, the believers from the first centuries of Christianity. These are simple stories from a bygone era that surprisingly often prove to be super relevant today. Such as the following anecdote in which St. Paul of Thebes (who died in 342 A.D.) comes to visit him.

Father Paul is visiting Father Anthony

Father Paul once visited Anthony when he was just teaching three monks about a very difficult matter of faith. Paul withdrew into a corner and waited silently until Father Antonius was ready.

Antonius asked the youngest of the three monks how he thought about the matter. The young man responded immediately; what he lacked in knowledge, he supplemented with his fire and enthusiasm. When he was finished, Father Antonius remained silent for a while, then said, "You haven't found the right answer yet."

Then the second one got the floor. He was a little older, read some books and gained experience. He chose learned words and formulated more carefully. When he was finished, Father Antonius said: "You too have not found the right answer yet."

Finally, the oldest of the three was allowed to give an answer. He dropped long silences, spoke thoughtfully, and you could tell he had read many books and had a long prayer experience. When he was finished, Father Antonius remarked: "You haven't found the right answer yet."

The moment he opened his mouth to say something about the very difficult issue of faith himself, he thought Father Paul was still in his corner. He turned to the old abbot and asked, "Father Paul, could you possibly say something about it?" Now it remained silent for some time. Finally, Paul said: "I don't know ..."

Father Anthony turned to his three disciples and with a raised finger, he said: "Father Paul has found the right answer."

The old stories indeed prove to be relevant for today. "I don't know" as the correct answer to complex theological issues. How beautiful is that? It's good to remember the next time you end up in a discussion about faith.

Background info

Meeting of Anthony the Great and Fr Paul

The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul,
c. 1430/1435, by Sano di Pietro Sienese

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