St. Antony and St. Fiacre!
Author: Sheila M. Coyle
Originally Published on: September 1, 2000
Used with permission from the author.
September 1st is the feast day of Saint Fiacre.
St. Fiacre and St. Antony were ascetics, powerful in prayer and meditation and the working of miracles that followed such practices. St. Fiacre's knowledge of using herbs in the practice of the healing arts, and his penchant for farming the land led him to become known as Patron Saint of Gardeners. St. Antony of Egypt is renowned as Patriarch of ascetics, dying in the year 356 at 105 years old. He is not to be confused with St. Antony of Padua, the finder of lost things. He is one of my favorite Saints, but the teaming up of the other Antony and Fiacre in this article is for a reason.
The biggest reason, that I could not find, nor have the resources on hand to understand and write about the process and growth of St. Fiacre's spirituality. Mr. John Hoh, my Suite101 Religion Editor, who is the nicest editor in the world, mentioned in a Suite101 notice to editors that his Lutheran pastor was waiting for an article on St. Fiacre. So, looking around on my bookshelf I found a blue cloth book on Ancient Christian Writers about the life of St. Antony written by St. Athanasius.
Now, I do not get into theology in these articles. If you want to understand the theology of the saints you could drop into another Suite101 religion topic. My articles are intended for all age groups, simple pieces about the saints focusing on the process of their spiritual development or certain turning points in their lives. At what point was it that they decided to live for God, or to forbear their mission of proclaiming their personal Savior, Jesus, in work and the lives they lived?
For most it seems it was a gradual process stemming from the influence, good or bad, of their early years. My own opinion is that they were touched by grace before they were born, singled out for a particular mission and protected by unseen forces throughout their lifetimes so they could fulfill their destinies. St. Athanasius was a bishop wanting to make Antony known to those seeking a monastic life. Sometimes in the retelling of stories about the saints, accounts can become grandiose according to the devotion that one saint brought to another. For instance the saints were always being shot at by arrows or one thing or another, and nearly destroyed many times by the dastardly plots of men.
This is true of Fiacre and Antony, Fiacre who was spied upon by a witch trying to discredit his morals, which was later proved untrue, and Antony, a humble man who did manual labor, having early and lifelong conflicts with demons. You must remember that witches and the occult have always been around, and really it is normal for the saints to fight these supernatural battles, but, maybe it was the way they fought that was so edifying to their biographers, as was the case with Anthanasius.
In Antony, St. Anthanasius, a great saint himself, found the "ideal pattern of ascetic life." It is noteworthy that Anthanasius would take such an interest in Antony, who according to Anthansius was a pious but unlettered man. Antony literally took the gospel to heart and sold what he had to live in a cave for twenty years, emerging and performing miracles with a deep knowledge of fighting the temptations of Satan.
In his early years he became known as "friend to God." St. Anthanasius said he found help in imitating Antony, who in turn imitated those who practiced virtues, going from one to another until he learned fortitude, patience or whatever virtue a person had mastered. It seems that Anthansius had an admiration for Antony, but may be it was more that he understood the passion that drives the saint to always become closer to God, and that Antony did things in such a way that others were not hurt by his example although he wouldn't let anyone best him in the practice of asceticism.
That's an interesting mix of ambition and love, and it was the kind of love that made the saints so appealing. This selfless love embodying the complete and utter belief in the goodness of God allowing that grace to flow through them, defeating evil, warding off sickness, and healing all kinds of illness.
How did St. Fiacre use his asceticism to ward off illness and evil?
Once again, we have a person devoted solely to God. In his efforts to live an ascetic life he asked his bishop for an acre of land to farm and live. It is said that supernatural forces went before Fiacre clearing the land. Anything that got in the way of Fiacre's hoe was cleared as well. Perhaps here we have another instance of grandiose descriptions, but what would be more believable, to say that God sent His angels to clear the way for Fiacre?
All it would take is one angel, and a flash in a corner of time to hoe an acre. Maybe God sent the angels because there were other things that needed to be dug up along the way, and of course the hoe could have done the digging itself, I mean, nothing is that grandiose or incredible in God's universe. The point is that it was the power of God paving the way for Fiacre and the many miraculous cures and healings worked through his hands.
It is noted that Fiacre used the herbs that he grew to cure disease, perhaps knowing that some people find it easier to believe in a herb or potion to cure illness than in the saving grace of God. But Fiacre obviously knew that once the patient felt physically healthy, the better frame of mind to think about that saving grace, and the destruction, in some cases death, that the person was saved from.
St. Fiacre and St. Antony, true gardeners of the soul!
©Sheila M. Coyle, 2000
Permission is granted to use this article for non-commercial purposes.