St. Macarius the Great

Also "Macarius Magnus," "Macarius the Elder."

From Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints of Egypt 1863:
St. Macarius, the Elder, was born in Upper Egypt,
about the year 300, and brought up in the country in
tending cattle. In his childhood, in company with
some others, he once stole a few figs, and ate one of
them ; but from his conversion to his death, he never
ceased to weep bitterly for his sin.^ By a powerful
call of divine grace he retired from the world in his
youth, and dwelling in a little cell in a village, made
mats, in continual prayer and great austerities. ^A
wicked woman falsely accused him of having deflowred
her, for which supposed crime he was dragged through
the streets, beaten, and insulted, as a base hypocrite
under the garb of a monk. He suffered all with
patience, and sent the woman what he earned by his
work, saying to himself: "Well, Macarius, having
now another to provide for, thou must work the
harder." But God discovered his innocency : for the
woman falling in labour lay in extreme anguish, and
could not be delivered till she had named the true
father of her child. , The people converted their rage
into the greatest admiration of the humility and pa-
tience of the saint.^ To shun the esteem of men he
fled into the vast hideous desert of Scete, being then
about thirty years of age. In this solitude he lived
sixty years, and became the spiritual parent of in
numerable holy persons, who put themselves under
his direction, and were governed by the rules he
prescribed them ; but all dwelt in separate hermitages.
St. Macarius admitted only one disciple with him, to
entertain strangers. He was compelled by an Egyp-
tian bishop to receive the order of priesthood, about
the year 340 — the fortieth of his age — that he might
celebrate the divine mysteries for the convenience of
this holy colony. When the desert became better
peopled there were four churches built in it, which
were served by so many priests. The austerities of
St. Macarius were excessive ; he usually eat but once
a week. Evagrius, his disciple, once asked him leave
to drink a little water, under a parching thirst; but
Macarius bade him to content himself with reposing
a little in the shade, saying : " For these twenty
years I have never once eat, drank, or slept as much
as nature required."^ His face was very pale, and
his body weak and parched up. To deny his own
will, he did not refuse to drink a little wine when
others desired him, but then he would punish himself
for this indulgence by abstaining two or three days
from all manner of drink ; and it was for this reason,
that his disciple desired strangers never to tender
unto him a drop of wine.^ He delivered his instruc-
tions in few words, and principally inculcated silence,
humility, mortification, retirement, and continual
prayer, especially the last, to all sorts of people. He
used to say, " In prayer, you need not use many or
lofty words. You can often repeat with a sincere
heart. Lord, show me mercy as thou knowest best.
Or, Assist me, God !"^ He was much delighted with
this ejaculation of perfect resignation and love: "0
Lord, have mercy on me, as thou pleasest and
knowest best in thy goodness !" His mildness and
patience were invincible, and occasioned the conver-
sion of a heathen priest, and many others.^ The
devil told him one day, " I can surpass thee in watch-
ing, fasting, and many other things; but humility
conquers and disarms me."^ A young man applying
to St. Macarius for spiritual advice, he directed him
to go to a burying-place and upbraid the dead, and
after to go and flatter them. When he came back,
the saint asked him what answer the dead had made.
" None at all," said the other, " either to reproaches
or praises." "Then," replied Macarius, "go, and
learn neither to be moved with injuries nor flatteries.
If you die to the world and to yourself, you will begin
to live to Christ." He said to another : " Receive,
from the hand of God, poverty as cheerfully as riches;
hunger and want as plenty; and you will conquer the
devil and subdue all your passions."^ A certain
monk complained to him, that in solitude he w^as
always tempted to break his fast, whereas in the
monastery he could fast the whole week cheerfully.
" Yain-glory is the reason," rephed the saint; "fast-
ing pleases w^hen men see you, but seems intolerable
when that passion is not gratified."^ One came to
consult him who w^as molested with temptations to
impurity. The saint examining into the source found
it to be sloth, and advised him never to eat before
sunset, to meditate fervently at his work, and to
labour vigorously, without sloth, the whole day. The
other faithfully complied, and was freed from his
^nemy. God revealed to St. Macarius that he had
not attained the perfection of two married women,
who lived in a certain town. He made them a visit,
and learned the means by w^hich they sanctified
themselves. They were extremely careful never to
speak any idle or rash words ; they lived in the con-
stant practice of humility, patience, meekness, charity,
resignation, mortification of their own will, and con-
formity to the humors of their husbands and others,
where the divine law did not interpose ; in a spirit of
recollection they sanctified all their actions by ardent
ejaculations, by which they strove to praise God, and
most fervently to consecrate to the divine glory all
the powers of their soul and body.^

A subtle heretic of the sect of the Hieracites, called
so from Hierax, who in the reign of Dioclesian denied
the resurrection of the dead, had, by his sophisms,
caused some to stagger in their faith. St. Macarius,
to confirm them in the truth, raised a dead man to
life, as Socrates, Sozomen, Palladius, and Rufinus
relate. Cassian says, that he only made a dead corpse
to speak for that purpose ; then bade it rest till the
resurrection. Lucius, the Arian usurper of the see
of Alexandria, who had expelled Peter, the successor
of St. Athanasius, in 376 sent troops into the deserts
to disperse the zealous monks, several of whom sealed
their faith with their blood; the chiefs, namely, the
two Macaliuses, Isidore, Pambo, and some others, by
the authority of the Emperor Yalens, were banished
into a little isle of Egypt, surrounded with great
marshes. The inhabitants, who were pagans, were
all converted to the faith by the confessors.^ The
public indignation of the whole empire obliged Lucius
to sufier them to return to their cells. Our saint
knowing that his end drew near, made a visit to the
monks of Nitria, and exhorted them to compunction
and tears so pathetically, that they all fell weeping
at his feet. " Let us weep, brethren," said he, " and
let our eyes pour forth floods of tears before we go
hence, lest we fall into that place where tears will
only increase the flames in which we shall burn.**^
He went to receive the reward of his labours in the
year 390, and of his age the ninetieth, having spent
sixty years in the desert of Scet^.^

He seems to have been the first anchoret who
inhabited this vast wilderness; and this Cassian
affirms.^ Some style him a disciple of St. Antony;
but that quality rather suits St. Macarius of Alex-
andria ; for, by the history of our saint's life, it appears
that he could not have lived under the direction of
St. Antony before he retired into the desert of Scete
But he afterward paid a visit, if not several, to that
holy patriarch of monks, whose dwelling was fifteen
days* journey distant.^ This glorious saint is honoured
in the Roman Martyrology on the 15th of January;
in the Greek Menaea on the 19th. An ancient
monastic rule, and an epistle addressed to monks,
written in sentences like the book of Proverbs, are
ascribed to St. Macarius. Tillemont thinks them
more probably the works of St. Macarius of Alex-
andria, who had under his inspection at Nitria five
thousand monks.* Gennadius^ says, that St. Macarius
wrote nothing but this letter. This may be under-
stood of St. Macarius of Alexandria, though one who
wrote in Gaul might not have seen all the works of
an author, whose country was so remote, and lan-
guage different. Fifty spiritual homilies are ascribed,
in the first edition, and in some manuscripts, to St.
Macarius of Egypt; yet F. Possin^ thinks they rather
belong to Macarius of Pispir, who attended St. Antony
at his death, and seems to have been some years older
than the two great Macariuses, though some have
thought him the same with the Alexandrian.

^ Bolland. 15 Jan. p. 1011, § 39. Cotel. Mon. Gr. t. 1, p. 546.
« Cotel. ib. p. 525. Rosweide, Vit. Patr. 1. 3, c. 99; 1. 5, c. 15, § 25
p. 523.

* Socrates, 1. 4, c. 23.

8 Rosweide, Vit. Patr. 1. 3, 1 3, p. 505; 1. 5, c. 4, ^ 26. p. 5G9.

« Rosweide, 1. 3, c. 20 ; 1. 5, c. 12. Cotel. p. 537.

^ Rosweide, 1. 3, c. 127. Cotel. t. 1, p. 547.

2 Rosweide, 1. 5, c. 15.

» Rosweide, 1. 7, c. 38. Cotel. t. 1, p. 537. Rosweide, ib. | 9.

* Cassian, Collat. 5, c. 32.

* Rosweide, 1. 3, c. 97 ; 1. 6, c. 3, g 17, p. 657.

2 Theodoret. 1. 4, c. 18, 19. Socr, 1. 4, c. 22. Sozom. 1. 6, c. 19, 20.
Rufin. 1. 2, c. 3. S. Hier. in Chron. Oros. 1. 7, c. 33. Pallad. Lausiac.
c. 117.

* Rosweide, Vit. Patr. 1. 5, c. 3, 2 9. Cotel. Mon. Gr. p. 545.

^ Pallad. Lausiac. c. 19.

2 Cassian. Collat. 15, o. 13. Tilem* Note 3, p. 806.

* Rosw. Vit. Patr. 1. 5, c. 7, g 9. Cotel. Apophthegm. Patr. 530.
Tillem. art. 4, p. 591, and Note 4, p. 806.

* See Tillem. Note 3, p. 806.

* Gennad. Cat. c. 10.

* Possin. Ascet. pr. p. 17.

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