Lives of the Saints
St. Macarius of Alexandria Anchoret
A.D. 394
ST. MACARIUS the younger, a citizen of Alexandria, followed the business of a confectioner. Desirous
to serve God with his whole heart, he forsook the world in the flower of his age, and spent upwards of
sixty years in the deserts in the exercise of fervent penance and contemplation. He first retired into
Thebais, or Upper Egypt, about the year 335. Having learned the maxims, and being versed in the
practice of the most perfect virtue, under masters renowned for their sanctity, still aiming, if possible, at
greater perfection, he quitted the Upper Egypt, and came to the Lower, before the year 373. In this part
were three deserts almost adjoining to each other: that of Scete is called from a town of the same name
on the borders of Lybia; that of the Cells, contiguous to the former, this name being given to it on
account of the multitude of hermit-cells with which it abounded; and a third, which reached to the
western branch of the Nile, called, from a great mountain, the desert of Nitria. St. Macarius had a cell in
each of these deserts. When he dwelt in that of Nitria, it was his custom to give advice to strangers, but
his chief residence was in that of the Cells. Each anchoret had here his separate cell, which he made
his continued abode, except on Saturday and Sunday, when all assembled in one church to celebrate
the divine mysteries, and partake of the holy communion. If anyone was absent, he was concluded to be
sick, and was visited by the rest. When a stranger came to live among them, everyone offered him his
cell, and was ready to build another for himself. Their cells were not within sight of each other. Their
manual labor, which was that of making baskets or mats, did not interrupt the prayer of the heart. A
profound silence reigned throughout the whole desert. Our saint received here the dignity of priesthood,
and shone as a bright sun influencing this holy company, while St. Macarius the elder lived no less
eminent in the wilderness of Scete, forty miles distant. Palladius has recorded a memorable instance of
the great self-denial professed and observed by these holy hermits. A present was made of a
newly-gathered bunch of grapes to St. Macarius: the holy man carried it to a neighboring monk who
was sick; he sent it to another. It passed in like manner to all the cells in the desert, and was brought
back to Macarius, who was exceedingly rejoiced to perceive the abstinence of his brethren, but would
not eat of the grapes himself.

The austerities of all the inhabitants of that desert were extraordinary; but St. Macarius, in this regard,
far surpasses the rest. For seven years together he lived only on raw herbs and pulse, and for the three
following years contented himself with four or five ounces of bread a day and consumed only one little
vessel of oil in a year; as Palladium assures us. His watchings were not less surprising, as the same
author informs us. God had given him a body capable of bearing the greatest rigors; and his fervor was
so intense that whatever spiritual exercise he heard of or saw practiced by others, he resolved to copy
the same. The reputation of the monastery of Tabenna, under St. Pachomius, drew him to this place in
disguise, some time before the year 349. St. Pachomius told him that he seemed too far advanced in
years to begin to accustom himself to their fastings and watchings; but at length admitted him, on
condition he would observe all the rules and mortifications of the house. Lent approaching soon after,
the monks were assiduous in preparations to pass that holy time in austerities, each according to his
strength and fervor; some by fasting one day -- others two, three, or four days -- without any kind of
nourishment; some standing all day, others only sitting at their work. Macarius took some palm-tree
leaves steeped in water, as materials for his work, and standing in a private corner, passed the whole
time without eating, except a few green cabbage leaves on Sundays. His hands were employed in
almost continual labor, and his heart conversed with God by prayer. If he left his station on any pressing
occasion, he never stayed one moment longer than necessity required. Such a prodigy astonished the
monks, who even remonstrated to the abbot at Easter against a singularity of this nature, which, if
tolerated, might on several accounts be prejudicial to their community. St. Pachomius entreated God to
know who this stranger was; and learning by revelation that he was the great Macarius, embraced him,
thanked him for his edifying visit, and desired him to return to his desert, and there offer up his prayers
for them. Our saint happened one day inadvertently to kill a gnat that was biting him in his cell; reflecting
that he had lost the opportunity of suffering that mortification, he hastened from his cell for the marshes
of Scete, which abound with great flies, whose stings pierce even wild boars. There he continued six
months exposed to those ravaging insects; and to such a degree was his whole body disfigured by
them with sores and swellings, that when he returned he was only to be known by his voice. Some
authors relate that he did this to overcome a temptation of the flesh.

The virtue of this great saint was often exercised with temptations. One was a suggestion to quit his
desert and go to Rome, to serve the sick in the hospitals -- which, by due reflection, he discovered to
be a secret artifice of vain-glory inciting him to attract the eyes and esteem of the world. True humility
alone could discover the snare which lurked under the specious gloss of holy charity. Finding this
enemy extremely importunate, he threw himself on the ground in his cell, and cried out to the fiends:
"Drag me hence if you can by force, for I will not stir." Thus he lay till night, and by this vigorous
resistance they were quite disarmed. As soon as he arose they renewed the assault; and he, to stand
firm against them, filled two great baskets with sand, and laying them on his shoulders, traveled along
the wilderness. A person of his acquaintance meeting him, asked him what he meant, and made an
offer of easing him of his burden; but the saint made no other reply than this: "I am tormenting my
tormentor." He returned home in the evening, much fatigued in body, but freed from the temptation.
Palladius informs us that St. Macarius, desiring to enjoy more perfectly the sweets of heavenly
contemplation, at least for five days without interruption, immured himself within his cell for this purpose,
and said to his soul: "Having taken up thy abode in heaven, where thou hast God and his holy angels to
converse with, see that thou descend not thence: regard not earthly things." The two first days his heart
overflowed with divine delights, but on the third he met with so violent a disturbance from the devil that
he was obliged to stop short of his design and to return to his usual manner of life. Contemplative souls
often desire, in times of heavenly consolation, never to be interrupted in the glorious employment of love
and praise; but the functions of Martha, the frailty and necessities of the human frame, and the
temptations of the devil force them, though reluctant, from their beloved object. Nay, God oftentimes
withdraws Himself, as the saint observed on this occasion, to make them sensible of their own
weakness and that this life is a state of trial. St. Macarius once saw in a vision devils closing the eyes of
the monks to drowsiness and tempting them by diverse methods to distractions during the time of
public prayer. Some, as often as they approached, chased them away by a secret supernatural force,
while others were in dalliance with their suggestions. The saint burst into sighs and tears and, when
prayer was ended, admonished everyone of his distractions and of the snares of the enemy, with an
earnest exhortation to employ, in that sacred duty, a more than ordinary watchfulness against his
attacks. St. Jerome and others relate, that a certain anchoret in Nitria having left one hundred crowns at
his death, which he had acquired by weaving cloth, the monks of that desert met to deliberate what
should be done with that money. Some were for having it given to the poor, others to the church; but
Macarius, Pambo, Isidore, and others, who were called the fathers, ordained that the one hundred
crowns should be thrown into the grave and buried with the corpse of the deceased, and that at the
same time the following words should be pronounced: "May thy money be with thee to perdition." This
example struck such a terror into all the monks, that no one durst lay up any money by him.

Palladius, who, from 391, lived three years under our saint, was eye witness to several miracles
wrought by him. He relates that a certain priest, whose head, in a manner shocking to behold, was
consumed by a cancerous sore, came to his cell but was refused admittance; nay, the saint at first
would not even speak to him. Palladius, by earnest entreaties, strove to prevail upon him to give at least
some answer to so great an object of compassion. Macarius, on the contrary, urged that he was
unworthy, and that God, to punish him for a sin of the flesh he was addicted to, had afflicted him with this
disorder -- however, that upon his sincere repentance and promise never more during his life to
presume to celebrate the divine mysteries, he would intercede for his cure. The priest confessed his sin
with a promise, pursuant to the ancient canonical discipline, never after to perform any priestly function.
The saint thereupon absolved him by the imposition of hands, and a few days later the priest came
back perfectly healed, glorifying God and giving thanks to his servant. Palladius found himself tempted
to sadness, on a suggestion from the devil, that he made no progress in virtue, and that it was to no
purpose for him to remain in the desert. He consulted his master, who bade him persevere with fervor,
never dwell on the temptation, and always answer instantly the fiend: "My love for Jesus Christ will not
suffer me to quit my cell, where I am determined to abide in order to please and serve Him agreeably to
His will."

The two saints of the name of Macarius happened one day to cross the Nile together in a boat, when
certain tribunes, or principal officers, who were there with their numerous trains, could not help
observing to each other that those men, from the cheerfulness of their aspect, must be exceeding
happy in their poverty. Macarius of Alexandria, alluding to their name, which in Greek signifies happy,
made this answer: "You have reason to call us happy, for this is our name. But if we are happy in
despising the world, are not you miserable who live slaves to it?" These words, uttered with a tone of
voice expressive of an interior conviction of their truth, had such an effect on the tribune who first spoke,
that, hastening home, he distributed his fortune among the poor and embraced an eremitical life. In
375, both these saints were banished for the Catholic faith, at the instigation of Lucius, the Arian
patriarch of Alexandria. Our saint died in the year 394, as Tillemont shows from Palladius. The Latins
commemorate him on the 2nd, the Greeks with the elder Macarius, on the 19th of January.

In the desert of Nitria there subsists at this day a monastery which bears the name of St. Macarius. The
monastic rule called St. Macarius's, in the code of rules, is ascribed to this of Alexandria. St. Jerome
seems to have copied some things from it in his letter to Rusticus. The concord, or collection of rules,
gives us another, under the names of the two SS. Macarius; Serapion (of Arsinoe, or the other of
Nitria), Paphnutius (of Becbale, priest of Scete), and thirty-four other abbots. It was probably collected
from their discipline or regulations and example. According to this latter, the monks fasted the whole
year, except on Sundays, and the time from Easter to Whitsuntide; they observed the strictest poverty,
and divided the day between manual labor and hours of prayer; hospitality was much recommended in
this rule, but, for the sake of recollection, it was strictly forbidden for any monk, except one who was
deputed to entertain guests, ever to speak to any stranger without particular leave. The definition of a
monk or anchoret, given by the abbot Rancé of la Trappe, is a lively portraiture of the great Macarius in
the desert: When, says he, a soul relishes God in solitude, she thinks no more of anything but heaven
and forgets the earth, which has nothing in it that can now please her; she burns with the fire of divine
love, and sighs only after God, regarding death as her greatest advantage. Nevertheless they will find
themselves much mistaken who, leaving the world, imagine they shall go to God by straight paths, by
roads sown with lilies and roses, in which they will have no difficulties to conquer, but that the hand of
God will turn aside whatever could block their way or disturb the tranquillity of their retreat; on the
contrary, they must be persuaded that temptations will everywhere follow them, that there is neither
state nor place in which they can be exempt, that the peace which God promises is procured amidst
tribulations, as the rosebud amidst thorns; God has not promised his servants that they shall not meet
with trials, but that with the temptation, He will give them grace to be able to bear it: heaven is offered to
us on no other conditions; it is a kingdom of conquest, the prize of victory -- but, O God, what a prize!

On the same day are commemorated many holy martyrs throughout the provinces of the Roman empire
who -- when Dioclesian, in 303, commanded the holy scriptures, wherever found, to be burnt -- chose
rather to suffer torments and death than to be accessory to their being destroyed by surrendering them
into the hands of the professed enemies of their Author.

From Palladius, bishop of Helenopolis, who had been his disciple, c. 20. Rufin, Socrates, and others in
Rosweide D'Andilly Cotelier, and Bollandus p. 85. See Tillemont, t 8, p. 626. Bulteau, Hist. Mon.
d'Orient,1.1, c. 9. p. 128.