PACHOMIUS (293?–346) was a Christian ascetic and founder of cenobitic monasticism. Information about Pachomius has been much confused in the many legends and biographies preserved in various versions and translations. Born of pagan parents in Upper Egypt, Pachomius encountered Christianity for the first time in the city of Latopolis (Copt., Esnen; modern-day Isna) while serving in the military. There he was impressed with the seemingly virtuous life of local Christians and by the love they showed for all people. After his conscription ended, Pachomius returned to his village, Chinoboskeia (Copt., Schneset), and was baptized. Because of his great love for God, he decided to become a monk and was placed under the spiritual guidance of the ascetic Palemon. In Egypt at the time the eremitic life as established by Antony of Egypt was dominant. After receiving divine exhortation, Pachomius decided to organize a monastic community.
In an abandoned village on the east bank of the Nile, near Dendera, Pachomius established a monastery surrounded by a wall and named it Tabennis (c. 318). The small number of ascetics there soon increased greatly, creating a need for other monasteries. Under his direction, nine monasteries for men and two for women were established. In order to administer the newly established monasteries more effectively, Pachomius moved the center from Tabennis to Pebu, where he was installed as general leader, or hegumen (Gr., hēgoumenos ). His sister Mary became the first hegumen in one of the women's monasteries. A wealthy monk, Petronius, gave financial support to Pachomius to retain control of his institutions during a general meeting of the monks in Pebu at Easter. Pachomius died on May 9, 346, in an epidemic that took the lives of about a hundred monks.
In fourth-century Egypt three basic forms of monasticism appeared: (1) the severe eremitic form, which was based on Antony's life in the desert; (2) the anchoritic monasticism of Makarios, which employed Sunday worship as one of its common elements; and (3) cenobitic monasticism as developed and practiced by Pachomius. Cenobitic monasticism centered on life inside the walls of the monastery with all the hours of the day and night strictly regulated. Monastic rule governed all the needs and activities of the monks: common prayer, common table, common work, and common use of the products of labor. According to monastic legend and tradition, an angel dictated these rules to Pachomius. Regarded as equal to scripture, obedience to them was considered a great virtue.
The hegumen was the spiritual leader of the monks, also undertaking responsibility for the financial support of the monastery in order to relieve the monks of worldly cares. Thus the monks could turn their undivided attention to spiritual exercises and toward heaven. In fact, this was the most important difference between the monasticism of Pachomius and that of Makarios: the hegumen was not only responsible for the spiritual needs of the monks but also for all material needs (e.g., housing, clothing, food, health care). On the other hand, the eremitic, anchoritic, and cenobitic lives did have common elements—removal from the world, severe asceticism, work with the hands, prayers, and obedience to the hegumen and the canons.
Pachomius wrote his famous rules for monks in Coptic, but only Jerome's translation from Greek into Latin is extant. In Coptic and Greek, only fragments are preserved, but there are also Ethiopic and Arabic translations. The long version of his rules seems to be the original. Eleven letters of Pachomius are also preserved in translations by Jerome. Admonitions and a small section of Catechetical Instructions have also survived.
Pachomius was not a great theoretical teacher of asceticism, but he was a great organizer of its practice. His teachings were directed to the ordering of the monks' lives by strict canons. These canons were meant to insure the good operation of the cloister and to make the separation from the world pronounced, including regulating the travels of the monks and visits from the laity. The canons imposed uniformity on the monks' way of life, dress, and nourishment even when the monks were outside the monastery. Only the sick were exempt from the austere dietary rules. Pachomius's canons covered all hours of the day and night, which were strictly arranged and scheduled to cover work, prayer, and rest, as well as behavior in church and at the table.
The greatest influence Pachomius had on the history of monasticism was in the organizational thoroughness and effectiveness of his rules. He created a form of monasticism that was to extend beyond his own epoch: the development of monasticism in the East and West was largely based on his rules. He influenced such monastic leaders as Basil the Great, John Cassian, and Benedict of Nursia, either directly or indirectly, and his rules are still followed in the austere monastic life lived on Mount Athos.
The Greek lives (i. e., biographies) of Pachomius are available in Sancti Pachomii vitae Graecae, edited by François Halkin, in "Subsidia Hagiographica," vol. 19 (Brussels, 1932). French and English translations of the "first Greek life" are La première vie grecque de Saint Pachôme, translated by A.-J. Festugière, in "Les moines d'Orient," vol. 4, no. 2 (Paris, 1965), and The Life of Pachomius: Vita Prima Graeca, translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (Missoula, Mont., 1975). A French translation of the Coptic lives is Les vies coptes de Saint Pachôme et de ses premiers successeurs, translated by L. T. Lefort, "Bibliothèque du Muséon," no. 16 (Louvain, 1943). See also the Œuvres de S. Pachôme et ses disciples, 2 vols., edited by L. T. Lefort, in "Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Scriptores Coptici," vols. 23 and 24 (Louvain, 1956) for Coptic and French versions. The rule of Pachomius along with eleven letters are available in the Latin translation of Jerome in Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne, vol. 23 (Paris, 1865), pp. 61–99.
Three relevant secondary works are Heinrich Bacht's "L'importance de l'idéal monastique de S. Pacôme pour l'histoire du monachisme chrétien," Revue d'ascetique et de mystique 26 (1950): 308–326; H. Idris Bell's Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest (Oxford, 1948), pp. 109ff.; and Karl Heussi's Der Ursprung des Mönchtums (Tübingen, 1936).
Theodore Zissis (1987)
Translated from Greek by Philip M. McGhee