Macarius the Egyptian, St.
MACARIUS THE EGYPTIAN, ST.
Hermit renowned for his miracles and spiritual counsel; b. Upper Egypt, c. 300; d. Scete, c. 389. He is erroneously considered the author of a collection of spiritual homilies. Macarius, called the Elder or the Great, is known as one of the desert fathers described in the History of the Monks of Egypt (ch. 28) ascribed to rufinus of aquileia and in the Lausiac History (ch. 17) of palladius. He is mentioned also by Socrates (Hist. eccl. 4.23) and Sozomen (Hist. eccl. 3.14; 6.20). Macarius joined a scattered settlement of hermits in Scete (c. 330), west of the Nile Delta, and became famous for his spiritual maturity and his power over demons. He was ordained c. 340, presumably to celebrate the divine mysteries on Sundays for the hermits to whom he appears to have given spiritual conferences. He met St. anthony of egypt at least once, and his sayings are recorded in the apophthegmata patrum of the Desert Fathers, although the eight letters and two prayers there cited are not authentic. Under Emperor Valens, Macarius was one of the hermits who was banished by Bp. Lucius of Alexandria to an island in the Nile (c. 374) for his determined anti-Arianism. He was soon allowed to return to the desert and resumed the solitary life until his death.
Neither Rufinus nor Palladius mentions any literary activity of Macarius, although a full volume of writings in Migne's Patrologia Graeca (34) bears his name. Macarius had little, if any, formal education; when Sozomen praised his "divine knowledge and philosophy," he referred to his proficiency in the way of detachment and contemplation. While circles of monks in the north Egyptian desert apparently cultivated the Christian gnosis and could be plausibly suspected of origenism (c. 400), Palladius represents Macarius as being of the old school in the tradition of Anthony, whose "book was nature" (Socrates, Hist. eccl. 4.23). The monastic ideal proposed in the spiritual homilies is more relevant to the tightly organized communities pachomius developed to the south of Nitria c. 320. É. Amann noted Stoic and other non-Christian influences in the 50 homilies that have been almost doubled by recent discoveries. It also appears that doctrines connected with the 18 Messalian propositions condemned at the Council of ephesus (431) have a considerable representation in these homilies. This would relate them to Mesopotamia or Constantinople. However, W. Jaeger has denied this, arguing that the great letter, which serves as preface to the collection and whose doctrinal homogeneity with the homilies has been questioned, is not Messalian. In fact, the second section of this letter is a compilation culled from gregory of nyssa's De Instituto Christiano. Apparently the homilies were gradually purged of the grosser errors of Messalianism by later editors; they contain much pure and lofty teaching.
Feast: Jan. 15; Jan. 19 (Greek Menaea).
Bibliography: a. j. mason, tr., Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; 1921). g. l. marriott, ed., Macarii Anecdota (Cambridge, Mass. 1918). É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 9.2:1452–55. g. graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, 5 v. (Vatican City 1944–53); Studi e Testi, 118, 133, 146, 147, 172, 1:389–395. h. dÖrries, Symeon von Mesopotamien [Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 55.1; 1941]. w. jaeger, Two Rediscovered Works of Ancient Christian Literature (Leiden 1954), 145–230. l. villecourt, Revue de l'Orient chrétien 22 (1921) 29–56; Muséon 35 (1922) 203–212. j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950–) 3:161–168. h. c. graef, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Frieburg 1957–65) 6:1309–10. g. quispel, Makarius, das Thomasevangelium und das Lied von der Perle (Leiden 1967). r. staats, Gregor von Nyssa und die Messalianer; die Frage der Priorität zweier altkirchlicher Schriften (Berlin 1968). Finnisch-Deutsche Theologentagung (Goslar, Germany 1980), Makarios-Symposium über das Böse, ed. w. strothmann (Wiesbaden 1983). Bibelauslegung und Gruppenidentität, ed. h.-o. kvist (Åbo 1992). Grundbegriffe christlicher Ästhetik, ed. k. fitschen and r. staats (Wiesbaden 1997).
[a. a. stephenson]
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