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Nilus of Ancyra, St.


Abbot, ascetic writer also known as Nilus "the Elder" or "the Wise"; b. probably Ancyra (modern Ankara, Turkey), date unknown; d. Ancyra, c. 430. The romantic Narrationes de caede monachorum in monte Sinae (Patrologia Graeca 79:589693) purports to be biography, and explains the modern misnomer, Nilus Sinaites. According to this legend, Nilus was prefect of Constantinople but left office, wife, and home to become a monk with his son Theodulus on Mt. Sinai. When the monks were attacked by barbarians, Theodulus was captured but later he was set free and reunited with Nilus, who had escaped. Impressed by their piety, the bishop of Eleusa ordained them priests and sent them back to Sinai.

Nilus's own works give more reliable biographical data. In Constantinople he esteemed john chrysostom, regarded him as his teacher, and boldly took his side against his foes. Nilus left Constantinople and became abbot of a monastery near Ancyra. His skill as a spiritual counselor is attested by his treatises on moral and ascetic subjects and by more than 1,000 letters addressed mostly to otherwise unknown recipients. Several of these are merely excerpts from his own treatises or the works of others, particularly of John Chrysostom. Many of his writings explain passages of Scripture; in these he follows the literal or historical sense but makes free use of allegorical interpretations. He refutes arianism in eight letters to Gainas, general of the Goths. Other topics range from proper uses of mosaics in churches to condemnation of peculiar practices among monks, such as the stylites. The tracts De oratione and De malignis cogitationibus, formerly attributed to Nilus, are the work of evagrius ponticus.

Feast: Nov. 12.

Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne, 161 v. (Paris 185766) v. 79. nilus of ancyra, Narratio, ed. f. conca (Leipzig 1983). k. heussi, Das Nilusproblem (Leipzig 1921). g. t. stokes, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, ed. w. smith and h. wace, 4 v. (London 187787) 4:4345. j. quasten, Patrology, 4v. (Westminster, Md. 195086) 3:496504. m. t. disdier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 11.1:661674.

[p. w. harkins]

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