Paphnutius: Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophrius

By Smith, James V. | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Paphnutius: Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophrius


Smith, James V., Anglican Theological Review


Paphnutius: Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and The Life of Onnophrius. By Tim Vivian. Cistercian Studies 140. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 2000. 206 pp. $17.95 (paper).

The Rev. Dr. Tim Vivian's book, Paphnutius: Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and The Life of Onnophrius, is the one hundred fortieth volume in the Cistercian Studies Series. This excellent series has offered scholars and interested students valuable introductions and translations of early and medieval Christian monastic works. Vivian himself has contributed a number of introductions and translations of early Christian ascetic texts from the original Coptic, Greek, and Latin sources in book and article form over the course of his prolific scholarly career. The book under review contains three texts that are translated from the Coptic and offer a fascinating window into the world of early Egyptian Christianity.

The Histories take us to Egypt's southern border near the first cataract. There we encounter the ascetic practices and antics of various bishops and monks including Macedonius who chopped off the head of the image of Horus and threw it into the temple fire. The Histories also recount healing miracles, threatening Nubian tribesmen, and ascetics forced into episcopal roles.

The Life of Onnophrius narrates Paphnutius's fantastic journey into the farthest reaches of the desert in search of fellow monks. Paphnutius encounters more wonders then a child at the carnival. From the naked Abba Timothy who runs with antelope to hairy Abba Onnophrius who shares his own ascetic discoveries and stories, this story does not disappoint. After Onnophrius commissions Paphnutius to institute his cult upon his death, Paphnutius makes his way back to civilization, but not before encountering monks who were fed by God as well as others who lived in a garden paradise filled with fruit trees.

A Discourse on Onnophrius is not concerned with the details of the historic Onnophrius but rather is a unique glimpse into the devotional and pilgrimage practices of Egyptian Christians. …

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