While we can understand that God is infinite, it is difficult to comprehend the stretch of such infinity. Certainly our finite minds cannot begin to comprehend it. Hence, since our minds our finite, the more we have cluttering our minds with worldly affairs such as possessions, relationships, and activities, the less time and room we have in our minds for considering the things of God.
St. Anthony of Egypt, a young man who had been left a great estate, comprehended this truth more than anyone of his time.
Thanks to the biography written by St. Athanasius (died 373), a detailed history of St. Anthony of Egypt is available. In 251, a Christian couple in Egypt gave birth to St. Anthony. They lived in Upper Egypt. Because they kept him at home to shelter him from the pagans, he grew up knowing only edifying literature, speaking only their native language.
Before Anthony reached the age of 20, his parents died, leaving him with a considerable fortune; he also was left with the responsibility of taking care of his younger sister.
Only six months after the death of his parents, Anthony sat in church listening to the sermon based on the Gospel of Matthew, “Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:21). Without hesitation, he did just that.
Anthony sold his best land, sold the estate, and gave the proceeds to the poor, keeping only a sufficient amount to support him and his sister. Once again, while at Mass and listening to another sermon, he heard the words of Matthew from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat; not yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life a greater thing than food, and the body than the clothing?” (Matt. 6:25).
After this, he sold all the rest of their possessions and placed his sister in a house of maidens — perhaps this house was one of the first convents. In imitation of an old man in the neighborhood, St. Anthony became a hermit living in solitude. He spent his time in prayer, reading, and manual labor, seeking out any known holy recluse to learn from his example about how to better serve God in solitude.
During Anthony’s solitary living, the Devil attacked him mercilessly. First of all, the Devil tempted him with his riches, showing him all the good he could have done if he had only kept his wealth and used it to help others. Along with this attempt to defer Anthony from his solitude, he strove to convince Anthony that his condition was miserable and not necessary.
Since the Devil failed at these attempts, he tried to attack Anthony through his imagination by bringing obscene visions. When Anthony repulsed this temptation with even more prayer, fasting, and guarding of the senses, the Devil appeared as a woman trying to seduce him.
Again the Devil failed and then appeared as a terrifying man. Finally in the form of beasts, the Devil physically attacked Anthony, nearly killing him before a friend found him and nursed him back to health.
After successfully repelling the Devil, Anthony called on God, asking Him why He had abandoned him, to which God replied, “I stood by you and beheld your combat; and because you have manfully withstood your enemies, I will always protect you, and will render your name famous throughout the Earth.”