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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

July 7

St. Pantænus, Father of the Church

        See St. Jerom, Catal. Clem. Alex. and Eusebius. Also Ceillier, t. 2, p. 237.

THIS learned father and apostolic man flourished in the second age. He was by birth a Sicilian, and by profession a stoic philosopher. For his eloquence he is styled by St. Clement of Alexandria the Sicilian Bee. His esteem for virtue led him into an acquaintance with the Christians, and being charmed with the innocence and sanctity of their conversation he opened his eyes to the truth. He studied the holy scriptures under the disciples of the apostles, and his thirst after sacred learning brought him to Alexandria in Egypt, where the disciples of St. Mark had instituted a celebrated school of the Christian doctrine. Pantænus sought not to display his talents in that great mart of literature and commerce; but his great progress in sacred learning was after some time discovered, and he was drawn out of that obscurity in which his humility sought to live buried. Being placed at the head of the Christian school some time before the year 179, which was the first of Commodus, by his learning and excellent manner of teaching he raised its reputation above all the schools of the philosophers, and the lessons which he read, and which were gathered from the flowers of the prophets and apostles, conveyed light and knowledge into the minds of all his hearers, as St. Clement of Alexandria, his eminent scholar, says of him. The Indians who traded to Alexandria, entreated him to pay their country a visit, in order to confute their Brachmans. Hereupon he forsook his school, and was established by Demetrius, who was made bishop of Alexandria in 189, preacher of the gospel to the Eastern nations. Eusebius tells us that St. Pantænus found some seeds of the faith already sown in the Indies, and a book of the gospel of St. Matthew in Hebrew, which St. Bartholomew had carried thither. He brought it back with him to Alexandria, whither he returned after he had zealously employed some years in instructing the Indians in the faith. The public school was at that time governed by St. Clement, but St. Pantænus continued to teach in private till in the reign of Caracalla, consequently before the year 216, he closed a noble and excellent life by a happy death, as Rufinus writes. 1 His name is inserted in all western martyrologies on the 7th of July.
  The beauty of the Christian morality, and the sanctity of its faithful professors, which by their charms converted this true philosopher, appear no where to greater advantage than when they are compared with the imperfect and often false virtue of the most famous sages of the heathen world. 2 Into what contradictions and gross errors did they fall, even about the divinity itself and the sovereign good! To how many vices did they give the name of virtues! How many crimes did they canonize! It is true they showed indeed a zeal for justice, a contempt of riches and pleasures, moderation in prosperity, patience in adversities, generosity, courage, and disinterestedness. But these were rather shadows and phantoms than real virtues, if they sprang from a principle of vanity and pride, or were infected with the poison of interestedness or any other vitiated intention, which they often betrayed, nay sometimes openly avowed, and made a subject of their vain boasts.  2
Note 1. Rufin. b. 5, c. 10. [back]
Note 2. Socrates in all things he said, used to add this form of speech, “By my Demon’s leave.” Just upon the point of expiring, he ordered a cock to be sacrificed to Esculapius. (Plato’s Phædo sub finem.) And in his trial we read one article of his impeachment to have been a charge of unnatural lust. Thales, the prince of naturalists, being asked by Crœsus what God was, put off that prince from time to time, saying, “I will consider on it.” But the meanest mechanic among the Christians can explain himself intelligibly on the Creator of the Universe. Diogenes could not be contented in his tub without gratifying his passions. And when with his dirty feet he trod upon Plato’s costly carpets, crying that he trampled upon the pride of Plato, he did this, as Plato answered him, with greater pride. Pythagoras affected tyranny at Thurium, and Zeno at Pyrene. Lycurgus made away with himself because he was unable to bear the thought of the Lacedæmonians correcting the severity of his laws. Anaxagoras had not fidelity enough to restore to strangers the goods which they had committed to his trust. Aristotle could not sit easy till he proudly made his friend Hermias sit below him; and he was as gross a flatterer of Alexander for the sake of vanity, as Plato was of Dionysius for his belly. From Plato and Socrates the stoics derived their proud maxim, “The wise man is self-sufficient.” Epictetus himself allows “to be proud of the conquest of any vice.” Aristotle (Ethic ad Nicom. l. 10, c. 7,) and Cicero patronize revenge. See B. Cumberland of the Laws of Nature, c. 9, p. 346. Abbé Batteux demonstrates the impiety and vices of Epicurus mingled with some virtues and great moral truths. (La Morale d’Epicure, à Paris, 1758.) The like blemishes may be found in the doctrine and lives of all the other boasted philosophers of paganism. See Theodoret. De curandis Græcor. affectibus, &c. [back]