Who Was St. Paphnutius?

A famous American jurist once said that a man must share in the action and passion of his time, at peril of being judged not to have lived.

Saint Paphnutius, the Egyptian monk and bishop whom the Catholic Church honors today, certainly shared in the action and passion of his time. Paphnutius lived through the Nicean Council and the transition from the era of persecution under pagan Rome to the era of Constantine. Had more information been collected about his life at the time, it sounds like it would have made for a riveting biography.

Just based on the biographical scraps cobbled together by the Catholic News Agency, he lived a truly storied life.

A disciple of St. Anthony of the Desert, Paphnutius started out as a desert hermit. He later became a bishop and was tortured for his faith by the Roman ruler of Egypt in the early 300s. The account of his suffering is gruesome: he had his left leg partially mutilated and his right eye cut out. When that failed to get him to renounce his faith, he was sentenced to the mines.

Paphnutius lived to see the tide turn towards Christianity. After Emperor Constantine converted in 312, the tortured bishop suddenly became a revered figure in the imperial court, as CNA puts it: “Constantine is said to have met frequently with the bishop from the Upper Thebaid, showing his respect by kissing the wound left by the loss of his eye.”

The restored bishop went on to participate in the Ecumenical Council at Nicea, which upheld Christ’s divinity and left us with the Nicene Creed. According to the CNA account: “During the years of doctrinal confusion that followed the Council of Nicea, Paphnutius stood in defense of Christian orthodoxy alongside Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and other Church leaders who upheld the doctrine of Jesus’ eternal preexistence as God.”

For us, I think Paphnutius’ life poses a question. It’s one thing to be ready to die for Christ—in of itself, certainly a testament to extraordinary heroic virtue.

But to be tortured for Him—that is, in some ways, an even tougher fate to face. Torture promises suffering without end—severe suffering without the comfort of knowing it will end with your death, suffering knowing that you will have to live maimed, either physically or psychologically, for the rest of your life. That takes great strength of faith (not to mention grace). Many lesser men and women would choose death over living with a mutilated body or psychological trauma.

Pause for a moment to ask yourself if your faith is strong enough to endure torture for His sake.

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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