Satan as Myth and Metaphor In The Life of St. Antony of Egypt
By Benjamin Cox
Published Online (2003)
Introduction: Among certain groups of modern religious scholars exists the widely-held belief that the many similarities among the various mythologies of the world spring from the most universal and innate aspects of the human mind. The reason that the same motifs appear again and again in the world’s religious traditions is because the subconscious mind is the fundamental source of all religious thought, and this raw material of myth is encapsulated into an iconography and symbolism that wraps these universal ideas in culture-specific garb. One such symbol is the Christian figure of Satan in The Life of St. Antony of Egypt.
The most compelling aspect of Satan in the tale of St. Antony is that he bridges the gap between myth and metaphor, at once depicted as both a symbol and a dogmatically-recognized spiritual being. Careful and deliberate word choice in the narrative dramatically heightens the correlation between Satan and the inner traits he is meant to portray, while still preserving the notion of a spiritual antagonist against whom the faithful can direct their efforts. The motivations attributed to Satan are manifestations of Antony’s subconscious self; the devil embodies mankind’s innate and innocently selfish instincts for self-preservation, specifically the search for material wealth and sexual fulfillment, and the fear for bodily safety. Whether Athanasius himself sees Satan as angel or metaphor is both uncertain and unimportant, because his essence remains the same. Satan is synonymous with the impulses of human self-centeredness, which Athanasius takes to be the chief obstacle to the pursuit of God.