By Athanasius, Jerome, Sulpicius Severus, and Gregory the Great
These pioneering Lives are central sources for the major Christian monastic figures from St Antony, who died in 356, to St Benedict (c. 480-547). They also shed light on the beliefs and values of their celebrated authors. Athanasius' Life of Antony reveals the man who many believe was the first to set out into the Egyptian desert to pursue the path of poverty, abstinence and solitary prayer. St Jerome fought for the cause of chastity and asceticism in writing about Paul of Thebes, Hilarion and Malchus, while in his Life of Martin Sulpicius Severus described the achievements of a man who combined the roles of monk, bishop and missionary. Almost two hundred years later, Pope Gregory the Great in his Dialogues focused above all on St Benedict, whose Rule became the template for every subsequent form of monasticism. Full of vivid incidents and astonishing miracles, all these works proved hugely popular and influential and also inspired much of the visual imagery of the Middle Ages.