|Chauncey Gardiner: Paul the Simple for our age|
Paul was said to have walked away from his home upon finding his wife in the midst of an adulterous embrace. He wandered straight into the desert and didn't stop wandering until he came upon Saint Anthony. Perceiving Paul to be a simpleton, Anthony assured him that if he (Paul) could unquestioningly follow instructions, he would achieve salvation. Paul just asked for the instructions. Anthony told him to stand right where he was and wait. Then the great hermit went inside his cell and watched.
|Saints Paul and Anthony|
Fetch a bucket of water from the well. Good. Now pour it out on the ground.
Dig a hole. Nice work. Now fill it in.
See these baskets? Unweave the palms. Good, now weave them together again.
Tear up your clothes. Good. Now sew them back together. Excellent. Now tear them up again.
Paul never once questioned the instructions, never challenged the need. He just kept working, doing anything Saint Anthony told him. Eventually, the obedience began to astound the great hermit, and even impress him; Paul, it seemed, was more ready for salvation than even Saint Anthony himself. [Anthony was big on the resignation of one's own will in favor of God's will. He had lots of Biblical verses to support this particular view.]
Once, Anthony was visited by a few Biblical scholars. They stood around discussing profound mysteries. When there was a break in the conversation, Paul asked, "Did Christ come before the Prophets?" If you think about the question, there's a little more to it than it seems. Straight temporal chronology would indicate that he did not. Yet if we take the Nicene Creed as doctrine, he certainly did exist before the Prophets, even if he did not come to earth. It might not have been as deep as the stuff Anthony and the others were talking about, but it was worth considering.
Anthony, however, did not consider it. He told Paul, "Get away with you. Say no more." Paul walked back to his cell. Later, he didn't turn up for the morsel of food and mouthful of water that was a hermit's feast. Eventually, Anthony wandered over and asked him what was wrong. Paul told him he was simply doing as ordered: he got away and said no more.
Anthony, who had not meant his instructions literally, was amazed. He told his visitors that Paul listened more closely than any, which put him closer to the Word of God.
Eventually, Paul became a great healer. He moved further into the desert than Anthony, whose healing powers were tremendous. If Anthony could not handle a case, he referred it to Paul. There was one particularly stubborn demon inhabiting a mad dog. The frothing, snarling little beast just could not be healed. After having prayed unsuccessfully for quite some time, Paul complained to God, "If You don't cure him, I am not going to get anything to eat today." God looks out for the simple and pure; the dog was cured and Paul was free to enjoy his crust of bread and cup of water.
Louise, a retired housemaid in Being There, sees Chance on TV and complains,
It's for sure a white man's world in America. Look here: I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I'll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between th' ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want. Gobbledy-gook!Saint Paul the Simple was an Egyptian, but excepting the observation about race in America, Louise probably would have been as uncharitable about him when she reached Paradise.