But the devil, the hater and envier of good, could not bear to see such resolution in a young man, but attempted to use against him the means in which he is skilled. First, he tried to draw him back from the religious life by reminding him of his property, of the care of his sister, his intimacy with his kindred, the love of money, the love of fame, the manifold pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life—and lastly the hardness of virtue and how great is the labor thereof, suggesting that that the body is weak and time is long.
So he raised in his mind a great dust cloud of arguments to drive him aside from his straight purpose. But when the enemy saw himself powerless in face of Antony’s resolution and that rather he was himself overthrown by his firmness and routed by his much faith and beaten by Antony’s constant prayer, then placing his trust in “the weapons that hang at his waist” (cf. Job 40:11) and glorying in these (for these are his first snare against the young), he advanced against the young man, disturbing him by night and so besetting him by day that even onlookers could see the struggle that was going on between the two.
He (the devil) suggested evil thoughts, and the other turned them away by his prayers. He roused feelings, and Antony, ashamed, defended himself by faith and prayers and fastings. The wretched fiend even stopped to masquerade as a woman by night, simply to deceive Antony; and he quenched the fire of that temptation by thinking of Christ and of the nobility we have through Him, and of the dignity of the soul (Cf. 1 Cor. 6:15). Again the enemy suggested the delight of pleasure; but he, angered and grieved, thought over the threat of the fire and torment of the worm (Cf. Mark 9:42). These he opposed to his temptations and so came through them unhurt. So all these things turned to the confusion of the adversary, for he who thought to be like to God was now mocked by a youth, and he who gloried over flesh and blood was now defeated by a man clad in flesh. For with him wrought the Lord, who for us took flesh and gave to the body, the victory over the devil, so that those who truly strive can each say, “Not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
This article is taken from a chapter in St. Antony of the Desert by St. Athanasius, which is available from TAN Books.