PAPHNUTIUS OF SCETIS (the one who belongs to God), SAINT
A name borne, particularly in the fourth century, by several monks among whom it is sometimes difficult to distinguish.
John CASSIAN, during his sojourn in Egypt between 385 and 400, knew an Abba Paphnutius who was then priest of SCETIS and to whom he ascribes his third conference, “On the Three Renunciations.” Paphnutius was renowned for his taste for seclusion. He had established his cell several miles from the church, where he was seen only on Saturdays and Sundays; on the other days it was very difficult to see him. For this reason he was nicknamed “Bubal,” from the name of the desert antelope. According to John Cassian, Paphnutius was then over ninety years old. He was still alive in 399, since, according to Cassian (X, 2-3), in that year he was the only priest of Scetis to welcome the letter of Patriarch THEOPHILUS denouncing anthropomorphite errors. In the Life of Saints Maximus and Domitius (Amélineau, 1894, p. 312) he is called “a disciple of Macarius” (the Egyptian) and “father of Scetis” after him. However, according to Cassian (XVIII, 15) he succeeded Isidorus in this function.
On the other hand, in chapter 47 of his Historia lausiaca, PALLADIUS speaks of a Paphnutius surnamed Kephalas and reports a long discourse that he delivered before Palladius himself— hence after 390—on the reasons virtuous monks fall away. This Paphnutius, it seems, lived at NITRIA or the KELLIA, if he is to be identified with the disciple of MACARIUS ALEXANDRINUS who bore the name and is mentioned by Palladius in chapter 18. He also is mentioned in the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM, once with the surname Kephalas. Among the apopthegms in the alphabetical collection that are placed under the name of Paphnutius, it is difficult to know which ones should be attributed to him.
In the opinion of E. C. Butler (1904, Vol. 2, pp. 224-25) and H. G. Evelyn-White (1932, p. 121), among others, Paphnutius the Bubal and Paphnutius Kephalas are the same person. In favor of this identification, Butler puts forward some literal correspondences that he has noted in the discourse of the Bubal in Cassian, and that of Kephalas in Palladius. The latter mentions, among the monks whom Melania the Elder met at Nitria when she visited the desert about 373 and whom she followed during their exile in Palestine, a “Paphnutius of Scetis.” Perhaps this is another person; the identification remains uncertain. Normally the surnames served to distinguish people of the same name.
On the other hand, it is certain that the anchorite Paphnutius who appears in the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO must be distinguished from the preceding two. He lived in the Thebaid, in the region of Herakleopolis, where he died shortly before the travelers passed through that region in 394-395. Perhaps this Paphnutius is the one to whom is attributed the Life of ONOPHRIUS edited by E. A. W. Budge (1914, pp. 205-224) and by E. Amélineau (1885, pp. 166-94).
Several Greek papyri in the British Museum (P Lond. 1923-1929), published by H. I. Bell (pp. 103-120) preserve a series of letters addressed to a monk Paphnutius by various people who ask for the help of his prayers. They are dated by their editor in the middle of the fourth century. There is, however, nothing to identify this Paphnutius with any of the preceding ones.
- Amélineau, E. C. “Voyage d’un moine égyptien dans le desert.” Recueil de travaux 6 (1885):166-94.
- ____. “Vie de Maxime et Domece.” In Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Egypte chrétienne. Histoire des monasteres de la Basse-Egypte, p. 312. Leroux, 1894.
- Bell, H. I. Jews and Christians in Egypt, pp. 103-120. London, 1924.
- Budge, E. A. Coptic Martyrdoms, pp. 205-224. London, 1914.
- Cassian, John. Conferences, ed. E. Pichery. Sources chretiennes 42, pp. 138-165. Paris, 1955. 54, pp. 75-77. Paris, 1958. 64, pp. 28-31. Paris, 1959.
- Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n Natrun, Pt. 2, The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis. New York, 1932.