Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Pantaenus, Father of the Church

Article

This learned father and apostolic man flourished in the second age. He was by birth a Sicilian, and by profession a stoic philosopher. For his eloquence he is styled by Saint Clement of Alexandria the Sicilian Bee. His esteem for virtue led him into an acquaintance with the Christians, and being charmed with the innocence and sanctity of their conversation he opened his eyes to the truth. He studied the holy scriptures under the disciples of the apostles, and his thirst after sacred learning brought him to Alexandria in Egypt, where the disciples of Saint Mark had instituted a celebrated school of the Christian doctrine. Pantænus sought not to display his talents in that great mart of literature and commerce; but his great progress in sacred learning was after some time discovered, and he was drawn out of that obscurity in which his humility sought to live buried. Being placed at the head of the Christian school some time before the year 179, which was the first of Commodus, by his learning and excellent manner of teaching he raised its reputation above all the schools of the philosophers, and the lessons which he read, and which were gathered from the flowers of the prophets and apostles, conveyed light and knowledge into the minds of all his hearers, as Saint Clement of Alexandria, his eminent scholar, says of him. The Indians who traded to Alexandria, entreated him to pay their country a visit, in order to confute their Brachmans. Hereupon he forsook his school, and was established by Demetrius, who was made bishop of Alexandria in 189, preacher of the gospel to the Eastern nations. Eusebius tells us that Saint Pantænus found some seeds of the faith already sown in the Indies, and a book of the gospel of Saint Matthew in Hebrew, which Saint Bartholomew had carried thither. He brought it back with him to Alexandria, whither he returned after he had zealously employed some years in instructing the Indians in the faith. The public school was at that time governed by Saint Clement, but Saint Pantænus continued to teach in private till in the reign of Caracalla, consequently before the year 216, he closed a noble and excellent life by a happy death, as Rufinus writes. His name is inserted in all western martyrologies on the 7th of July.

The beauty of the Christian morality, and the sanctity of its faithful professors, which by their charms converted this true philosopher, appear no where to greater advantage than when they are compared with the imperfect and often false virtue of the most famous sages of the heathen world. 2 Into what contradictions and gross errors did they fall, even about the divinity itself and the sovereign good! To how many vices did they give the name of virtues! How many crimes did they canonize! It is true they showed indeed a zeal for justice, a contempt of riches and pleasures, moderation in prosperity, patience in adversities, generosity, courage, and disinterestedness. But these were rather shadows and phantoms than real virtues, if they sprang from a principle of vanity and pride, or were infected with the poison of interestedness or any other vitiated intention, which they often betrayed, nay sometimes openly avowed, and made a subject of their vain boasts.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Pantaenus, Father of the Church”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 4 July 2013. Web. 30 September 2014. <>