He was born of heathen parents at Tabatha near Gaza about 290; he was sent to Alexandria for his education and there became a convert to Christianity; about 306 he visited St Anthony and became his disciple, embracing the eremitical life.
The general tendency of these Benedictine offshoots was in the direction of greater austerity of life than was practised by the Black Monks or contemplated by St Benedict's Rule - some of them were semi-eremitical; the most important by far were the Cistercians, whose ground-idea was to reproduce exactly the life of St Benedict's own monastery.
Was an attempt to unite the eremitical and cenobitical modes of life.
He declared that the cenobitical life is superior to the eremitical; that fasting and austerities should not interfere with prayer or work; that work should form an integral part of the monastic life, not merely as an occupation, but for its own sake and in order to do good to others; and therefore that monasteries should be near towns.
However, the eastern hankering after the eremitical life long survived, and it was only by dint of legislation, both ecclesiastical (council of Chalcedon) and civil (Justinian Code), that the Basilian cenobitic form of monasticism came to prevail throughout the Greek-speaking lands, though the eremitical forms have always maintained themselves.
Here it will suffice to say that he followed the Pachomian rather than the Antonian model, setting himself definitely against the practice of the eremitical life and of excessive asceticism, and inculcating the necessity and superiority of labour.
The monastic ideals prevalent were those of the Antonian monachism, with its hankering after the eremitical life and the practice of extreme bodily austerities.
However, Irish monachism emerges into the full light of history, it was in its manifestations closely akin to the Egyptian, or even to the Syrian type: there was the same love of the eremitical life, the same craving after bodily austerities of an extraordinary kind, the same individualistic piety.
This tendency produced the orders of the Camaldulians or Camaldolese (c. 975) in Italy, and in France the Grandmontines (1076) and Carthusians (1084), all leading practically eremitical lives, and assembling ordinarily only for the church services.
In all these lesser orders may be discerned the tendency of a return to the elements of Eastern monasticism discarded by St Benedict - to the eremitical life; to the purely contemplative life with little or no factor of work; to the undertaking of rigorous bodily austerities and penances - it was at this time that the practice of self-inflicted scourgings as a penitential exercise was introduced.
Antonian monachism grew out of the purely eremitical life, and it retained many of the characteristic features inherited from its origin.
Here in one portion of the desert, named Cellia, the monks lived a purely eremitical life; but in Nitria (the Wadi Natron) they lived either alone, or two or three together, or in communities, as they preferred.
In the Lauras the young monks lived a cenobitical life, but the elders a semi-eremitical one, each in his own hut within the precincts of the Laura, attending only the solemn church services.
Some of these congregations went in the matter of austerity beyond the original idea of the institute; and so in the 16th century there arose in Spain, Italy and France, Discalced or Barefooted Hermits of St Augustine, who provided in each province one house wherein a strictly eremitical life might be led by such as desired it.
He served as a conscript in one of Constantine's campaigns, and on his return became a Christian (314); he at once went to live an eremitical life near Dendera by the Nile, putting himself under the guidance of an aged hermit.