Some state he is referred to as The Simple or Simple Minded to distinguish him from St. Paul of Egypt, the First Hermit; but Tillemont makes it obvious he was called such by his brother monks because of his simple, direct approach.
Up to the age of 60 this Egyptian had supported his family as a common laborer and husbandman. He very simple and guileless. During his married life his wife had been increasingly unfaithful to him. Paul had been patient and nonjudgmental until one day when he caught her and her current lover together. This whole family difficulty had no doubt contributed to his increasing desire to "leave the world." Finally, without a word of explanation to his spouse, he set on a week-long journey to the Thebaid desert to seek the great patriarch of hermits himself, St. Anthony of Egypt. His faith was that St. Anthony would accept him as a disciple, to become a monk.
He knocked at the door of St. Anthony's cell. This is the substance of the dialogue which ensued:
Anthony: "What do you want?"
Paul: "To be a monk."
Anthony: "It is quite impossible for you, a man of sixty. Be content with the life of a labourer, giving thanks to God."
Paul: "Whatsoever you teach me I will do."
Anthony: "If a monk you must be, go to a cenobium. I live here alone only eating once every five days."
St. Anthony was not all that ready to take on the tutorship of a man as old as Paul, and told him to go back into society where he could ply his honest trade, or at least to knock at some monastery where they would not be unwilling to have "a stupid member." With this St. Anthony shut the door, and Paul remained outside.
But St. Paul had a manly stubbornness that would not let him be satisfied with so peremptory an answer. He spent the next four days outside St. Anthony's cell, fasting and praying. On the Fourth day, Anthony opened the door and asked him why he had not left. "I cannot die anywhere but here," the St. Paul replied. So St. Anthony, realizing that the man had had nothing to eat, grudgingly brought him inside. He set him to work weaving a rope out of palm leaves, made him undo what he had done, and do it again. When it was evening he asked him if he was ready to eat. Just as St. Anthony liked, was the reply. St. Anthony produced some crusts, took one himself, and gave the old man three. Then followed a long grace -- one Psalm said twelve times over, and as many prayers. When each had eaten a crust Paul was told to take another.
Paul: "If you do, I will; if you don't, I won't."
Anthony: "I am a monk, and one is enough for me."
Paul: "It is enough for me, for I am going to be a monk."
Then came twelve prayers and as many Psalms, followed by a little sleep till midnight, and then again Psalms were recited till it was day.
Finally he agreed, "You can be saved if you are obedient and do whatever I tell you." "I will do everything you command," St. Paul promised.
The patriarchal Anthony gave him no easy course in obedience. First he ordered him to stay outside, in rain or shine, praying and fasting, until instructed otherwise. This Paul did punctiliously. Then Anthony brought the man inside and told him to weave mats and panels of palm fronds as he himself was doing. Paul wove diligently, fasting and praying as he worked. But when he showed his mentor 15 completed products, the abbot said they were made all wrong. Take them apart, he ordered, and start all over again. St. Paul complied without batting an eye.
These were intended by St. Anthony as tests, and he was good at thinking up such trials. One morning he instructed Paul to moisten six loaves of bread for them to eat later in the day. Then he arranged so stern a schedule of daylong work and prayer that there was no time to eat the bread. Finally they got around to eating, each man a single loaf. "Would you like another?" the abbot asked when each had finished his loaf. "Yes, if you do," replied the hungry but cautious disciple. Anthony decided, "It is enough for me; I am a monk." Paul replied, "Then it is enough for me. I also wish to become a monk." In other words,, whatever St. Paul was ordered to do, he did with prompt good cheer, and nary a grudging glance or remark. Wildest of the tests was the incident of the honey. One day St. Anthony spilled a pot of honey on the ground. He instructed his pupil to collect the spilt honey, but be careful not to pick up any of the dust in the process.
Admittedly the laborer aspiring to become a monk had little formal education. Once in the presence of guests he asked who came first, Jesus or the Old Testament prophets. Anthony told him to hold his tongue and go elsewhere. The patriarch then forgot that he had given such an order. He would have known nothing about it had not the other monks reported that Paul was keeping total silence. St. Anthony discovered that his pupil had taken "hold your tongue" as a command, and was following it out to a "T". Anthony said admiringly to the rest, "How this monk puts us all to shame! He immediately obeys man's simplest order!"
After he had lived with Anthony some months, the saint gave him a cell for himself some miles from his own. In a year's time the grace of healing and casting out devils was bestowed upon Paul. There is a story of how he was able to exorcize a fiend over whom even St. Anthony had no power. Not only did St. Anthony accept Paul as one of his monks. Seeing that God had given him many special graces, he often called on his assistance. Frequently he held up St. Paul the Simple as a model to his other disciples of what they should be.
CRONIUS and the holy Hierax and a number of others, about whom I shall presently speak, told me this tale also.
A certain Paul, a rustic peasant, exceedingly guileless and simple, was wedded to a most beautiful woman of depraved character, who for a very long while concealed her sins from him. However, Paul came in suddenly from work and found his wife and her lover behaving shamefully, Providence thus guiding Paul to what was best for himself. And laughing discreetly he called to them and said: "Good, good. I don't mind, truly. By Jesus, I'll take her no longer. Go, you have her and her children, for I am going to become a monk."
And saying nothing to anyone he hastened along the eight stages and went to the blessed Antony and knocked at the door.
He came out and asked him: "What do you want?" He said to him: "I want to become a monk." Antony answered and said to him: "You are an old man, sixty years old; you cannot become a monk here. But rather go back to your village and work and live an active life giving thanks to God, for you cannot endure the tribulations of the desert." The old man answered again and said: "Whatever you teach me, I will do it." Antony said to him: "I have told you that you are an old man and cannot stand it. If you really want to become a monk, go to a cenobium with a number of brethren, who can support your weakness. For I live here alone, eating after a five days' fast, and that without satisfying my hunger." With these and such-like words he tried to frighten Paul away and, since he could not endure him, Antony shut the door and did not go out for three days because of him, not even for necessary purposes. But Paul did not go away.
But on the fourth day necessity compelling him he opened the door and went out and said to him again: "Go away from here, old man. Why do you annoy me? You cannot stay here." Paul said to him: "It is impossible for me to die elsewhere than here." So Antony looked about and noticed that he had not with him any form of nourishment, neither bread nor water, and that he was now in the fourth day of his fast, and saying: "Lest perchance you die and stain my soul," he received him. And Antony adopted in those days a regime which he had never tried in his youth. And having moistened some palm-leaves he said to him: "Take these, weave them into mats, as I do." The old man wove until the ninth hour, laboriously completing ninety feet. So Antony looked and was displeased and said to him: "You have woven badly, unpick them and weave them over again" ----imposing this nauseous task upon him, though he was hungry and aged, in order that he might be disgusted and flee away from Antony. But he both unpicked and wove again the same leaves, though it was more difficult, because they were all shrivelled up. And Antony, seeing that he neither murmured nor was discouraged nor angry, felt compunction. And after sunset he said to him: "Would you like us to eat a piece of bread?" Paul said to him: "As you please, father." And this again moved Antony, that he did not rush eagerly at the mention of food, but had thrown the power (of choice) upon him. So he laid the table and brought in bread. And Antony, having put out the biscuits, weighing six ounces each, moistened one for himself----for they were dry----and three for Paul. And Antony struck up a psalm which he knew, and after singing it twelve times he prayed twelve times, to test Paul. But he eagerly joined in the prayer, for he would have preferred being eaten by scorpions, so I think, to living with an adulterous woman. But after the twelve prayers they sat down to eat late in the evening.
Now Antony, having eaten the one biscuit, did not touch another. But the old man, eating more slowly, was still at his little biscuit. Antony was waiting for him to finish and says to him: "Eat, father, a second biscuit." Paul says to him: "If you will eat, I will too; if you do not eat, I will not." Antony says: "I have had enough, for I am a monk." Paul says to him: "I too have had enough, for I too want to become a monk." He rises again and prays twelve prayers and chants twelve psalms. Antony sleeps a little of his first sleep and then gets up to sing psalms at midnight until day. So when he saw the old man eagerly following his mode of life he said to him: "If you can do thus every day, stay with me." Paul said to him: "If there is anything more, I do not know; for I can do easily these things which I have seen." Antony said to him the next day: "Behold, you have become a monk."
So Antony, convinced after the required number of months that Paul had a perfect soul, being very simple and grace co-operating with him, made him a cell, three or four miles away, and said to him: "Behold, you have become a monk; remain alone in order that you may be tried by demons." So Paul dwelt there one year and was counted worthy of grace over demons and diseases.
Among other cases, a demoniac was once brought to Antony, exceedingly terrifying, possessed by a spirit of high rank, who cursed even heaven itself. So Antony, having examined him, said to those who brought him: "This is not my work, for I have not yet been counted worthy of power over this order of high rank, but this is Paul's business." So Antony went off and led them to Paul, and said to him: "Father Paul, cast out this demon from the man that he may go away cured to his home." Said Paul to him: "What are you doing?" Antony said to him: "I have no leisure, I have something else to do." And Antony left him and went again to his own cell.
So the old man got up, and having prayed an effective prayer, addressed the demoniac: "Father Antony has said, 'Go out from the man.'" But the demon cried out, saying with blasphemies: "I am not going out, bad old man." So Paul took his sheep-skin coat and struck the man on the back with it saying: "Father Antony has said, 'Go out.' " Again the demon cursed with some violence both Antony and him. Finally he said to him: "You are going out; or else I'll go and tell Christ. By Jesus, if you don't go out I am going this very minute to tell Christ, and He will do you harm."  Again the demon cursed yet more, saying: "I am not going out." So Paul got angry with the demon and went outside his dwelling at high noon. But the heat of the Egyptians is akin to the furnace of Babylonia. And standing on a rock on the mountain he prayed and said: "O Jesus Christ, Who wast crucified under Pontius Pilate, thou seest that I will not descend from the rock, I will not eat nor drink till I die, unless Thou drive out the spirit from the man and free the man." But before the words were out of his mouth the demon cried out, saying: "Oh violence! I am being driven away. The simplicity of Paul drives me away, and where am I to go?" And immediately the spirit went out and was turned into a great dragon seventy cubits long and was swept away to the Red Sea, that the saying might be fulfilled: "The righteous will declare the faith that is shown."
This is the marvellous tale of Paul who was surnamed Simple by all the brotherhood.