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Merton Wisdom of the Desert [Hardcover]

4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 1960
Merton's translation of a collection of "sayings" of the Desert Fathers is accompanied by an insightful introduction.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing (1 Feb 1960)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811203131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811203135
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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First Sentence
IN the fourth century a. d. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men who have left behind them a strange reputation. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some choices from the 'Verba Seniorum' 7 Oct 2007
Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk and wrote this book that contains his favorite quotes from 'Verba Seniorum'. He chooses these for himself and his fellow monks in order to make some of the sayings of the Desert Fathers more accessible. He begins this book with a very well written introduction.

Merton wrote this book not as a history of the early Desert Fathers. What he provides are a selection of extracts from their writings that had proved useful for him in his contemplative life. The book is definitely worth reading. A book you will keep by your night stand.

If you are looking for a book that gives you a history of the Desert Fathers and a wide range of their writings, then this is the wrong book for you.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom for all 1 Jun 2008
By Steven R. McEvoy TOP 1000 REVIEWER
No, this is not a book for a `Survivor' wannabe, nor is it a guide for those who dream of crossing the great deserts of the world. But it is a guide of sorts, or more a companion for our pathways in life. This is a new reprinting of a collection of sayings from the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century.

You might ask, "Who are the desert fathers and mothers, and what written in the fourth century could be of any use to us today?" and they would both be good questions. The desert fathers were people who felt Christianity was losing its way, so they decided to return to a simpler life and went to the desert to seek solitude and god. However to some extent their plan failed; soon people realized these men and women had wisdom and guidance if one could ask them. So some of them developed great followings.

This collection is unique among those I have seen. in that it does not sort the sayings by author, or by subject, but rather it is a random smattering that the reader can meander through in order, or randomly flip open and read whichever one they come across. Merton in his introduction states, "This collection of sayings from the Verba Seniorum is by no means intended as a piece of research scholarship--this book is designed entirely for the reader's interest and edification." I believe it lives up to that goal.

At just under 200 pages, this book is short and sweet. Some of the more obscure sayings have been omitted and what is left is a collection of thoughts, meditations and reflections that can help us examine our lives. A few examples of the wisdom are:

Abbot Pastor said: `If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life in the Desert 31 Mar 2006
Merton wrote this book not as a history of the early Desert Fathers or as a selection of their writings, although it incorporates both these elements. Rather it is a selection of texts compiled for friends out of his own contemplative experience. In encountering the writings of the Desert Fathers he compares their spiritual environment to that of the modern world, and offers a selection of extracts from their writing that have proved useful for him in contemplation.
Having read the thoughtful introduction to the selected extracts, I took several months reading the extracts themselves. My method was to read one, turn it over in my head and let it dwell there until I felt that I knew what it was saying to me, and then move on. I spent several days on each extract - with a lot of distractions! People will encounter this book in their own ways though: as something you read very quickly and then come back to later, or as a resource to turn to for prayer or inspiration when you are feeling dried out and lacking in energy or inspiration.
I highly recommend the book as a resource for anyone seeking to engage with the world and themselves more reflectively.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wisdom well warmed 4 Jan 2006
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Thomas Merton was perhaps the best known monastic of the last century. That he was a Trappist perhaps puts him in the best contemporary context from which to understand the Desert Fathers - the kind of hermit/distance existence that they had does not really exist in the world today (true, there are a few who carry on the tradition in the deserts of Egypt and a few other places, but often even they advise against this becoming a trend in Christian practice again). The Trappists are among those for whom silence and solitude are intentional practices, much like the Desert Fathers.
Merton, a talented writer on matters spiritual, states in the Author's note that his intention was not to produce a new 'edition' by academic standards, or to do any piece of new research. Rather, Merton set out to produce an accessible collection of wisdom sayings that had been contained in the collection 'Verba Seniorum', a Latin text of stories and proverbs handed down from the Desert Fathers and those who knew and wrote about them.
In the fourth century, while Christianity was still struggling as a minority (sometimes a violently oppressed minority) in the Empire, there were those who saw that the greater threat to the new faith was not the imperial officials and their forces, but rather the attractions and lure of the cities. It was very easy to put forth the claim that the world was not a Christian one, and that one would have to renounce the world to live an authentically Christian life - the Desert Fathers tended to do this renunciation in rather dramatic fashion (and, to varying extent, this is what monastics continue to do to this day). This renunciation was true even with official tolerance and imperial imprimatur, for Christianity was still the decided minority.
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