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The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Benedicta Ward
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer and poverty in direct and simple response to the gospel. Their sayings were first recorded in the 4th century and consist of spiritual advice, anecdotes and parables. The Desert Fathers' teachings and lives have inspired poetry, opera and art, as well as providing spiritual nourishment and a template for monastic life.

Product Description

About the Author

Benedicta Ward is a Reader in the History of Early Christian Spirituality at the Theology Faculty in Oxford. She is the author of An Introduction to Christian Spirituality (SPCK, 1999) and Miracles and the Medieval Mind (Pennsylvania UP, 1987). She has translated The Prayers and Meditations of St Anslem for Penguin Classics.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1135 KB
  • Print Length: 244 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B000K7N96U
  • Publisher: Penguin; Rev Ed edition (27 Mar. 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9EWI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #174,488 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Latin SystematicText 23 Sept. 2007
This is a classic of Western Spirituality, summing up the past and defining the future.
Let me unpack that slightly: It is a classic because of the movement it expresses. The desert fathers and mothers had a theological and political impact far in excess of their direct interventions. They were the ideals of central theologians of their time, and inspired the likes of Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine. I say Western (not Eastern) spirituality, because this is a translation of the LATIN text ("Verba Seniorum"), not the Greek, which is also translated by Ward elsewhere in its alphabetical form. The Latin text is probably a little earlier than the Greek texts we have, although the sayings were probably translated into some Greek form before they arrived in the Latin speaking world.
It sums up a good deal of the past, presenting Christian versions of earlier philosophical wisdom and exercises, and defines the future: Cassian wrote his Institutions and Conferences based on the same sources, and this collection became standard reading for all Western monks, not least by recommendation from Benedict of Nursia.
They are extremely accessible, and you don't have to take a good deal of time to read them: the sayings are generally short, independent paragraphs. Good for chewing over!
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What fabulous people! 21 July 2005
By Aquinas
This is a book to be kept. There is a small intro by the editor and then the sayings of the Fathers and Mothers are reproduced under various chapter headings, such as humility.
I found myself often smiling to myself or indeed laughing aloud because there is a kindly of a childlike simplicity evident in the sayings, coming close to madness (at least in the eyes of the modern world). Whilst the sayings can appear outlandish, one knows that there is truth there. One of my favourite stories concerns a very holy monk, who is asked would he stand in faith if a dragon came bearing down on him. He says that he would run because if he did not run from the dragon he would have to run from something far worse, namely his own pride. There are many nuggets of wisdom in this book - its the kind of booked that one keeps in order to dip into repeatedly.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom of the ages 9 Oct. 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Moses [a much-revered monk originally from Ethiopia], but he would not come. The presbyter sent for him again saying 'Come, the monks are gathered together waiting for you'. Moses took with him an old basket [i.e. with a hole] which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went to meet him and said 'What does this mean, abba?' He said 'My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.' They said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him."

This collection of sayings and stories attributed to the early "desert fathers" gathered together for the spiritual edification of the reader are arranged according to certain ideal qualities, such as non-judgement (from which the above quotation), self-control, discretion, humility, patience, charity and so forth.

Bendicta Ward's introduction is brief but enough to give a flavour of the history of the early monastic movement and the motivations behind it - often thought to be world-hating but not necessarily so ("They did not talk, not because they hated conversation, but because they wanted to listen to the voice of God in silence; [...] they did not avoid company because it bored them, but, as one of them said, 'I cannot be with you and with God.'").

A good bedside book to dip into.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The wise, the weird and the wrong 27 April 2015
This is a collection of the sayings of the early christian monks, as published under the Penguin Classics label and translated by Benedicta Ward. As a very early piece of writing, it needs a good translation to be able to convey the message across centuries and languages. I'm no expert in languages so cannot speak as to the faithfulness of the translation. All I can say is that it was readily accessible.

Having flicked through a copy in the bookshop, I could see that it seemed to be made up of multiple short paragraphs, arranged in mini chapters by theme, but with no overall narrative or timeline. In that way, it rather resembles the book of Proverbs. One would be ill-advised to read that all the way through from start to finish in as few sittings as possible.

As such, it is almost impossible to review as one might a more conventional book. The sayings are grouped thematically. In some cases, the individuals are named, though frequently we are simply told the saying or the story comes from "a hermit" who remains anonymous. So what I'll do is highlight a few of the sayings that particularly caught my attention.

One of the examples that struck me as particularly odd was the case of Macarius who, for reasons unknown, decided that he would sleep in an old pagan burial place, using a dead body as a pillow. Here he was taunted by some vocal demons including one who feigned to be the woman's body upon whom he was sleeping. His response was to thump the body and speak dismissively. What exactly this was meant to demonstrate is lost on me. Was it about courage in the face of demons? If so, it seems a bizarre way to go about things. I'm certainly not going to be advocating sleeping on top of corpses.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent in every respect
Published 2 months ago by Robert Carey
4.0 out of 5 stars as expected
A well researched anthology
Published 2 months ago by Don
5.0 out of 5 stars In him i live 'move and have my my being
OMG . IT'S FULL OF WISDOM' that creates a passion and desire to know ' live a selfless life.
Published 4 months ago by terrence
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book.
Published 5 months ago by chris cambridge
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple Faith
a very well researched subject and a fascinating account of the early christians beliefs - some truths never change !!!
Published 11 months ago by billb
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep reading!
A deeply spiritual book - to be read in small doses so as to allow it's truths to sink in slowly. Will last a lifetime.
Published 14 months ago by Vaticana
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Gem, well worth reading
This is an excellent little book, with little snippets from a host of different desert Fathers, funny, serious, some of the advise well over the top to our way of thinking! Read more
Published 15 months ago by Glory Carmel
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasured book already
This is a little gem of a book, with so much wisdom packed into just a few pages, if only some of our polititians were to read this and act upon it the world would become a better... Read more
Published 22 months ago by DR D W BULLARD
1.0 out of 5 stars Vile, spiteful and hate-filled
Really horrible people. I was genuinely appalled and sickened by these awful 'Christian' monks. Their utter contempt for themselves, their bodies (made in the image of God, and the... Read more
Published 23 months ago by davem
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and thought-provoking
A priceless collection of sayings and stories attributed to the Desert Fathers. Well worth reading if you have been inspired or interested by The Rule of Benedict, or any of... Read more
Published on 16 April 2011 by John Baird
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