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The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics) Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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!
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good book with advice that combats against the devil and his works and guards against the great sulk of humanity: spiritual warfare.Published 9 months ago by Philip
OMG . IT'S FULL OF WISDOM' that creates a passion and desire to know ' live a selfless life.Published 18 months ago by terrence
a very well researched subject and a fascinating account of the early christians beliefs - some truths never change !!!Published on 4 Jun. 2014 by billb
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 on 14 Mar. 2014 by Vaticana
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