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The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 27 Mar 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Rev Ed edition (27 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140447318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140447316
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.


Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By E. L. Wisty TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Have just dipped in and out of this book, many profound truths from the desert fathers of centuries ago ring down to this age. Some amusingly quirky sayings with a twinkle of truth. Other totally religious and seemingly harsh self chastisement that the poor souls felt they had to suffer, to gain Jesus acceptance. Not a lot of joy in the Lord - but beautifully put together, still have to dip some more.
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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 Christopher Jamison's books. The introduction and notes on the text by the translator, Benedicta Ward, are particularly informative.
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Format: Paperback
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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