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The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  347 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalized and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the Church, they 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 go ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published July 29th 2003 by Penguin Group (USA) (first published March 27th 2003)
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I don't come from a religious background, and I stumbled upon this book rather by accident; but I found parts of it sagacious and insightful. As a collection of aphorisms from many different authors, it is often repetitive or contradictory. Yet I can't help but think that if contemporary Christians acted—in any small degree—like the desert fathers (and mothers), the world would be changed for the better.

In our present times, there is a baffling overlap between Christianity and capitalism. Maybe
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 David Withun rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Of course the sayings of the Desert Fathers are great. I couldn't have enjoyed reading them more and I certainly was edified along the way many times over. My reason for rating this book at 3 stars is the translation itself, with which I was very disappointed, and the introduction of the book, also written by the translator. The introduction of the book entirely ignores all Eastern monasticism; how you can write an introduction on the relevance of the Desert Fathers and skip over Mount Athos I'l ...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Jun 30, 2008 ♥ Ibrahim ♥ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
Benedicta Ward is the nun scholar who wrote all kinds of medieval studies that often point to Jesus our Lord as the exalted King of Heaven. This book of hers is a real classic that you would want to read over and over again, and you might end up memorizing some of the sayings in it. This book shows you how there are people who sought the Lord's face for His own sake and enjoyed him enternally, regardless of what might come out of that. I think this book should be read at least once a year. I hav ...more
Feb 11, 2017 Donald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
Incredible collection of early monastic stories. I can't speak to the translation but the little sayings are beautiful and insightful.
Jesse Rice
Mar 15, 2017 Jesse Rice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some hard teachings, some simple teachings, all challenging. I am surprised how similar some of it is to Anabaptist theology.
Derek Winterburn
This book is an important witness to the life of (some) Christians in the third and fourth centuries - it is another world. Here are collections of anecdotes and sayings of hermits, largely living in the Egyptian desert. Their lifestyle was austere and very much in contrast to the lives of believers in towns and cities. They carried fasting to an extreme, they shunned company and, when not weaving palms, were praying. Inevitably there is a fair measure of repetition in the material. Indeed group ...more
May 19, 2014 Phil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of, as the title suggestions, of sayings by early Christian monks, mostly from Egypt. This particular collection was transmitted in Latin and remained as part of the monastic toolbox in the West through the influence of figures like John Cassian. The sayings themselves are classic Desert Fathers: frequently cryptic, sometimes deeply insightful, but sometimes completely opaque or outrageous. Like any literature of 'wise' people, the insights are very culturally bound, so ther ...more
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]Simply gives the complete text of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers compiled by Pelagius in the early fourth century. There is an uneasy and sometimes consciously very funny tension running through the writings, between on the one hand being deeply devout and determined, and pulling up the other monks who are not trying hard enough; and on the other hand not showing off one's own piety. But at the same time you can't help but be impressed wit ...more
Apr 20, 2011 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In any collection of sayings like this, one will discover a great variety. Some of the sayings are strange, others extremely ascetic in their application, while still others beautifully incisive in their wisdom. It's that last group that makes this book such a treasure.

What comes across most strongly to me is the patience and trust exhibited in the stories of these men. They were willing to allow themselves to be put upon by those with evil intentions, yet they did not complain. Instead, they en
Mar 22, 2012 Jocelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
The Desert Fathers, often called the Desert Fathers and Mothers (108 fathers and 3 mothers quoted in this book), started the first major Christian ascetic movement in 4th century Egypt. They lived in an inhospitable wilderness; they isolated themselves in monastic cells; they fasted; they prayed; they fought the demons of temptation. They essentially died both to human civilization and to their own bodily needs. Their monastic cells functioned as premature graves.

I feel kind of guilty for not th
Oct 27, 2015 Ξιτσυκα rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: myth-religion
The early Christian fathers are great philosophers and psychologists; throughout the book you can see all sorts of classical topics: taking care of oneself, knowing oneself, distinguishing the truths that are essential to life and redundant scholarly works, striving to be a subject that has access to truth, and the punch line, the interaction of self and others.
Towards the end there was one Father said that no good words would ever come out of the monks inasmuch as they are degenerating, failin
The thing I loved best about this book is that all of the monks greatly affected the people around them just by being hard-working, patient, humble, and loving God. They never tried to push their own religion on anyone nor judge them. The people that witnessed their lifestyle were greatly affected and made changes in their own lives as a result. Very powerful to see this kind of faith in action and I wish I saw more of it in my own day.

I only gave it three stars because it was a little hard to g
Justin Evans
Dec 06, 2016 Justin Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As you'd expect, there's a lot of contradictory advice in here, but plenty of it is good. I do wish Ward had included more notes and more about the monks in question. This is very much a popularisation; not much use for we, the more academically inclined.

"The true labourer struggles that the work may not deteriorate."
Dusty Rowland
Nice. I actually felt enlightened after reading this. Some parts were a little strange, but I could see what they were saying. These guys really took the spiritual discipline side very seriously, and felt closer to God. God bless them for it, and I'm sure these men have advanced the Kingdom of God in their own way.
Jul 29, 2016 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, africa
Most of these sayings are from self-righteous windbags bragging to one another about how little they eat, drink and socialize, all under the guise of mystic profundity. At best the sayings are just looney advice from eccentric cranks. My favorite made me chuckle: "Be despised... and you will have peace."
Thomas Irby
I like a lot of what the sayings in this book have to tell us. However, I don't like that it is organized by topic. I feel like the collection cherry picks quotes that are out of context to serve a purpose that they may not have originally meant.
However, there is good diversity here and a lot of good information.
Aug 07, 2014 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I like Ward's topical organization rather than the simple alphabetical organization of most of the other collections. Both are extremely valuable, but reading the Desert Father this way does bring unique and worthwhile insight.
I'd recommend this book to anyone, Christian or non, Catholic/Orthodox or otherwise. It should be at the top of anyone's spiritual reading list.
Christopher Pokorny
Excellent glossary of wisdom from the Desert Fathers!
Mark Payne
Apr 09, 2013 Mark Payne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a bad thing to have this on your bookshelf at all times. I haven't read every single page yet though, it's not that kind of book really.
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“It is dangerous for a man to try teaching before he is trained in the good life. A man whose house is about to fall down may invite travellers inside to refresh them, but instead they will be hurt in the collapse of the house. It is the same with teachers who have not carefully trained themselves in the good life; they destroy their hearers as well as themselves. Their mouth invites to salvation, their way of life leads to ruin.” 3 likes
“Macarius said also, ‘If you are stirred to anger when you want to reprove someone, you are gratifying your own passions. Do not lose yourself in order to save another.” 2 likes
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