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The Wisdom of the Desert

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  1,296 Ratings  ·  93 Reviews
The Wisdom of the Desert was one of Thomas Merton's favorites among his own books--surely because he had hoped to spend his last years as a hermit.The personal tones of the translations, the blend of reverence and humor so characteristic of him, show how deeply Merton identified with the legendary authors of these sayings and parables, the fourth-century Christian Fathers ...more
ebook, 81 pages
Published January 17th 1970 by New Directions (first published 1960)
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Mar 01, 2015 KamRun rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
یکی از راهبان به نام سراپیون،کتاب انجیل خود را فروخت و بهایش را به گرسنگان داد و گفت : من کتابی را فروختم که به من گفت هر آنچه دارم بفروشم و به فقرا بدهم

کتابی از راهب ترپیست و نویسنده ی کاتولیک،توماس مرتون در باب سخنان حکیمانه ی راهبان صحرانشین قرن چهارم میلادی که نمود بارز افکار،عقاید و شیوه زندگی آن هاست.نام آقای مصطفی ملکیان به عنوان ویراستار نهایی ارزش دو چندانی به این ترجمه از کتاب بخشیده است.کتاب سه بخش اصلی دارد.در بخش اول مترجم مقاله ای در باب آرا و خلاصه ای از عقاید مولف آورده است.در
Feb 23, 2017 Feliks rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Surprisingly slim, brisk, read. Not 'difficult' study, as the title might imply. Everything is arranged in terse, pithy, succinct little aphorisms and anecdotes. Very rewarding overall; glad I sampled it. Monks, anchorites, copts, and hermits offer an example of spirituality and inner-guidance almost completely forgotten in the West these days; and (as the editor notes in his foreword) all the more neglected with the modern backlash against organized religions. But at the heart of these 4th c. p ...more
Oct 25, 2011 Sonic rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excerpt:

It was told of Abbot John the Dwarf that once he had said to his elder brother: I want to live in the same security as the angels have, doing no work, but serving God without intermission. And casting off everything he had on, he started out into the desert. When a week had gone by he returned to his brother. And while he was knocking on the door, his brother called out before opening, and asked: Who are you? He replied: I am John. Then his brother answered and said: John has become a
Jan 05, 2016 Esteban rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
En un ensayo extraordinario titulado Las direcciones del rechazo religioso del mundo, Max Weber contraponía al ascetismo y al misticismo entre sí, y a ambos con las "éticas sociales orgánicas" comprometidas la conservación y la reproducción de la vida social. Es curioso que una religión con una doctrina tan esperpéntica como la del cristianismo haya logrado cumplir ese último rol durante tanto tiempo. Al menos ese es el efecto que me produjo releer esta compilación abreviada de los Apotegmas de ...more
Jul 08, 2015 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Abbot Hyperichus said: A monk who cannot hold his tongue when he is angry will not be able to control the passion of lust either."

Thomas Merton has condensed the succinct shrewdness of the hermits of the desert into several powerful paragraphs, each separate and not connected. The effect manages to be bracing and soothing at the same time, unlike the writings of some, which serve mostly to chafe and guilt. While penitence has an undeniably central role in living the Gospel, the feeling
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 David Withun rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
The sayings of the Desert Fathers are, of course, excellent; every Christian without exception should at some point read them. They are filled with spiritual wisdom that applies even today, more than 1500 years since these great heroes of the Orthodox Christian Faith fought the good fight in the deserts of Egypt. This particular translation, though, is lacking. For instance, I'm not sure why Merton chose to use the term "abbot" rather than the original "abba" or the English translation "father" ...more
Bobby Chastain
Mar 26, 2008 Bobby Chastain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I began this book as an observance for Lent this year. My goal was to read a quote per day (allowing chance to permit me to miss a day) and meditate on the meaning of the quote. I haven't finished it because it would probably take two Lenten seasons to get through it at that point. However, I think I will continue at the established pace. I walked away from this book realizing how difficult it can be to be truly "not of this world." However, as with all writings by/compiled by Thomas Merton, I f ...more
Dec 13, 2011 A.M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a Christian counterpart to Zen koans and parables and delightful collection of spiritual tales, wit and insight.

One of my favorites is by Abbot Pastor: "Any trial whatever that comes to you can be conquered by silence."

Or this one, also by Abbot Pastor: "Get away from any man who always argues every time he talks."

And yet another involving Abbot Pastor: A Brother came to Abbot Pastor and said: "Many distracting thoughts come into my mind, and I am in danger because of them. then the eld
Feb 05, 2008 Dick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
This is a very readable collection of stories from the earliest stages of the monastic movement in the 4th century. The vignettes are variously clever, profound, ironic, humorous, and radical. Most are sound-bite brief or just a bit longer. None are comfortable for our self-indulgent generation.

A few of these sayings have stuck with me over many years. For example, when I feel that familiar little temptation to bend the truth to burnish my reputation, I'm often haunted by this saying from 'Abbot
Apr 29, 2009 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In reading this, be aware that Merton was not seeking to present an in-depth analysis of the Apothegmata of the Desert Fathers, nor was he trying to gather together a comprehensive body of their words and sayings. Rather, think of this as a pieced-together collection of an old friend's favorite sayings by the wise early Christian monastics of the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts (all preceded by a short but profound introduction wherein said friend showcases their subtly brilliant understanding ...more
Ryan Milbrath
A very good professor of mine gave this to me as a gift for working with him on the Tao Te Ching. The short, concise statements of wisdom will appeal to any one seeking spiritual and mental enlightenment. A reader can breeze through these nuggets of wisdom in a single sitting, but I would suggest digesting them slowely over time. I usually read only three a day. The depth of the message depends on the reader, but it's refreshing again to see wisdom coming from some of the oldest documents found ...more
Apr 24, 2012 Nathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite spiritual books of all time. Amazing, and fun, insights into the human spirit and the task of discipleship.
R.K. Cowles
3 1/2 stars
May 27, 2017 Jodii rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not a book for me as I'm not religious and the sayings were okay.
Glen Grunau
Sep 05, 2011 Glen Grunau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading this book, I can appreciate why it is included on some of the lists of classical Christian books. The theme repeated over and over again in this book is that the gospel of Jesus is not about words, it is not even about spiritual practices, it is about humility and love.

I really get why these desert fathers recognized the need to escape the entrapments of the Christian church when it became an institutionalized product of Rome. I know that sometimes in recent years I have myself bec
Dom. Vincenzo Ginex
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 and Carthusians ar ...more
May 03, 2009 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As is often the case with books of this ilk, I often enjoy the introduction (see quotes below) more than the content. The content of this book is akin to short parables and sayings, with religious and spiritual themes. They are the stories and sayings of the desert fathers. Apparently this was Merton's favorite book (I believe out of the ones he wrote or "introduced"), which is interesting and compelling in and of itself. Merton's introduction provides a context and a depth from which to view an ...more
Sep 12, 2011 Abby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, religion
Second read (October 2014)

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?”

Thomas Merton asks this incisive question in his introduction to his edition of the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, Christian monks, mystics, and hermits who withdrew to remote places in the fourth century AD. I’ve loved this little book for years, and I’m delighted to have re-read it and to finally own a copy. Beautiful, powerful little stories and proverbs ab
Dana Kraft
This wasn't as interesting as I expected. Only a few of the quotes really hit home for me. I liked the introduction, especially Merton's explanation that the life of the Desert Fathers was their own unique way to seek salvation based on their world. Our world is different in some ways, so these quotes are not a recipe but rather an example of how some very wise men sought God.

"Another of the elders said: When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wh
Dec 05, 2013 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Merton translated and compiled the wisdom and advice of monks living a hermit-like life in the desert in the fourth century. It’s an interesting collection with some wonderful bits. I’ve listed some favorites below.

There’s one parable of a man who steals a book from one of the monks. He goes to sell it in the local town. The man he tries to sell it to asks the monk who originally owned it if it was a valuable book. Instead of turning the man in and explaining that it was stolen, the monk just to
Mark Thomas
Oct 12, 2013 Mark Thomas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you think this book is another telling of Christian mystics just listen to this description from Merton who says " With the Desert Father, you have the characteristic of a clean break with a conventional, accepted social context in order to swim for one's life into an apparently irrational void." Wow, James Dean had nothing on these folks,

This is probably the most "Zen" Christian book I have ever read. The life of these Christian monks is very similar to the Eastern mystics with their focus o
Apr 21, 2013 Renaissance rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short (81pages) and most enjoyable work by Thomas Merton--a renowned Catholic author and Trappist monk. The first 24 pages are an introduction by Merton explaining the lifestyle of the ancient Catholic hermits living the middle east (mainly Syria, Palestine, Egypt). In this section he explains in detail the reasons men of the time chose this severe lifestyle: not so much to flee a "sinful world," but more to be in communion with God through prayer, fasting and good works.

The remaining pages a
Nov 30, 2010 Tina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was on a monastic kick when I checked out this book. I was ready to be really "wowed" by the wisdom of the desert fathers, but I found some of it just strange. I'm a long way from true humility or seclusion, so perhaps the problem is mine. Here's one of my favorite sayings from the book, "Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to clea ...more
Raymond Browne
Dec 20, 2016 Raymond Browne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This collection of the sayings of the Desert Fathers is in itself worthy of reading as it provides an accessible entry into the depths of living a Christian life from the heart. Borne of the experiential wisdom of the Desert Fathers and presented in short stories, some parables, others moral tales, other spiritual doctrines enacted and recorded, it is a relatively small but irreplaceable treasure trove of practical wisdom. This particular edition has an additional value in the introduction writt ...more
Jul 14, 2011 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This little book of sayings is the type of work that you never finish reading. It is meant to be read and re-read, and to be a source of comfort and spiritual direction throughout a seeker's life. The Desert Fathers were some of the first Christian hermits who in the fourth century lived in the wilderness of Egypt and Palestine. Thomas Merton's translation of their words illuminates the richness and depth of their wisdom, even for the twenty-first century.

A favorite guidance by one of the Fathe
Jul 02, 2015 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian
Outstanding. Merton gives a description of these desert fathers and how they left the cities for the desert to be ordinary men. People saw these people and how extraordinary they were, and left for the desert to be extraordinary, and went mad. Merton says this happened because they brought the city with them. This is just the introduction! The rest of the book are sayings from abbots and elders giving wise counsel. The goal is not to become ascetics, or do exactly what they say, but to internali ...more
Christopher Floss
Dec 09, 2014 Christopher Floss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much of the wisdom of western monasticism can be found in the writings of the desert fathers. Merton, seeking to conform his spiritual life to the discipline of the monastic tradition, chose various sayings from these early sources and compiled them into a devotional that can be used for personal prayer and reflection. It's very interesting to explore the wisdom of the early spiritual masters and, thousands of years later, to see how these little phrases and stories impacted Merton, who was one ...more
Zack Rock
Apr 14, 2012 Zack Rock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though many of these anecdotes from 4th-century hermits are totally gonzo (the one about the hermit who, being accosted in his hovel by a prostitute, burned his fingers in a fire one by one until she died of fright and had to be miraculously revived springs to mind), most are surprisingly applicable nearly 2,000 years on. The tale of the hermit who pray for 14 years for God to remove his anger is especially poignant. It's a quick read, and the stories canvas enough of the human experience that, ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Tomek rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Merton's devotion to monastic and hermetic existence comes through in this book. I do love his style of writing, which is simple and unassuming, as though it welcomes the reader to join in his meditations. It becomes clear that many of the great monastic traditions (Buddhist, Christian, Judaic) have common threads of lovingkindness, compassion, and self-control. Personally, I preferred the introductory essay by Merton to the quotations of the Desert Fathers themselves, but it is worth reading in ...more
Kelby Cotton
Aug 07, 2013 Kelby Cotton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my third time through with the book and Merton, as almost always happens, informs and guides. I found his introduction to be as relevant today as when I read it for the first time 30 years ago.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers neither courted the approval of their contemporaries nor sought to provoke their disapproval, because the opinions of others had ceased, for them, to be matters of importance. They had no set doctrine about freedom, but they had in fact become free by paying the pric
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  • The Desert Fathers
  • The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (Cistercian studies 59)
  • The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton
  • The Cloud of Unknowing
  • The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
  • The Philokalia, Volume 1: The Complete Text
  • Revelations of Divine Love
  • The Life of St. Anthony
  • The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism
  • Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel
  • Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from Patristic Era with Commentary
  • The Rule of Saint Benedict
  • Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another and Other Lessons from the Desert Fathers
  • The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies
  • On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent
  • A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
  • The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
  • The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int ...more
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“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.” 4 likes
“AN ELDER was asked by a certain soldier if God would forgive a sinner. And he said to him: Tell me, beloved, if your cloak is torn, will you throw it away? The soldier replied and said: No. I will mend it and put it back on. The elder said to him: If you take care of your cloak, will God not be merciful to His own image?” 1 likes
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