Thursday, September 27, 2012

Great Reads V: Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The Desert Fathers. Before St. Athanasius established the first Christian monastery in 344 and about two centuries before St. Benedict, a group of Christians moved out into the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria in order to live a solitary and intensely ascetic life. The most famous of these is the man who started it all (for all practical purposes), St. Anthony of Egypt (not the one that helps you find shit-- that's St. Anthony of Padua). Dali has a very famous and quite powerful painting of him in the desert which I recommend you google right now if you haven't seen it.

Because these men-- and women, although they were less common-- entered the desert partially in order to withdraw from the newly-legitimized Christian society under Constantine Chlorus and his son, Constantine the Great, they wrote very little. Around the fifth century, many of their sayings and conversations were collected and written down. These were hermits, but hermits willing to share spiritual advice amongst themselves.

Because I don't know Greek, I can't speak to the accuracy of these translations. I can say that I own Penguin Classics edition of Virgil, Augustine, and Boehtius, and have found them all to be wonderful translations.

If you're a Christian, you need to own this book. If you're not, your life will still be poorer without it.

These sayings were not originally uttered with the thought that they would become part of a book. These are tips given from one hermit to another. I have revisited these sayings several times, and still I feel like I haven't come close to plumbing there depth. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I advise that you read them slowly and with a clear mind.

  1. Antony said, "Our life and death are with our neighbor."
  2. Joseph asked to Poeman, “Tell me how to become a monk.” He said, “If you want to find rest in this life and the next, say at every moment, ‘Who am I?’ and judge no one.”
  3. They used to say that one of the old men asked God that he might see the fathers, and he saw them all, with the exception of Anthony; and he said unto him that showed them to him, "Where is Anthony?"  And he said unto him, "Wheresoever God is there is Anthony."
  4. Abba Isidore the Priest said, "If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. For it is better for a man to eat meat and drink wine than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself."

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