Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century (Shambhala Library) Hardcover – Deluxe Edition, November 16, 2004
The Amazon Book Review
Discover what to read next through the Amazon Book Review. Learn more.
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"Thomas Merton does not so much introduce the Fathers of the desert; he stands in their midst, as one of them."—Daniel Berrigan, author of Uncommon Prayer: A Book of Psalms
About the Author
Thomas Merton (1915–1968) was a Trappist monk, spiritual director, political activist, social critic, and one of the most-read spiritual writers of the twentieth century. He is the author of many books, including The Seven Storey Mountain.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
Merton, a talented writer on matters spiritual, states in the Author's note that his intention was not to produce a new 'edition' by academic standards, or to do any piece of new research. Rather, Merton set out to produce an accessible collection of wisdom sayings that had been contained in the collection 'Verba Seniorum', a Latin text of stories and proverbs handed down from the Desert Fathers and those who knew and wrote about them.
In the fourth century, while Christianity was still struggling as a minority (sometimes a violently oppressed minority) in the Empire, there were those who saw that the greater threat to the new faith was not the imperial officials and their forces, but rather the attractions and lure of the cities. It was very easy to put forth the claim that the world was not a Christian one, and that one would have to renounce the world to live an authentically Christian life - the Desert Fathers tended to do this renunciation in rather dramatic fashion (and, to varying extent, this is what monastics continue to do to this day). This renunciation was true even with official tolerance and imperial imprimatur, for Christianity was still the decided minority.
Merton states that it is a mistake to think that the Desert Fathers were isolationist individuals, however - 'the very fact that they uttered these "words" of advice to one another is proof that they were eminently social.' They sought an equality amongst themselves under God, and were welcoming toward those who sought them for instruction and wisdom.
In this collection, the 'Verba Seniorum' are perhaps the most true to the actual words of the Desert Fathers that we can get. Most writing about them came from people who added literary flourishes and often hagiographic legendary material into the mix; these are much more simple. They are 'the plain, unpretentious reports that went from mouth to mouth in the Coptic tradition before being committed to writing in Syriac, Greek and Latin.'
Over and over again, the Desert Fathers stress love above all. Their love reaches out for tolerance toward others, even as they sometimes seem to be intolerant toward themselves. Perhaps their generosity toward others came from a recognition of the faults of their own and the hope that God will deal more generously with them as they strive to deal generously with others.
'One of the brethren had sinned, and the priest told him to leave the community. So then Abbot Bessarion got up and walked out with him, saying: I too am a sinner!'
This is a wonderful, heartfelt, wise collection. It is not organised according to any overarching theme or systematic theological paradigm, but rather like a collecton of 'quotable quotes', often seemingly random. I often take the book and open it at random, to see what insights I can gain from it that day.
The sayings Merton chooses express the inner-experience very well. These desert fathers were not men who looked outside of themselves for a savior, or for something from some other world. They looked inside of themselves for a savior, and understood it was something that can be discovered and realized in our world. It is so interesting to read these sayings, which were written prior to anything formal like the Council of Nicea. In our time, it is easy to forget that we have one, mainstream, version of Christianity, whether it be Catholic, Protestan, or even the more isolated sects like Mormonism. However, Christianity in its current state is a development. The sayings of these desert fathers proves that. They existed before modernity, but they exemplify what modern Christianity sees as an ideal. They lived it. These sayings are a primary source.
If you want to be inspired, tihs is a wonderful book. Merton does not offer his usual high brow analysis that is very difficult to fully grasp. This is a simple presentation by a remarkable monk who managed to live and inpsire many people, whether Christians or not. This book will enhance your Christian faith, and if you aren't a Christian, this book will reveal why Christianity is so remarkable. It's a win-win.
The short selection from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers gives great insight into their thinking, their prayer, their life, and their spirituality.
I recommend this book (only about 50 pages) for anyone who is looking to find a new perspective on life. I also recommend it as a multiple read book, i.e., a book you can read over and over again and get more out of it each time. I have read it more than once.