The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community 978-0198263456

Graham Gould studies the life and thought of the Christian monks of fourth and fifth century lower Egypt. He works from

644 146 29MB

English Pages 110 Year 1993

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community

Table of contents :

Introduction: The Text and the Community
The Abba and his Disciple
The Monk and his Neighbour
The Problems of Anger and Judgement
Solitude and Interaction
Relationships and Prayer

Citation preview

This book is a study of the life and thought of the Christian monks of fourth and fifth century Egypt, whose views have been influential at many points in the subsequent history of Christianity. It is based on the collections of their sayings and stories which were compiled in the late fifth century and which are known collectively as the Apophthegmata Patrum. These texts show that the Desert Fathers were deeply concerned with the nature of the monastic community which they formed and with the problems which might affect relationships between individuals within it. Successive chapters of the book centre on the text of the Apophthegmata itself as a witness to the community's sense of its own history and identity; on the relationship between teacher and disciple in the context of which the practices and virtues of the monastic life were taught; on the importance of good relationships between a monk and his companions in the monastic life; on the problems of anger, judgement, and praise which interfere with good relationships; on the tension between the desire for solitude and the necessity of interaction with others; and on the connection between relationships with others and a monk's own life of prayer. The overall conclusion is . that the Desert Fathers saw community as an integral part of their monastic ideal and rarely regarded solitude as a way of life to be pursued at the expense of community. Graham Gould is a Lecturer in Earl y Church History in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College, London.

ALSO PUBLISHED BY OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRE The Word in the Desert Scripture and the Qpest for Holin Christian Monasticism Douglas Burton-Christie OUPUSA

in Earh-

The Early Christian Fathers A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St Clement of Rome to St Athana ius Edited and translated by H. Bettenson Oxford Paperbacks Augustine of Hippo and his Monastic Rule G. P. Lawless Clarendon Paperbacks Augustine: The Confessions Edited with introduction and commentary in three volumes by James J. O'Donnell Volume I: Text and Introduction Volume II: Commentary on Books 1- 7 Vol ume III: Commentary on Books 8- 13 Beauty and Revela tion in the Thought of Saint Au gustine Carol Harrison O.>.ford Theological Monographs Christians a nd the Holy Places The M yth of Jewish- Christian Origins Joan Taylor The Oxford Illustrated History of Christiani ty Edited by John McManners 'Working the Earth of the Heart' The ~1 es salian Controversy in History, Texts, and Language to AD 431 Columba Stewart, OSB Oxford Theological Monographs

Clarendon Press is the academic imprint of





Rowan Williams



includes scholarly volumes on the thought and history of the early Christian centuries. Covering a wide range of Greek, Latin, and Oriental sources, the books are of interest to theologians, ancient historians, and specialists in the classical and Jewish worlds.

The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community

Titles in the series include: Origen and the Life of the Stars

A History of an Idea A. Scott (rggr)


Regnum Caelorum Patterns of Future Hope in Early Christianity Charles E. Hill (rqqz) Pelagius' Commentary on St Paul's Epistle to the Romans Translated with introduction and commentary by T. S. de Bruyn (1993)

Arator on the Acts of the Apostles

A Baptismal Commentary Richard Hillier (1993) Eunomius and the Later Arians R. P. Vaggione (brthcoming)

The Christology of Theodoret of Cyrus P. B. Clayton (forthcoming) Arnobius of Sicca Concepts of Deity in the Contemporary Pagan Christian Debate

M. B. Simmons (forthcoming)


Otford Uniaersity Pres, Walton Street, Oxford oxz 6op Oxford New York Tnronto Delhi Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi Kuala Lumpur Singapore Hong Kong Tbk.yo Nairubi Dar es Salaam CaPe Town


Melbourne Auckland A4adrid and associated companies in Berlin Ibadan

Orford is a trade mark of Orford Uniaersity


'l'his book is the outcome of an attempt to understand certain aspects of' the teaching on the ideals and practice of the monastic life of the

a collection of sayings, dialogues, and short nilrratives which preserve the words of the fourth- and fifth-century l'.gyptian monks known as the Desert Fathers. The widely acknowledged 'lpophthegmata, Patrum,

Published in the United States b.y Oxford Uniaersity

Pres Inc., Nep York

@ Graham Gould t99.1

irrrportance of the Apophthegmata as a source of our knowledge of early lhristian monasticism, and as a document of considerable interest in


All rights reserued. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retriexal system, ol tansmitted, in any fom or by any meany pithout the prior pemission in writing of Oxford Uniaersity Pres. Within the UK, erceptions are alloped in respect of any J'air dealing for the purtrose ofresearch or priaate study, or criticism or rerieD, as permitted the Copyright, Designs and P&tents Act, t988, or in the case of reptlglaphi reprod.uction in atcordance pith the terms of the licences issued by the CopJlfight Licensing Agency. Enquiries conceming reproduction outside these terms and in other countries should he sent t0 the Rights Departmen\ Otford Uniaersitl Pres, at the address abou British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data aaailable Library of Congrex Cataloging in Publication Data The desert fathers on monastic community/Graham Gould. (Otjbrd early Christian studies) Reaision of thesis (d,onoral )-Cambridge Uniaersity. In lude s bi b lio grap hica I referenc e s. r. Monastic and religious ltfe History-Early church, ca. 3o4oo. 2. Apophthegmata Patrum. j. Egpt Religion Greco Roman period, jjz B.C.4qo A.D. I. fitle. II. Series. BXzq65.C68 tggj z7t'.oogjz'ogor5 dczo 92 J22o.l c

ISBN o-r9-82636


Typeset by Selwood Systems, Midsomer Norton

Printed in Creat Britain on acil-Jree p&pet


Bookcraft (Bath) Ltd., Midsomer Norton

thc history of Christian spirituality, is a sufficient iustification for


study ofthe teaching ofthis text. Analysis will be confined, ofnecessity, ro the outlook of the Apophthegmata only on a comparatively limited r:rnge of subiects. But those which have been chosen are of central ir)rportance to the monastic life as the Desert Fathers understood it, rrnd in some respects they dominate and inform the character of the lpophthegmata as a whole. 'lhe general theme to be explored is that of monastic community, or, ro use a phrase which may be applied to several of the concerns of this rvork, 'personal relationships' as a factor in the monastic life. This may scrm an unusual theme to choose for the study of a group, the Desert liathers, who are most often regarded as prime representatives of the rlcsire for solitude, rather than as proponents of the value of a life of t'ommunity. There are of course many discussions of the purpose of s