Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Way of the Desert

The spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers is a very early form of Christianity which largely refers to the gatherings of very dedicated Christians that took place after 313 AD, when the church allowed itself to be more than a bit co-opted by the Edict of Constantine.  Great numbers of the deeply faithful moved off into Egypt, Syria, Cappadocia (Turkey), and Palestine during this period.  St. Anthony of Egypt, who died around 369, is called the father of monks.  He was a layman and a Coptic Christian.

In 313 AD, the Roman emperor Constantine, perhaps thinking he was doing us a favour, made Christianity into the imperial religion of the Roman Empire; and a whole lot of things changed, frankly because our viewpoint changed—from the bottom looking up, to the top looking down.  The next Councils of the Church were even convened (controlled?) by emperors and not by bishops or Popes.

So as we draw close to Lent, let’s go back to some of this primitive Christianity before systematic theology and highly centralized/Romanized Christianity had made both its good and bad marks.  The desert fathers and mothers were able to see and know some things that we can not so easily see anymore.  Maybe we need some of their spirit now. 

Richard Rohr, February 2011,
adapted from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (1975),
with permission of Cistercian Publications, and
The Wisdom of the Desert, Thomas Merton (1970),
with permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Starting here, I think I’ll try and follow Rohr’s lead by posting snippets from the Desert Fathers and Mothers throughout Lent – as well as I can manage to keep it up!


  1. Ah, I will gladly follow your post as I am also embarking on a journey with the Desert Mothers and Fathers this Lent :-)
    I'm looking forward to joining you here!

  2. Thank you, Claire - it's a date!

  3. I'm planning to do some of the same -- a new book arrived last week! Perhaps we'll all enjoy new (or old, I should say) readings from one another!