Apophthegmata Patrum

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’”
“Abba Zeno said, ‘If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.’”

“The Apophthegmata Patrum (lit. Sayings of the Fathers)(Latin: Apophthegmata Patrum Aegyptiorum Greek: ἀποφθέγματα τῶν ἁγίων γερόντων, ἀποφθέγματα τῶν πατέρων, τὸ γεροντικόν) is the name given to various collections popularly known as of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, consisting of stories and sayings attributed to the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers from approximately the 5th century CE.

The collections consist of wisdom stories describing the spiritual practices and experiences of early Christian hermits living in the desert of Egypt. They are typically in the form of a conversation between a younger monk and his spiritual father, or as advice given to visitors. Beginning as an oral tradition in the Coptic language, they were only later written down as Greek text. The stories were extremely popular among early Christian monks, and appeared in various forms and collections.

The original sayings were passed down from monk to monk, though in their current version most simply describe the stories in the form of “Abba X said….” The early Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers also received many visitors seeking counseling, typically by asking “Give me a word, abba” or “Speak a word, amma, how can I be saved?” Some of the sayings are responses to those seeking guidance.

Many notable Desert Fathers are mentioned in the collections, including Anthony the Great, Abba Arsenius, Abba Poemen, Abba Macarius of Egypt, and Abba Moses the Black. The sayings also include those of three different ammas, or Desert Mothers, most notably Syncletica of Alexandria. Sayings of the Desert Fathers influenced many notable theologians, including Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine.”
Desert Mothers
“Sayings of the Fathers of the Desert. Various collections exist of aphorisms and anecdotes illustrative of the spiritual life, of ascetic and monastic principle, and of Christian ethics, attributed to the more prominent hermits and monks who peopled the Egyptian deserts in the fourth century. Three or four such collections in Latin were edited by Rosweyde (Vitæ Patrum, Bks. III, V, VI, VII; P.L., XXIII), one in Greek by Cotelier (Ecclesiœ Græcæ Monumenta, I; P.G., XV), and a Syriac collection lately included in the editions of Anan Isho’s “Paradise” by Bedjan (Paris, 1897), and Budge (London, 1904), the latter supplying an English translation. In all these collections the great mass of material is the same, although differently disposed, and it is now agreed that our actual apophthegma literature is Greek, though no doubt much of it is ultimately of Coptic origin. The stages in the growth of the extant collections of “apophthegmata” may be traced with some certainty. In the course of the fourth century this or that saying of the more famous ascetics was repeated by their disciples, and thus circulated. There is no reason to doubt that these sayings and anecdotes were in large measure authentic, but no doubt many were attributed to wrong persons, and many more were apocryphal inventions. These single sayings tended to coalesce into groups, sometimes as the apophthegmata of one Father, sometimes as those dealing with the same subject. Out of these groups were formed the great collections which we have. They are arranged on an alphabetical principle, or according to the subject-matter. Of such collections, that contained in the fifth and sixth books of Rosweyde’s “Vitæ Patrum” is known to have existed before the end of the fifth century.”
moses the black
“The Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of more than 1,000 brief stories about and sayings by the desert fathers. Some are terse aphorisms, others portray dramatic encounters in which young monks come to their elders, begging: “Abba, give me a word by which I might be saved.” This collection, dating from the late fifth or early sixth century, is the best known and most influential work of desert Christian literature and has been preserved in a variety of ancient languages and editions. This chapter provides an introduction to the Apophthegmata’s literary style and its historical setting—especially its roots in the ancient monastery of Scetis.”

“The Apophthegmata Patrum is the collection of memorable words and anecdotes of the desert fathers. In the sixth century in Palestine, the monk Zosimus was already mentioning “the apophthegms of the holy old men” (Zosimus, 1864, col. 1679), but that does not seem to be the oldest or most common name. At the same period, also in Palestine, BARSANUPHIUS and John of Gaza, as well as their disciple Dorotheus, do not use it, whereas they frequently quote the Lives and Words of the Fathers or the Gerontica. Another title must have been in fairly common use, that of Paradise or Garden of the fathers, monks, or holy old men. We find it as the heading of the Syriac collection of Enanisho (seventh century). In the Coptic tradition, the life of JOHN COLOBOS written at the end of the seventh century by ZACHARIAS, BISHOP OF SAKHA, in Lower Egypt, mentions the “Book of the Holy Old Men. . . to which the title of Paradise has also been given” (1894, p.322). The Arabic Manuscript 547 from Sinai contains “a part of the Paterikon known under the name of the Garden which consists of accounts of the Old Men and Fathers” (Sauget, 1973, p. 10). It is also under the title Garden of the Monks that the Arabic collection of the apothegms is published nowadays in Egypt. The collections are very different from one another in both the material included and the arrangement of the items. But they have a common base, consisting of a majority of words and reports of the great monks of SCETIS of the fourth and fifth centuries. Handed down orally at first, probably in Coptic, principally by the disciples of the ancients, these apothegms were then put into writing and grouped into various small collections.
At the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, no doubt in Palestine, these anthologies were brought together and integrated into huge collections containing several hundred items, presented in two main forms: one, alphabetical, in which each monk’s words are gathered together in separate units classified according to the first letter of the name; the other, a systematic series in which the items are grouped in chapters according to subject matter. Most of the collections that we know in the manuscripts or publications belong to these two types, and the earlier collections have almost entirely disappeared.
One of the few still in existence is in the Syriac Ascetikon of Abba Isaiah (Draguet, CSCO 289, pp. 30-51; 293, pp. 27-83).
To some extent, monastic life appeared everywhere in the Christian world in the third and fourth centuries, but from the outset, Egyptian monachism shone with such special splendor that it appeared everywhere as the pattern to be reproduced. The apothegms contributed much to the fame of the great anchorites of SCETIS. From the sixth century, the apothegms were translated from Greek into Latin and soon also into Syriac, Arabic, Georgian, and Armenian. It is impossible to evaluate the influence they may have had in the history of spirituality. Many traces of it are found even in the profane literature of all the European countries. This influence was exercised, especially in the Coptic church, either directly through the reading of the collections in Coptic and Arabic or indirectly through the place given to the holy monks of the apothegms in the liturgy. In the monasteries, the reading of the Garden of the Monks has always had an honored place during the common meals. It is still the daily practice in the Monastery of Saint Macarius (DAYR ANBA MAQAR). The popular edition published in Cairo, which has reappeared many times, has been much appreciated also by the laity. Coptic Christians have never had a conception of spirituality peculiar to the laity, and it is in the school of the desert fathers that they are trained in the practice of the virtues, asceticism, and prayer.”

Lund, University Library, Medeltidshandskrift 54. This manuscript from the middle of the 11th century contains fragments of the systematical collection (stage b3 or c) of the Apophthegmata Patrum.
sayings of
The best known translation of the Apophthegmata Patrum, the Sayings of the Fathers, the alphabetical series, is Sr Benedicta Ward’s excellent translation in “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”.

For examples of the Sayings, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophthegmata_Patrum
A website collating scholarly research on the Apophthegmata is found at http://www.monasticpaideia.org/research/apophthegmata-patrum


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: