The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers
John Wortley “The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers: A Select Edition and Complete English Translation” [Cambridge University Press, 2013]
“The Tales and Sayings of the Desert Fathers” (Apophthegmata Patrum) are a key source of evidence for the practice and theory respectively of eremitic monasticism, a significant phenomenon within the early history of Christianity. The publication of this book finally ensures the availability of all three major collections which constitute the work, edited and translated into English. Richer in Tales than the ‘Alphabetic’ collection to which this is an appendix (both to be dated c.AD 500), the ‘Anonymous’ collection presented in this volume furnishes almost as much material for the study of the late antique world from which the monk sought to escape as it does for the monastic endeavour itself. More material continued to be added well into the seventh century and so the spread and gradual evolution of monasticism are illustrated here over a period of about two and a half centuries.”
“Much of what is known of the earliest history of Christian monasticism is derived from the Tales and Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) of which three major collections survive. Until now only the ‘Alphabetic’ and the ‘Systematic’ collections have been available in English translation; with the present volume, the ‘Anonymous’
collection becomes available, not only in English, but with the first complete edition of the Greek text on facing pages.
Although many of the contents of these collections refer to desert communities in north-west Egypt, the collectors may have been refugee monks settled in Palestine who sought to record in Greek an oral tradition of instruction originally in Coptic to secure it for future generations. The ‘Alphabetic’ collection and its appendix, the ‘Anonymous’, were both created towards ad 500 (the ‘Systematic’ somewhat later) but it is clear that further material was added to the ‘Anonymous’ well into the seventh century. Consequently, this volume furnishes almost as much material for the study of the late antique world from which the monk sought to escape as it does for the monastic endeavour itself. But the spread and gradual evolution of monasticism are well illustrated here over a period extending to the Moslem conquest.
John Wortley is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He has published widely on the Byzantine era, and completed several translations to date, including “Les Récits édifiants de Paul, évêque de Monembasie, et d’autres auteurs” (1987), “The “Spiritual Meadow” of John Moschos, including the additional tales edited by
Nissen and Mioni” (1992), “The Spiritually Beneficial Tales of Paul, Bishop of Monembasia, and of Other Authors” (1996), “John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057” (2010) and “The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Systematic Collection” (2012).
Ordained in1959, Professor Wortley is still active as an Anglican priest.”