Theses on the Desert Fathers and Mothers




How to be alone

Three weeks in October

Desert spirituality

Living with the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Attitudes to the Desert fathers

Urban Fathers

Fairacres article

Holy Arnold

Poetry of the Desert

Guthlac prayers

New urban fathers

18 Theses on the Desert Fathers and Mothers

1.      They were a grassroots movement of the Coptic peasantry

2.      They sought to address some of the existential problems of this Coptic peasantry

  • The grind of subsistence agriculture
  • The restrictions of village life
  • The limitations of family and constant reproduction

3.      They successfully embodied the values of the emerging Christian movement in the post-martyrdom era, renewing what was becoming institutionalized; teaching and practicing:

4.      That the heart (i.e. personal transformation) was the first movement of the Christian life

5.      That this heart-religion had to be expressed in the body

6.      That love was the goal of this heart-religion and was realized in relationships

7.      They were essentially a practical, embodied meditation on the Gospels and the words of Jesus particularly:

  • Dying with Jesus in order to be raised with him
  • "Judge not that you be not judged"
  • The parables of the Pearl and the Treasure

8.      The orientation to love made charity, hospitality and community important

9.      The desire not to judge made discretion and patience vital

10.  The focus on the body made self-control, fortitude and sober living essential

11.  The desire for personal transformation was the driving force behind unceasing prayer, the quest for silence and their cautious attitude to dramatic spiritual experiences

12.  Their belief in new life and dying with Christ made obedience, humility and awareness of sin central to their practice

13.  Work and economic self-sufficiency perfectly integrated with spiritual practice more crucial. This protected them from control and manipulation by the rich and powerful

14.  The Fathers, especially, developed a heroic spirituality where men could engage in physical struggle in a safe, contained and meaning-rich environment

15.  The Mothers, on the other hand, focused on a more communal experience, although this was also present amongst the Fathers.

16.  Their genius was systematized by theologians such as Evagrius and Pelagius. This risked preferencing the mind over the heart and losing its responsiveness

17.  They were institutionalized by monastics such as Cassian and Benedict. This risked replacing love with dull obedience and oppressive authority

18.  There charism them has periodically reemerged in movements such as Celtic Christianity and Desert Spirituality