Jacques Maritain Center

The Wisdom
of the Desert


THIS little book is neither a critical examination of the earlier egyptian monastic literature nor an historical account of the movement. It is nothing more than an attempt to appreciate the religious spirit of the first Christian monks. I do not know of any other similar attempt, though an exceedingly interesting study of the hermit life will be found in E. Lucius' Das Mönchische Leben des vierten und fünften Jahrhunderts in der Beleuchtung seiner Vertreter und Gönnor.

The collection of stories and sayings which I have translated, sometimes very freely, must be regarded merely as an anthology culled from the "meadows" of the literature of the desert life. There is much more which is worthy of a place in our devotional literature, and which, I hope, may in, the future be arranged and translated by men more fitted for the task than I am. I acknowledge gratefully the assistance I have received from two friends -- Miss Bloxham and the Rev. C. S. Collins -- whose sympathy with things that are high and holy has been a constant help to me in my work.

I have further to acknowledge the very great kindness of Father Andrew, S.D.C., who designed the drawings which both adorn this volume and interpret the spirit of the hermits' teaching.

After the MS. of this book was in the publishers' hands I received, through the kindness of Professor Zöckler, of Greifswald, a copy of his recently published Die Tugendlehre des Christentums The work is of great importance for anyone engaged in the study of the ethics of monasticism, but I have not felt myself obliged to modify anything I have written. Professor Zöckler's point of view and his object are entirely different from mine. He is scientific; I hope only to suggest devotional thought.

In the course of my Introduction I allude to the want of a critical study of the Apophthegmata. I am now informed by Dom E. C. Butler, O.S.B., that such a work is being prepared by Abbé Nau, and will soon be published in the Patrologia Orientalis by Firmin-Didot (Paris).

J. O. H.

Westport, Ireland, 1904