Graham Gould studies the life and thought of the Christian monks of fourth and fifth century lower Egypt. He works from collections of their sayings and stories which were compiled in the late fifth century and which are known collectively as the Apopthegmata Patrum. These texts show that the Desert Fathers were deeply concerned with the nature of the monastic community which they formed and with the problems which might affect relationships between individuals within it. Successive chapters of the book centre on the text of the Apopthegmata itself as a witness to the community's sense of its own history and identity; on the relationship between teacher and disciple in the context of which the practices and virtues of the monastic life were taught; on the importance of good relationships between a monk and his companions in the monastic life; on the problems of anger, judgement, and praise which interfere with good relationships; on the tension between the desire for solitude and the necessity of inter-action with others; and on the connection between relationships with others and a monk's own life of prayer.
The overall conclusion is that the Desert Fathers saw community as an integral part of their monastic ideal and rarely regarded solitude as a way of life to be pursued at the expense of community.
`many readers of the Coptic Church Review are likely to find the volume under review of particular interest ... In nearly two hundred closely argued pages, there are many lines of thought and life which are likely to take the serious reader much further in individual exploration and study ... He has given us a volume which, to recast his own words, is a record "not only of the theme of community itself, but of many other aspects of early Christian
spirituality as well." It is still exceptional to find a work of historical reconstruction which is also immediate and contemporary.'
Coptic Church Review Vol 14, No 4, Winter 1993
`The careful scholarship, and the full documentation in the footnotes as well as in the bibliography, offer opportunities to the specialist for further study, while the text itself is very readable.'
`an illuminating work'
Gerald Bostock, Expository Times
'The volume is excellently indexed. The main body of the text has been extremely well done: the translation, and especially the accompanying notes, will be an important tool in the growing business of trying to find out what Pelagius actually thought ... Over the next few years this book will prove its usefullness ... Graham Gould has done an impressive job in filling out our picture of desert fathers ... excellent.'
Reviews in Religion and Theology.
'The reader will find here as well a useful guide to the editions of the Apophthegmata, the questions relating to the formation of the collections, and to the secondary literature for monastic asceticism and its forbears. Goold has done a great service in presenting the concept of monastic community in such a broad context.'
Dom David Foster, Downside Review
'What Graham Gould has done, with great sensitivity and learning, is to take what might at first sight seem an unpromising theme, and then pursue it through the sayings, without in any way suppressing the originality, even idiosyncrasies, of the wisdom of the desert, so as to lay bare some of the main concerns of their teaching. The book is pleasantly produced, as one would expect from the Clarendon Press. ... the contents of this book are marvellous. In
it Dr Gould has provided what seems to me to be far and away the best short introduction there is to the wisdom of the desert Fathers.
Andrew Louth. Sobornost. Incorporating Eastern Churches Review. Vol. 16:2 1994
`A magisterial study of the life and thought of the Christian monks of Egypt in the fourth century, focusing on their ideas of community ... a stimulating study ... the careful scholarship of Dr Gould is reflected in its pages and he offers a new contemporary way of examining and using this most valuable material.'
Journal of Theological Studies
`fine study ... The book is intensely focused, its presentation nuanced and elegant as a result. G.'s book is in the vanguard of new work now emerging on the Egyptian monastic movement. Sober and judicious, it brings a welcome balance to our understanding of desert spirituality.'
Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Brown University, Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. LXXXVIII, 1996
`The author has a very good command of primary and secondary sources ... the book is well documented, including a helpful bibliography and index. I recommend without reservation the addition of this book to the resources for studying the life and the theology of the Desert Fathers.'
The Greek Orthodox Theological Review