Desert fathers

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Paolo Uccello, Episodes from Hermitian Life (1460)

Desert fathers is a later term used for early Christian monks who, since the late 3rd century, have led a secluded life in the deserts of Egypt and Syria, either individually as hermits or in groups as coinobites , determined by asceticism , prayer and work .


The retreat into the desert began in Egypt at the end of the 3rd century AD with rural dwellers who, as anchorites during the persecution of Christians under Diocletian, left the villages of Egypt and settled in the desert, especially in the Sketian desert , Nitria and Kellia , but also settled in the Thebaïs and in the deserts of Palestine and Syria . The first of these anchorites was likely Antony the Great (perhaps 251–356).

Written tradition

In solitary asceticism, the desert fathers ( abba ) followed the path of ora et labora , praying and working, as well as hesychia , inner peace. Those desert fathers who were up to the demands of the desert had numerous disciples as witnesses to a radical Christian life. Their sayings or Apophthegmata Patrum imparted Christian asceticism to the students. In addition to the biography of Antonius written by Athanasios , the Bishop of Alexandria , around 360 , the Vita of Paulus Eremita by Hieronymus and the Historia Lausiaca by Palladios , the various Apophthegm collections designated with the generic term Apophthegmata Patrum remain the most important sources for Study of the spiritual strength and spirituality of those ascetics. With a view to the challenges of life and faith, the motto: “Flee the bishop and the woman” was the life motto of these monks.

Art history

In Italian painting, the life of the desert fathers in the Theban desert is depicted in the so-called Thebaids of the 14th and 15th centuries, e.g. B. in a fresco on the Camposanto in Pisa , perhaps by Buonamico Buffalmacco (around 1260–1340) or by Francesco Traini (1321–1365), and in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence by Paolo Uccello (1397–1475).

More desert fathers




  • Bonifaz Miller: Instruction of the fathers. Apophthegmata Patrum, also called Gerontikon or Alphabeticum. Trier 1986, ISBN 3-7902-1406-X .
  • Jean-Claude Guy: Les Apophtegmes des Pères. Systematic collection. Chapitres I-IX (= Sources Chrétiennes 387). Paris 1993.
  • Lucien Regnault: Les sentences des pères du désert. Five volumes, Solesmes, Sablé-sur-Sarthe 1966–1985.


  • Athanase d'Alexandrie: Vie d'Antoine. Edited by GJM Bartelink (= Sources Chrétiennes 400). Paris 1994.
  • Saint Athanasius life of Saint Anthony. Edited by H. Mertel, Library of the Church Fathers Vol. 31, Munich 1917 ( also online or as. Rtf ).
  • Athanasius: Vita Antonii . Edited by A. Gottfried, Graz 1987.
  • Antonios the great. Star of the desert. Edited by H. Hanakam, Freiburg i. B. 1989.
  • Saint Antoine. Lettres. Edited by A. Louf (= Spiritualité Orientale 19). Bégrolles-en-Mauges 1976.

More fathers

  • Johannes Cassian : Conversations with the Fathers - Collationes Patrum. Part 1: Collationes I – X. Translated and explained by Gabriele Ziegler; Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2011, ISBN 978-3-89680-705-2 .
  • Johannes Cassian: Conversations with the Fathers - Collationes Patrum. Part 2: Collationes XI – XVII. Translated and explained by Gabriele Ziegler; Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2014, ISBN 978-3-89680-709-0 .
  • Johannes Cassian: Conversations with the Fathers - Collationes Patrum. Part 3: Collationes XVIII – XXIV. Translated and explained by Gabriele Ziegler; Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2015, ISBN 978-3-89680-712-0 .
  • Palladius: Historia Lausiaca. The early saints in the desert. Ed. And trans. by J. Laager, Zurich 1987.
  • Monks in early Christian Egypt. (Historia Monachorum in Aegypto). Translated from the Greek, introduced and explained by S. Frank, Düsseldorf 1967.
  • Evagrios Ponticos. Letters from the desert. Ed. G. Bunge (= Sophia 24). Trier 1986.
  • Johannes Cassian: Seeking God. Know yourself. Instruction in the Christian life. Edited by G. and Th. Sartory, Freiburg 1993.
  • Lettres des Pères du Désert. Eds. B. Outtier, A. Louf, M. van Parys, Cl.-A. Zirnheld (= Spiritualité Orientale 42). Bégrolles en Mauges 1985.

Secondary literature

  • Emma Brunner-Traut : The Copts. Life and Teaching of the Early Christians in Egypt. Diederichs, Cologne 1982, ISBN 3-424-00699-8 .
  • Derwas J. Chitty: The desert a city. An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian and Palestinian Monasticism under the Christian Empire. London 3 A. 199 (first Blackwell, Oxford 1966).
  • Franz Dodel : The sitting of the desert fathers. An investigation based on the Apophthegmata Patrum. (Diss. Bern 1995), Paradosis 42, Universitätsverlag, Freiburg-Switzerland 1997.
  • Karl Suso Frank : Textbook of the history of the old church. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2. A. 1997, esp. Pp. 365-384.
  • Albert Gerhards and Heinzgerd Brakmann (eds.): The Coptic Church. Introduction to Egyptian Christianity. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1993.
  • Peter H. Görg: The desert fathers - Antonius and the beginnings of monasticism. St. Ulrich Verlag, Augsburg 2008, ISBN 3-86744-043-3 .
  • Antoine Guillaumont : Aux origines du monachisme chrétien. Pour une phénoménologie du monachisme (= Spiritualité Orientale 30). Bégrolles en Mauges 1979.
  • David M. Gwynn: Religious Diversity in Late Antiquity. A Bibliographic Essay, in: Ders. / Susanne Bangert / Luke Lavan (eds.): Religious Diversity in Late Antiquity. Brill, Leiden 2010, ISBN 9004180001 , pp. 15-134.
  • William Harmless: Desert Christians. An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism. University Press Oxford 2004.
  • Karl Heussi : The origin of monasticism. Mohr, Tübingen 1936 [reprint 1981].
  • Heinrich Holze: Experience and theology in early monasticism. Investigations into a theology of monastic life among the Egyptian monk fathers, Johannes Cassian and Benedict of Nursia (= research on the history of the church and dogma 48). Goettingen 1992.
  • Fairy von Lilienfeld : Spirituality of early monasticism. Erlangen 1988 (= Oikonomia 18).
  • Fairy von Lilienfeld: Mönchtum , II. Christliches, in: Theologische Realenzyklopädie Vol. 23, pp. 159-196, esp. 152-166.
  • Ludovicus Theodorus Antonius Lorié: Spiritual Terminology in the Latin Translations of the Vita Antonii , with reference to fourth and fifth century monastic literature. Dekker & Van de Vegt, New York 1955.
  • P. Miguel: Lexique du desert. Etude de quelques mot-clés du vocabulaire monastique grec ancien. Bégrolles-en Mauges, Abbaye de Bellefontaine 1986.
  • Uta Ranke-Heinemann : The early monasticism , Essen 1964.
  • Lucien Regnault: Les pères du désert à travers leurs apophthegmes , Solesmes 1987.
  • Siegfried G. Richter : The Coptic Egypt. Treasures in the shadow of the pharaohs (with photos by Jo Bischof). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2019, ISBN 978-3-8053-5211-6 .
  • A. de Vogüé: Le “De generibus monachorum” du Maître et du Benoit, Sa source - son auteur, in: Regulae Benedicti studia 2 (1973), pp. 1–26.

Popular literature and utility literature

  • Michael Cornelius: The wisdom of the desert monks. The art of mastering life. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-453-12028-0 .
  • Franz Dodel: Instructions from the silence. Sitting and silent with the desert fathers , Zurich / Düsseldorf 1999
  • Anselm Grün : Dealing with Evil. The demon fight in old monasticism (= Münsterschwarzacher Kleinschrift 6), Münsterschwarzach 1980
  • Anselm Grün: The way through the desert. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich-Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-453-12028-0 .
  • Anselm Grün: The wisdom of the desert monks. 7th edition, Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2002, ISBN 3-87868-439-8 .
  • Anselm Grün: Spiritual accompaniment with the desert fathers. 7th edition, Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2002, ISBN 3-87868-439-8 .
  • Daniel Hell : Understand the language of the soul. The desert fathers as therapists , Freiburg im Breisgau ⁶2005.
  • Nils Horn: Yoga, Sex and Rock´n´Roll. Verlag Lulu, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-1-84799-517-9 .
  • Jacques Lacarriere: Les Hommes ivres de Dieu , Paris 1983.
  • Gregory Mayers: Wisdom from the Desert. Vier-Türme-Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 1998, ISBN 3-87868-131-3 .
  • Thomas Merton : The wisdom of the desert. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-596-14255-5 .
  • Lucien Regnault : La vie quotidienne des pères du désert , [Paris] 1990.
  • Gertrude and Thomas Sartory: Help in life from the desert. The old monk fathers as therapists , Freiburg i.Br. 1992.
  • Michael Schneider: From the sources of the desert , Cologne 1989.
  • Hans Conrad Zander: When religion wasn't boring. The story of the desert fathers. Cologne 2001.
  • Kellion - Life and Experience of the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers, Vol. 1: Awakening through recollection of the sources, ISBN 978-3-89680-743-4 ; Vol. 2: Fire in the desert, ISBN 978-3-89680-747-2 .

Illustrated books

  • Alain and Evelyne Chevillat: Moines du désert d'Egypte , Lyon (Terre du Ciel) 1990
  • Déserts Chrétiens d'Egypte. Les Kellia , Nice (Collection le Portique) 1993
  • Les Kellia. Ermitages coptes en Basse-Egypte , Geneva (Musée d'art et d'histoire) 1990 [exhibition catalog]

Web links