Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review of the Desert Fathers and Mothers translated by Henri L. Carrigan

The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
translated by Henry L. Carrigan
ISBN 978-1-55725-780-2
Published by Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

There are many books out there that contain excepts of the teaching of Desert Mothers and Fathers. I have several of them. The Desert Fathers were brilliant thinkers as well as deeply spiritual women and men. Many of them left behind collections of teaching and aphorisms that people study today.

In The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers Henry L. Carrigan collects and translates many of these wise words for a new generation. He chooses to translate the sayings in the kind of English that is used today. He also artfully arranges and organizes the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers so that they are accessible to all of us.

The first challenge of a translator of this material is choosing what sayings and people to include, and what ones to exclude. Carrigan weights his material towards those who were most prominent, which is appropriate. He also includes many other Desert Fathers after the most prominent ones.

What I enjoyed was his organization of the "lesser fathers and mothers" sayings by who said them, and by alphabetical order of the desert parents' names. This made each individual person more accessible. It also showed the diversity of thinking among the Desert Fathers and Mothers, with some being less stern and more graceful, and others being more strict and legalistic. It becomes easy to understand which teacher would have spoke to you, and which of the desert fathers would have really challenged people like you and I.

The "extras" in this book make it even more valuable.The book has a forward by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who is a leader in what is called the "New Monastic Movement". His testimony of how the Desert Mothers and Fathers changed his life makes their teachings even more attractive for those who want to learn more about what they said. The introduction to these folks by the translator gives good historical context to these church luminaries in a way that is easy to understand.

I have several books containing the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. So far, I like this collection and Thomas Merton's the best.

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