Desert Fathers and Mothers
Henry L. Carrigan Jr, Paraclete Press
Against the background of the assertion that “a pure life and a fearless faith are powerful weapons”, this book explores the lives of the early Christian ascetics.
Much of the dialogue is about St Antony, a third century monk who spent most of his long life in the Egyptian desert. He was not the first but, during his life, caught up with Paul of Thebes, who is credited as being the earliest.
The narrative tells how Antony battled Satan and personalised demons, encouraged other monks to follow his example and emulated many of the healing miracles of Jesus.
The title is a bit of a misnomer, as the only woman mentioned among the two dozen desert dwellers is Theodora. This seems to me typical of how women were written out of the history of the early Christian church; unfortunately, a legacy which still remains.
I don’t think many readers will be attracted to the lifestyle of Antony. He wore the same hair shirt for 20 years without ever changing it and he refused to wash his feet. The only time they were wet was in crossing a stream.
He spent his days in prayer and meditation, isolated from his home community.
In considering the ancient and modern, we are challenged to consider whether our allegiance is to the church with its accumulated baggage of doctrine and dogma, or to the Jesus, who found his life purpose during his time alone in the desert.
We also are drawn to myriad homeless people, who spend their nights in the caverns of our cities and towns as they try to fight their own particular demons.