Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Rent from
(Save 59%)
Est. Return Date: 07/23/2015
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 41%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $19.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 49%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (18) from $19.99   
  • New (10) from $26.00   
  • Used (8) from $19.99   


In the fourth century, the deserts of Egypt became the nerve center of a radical new movement, what we now call monasticism. Groups of Christians-from illiterate peasants to learned intellectuals-moved out to the wastelands beyond the Nile Valley and, in the famous words of Saint Athanasius, made the desert a city. In so doing, they captured the imagination of the ancient world. They forged techniques of prayer and asceticism, of discipleship and spiritual direction, that have remained central to Christianity ever since. Seeking to map the soul's long journey to God and plot out the subtle vagaries of the human heart, they created and inspired texts that became classics of Western spirituality. These Desert Christians were also brilliant storytellers, some of Christianity's finest. This book introduces the literature of early monasticism. It examines all the best-known works, including Athanasius' Life of Antony, the Lives of Pachomius, and the so-called Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Later chapters focus on two pioneers of monastic theology: Evagrius Ponticus, the first great theoretician of Christian mysticism; and John Cassian, who brought Egyptian monasticism to the Latin West. Along the way, readers are introduced to path-breaking discoveries-to new texts and recent archeological finds-that have revolutionized contemporary scholarship on monastic origins. Included are fascinating snippets from papyri and from little-known Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopic texts. Interspersed in each chapter are illustrations, maps, and diagrams that help readers sort through the key texts and the richly-textured world of early monasticism. Geared to a wide audience and written in clear, jargon-free prose, Desert Christians offers the most comprehensive and accessible introduction to early monasticism.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Those who teach courses in early monastic history have longed for a book like this. Some of us have though about writing it ourselves. Now the task has been done. Harmless has applied his considerable energy and pedagogical experience to developing a book that is informative and filled with resources for ongoing, in-depth study. He also navigates very complex historiography with clarity, candor, and respect. Surely, this superb contribution will remain the starting point and essential reference work on Egyptian monasticism for some time to come. We owe its author deep thanks for making the work of both teacher and researcher considerably easier." —Theological Studies

" indispensable work for anyone interested in ancient Christian monasticism, early Christian history and literature, and indeed the general examination of spiritual impulses that shape religion. This book is an outstanding acheivement in presenting and analyzing major works, interwoven with the diversity of scholarship that has blossomed in this area in the past thirty years." —Spiritus

"...comprehensive, absolutely current with respect to research, and deeply sympathetic to the monastic enterprise. Desert Christians belongs in every monastic library and would be well placed in the hands of every monk who wishes to know his or her tradition."—Cistercian Studies Quarterly

"It is the rare book that can introduce a literature and a field of study intelligently and thoroughly and make a significant scholarly contribution in its own right. This book does just that. It will become required reading for anyone interested in the world of early Christian monasticism."—CHOICE

"Why waste words? This is a thoroughly admirable book... An accomplished and unassuming piece of scholarship." —Scripta Classica Israelica

"There is no other volume on the desert Christians that is so generous with the facts and so reliable a key to modern debate on so many topics, great and small."—Times Literary Supplement

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195162233
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/17/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 939,714
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

William Harmless, S.J. is Professor of Theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. From 1996 to 2003, he held the Thomas E. Caestecker Chair of the Liberal Arts at Spring Hill College. He has been a member of the Society of Jesus since 1978 and is the author of Augustine and the Catechumenate (1995). His research on early monasticism has appeared in the journals Theological Studies, Church History, and Studia Patristica.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Pt. I The world of early monasticism
1 Roman Egypt 3
2 Patriarchs, councils, and controversies : 300-451 25
Pt. II Antony and Pachomius
3 The Life of Antony : text and context 57
4 The Life of Antony : themes and influence 85
5 Pachomius 115
Pt. III The desert fathers
6 The Apophthegmata Patrum : text and context 167
7 The Apophthegmata Patrum : portraits 193
8 The Apophthegmata Patrum : themes 227
9 The histories 275
Pt. IV Monastic theologians
10 Evagrius Ponticus : ascetical theory 311
11 Evagrius Ponticus : mystical theology 345
12 John Cassian 373
Pt. V Reflections
13 Monastic origins : perspectives, discoveries, and disputed questions 417
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)