NEW Thematic Reading Pathway: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
(Depicted in image on right: Coptic icon of Saint Antony and Paul the Hermit from Monastery of Abu Sayfayn, Old Cairo, 18th Century. Depicted Below: St. Syncletica of Alexandria)
By their flight into the wilderness, the Desert Fathers and Mothers wanted to return to the purity and witness of the Apostolic Age.
They, however, seemed to return to even more ancient times, when the mysterious Presence of God lived among the people. Theirs was an ardent waiting for this Presence through the reading of Scriptures, prayer, and fasting.
As Benedicta Ward writes:
The essence of the spirituality of the desert is that it was not taught but caught; it was a whole way of life. It was not an esoteric doctrine or a predetermined plan of ascetic practice that would be learned and applied. The Father, or ‘abba,’ was not the equivalent of the Zen Buddhist ‘Master.’ It is important to understand this, because there really is no way of talking about the way of prayer, or the spiritual teaching of the Desert Fathers. They did not have a systematic way; they had the hard work and experience of a lifetime of striving to re-direct every aspect of body, mind, and soul to God, and that is what they talked about. That, also, is what they meant by prayer: prayer was not an activity undertaken for a few hours each day, it was a life continually turned towards God.
Day and Time:
Wednesday Evenings –
8-9:30 pm EST
1 Quarter, October 4th-December 27th 2023
Average Weekly Reading
Nature of Course
This course offers a slow-reading approach to selections taken from the book, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
Mode of Instruction
Purposive conversational reading or dialogue, not lecture.
In this Thematic Reading Pathway, we’ll take a journey into the desert with these ancient fathers and mothers in order to drink from their wells of wisdom. Selections from the following text will be explored:
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, edited and foreword by Benedicta Ward, and published by Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI, 1975.
Selections will include the following fathers and mothers:
-Anthony the Great
-Amoun of Nitria
-Basil the Great
-Gregory the Theologian
-Isadore the Priest
-Isaac the Theban
-John the Dwarf
-Joseph of Panephysis
-Mark the Egyptian
-Nisterus the Cenobite
-Paul the Simple
-Theodore of Pherme
-Theodore of Enaton
-Theodore of Scetis
On the Instructor
Clare McGrath-Merkle is a graduate of St. John’s College Graduate Institute, with an MTS in theology, and a graduate certificate in Carmelite studies from the Washington Theological Union. She later received PhD ABD status in spirituality studies from The Catholic University of America, and a DPhil degree in philosophy from the University in Augsburg, Germany, specializing in the speculative mysticism and applied metaphysics of the spiritual theology of priesthood. Dr. Merkle currently serves as an adjunct instructor at Benedictine College, where she is teaching a course on women saints this Fall. She is also a moderator with the Great Books Academy online, where she has led discussions since 2020. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The Journal of Religion and Health, The New Oxford Review, and The Regensburg Forum. Her book entitled Bérulle’s Spiritual Theology of Priesthood was published with Aschendorff Verlag in 2018. She has been a professed secular discalced Carmelite since 2005.