NOTE: The Church Fathers rarely
discuss “spirituality” separate from biblical interpretation or
doctrinal debate or liturgical mystagogy. For them, Christian
theology was all of a piece. The split between doctrine (or
exegesis) and spirituality is essentially a medieval
invention—whatever one thinks of the result. Nonetheless, one can
study the Fathers’ “spirituality.” The books listed below are
limited to studies of spirituality and mysticism; see the
Bibliographies for Studies of Early Christianity & Patristic
Theology for a more complete listing of books on the Church
Fathers, their biographies, theological writings, and historical
Bernard McGinn, The Foundations of
Mysticism: Origins to the Fifth Century, Vol. 1 of The
Presence of God (New York: Crossroad, 1991).
This is the first volume of a major multi-volume history of
Christian mysticism. This is especially good on Origen, Gregory of
Nyssa, Augustine, and Pseudo-Dionysius.
John Peter Kenney, The Mysticism of
Saint Augustine: Rereading the Confessions (New York: Routledge,
2005). An important revisionist
interpretation of Augustine's mysticism. Studies of Augustine
as mystic have tended to miss the mark largely because of the
tendency of modern scholars to impose modern psychological
understandings of mysticism onto ancient authors in general and
Augustine in particular. Kenney brilliantly avoids such
pitfalls and brings his special expertise on Plotinus and
Neoplatonist thought to show how unique Augustine's approach was:
that for Augustine contemplation was not an end in itself.
Blosser, Benjamin P., Become Like the Angels: Origen’s Doctrine
of the Soul (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America
David Brakke, Athanasius and
Asceticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998).
Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual Vision of Ephrem
the Syrian, Cistercian Studies 124 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian
Peter Brown, The Body and Society:
Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading
Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).
Olivier Clément, The Roots of
Christian Mysticism: Text & Commentary, trans. Theodore
Berkeley (New York: New City Press, 1995).
Augustine Holmes, A Life Pleasing
to God: The Spirituality of the Rules of St. Basil, Cistercian
Studies 189 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2000).
John Peter Kenney,
Contemplation and Classical Christianity: A Study in Augustine,
Oxford Early Christian Studies (New York; Oxford University Press,
2014) hardcover, $80. NEW.
J. Christopher King, Origen on the
Song of Songs as the Spirit of Scripture: The Bridegroom's Perfect
Marriage-Song, Oxford Theological Monographs (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2005).
Andrew Louth, The Origins of the
Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys, 2nd ed. (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Dennis E. Trout, Paulinus of Nola:
Life, Letters, and Poems, Transformation of the Classical
Heritage 27 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
Frederick Van Fleteren, Joseph C.
Schnaubelt, Joseph Reino, ed., Augustine: Mystic and Mystagogue,
Collectanea Augustiniana (New York: Peter Lang, 1994).
Augustine, Confessions, trans.
Henry Chadwick, Oxford World’s Classics (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1991). The Confessions is Augustine’s
long meditation on his life and conversion (Bk. 1-9) on his interior
life at the time he is writing (Bk. 10) and on the opening verses of
Genesis (Bk. 11-13). One of the masterpieces of Western
literature. Another useful translation is by Maria Boulding
(New City Press, 1998).
Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses,
Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. Everett Ferguson & Abraham
J. Malherbe (New York: Paulist Press, 1978). Gregory
was not only one of the architects of Trinitarian doctrine but was
also a mystic. Here he allegorizes the Exodus story, treating it as
the story of the journey of the soul to God. Whatever one thinks of
it as biblical interpretation, it is a brilliant analysis of the
mystical journey to God.
Origen, Exhortation to Martyrdom,
Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. Rowan A. Greer (New York:
Paulist Press, 1979). A fine selection of Origen’s
works: it includes On First Principles, Book IV—his classic
defense of allegorical interpretation and a summary of his
controversial views on Trinity; it also has Origen’s On Prayer,
the earliest Christian treatise on prayer—and one of the most
influential; while essentially a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer,
this work also addresses the problem of why one should pray even
though God already knows what we need.
Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on
Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s
Seminary Press, 1990).
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul & the
Resurrection, trans. Catherine P. Roth (Crestwood, NY: St.
Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993).
Peter Gilbert, trans., On God and
Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory of Nazianzus
(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001).
Alistair Stewart-Sykes, trans,
Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen on the Lord’s Prayer (Crestwood,
NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004).
Anna Silvas, ed.,The Asketikon of St.
Basil the Great, Oxford Early Christian Studies (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2005). A
critical edition of Basil's rules.
William Harmless, Desert
Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). 4th-century Christians moved in droves to the deserts of Egypt 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 key texts of early monasticism:
Athanasius’ Life of Antony, the Lives of Pachomius,
the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the writings of Evagrius,
Palladius, and John Cassian. 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
Columba Stewart, Cassian the Monk
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Cassian
probably did more than anyone else to translate the desert
experience for the West. Following his teacher, Evagrius Ponticus,
he stressed wordless prayer and the mystical journey of the soul.
St. Benedict, in his Rule, would make Cassian’s memoirs
required reading in all his monasteries. This is a superb of
Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual
World of Isaac the Syrian, Cistercian Studies 175 (Kalamazoo,
MI: Cistercian Publications, 2001).
John Binns, Ascetics and
Ambassadors of Christ: the Monasteries of Palestine, 314-631,
Oxford Early Christian Studies (New York: Oxford University Press,
Demons and the Making of the Monk (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2006).
Gabriel Bunge, Despondency: The
Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius of Pontus (St. Vladimir’s
Seminary Press, 2012).
Gabriel Bunge, Dragon’s Wine and
Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Anger,
trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010)
Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word
in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early
Christian Monasticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Daniel Caner, Wandering, Begging
Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late
Antiquity, Transformation of the Classical Heritage 33
(Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2002).
Reconstructing the Theology of Evagrius Ponticus: Beyond Heresy
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) hardcover, $99. NEW.
Derwas Chitty, The Desert A City
(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1966).
Marilyn Dunn, The Emergence of
Monasticism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000). A recent
survey that charts movements in Late Antiquity and shows how they
coalescence in the early Middle Ages.
Susanna Elm, Virgins of God: The
Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity, Oxford Classical
Monographs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
James E. Goehring, Ascetics,
Society, and the Desert: Studies in Early Egyptian Monasticism
(Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999).
Graham E. Gould, The Desert Fathers
on Monastic Community, Oxford Early Christian Studies (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1993). See especially the
superb introductory chapter.
Antoine Guillaumont, Aux origenes
du monachisme chrétien: Pour une phénoménologie du monachisme,
Spiritualité orientale 30 (Bégrolles-en-Mauges: Abbaye de
Antoine Guillaumont, “L’enseignement
spirituel des moines d’Égypte: La formation d’une tradition,”
reprinted in Études sur la spiritualité de l’Orient chrétien,
Spiritualité orientale 66 (Bégrolles-en-Mauges, France: Abbaye de
Bellefontaine, 1996) 81-92. A brilliant introduction.
William Harmless, “Remembering Poemen Remembering: The Desert
Fathers & the Spirituality of Memory,” Church History (2000)
William Harmless & Raymond R. Fitzgerald, “The Sapphire Light of the
Mind: The Skemmata of Evagrius Ponticus,” Theological
Studies 62 (2001) 493-529.
The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350-850
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Irénée Hausherr, Spiritual
Direction in the Early Christian East, CS 116, trans. Anthony P.
Gythiel (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1990; original
French edition, 1955).
Irénée Hausherr, Penthos: the
Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East, trans. Anselm
Hufstader, Cistercian Studies 53 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian
Publications, 1982). A classic.
Jennifer L. Hevelone-Harper,
Disciples of the Desert: Monks, Laity, and Spiritual Authority in
Sixth-Century Gaza (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
2005). A helpful study of
Barsanuphius & John of Gaza, their world and their approach to
Kelly, Cassian’s Conferences: Scriptural Interpretation and the
Monastic Ideal, New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and
Biblical Studies (Ashgate, 2012).
Rebecca Krawiec, Shenoute and the
Women of the White Monastery: Egyptian Monasticism in Late Antiquity
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Harriet A. Luckman & Linda Kulzer,
eds., Purity of Heart in Early Ascetic and Monastic Literature
(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999).
Philip Rousseau, Pachomius: The
Making of a Community in Fourth Century Egypt, Transformation of
the Classical Heritage 6 (Berkeley: University of California Press,
Andrea Sterk, Renouncing the World
Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop in Late Antiquity
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).
Columba Stewart, “Imageless Prayer and
the Theological Vision of Evagrius Ponticus,” Journal of Early
Christian Studies 9 (2001) 173-204.
Columba Stewart, “The Monastic Journey
According to John Cassian,” in Everett Ferguson, Forms of
Devotion: Conversion, Worship, Spirituality, and Asceticism (New
York: Garland, 1999) 311-322.
Benedicta Ward, “Traditions of
Spiritual Guidance: Spiritual Direction in the Desert Fathers,”
Signs and Wonders: Saints, Miracles, and Prayers from the 4th
Century to the 14th (London: Variorum Reprints,
Athanasius, The Life of Anthony and
the Letter to Marcellinus, Classics of Western Spirituality,
trans. Robert C. Gregg (New York: Paulist Press, 1980). Athanasius’ Life of Antony was one of the earliest
Christian best-sellers and was responsible for popularizing the
desert ideal throughout the ancient world; it would go on to shape
all later lives of the saints.
The Sayings of the Desert
Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection [=
Apophthegmata Patrum] trans. Benedicta Ward, Cistercian Studies
59 (Kalamazoo, WI: Cistercian Publications, 1984).
The Apophthegmata Patrum (“Sayings of the Fathers”) has
fascinating anecdotes about and one-liners from the simple,
unlearned, and often eccentric leaders of the early desert movement.
It has come down to us in three basic forms: the
Alphabetical Collection, the Anonymous Collection, and the Systematic Collection. The
Alphabetical gathers the various stories and sayings under the names
of prominent monks and arranges these according to the Greek
alphabet. It contains some 1,000 sayings or brief narratives,
grouped under the names of over 130 “abbas.” Appended to these
named sayings are hundreds of additional sayings without a named
authority. These comprise the so-called Anonymous Collection.
ed. and trans., The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
A Select Edition and Complete English Translation
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) hardcover, $145.
NEW. First complete translation in English, with the
parallel Greek text.
contains many of the same sayings and stories, but gathers them
under themes such as “quiet” or “unceasing prayer.” The Greek
version has just been translated into English for the first time:
trans., The Book of Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
The Systematic Collection, Cistercian Studies series, vol.
240 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press / Cistercian
In the 6th century, an early version of the Systematic Collection was translated from Greek
into Latin by two Roman clerics, the deacon Pelagius and the subdeacon John (who perhaps became the later Popes Pelagius and John). This version deeply touched the spirituality of Western
monasticism. This Latin recension is also available:
Benedicta Ward, trans. Desert
Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, Penguin
Classics, (London: Penguin Books: 2003).
Robert E. Sinkewicz, ed., Evagrius
of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus, Oxford Early Christian
Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Evagrius was the first great theoretician of the spiritual
life. He stressed the centrality of wordless, imageless prayer, and
his writings display a fondness for brief, oracular sayings. Within
a year of his death, his friends and disciples—Palladius, Cassian, Rufinus—were persecuted as “Origenists” and run out of Egypt.
Evagrius was condemned 150 years later, and his works circulated
under others’ names. This edition offers the first
attempt by a single translator to make the bulk of Evagrius’
writings available to the English-speaking public.
Dorotheus of Gaza, Discourses
and Sayings, trans.,
Eric P. Wheeler, Cistercian Studies 33 (Kalamazoo,
MI: Cistercian Publications, 1987).
John Cassian, The Conferences,
trans. Boniface Ramsey, Ancient Christian Writers 57 (New York:
Paulist Press, 1997).
John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine
Ascent, trans. Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, Classics of
Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1982).
John Mochus, The Spiritual Meadow,
trans. John Wortley, Cistercian Studies (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian
Theodoret of Cyrrhus, A History of
the Monks of Syria, trans. R.M. Price, Cistercian Studies 88
(Kalamazoo, WI: Cistercian Publications, 1985).
John Chryssavgis & Pachomios Penkett,
trans., Abba Isaiah of Scetis: Ascetic Discourses, Cistercian
Studies 150 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2002).
Augustine Casiday, Evagrius
Ponticus, Early Church Fathers (New York: Routledge, 2006).
Robert Doran, ed., The Lives of
Symeon Stylites, Cistercian Studies 112 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian
Armand Veilleux, ed., Pachomian
Koinonia: the Lives, Rules, and Other Writings of Saint Pachomius,
Cistercian Studies 45-47 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications,
Vincent L. Wimbush, ed., Ascetic
Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1990). Translations of valuable, but hard-to-find
Andrew Louth, Denys the Areopagite,
Outstanding Christian Thinkers Series (reprint: New York: Continuum,
2002). Denys the Areopagite (also called
Pseudo-Dionysius) was a 6th-century Greek-speaking Syrian monk writing under the
pseudonym of St. Paul’s Athenian convert. He composed a set of
treatises that powerfully shaped mystical currents both in the Greek
East and the medieval West; they even influenced the development of
the Gothic cathedral. Louth offers a valuable introduction.
Roman Cholij, Theodore the Stoudite:
The Ordering of Holiness (New York: Oxford University Press,
Paul M. Collins,
Partaking in Divine Nature: Deification and Communion (New
York: T&T Clark, 2012).
Adam G. Cooper, The Body in St.
Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified , Oxford Early
Christian Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical
Theology of the Eastern Church (reprint of 1953 edition:
Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997).
Andrew Louth, St. John Damascene:
Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology, Oxford Early
Christian Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
John Meyendorff, Byzantine
Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd ed. (New
York: Fordham University Press, 1987).
Marcus Plested, The Macarian
Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian
Tradition, Oxford Theological Monographs (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2005).
Tomas Spidlik, The Spirituality of
the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook, Cistercian Studies 79
(Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1986).
Tomas Spidlik, Prayer: The
Spirituality of the Christian East, Vol. 2 (Kalamazoo:
Cistercian Publications, 2005).
Columba Stewart, “Working the Earth
of the Heart”: The Messalian Controversy in History, Texts, and
Language to A.D. 431, Oxford Theological Monographs (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1991).
The Christocentric Cosmology of St. Maximus the Confessor,
Oxford Early Christian Studies (New York: Oxford University Press,
Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor,
Early Christian Fathers Series (London: Routledge, 1996. Maximus was a 7th-century Byzantine monk and a brilliant
theologian who was brutally tortured because of his devotion to Chalcedonian christology. He lived in exile in the Latin West and
became one of the last to bridge the gap between East and West.
This is a good study of his life and work and includes a valuable
selection of his works.
The Pilgrim’s Tale: Russian
Spiritual Literature, Classics of Western
Spirituality, ed. Aleksei Pentkovsky, (New York: Paulist Press,
2000). This classic of Russian Orthodox
spirituality, popularized some years ago in J.D. Salinger’s
Franny and Zooey, brings alive the experience of praying the
Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer is the Eastern Christian tradition
of ceaselessly repeating the name of Jesus, usually with a phrase
such as “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This
popular piety, similar to—yet simpler than—the rosary, flows from a
concern to fulfill the Pauline admonition: “Pray without ceasing.”
Gregory Palamas, The Triads,
Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. Nicholas Grendle (New York:
Paulist Press, 1983).
Maximus Confessor, Selected
Writings, trans. George C. Berthold, Classics of Western
Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1985).
Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, A
Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, Classics of Western Spirituality
(New York: Paulist Press, 1989).
Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain & Makarios of Corinth, Philokalia:
The Complete Text, 4 vol., trans. G.E.H. Palmer & Kallistos
Ware (Faber & Faber, 1988-1995).
Nils Sorsky, The Complete Writings,
Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. George Maloney (New York:
Paulist Press, 2003).
Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete
Works, Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. Colm Luibheid
(New York: Paulist Press, 1987).
Pseudo-Macarius, The Fifty
Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter, trans. George A.
Maloney, Classics of Western Spirituality 75 (New York: Paulist
Symeon the New Theologian, Discourses, Classics of Western
Spirituality, ed. C.J. DeCatanzaro (New York: Paulist Press, 1980).
Paul M. Blowers & Robert L. Wilken,
St. Maximus the Confessor: On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ,
Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary
Brian E. Colless,
trans. and ed., The Wisdom of the Pearlers: An Anthology of
Syriac Christian Mysticism, Cistercian Studies 216 (Kalamazoo,
MI: Cistercian Publications / Collegeville, MN: Litrugicacl Press,
Andrew Louth, trans., St. John of
Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images, Popular
Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press,