Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Gleanings: Reading at the Intersection of Culture and Faith: Monastic Resources

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Gleanings: Reading at the Intersection of Culture and Faith: Monastic Resources

Article excerpt

Books Discussed

Making a Heart for God: A Week Inside a Catholic Monastery. By Dianne Aprile. Woodstock, Vt.: SkyLight Paths, 2000. xiv + 197 pp. $21.95 (cloth); $16.95 (paper).

Eternal Wisdom from the Desert: Writings from the Desert Fathers. Edited and Mildly Modernized by Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2001. xviii + 116 pp. $14.95 (paper).

John Cassian: The Institutes. Translated and annotated by Boniface Ramsey. Ancient Christian Writers 58. New York: Newman (Paulist), 2000. xii + 287 pp. $34.95 (cloth).

A Place for God: A Guide to Spiritual Retreats and Retreat Centers. By Timothy Jones. New York: Image Books (Doubleday), 2000. 464 pp. $14.95 (paper).

Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings. By Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. xviii + 189 pp. $25.00 (cloth); $13.95 (paper).

Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers. Introduced by Henri J. M. Nouwen; translation and art by Yushi Nomura. Rev. ed. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2001. xx + 122 pp. $15.00 (paper).

Like a Pelican in the Wilderness: Reflections on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. By Stelios Ramfos. Translated by Norman Russell. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000. xiii + 269 pp. $18.95 (paper).

The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women. By Laura Swan. New York and Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2001. 218 pp. $13.95 (paper).

Sources from as early as the fourth and fifth centuries indicate that the early monks had books-and that they were ambivalent about having them. They could not possibly have foreseen the flood or avalanche (or both) of books on monastic themes in the past thirty years! Books on both ancient and modern monasticism continue to be published at a rather astonishing rate, so somebody must be reading and, one hopes, profiting from them. I will begin this survey with volumes published recently on ancient monasticism and conclude with books on modern monasticism.

After many years of wandering in the publishing wilderness (or outer darkness) with its companion, the Conferences, Boniface Ramsey's translation of John Cassian's Institutes now joins his earlier translation of the Conferences in print (see Anglican Theological Review, vol. 81, no. 1 [Winter 1999], pp. 150-151). Ramsey's new work is the first complete translation of the Institutes in English; the translation in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers discreetly kept book six, "On Fornication," in Latin. Ramsey includes a translation of book six (which is pretty tame by modern standards) while "striving for something a bit more literal" than the NPNF rendering. In a brief introduction, he rightly cites Cassian's "formidable influence on Westem monasticism, and hence by extension on Western civilization." Late in the fourth century Cassian (360-435) visited Egypt and a number of years later wrote the Conferences and Institutes, which influenced Saint Benedict and thus most of Western monasticism. As Ramsey suggests, "It is psychological insight in particular, in tandem with a remarkable ability to organize his material and present it systematically, that contributes to making Cassian such a striking figure among the fathers of the Church."

The Institutes, as Ramsey observes, is really two works: the Institutes (books 1-4), and the Remedies (books 5-12), on the eight principal vices. Ramsey points out that the Latin institutum would perhaps be better rendered in English as "teaching," "instruction," or even "guiding principle." Cassian follows a clear plan in the Institutes. The first three books focus on exterior considerations: monastic dress (book 1), nighttime prayers and psalms (book 2), and daytime prayers and psalms (book 3). "After having exposed" the monks"outward appearance to view," Cassian says, "we shall then be able to discuss, in logical sequence, their inner worship," which takes up book 4. …

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