To me, there has always been more to the Church than simply the major figures in her thought. Don't get me wrong - I love St. Thomas, whom I hold to be perhaps the most brilliant theologian the Church has yet produced, and St. Augustine holds a special place in my heart. But there is so very much to read out there, so much to know. So much wisdom and spiritual nourishment is forgotten or wasted in favor of one or two major figures, as good as they are. Here, then, is the wisdom that sustained a major part of me during my journey home to the Catholic Church.
The following is a selection of the quotes from the Verba Seniorum, highlighted in my copy of The Desert Fathers, edited and compiled by Helen Waddell. May they serve you as they served me.
"The abbot Antony said, 'Who sits in solitude and is quiet hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is, his own heart."1
"The abbot Macarius the elder used to say to the brethren in Scete, 'When mass is ended, flee, my brothers.' And one of the brethren said to him, 'Father whither in this solitude can we further flee?' And he laid his finger upon his mouth saying, 'This is what I would have you flee.' And so he would go into his cell and shut the door and there sit alone."2
"It is better to eat flesh and to drink wine than to eat the flesh of the brethren by backbiting them."3
"At one time a brother went to visit his sister that lay ill in the convent. Now she was of great devotion. And being unwilling ever to see man, or to bring her brother into temptation by his coming for her sake into the midst of women, she sent him word, saying, 'Go, my brother, and pray for me: for by Christ's grace I shall see thee in the kingdom of Heaven."4
"An old man said, 'Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if thou art chaste: or thou thyself wilt offend a similar law. For He who said, 'Thou shal; not fornicate' said also 'Thou shalt not judge.'"5
"Unless thou shalt first amend thy life going to and fro amongst others, thou shalt not avail to amend it dwelling alone."6
"The abbot Allois said, 'Unless a man shall say in his heart, 'I alone and God are in this world,' he shall not find quiet.'"7
"There came to the abbot Joseph the abbot Lot, and said to him, 'Father, according to my strength I keep a modest rule of prayer and fasting and meditation and quiet, and according to my strength I purge my imagination: what more must I do?' The old man, rising, held up his hands against the sky, and his fingers became like ten torches of fire, and he said, 'If thou wilt, thou shalt be made wholly a flame.'"8
"The abbot Mathois said, 'The nearer a man approaches to God, the greater sinner he sees himself to be. For the prophet Isaiah saw God, and said that he was unclean and undone.'"9
"A certain philosopher questioned the holy Antony. 'How,' said he, 'dost thou content thyself, Father, who art denied the comfort of books?' He answered, 'My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, it is at my hand.'"10
1 - Verba Seniorum, II:ii
2 - ibid., IV:xxviii
3 - ibid., IV:li
4 - ibid., IV:lxi
5 - ibid., IX:x
6 - ibid., X:xxxiii
7 - ibid., XI:v
8 - ibid., XII:viii
9 - ibid., XV:xxvii
10 - ibid., XXI:xvi
Source: Ascending Mount Carmel (Blogspot)
Used with permission.