A study of discernment (diakrisis) in the life and thought of the fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian Desert Fathers.
In Discernment in the Desert Fathers, Antony D. Rich argues that their understanding of diakrisis was based upon a practical application of biblical diakrisis in general and not, as has been argued, primarily a development of the gift of "discernment of spirits." He begins with an examination of Scripture and goes on to consider the philosophical and theological background of the period as represented by Plotinus and Origen respectively. An examination of the works of the first "theologians of the desert," Evagrius and Cassian, who lived among these first Christian monks and nuns, provides an early interpretation of the sayings of the Desert Fathers and reveals a unique glimpse into understanding the philosophies and ideas surrounding the development of Christianity at that time. The Greek, Latin, and Coptic sayings that survive are then examined in detail, some of them translated into English for the first time.
This in depth analysis, which includes a comprehensive list of cross-references valuable for future research, provides many insights into the lives of these early Christians and demonstrates how diakrisis touched every aspect of their inward and outward lives. Rich concludes that diakrisis was a critical faculty central to the spiritual and practical life of these early monks and nuns in their mystical search for God, for purity of life, and knowledge of him.
Through tracing the evolution of discretio from biblical culture to monastic practice during the patristic era, Dr Rich's excellent study presents in its complexity the cultivation of discernment as a charismatic element in the Christian striving for moral, intellectual, and theological integrity. His exposition of the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, John Cassian, and the 'Sayings of the Desert Fathers' is as skilled as it is clear. There is much to be learnt from these pages.
University of Wales, Lampeter
I am delighted that this thorough and careful thesis has been reworked for publication. To many scouring a catalogue the theme of this book may appear obscure - Evagrius is hardly the most familiar personality of the early church, and the detailed examination of the significance of a particular word (in Greek and in Latin) may too easily be dismissed as scholastic and irrelevant - but such dismissals would be deeply misguided. In a church that is rediscovering the disciplines of the Christian life, an exploration of that gift of spiritual perception and judgment that, for these early disciples, lay at the heart of the spiritual life, could not be more pertinent. And to a church that too easily reduces the ethical commitment of the gospel to arid legalism the reminder is timely that Christian commitment is an issue of character and the means through which, and the manner in which, that character is developed. This is a fascinating, detailed, and engaging study that will greatly benefit those who hear the challenge of these 'saints' across the centuries.
-John E. Colwell,
Spurgeon's College, London
In this book, Dr Rich has explored with exemplary thoroughness the place of discretion in the early Christian monastic world, showing how it was understood and applied, by detailed reference to early monastic texts...He has given an illuminating picture of the content and outworking of discretion, which can be as useful today as it was in the fourth century.
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