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Publisher's Summary

The course begins by looking at the origins of Christian monasticism during the third century CE, when thousands of men and women renounced the world and withdrew to the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine to seek God in a life of solitude and prayer. What inspired them to do this? What were they trying to achieve? In seeking answers to these questions, we will examine the lives and sayings of the so-called "desert fathers", with a particular emphasis on the theological writings of Evagrius of Pontus (c. 345-399).

Evagrius was described as being one "skilled in the discernment of spirits". In his ascetical treatises, he elaborates a detailed programme for aspirants to the holy life comprising a foundation of stillness (hesychia), the cultivation of equanimity (apatheia), and, ultimately, unitive knowledge of the divine reality (gnosis). Particular attention will be given to his psycho-spiritual taxonomy of the "eight thoughts" and the practice of contemplative prayer, as expounded in texts, such as the FoundationsPraktikosEight Thoughts, and On Prayer.

  • Session One - Monks of the Desert: Historical origins of Christian monasticism; the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness; St Antony, the "first monk"; fleeing the world to face the self; life in the desert; Pachomius and the beginnings of institutional monasticism
  • Session Two - The Ascetic Rationale: The theology of Origen of Alexandria; principles of monastic asceticism; the importance of humility and purity of heart; Evagrius of Pontus, theologian of the desert; stages on the path of spiritual progress; the cultivation of apatheia (equanimity)
  • Session Three - The Eight Thoughts: On the subject of demons; the eight categories of obsessive thoughts: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vanity, and pride; the practice of the discernment of thoughts
  • Session Four - On Prayer: Types of prayer in the Christian tradition; prayer in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus; the nature of the mind; the notion of "pure prayer" in Evagrius; the legacy of the Desert Fathers

The Reverend Dr Nicholas Buxton is a Church of England priest in the Northeast of England and a founder of Just Meditation. He has a PhD in Buddhist philosophy from the University of Cambridge and is an experienced meditation teacher and retreat leader. Publications include The Wilderness Within: Meditation and Modern Life (Canterbury Press, 2014) and Tantalus and the Pelican: Exploring Monastic Spirituality Today (Continuum, 2009).

©2018 Wise Studies (P)2018 Wise Studies

What listeners say about The Wisdom of the Desert with Nicholas Buxton

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When the Student is Ready

Studying Thomas Merton's book "The Wisdom of the Desert" led to a deeper thirst for the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers. I took a chance on this book and have found it to be extremely helpful and insightful. I facilitate Enneagram workshops and recently studied Richard Rohr's video series on Discerning Spirits and this book has shed added light on both Rohr's discussions and the value of discerning spirits or thoughts in our journey along our spiritual path. There is harmony among the teachings of these few that I have mentioned (as well as others) which indicates to me a shared wisdom valuable for others.

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Not what I was hoping for

I thought this would be more of an historical and academic study of the day-to-day lives of 4th century monks. Instead it’s a dreary mind loop of Christian thought processes with a brutally slow and painful performance delivery. It felt like the narrator was reading each word or clause separately, as if it was totally disconnected from the previous word or phrase. So many stilted gaps and pauses were torturous to listen to. This could’ve been 20% shorter if the sentences were performed as if they actually flowed together.

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What an impressive collection of monastic beliefs and practices

“You want to know God, first know yourself”
Evagrius

I will be listening and relistening to this book for a great many years. I was thirsting for more information on Evagrius Ponticus and the life of the desert fathers and mothers and found this gem on Audible. Nicholas Buxton utilizes his PhD in Buddhism from Cambridge with his Anglican Priest profession and offers a compelling, gripping look at the many misgivings and misperceptions about monastic life. The book also details much in the way of spiritual disciplines around discernment of spirits (thoughts) and what we might call contemplative prayer today. A real life guide to how to live today in the presence of God in the midst of world which lives murmuring through text messages and TikTok.

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Above and beyond

Highly competent author, he is a true scholar. I did not realize it but the speaker=author, but that makes sense now because the performance was lively and came out as authentic 🤪

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  • Clive Smart
  • 07-08-21

deep, inspiring and excellently read by the author

Loved this and listened to in 2 or 3 sessions! A good sign. Crystal clear reader and content.
A great insight into the early church fathers eg the desert fathers particularly focussing on Evagrius Ponticus and Cassian though others too get a mention and some treatment eg Benedict of Nursia, Brother Lawrence and the classic Eastern guys.
A really good book for getting the vibe of deeper ancient prayer. The western way of meditation emphasised mental prayer as a door into contemplative prayer. In the east the desert fathers emphasized more short prayers, leading into "pure prayer" : transcending all forms and words. It is this latter the author focuses on. That's great and it has its place in the body of Christ. The eastern orthodox monks I know are all on this plane and they are beautiful people. This book will help you know about this pursuit of pure prayer and union with God in the ancient Church. The other is on a theoretical level more than a practical one in my opinion, but he is certainly no dry academic waffle bag either! (Theology has plenty of these types particularly in the west!) Some of his parallels that he draws to other religions reveals the academic, psychological and relativistic mindset proper to our sorry age in Christianity. However he does not labour or force these relativisms on us, just mentions them in passing! Good. I'm not looking for religious blended soup. But Ancient Christianity at its source. These lectures have plenty of that.

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  • Thamesis
  • 06-12-22

The most comprehensive and practical book on the Desert Fathers.

I think this is the most comprehensive and practical book on the Desert Fathers. The description of the Fathers’ practices is easily the most fascinating and helpful I have encountered. The author narrates the book and his friendly and gentle tone adds to the enjoyment of this really exceptional work.

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  • Daniel
  • 03-25-20

superb book

highly recommended, especially for those who are looking for a direct connection to the ancient teaching. thoroughly thought provoking 🙏