Apophthegmata Patrum

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The Apophthegmata Patrum (lit. Sayings of the Fathers)[1] (Latin: Apophthegmata Patrum Aegyptiorum Greek: ἀποφθέγματα τῶν πατέρων)[2] is the name given to various collections popularly known as of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, consisting of stories and sayings attributed to the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers from approximately the 5th century AD.[3][4]

The collections consist of wisdom stories describing the spiritual practices and experiences of early Christian hermits living in the desert of Egypt. They are typically in the form of a conversation between a younger monk and his spiritual father, or as advice given to visitors. Beginning as an oral tradition in the Coptic language, they were only later written down as Greek text. The stories were extremely popular among early Christian monks, and appeared in various forms and collections.[5]

The original sayings were passed down from monk to monk, though in their current version most simply describe the stories in the form of "Abba X said...." The early Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers also received many visitors seeking counseling, typically by asking "Give me a word, abba" or "Speak a word, amma, how can I be saved?" Some of the sayings are responses to those seeking guidance.[6]

Many notable Desert Fathers are mentioned in the collections, including Anthony the Great, Abba Arsenius, Abba Poemen, Abba Macarius of Egypt, and Abba Moses the Black.[7] The sayings also include those of three different ammas, or Desert Mothers, most notably Syncletica of Alexandria.[6] Sayings of the Desert Fathers influenced many notable theologians, including Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine.[8]

History of the text[edit]

The Desert Fathers spoke Coptic, a language related to ancient Egyptian. The sayings were originally passed on orally in that language. The earliest written record of the sayings appears to be from the end of the 4th century AD. Two versions from the 5th century, the Collectio Monastica, written in Ethiopic, and the Asceticon of Abba Isaiah, written in Greek, show how the oral tradition became the written collections.[5]

Pelagius and John the Deacon made the first translations of the Sayings into Latin. Martin of Braga also translated some of the sayings into Latin, followed by a more extensive translation by Paschasius of Dumium in approximately 555 AD.[9] That work may contain only one-fifth of the original Greek text.[10] In the period 867-872 Saint Methodius of Thessaloniki translated the text into Old Church Slavonic, of which the original was lost in the 14th century, but several dozen copies of the Патерікъ survived.[11] In the 17th century, the Dutch Jesuit Heribert Rosweyde compiled and translated all the available sources on the Desert Fathers and published them in Latin as the Vitae patrum.

Helen Waddell translated a selection of elements from the Vitae Patrum into English in the early 20th century.[12] The first complete translation of the "apothegmata" into English is that of Benedicta Ward (1975).[13]


  • Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, 'Say something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.' The old man said to them, 'If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.'[14]
  • Abbot Pastor said: If a man has done wrong and does not deny it, but says: I did wrong, do not rebuke him, because you will break the resolution of his soul. And if you tell him: Do not be sad, brother, but watch it in the future, you stir him up to change his life.[15]
  • A hermit saw someone laughing, and said to him, "We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?"[16]
  • Abba Longinus said to Abba Acacius: 'A woman knows she has conceived when she no longer loses any blood. So it is with the soul, she knows she has conceived the Holy Spirit when the passions stop coming out of her. But as long as one is held back in the passions, how can one dare to believe one is sinless? Give blood and receive the Spirit.'[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ From the Greek: apo, from; phtheggomai, to cry out; pater, father.
  2. ^ Orthodox Encyclopedia, in Russian, Vol. 3, pp. 140-142.
  3. ^ Gould, Graham (2001). Papers presented at the Thirteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 1999. Studia Patristica. Peeters Publishers. ISBN 978-90-429-0922-9.
  4. ^ W. Bousset. Apophthegmata. Tuebingen, 1923, p. 68.
  5. ^ a b Burton-Christie, Douglas (1993). The Word in the desert: scripture and the quest for holiness in early Christian monasticism. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 76–84. ISBN 0-19-508333-4.
  6. ^ a b Chryssavgis, John; Ware, Kallistos; Ward, Benedicta (2008). In the Heart of the Desert: Revised Edition: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Treasures of the World's Religions). Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom. p. 4. ISBN 1-933316-56-X.
  7. ^ "Chryssavgis, pp. 19-29.
  8. ^ Flood, Gavin D. (2004). The ascetic self: subjectivity, memory and tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60401-X.
  9. ^ Barlow, Claude (1969). Fathers of the Church: Iberian Fathers: Martin of Braga/Paschasius of Dumium/Leander of Seville. Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 113–114. ISBN 0-8132-0062-8.
  10. ^ Barlow, p. 5-6.
  11. ^ Veder, William (2012). The Scete Patericon v1-3. Amsterdam: Pegasus. ISBN 9789061433323.
  12. ^ Helen Waddell, The desert fathers (translations from the Vitae Patrum), London: Constable & co., 1936.
  13. ^ Benedicta Ward, The sayings of the Desert Fathers : the alphabetical collection, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975 (revised edition, 1985).
  14. ^ "Sayings of the Desert Fathers - OrthodoxWiki". Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  15. ^ Merton, Thomas (2004-11-16). The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century (Gift ed.). Shambhala. p. 184. ISBN 1-59030-039-4.
  16. ^ Ward, Benedicta (2003-07-29). The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Revised ed.). Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044731-8.
  17. ^ Benedicta Ward, ed. (1984), The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (Rev. ed.), Cistercian Publications, p. 123.

Further reading[edit]

  • Williams, Rowan (2004-11-19). Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert. Lion Publishing plc. ISBN 0-7459-5170-8.
  • Ward, Benedicta (2003-07-29). The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Revised ed.). Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044731-8.
  • Sourozh, Metropolitan Anthony of; Benedicta Ward (June 1987). The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Revised ed.). Cistercian Publications. ISBN 0-87907-959-2.
  • Merton, Thomas (2004-11-16). The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century (Gift ed.). Shambhala. ISBN 1-59030-039-4.
  • Wortley, John, ed. (2013). The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers: A Select Edition and Complete English Translation (in Greek and English). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-50988-6.

External links[edit]