Church History (47)
The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalized and official theology of the founding fathers of the Church, they were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer, and poverty in direct and simple response to the gospel. First recorded in the fourth century, their Sayings-consisting of spiritual advice, anecdotes, parables, and reflections on life — influenced the rule of St. Benedict, set the pattern for Western monasticism, and have inspired centuries of poetry, opera, and art.
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After the Emperor Constantine made the Church's faith legal in 313, there was a tremendous flowering of Christian culture and a creative and turbulent encounter between the Christian community and the classical heritage of late antiquity. In the final third of the fourth century the three great Cappadocian Fathers were at the centre of this exciting encounter. Their leader was St Basil, an ecclesiastical statesman, social reformer and monastic founder as well as a theologian. His friend St Gregory of Nazianzus was a brilliant preacher and sensitive poet who gave classic expression to the theology and spirituality of the Holy Trinity in luminous prose and versa. Basil's brother St Gregory of Nyssa was renowned for the depth of his speculative theology and mystical spirituality. Though they collaborated and shared many common perspectives, each had a unique gift and personality.
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