The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers 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. Their sayings were first recorded in the 4th century and consist of spiritual advice, anecdotes and parables. The Desert Fathers' teachings and lives have inspired poetry, opera and art, as well as providing spiritual nourishment and a template for monastic life.
Benedicta Ward is a Reader in the History of Early Christian Spirituality at the Theology Faculty in Oxford. She is the author of An Introduction to Christian Spirituality (SPCK, 1999) and Miracles and the Medieval Mind (Pennsylvania UP, 1987). She has translated The Prayers and Meditations of St Anslem for Penguin Classics.