Monday, 21 September 2020

Rare books 30: The French discover Desert Spirituality

19th century six volume revised edition of the 18th century lives, sayings and practice of the Egyptian Desert Fathers, and Mothers, by Michel-Ange Marin (1697-1767) (Paris, 1863-64) Notes: This set has sent me scurrying to find out about the reception history of early monasticism, i.e. who knew what when in the modern era about 4th and 5th century asceticism in Egypt and Syria. Today the literature in English on desert spirituality is thorough and popular. The scholarly work has helped revolutionise our knowledge and informed our manner of living in chosen self-isolation. This was not the case, at all, when Marin produced his magnum opus. The French were well in advance, leaving one to wonder about the extent of Marin’s sources, both primary and secondary. The set has also confounded my preconceptions about the reading habits of Carmelite nuns in the Victorian age. These books are falling apart from overuse, catastrophically so with Volume IV, which includes accounts of John Cassian’s establishment of a monastery outside Marseilles in 415. We recall that Rome fell in 410. The French sisters obviously showed great interest in what had happened in their part of the world, even from the distance of New South Wales. They made efforts to protect the books by covering them in brown paper; the pages are in good condition. The set is not listed on Trove, but will be when our holdings are added.       

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