WRITINGS ON FORGIVENESS
BY: FRED PRUITT
I was getting ready to loan “Wisdom of the Desert,” by Thomas Merton, to a friend, and started browsing it before I put it in the mailer, and here are a few excerpts.
These are pieces edited by Merton from the writings of the “Desert Fathers,” the first Christian monastics, who started leaving the “corrupt” cities in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. (the first centuries Christianity was the “official religion” of the Roman Empire), and forming communities of monks or hermits in the deserts of Sinai, Egypt, and Syria. Their language is stark and their theology is very simple.
So here’s a few examples:
One of the brethren had sinned, and the priest told him to leave the community. So then Abbot Bessarion got up and walked out with him, saying: I too am a sinner!
A brother in Scete happened to commit a fault, and the elders assembled, and sent for Abbot Moses to join them. He, however, did not want to come. The priest sent him a message, saying, Come, the community of the brethren is waiting for you. So he arose and started off. And taking with him a very old basket full of holes, he filled it with sand, and carried it behind him. The elders came out to meet him, and said, What is this, Father? The elder replied, My sins are running out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I come to judge the sins of another! They, hearing this, said nothing to the brother but pardoned him.
A certain brother inquired of Abbot Pastor, saying, What shall I do? I lose my nerve when I am sitting alone at prayer in my cell? The elder said to him: Despise no one, condemn no one, rebuke no one, God will give you peace and your meditation will be undisturbed.
Abbot Anastasius had a book written on very fine parchment which was worth eighteen pence, and had in it both the Old and New Testaments in full. Once a certain brother came to visit him, and seeing the book made off with it. So that day when Abbot Anastasius went to read his book, and found that it was gone, he realized that the brother had taken it. But he did not send after him to inquire about it for fear that the brother might add perjury to theft. Well, the brother went down into the nearby city in order to sell the book. And the price he asked was sixteen pence. The buyer said, Give me the book that I may find out whether it is worth that much. With that, the buyer took the book to the holy Aastasius and said, Father, take a look at this book, please, and tell me whether you think I ought to buy it for sixteen pence. Is it worth that much? Abbot Anastasius said, Yes, it is a fine book, it is worth that much. So the buyer went back to the brother and said, Here is your money. I showed the book to Abbot Anastasius and he said it is a fine book and is worth at least sixteen pence. But the brother asked, Was that all he said? Did he make any other remarks? No, said the buyer, he did not say another word. Well, said the brother, I have changed my mind and I don’t want to sell this book after all. Then he hastened to Abbot Anastasius and begged him with tears to take back his book, but the Abbot would not accept it, saying, Go in peace, brother, I make you a present of it. But the brother said, If you do not take it back I shall never have any peace. After that the brother dwelt with Abbot Anastasius for the rest of his life.
WRITINGS ON FORGIVENSS [Fred Pruitt] 1