Give me a word, Father', visitors to early desert monks asked. The responses of these pioneer ascetics were remembered and in the fourth century written down in Coptic, Syriac, Greek, and later Latin. TheirSayings were collected, in this case in the alphabetical order of the monks and nuns who uttered them, and read by generations of Christians as life-giving words that would help readers along the path to salvation.
Benedicta Ward is Reader in the History of Christian Spirituality in the University of Oxford. Her most recent book is Anselm of Canterbury: His Life and Legacy (SPCK 2009). She is a member of the Anglican monastic community of the Sisters of the Love of God.