This Christian History course will be taught by Dr. Matthew Hoskin, and will run from September 26th through December 10th. The syllabus is available here.
How do we reach up to God? How can we pray without ceasing? What even is prayer? Are we really meant to sell all our possessions and give to the poor? What is the place of fasting in the Christian life? Questions like these drove a great movement of men and women from the cities, towns, and villages of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, into the wilderness or desert, beginning in the fourth century—a movement so large it was said that these men and women made the desert into a city. These earliest monks of the Christian Church sought to live the Scriptures and fill their lives with prayer, seeking after God with a single-minded, wholehearted devotion. The monastic desert cities of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria became the foundation of the spiritual disciplines as practiced through the long centuries to our own day. Their legacy is found not only in the monasteries of the Middle Ages, not only from Ireland to Iraq, but also in the spirituality of St Thomas à Kempis, whose Imitation of Christ has been read and beloved by Protestants of every generation, and in John Calvin, whose own spirituality bears the mark of St Bernard of Clairvaux.
In this course, we are going to dive into the sands of the desert, moving chronologically from the life and letters of St Antony of Egypt, the reputed “first Christian monk/hermit”, in the early 300s and whose life was recorded by St Athanasius, up to the letters of Sts Barsanuphius and John of Gaza in the mid-500s. Along the way, we shall spend time with the famous sayings of the Desert Fathers—short, pithy quotations or anecdotes with a deep meaning similar to the Proverbs of Scripture—as well as the work of Pachomius who was the first abbot of a community of monks; the lives of various Desert Fathers recorded by Palladius of Aspuna; the ascetic and mystical work of Evagrius Ponticus; and the life of Symeon the Stylite who lived on a pillar in the Syrian desert. I promise that we’ll meet a lot of behaviors and some teachings that are weird to us. I also promise that we’ll be challenged to go deeper in our own devotion to God, our own study of the Scriptures, our own pursuit of pure prayer. To study the Desert Fathers well is not simply to study the history of Christianity but to open up yourself to the transformative power of the same God whom they met in huts and caves on the banks of the Nile, the Jordan, and the Orontes.
Dr. Matthew Hoskin (PhD, University of Edinburgh) teaches ancient and medieval Christian history for Davenant Hall. His research focusses on manuscripts, monks, popes, canon law, and councils, which all feature in his book The Manuscripts of Leo the Great’s Letters (2022), and he blogs about the historic faith at Classically Christian. He lives on Superior’s northern shore in Thunder Bay, Ontario, with his wife and sons.
Online only, runs 10 weeks, meeting 2 hr./wk. via Zoom. Students will also have the option to participate in class discussion on the Davenant Common Room Discord server. Register to reserve your spot and schedule will be set after a poll of participating students; if the class time does not fit your schedule, you will be eligible for a full refund.
This is a graduate-level course. Although a BA is not a necessary pre-requisite for this course, students should come prepared to do graduate-level work.