A Catholic friend of mine told me of a story from the Fathers of the Desert.

The story goes that one of the followers of the desert monasticism would sneak off at night seeking sin; but he would confess his sin to God each night on his return; because of this the brethren could not "see" his sin. But one night whilst this chappy went on his "rounds" and upon returning he was tempted of the Devil that his sins could not be forgiven this time, and he believed it; because of this the brethren immediately could "see" the student's sin.

My question is as follows: Does anyone know of this account and where I might find a full account of this story in a book or some online resource?

  • "But one night ... upon returning he was tempted of the Devil that his sins could not be forgiven this time, and he believed it ..." . Just to confirm: does it mean in that one night he didn't confess his sin to God because the Devil deceived him that God would not forgive his sin? Also, what does it mean that the brethren "see" his sin; is it a spiritual power to know that someone has committed a particular sin, or some visible mark, or something else? Apr 30 at 12:47
  • Too be honest I kinda recall this story. However the pandemic does not permit me to go where I could possibly find it's source.
    – Ken Graham
    May 1 at 5:21
  • I believe Simon Tugwell retells this story in one of his volumes. The monk is sneaking off to commit the sin of fornication.
    – zippy2006
    May 1 at 16:59
  • @KenGraham and zippy2006. For primary source of desert fathers sayings, is there other sources besides the 3 collections of Apophthegmata Patrum (systematic, alphabetical, anonmyous) and the Evergetinos? May 1 at 17:40
  • @GratefulDisciple To be honest, I am not sure.
    – Ken Graham
    May 1 at 18:05

I don't recall this story, but that doesn't mean anything.

The full text of the alphabetical collection of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers appears to be available here. As far as I can tell, it is a verbatim version of the Cistercian Publications 1975 edition (at least the Indices seem to match).

The Evergetinos is an arrangement of teachings on various subjects from various sources, including the Desert Fathers, arranged by subjects ("hypotheses"). The first "hypothesis" seems to relate to your question: "No one should despair ever, even if he has committed many sins, but should have hope that, through repentance, he shall be saved". There are 6 stories from the Desert Fathers in this section: one from Abba Mios, three from Abba Poimen, one from Abba Sisoes, and one anonymous. But none of these are your story. Will be interested to see if someone finds a better answer.


Fathers of the Desert story about one of the brethren sneaking out at night...

The story does ring a bell, but I can not locate it at the present moment. My guess is that you may be able to locate it in the Apophthegmata Patrum or Sayings of the Fathers.

The Apophthegmata Patrum (lit. Sayings of the Fathers) (Latin: Apophthegmata Patrum Aegyptiorum Greek: ἀποφθέγματα τῶν πατέρων) is the name given to various collections popularly known as of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, consisting of stories and sayings attributed to the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers from approximately the 5th century AD.

The collections consist of wisdom stories describing the spiritual practices and experiences of early Christian hermits living in the desert of Egypt. They are typically in the form of a conversation between a younger monk and his spiritual father, or as advice given to visitors. Beginning as an oral tradition in the Coptic language, they were only later written down as Greek text. The stories were extremely popular among early Christian monks, and appeared in various forms and collections.

The original sayings were passed down from monk to monk, though in their current version most simply describe the stories in the form of "Abba X said...." The early Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers also received many visitors seeking counseling, typically by asking "Give me a word, abba" or "Speak a word, amma, how can I be saved?" Some of the sayings are responses to those seeking guidance.

Many notable Desert Fathers are mentioned in the collections, including Anthony the Great, Abba Arsenius, Abba Poemen, Abba Macarius of Egypt, and Abba Moses the Black. The sayings also include those of three different ammas, or Desert Mothers, most notably Syncletica of Alexandria. Sayings of the Desert Fathers influenced many notable theologians, including Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine.

If any source would contain the story you are researching it would be in the The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers This document is simply too long for me to read in its’ entirety to verify of the actual story is there, but it seems like the best source I can recommend at present.


I don't recall a story exactly like the one described by David in his question. But it has many elements in common with the story that begins, "Two hermits had gone out in the Nitrian desert to save their souls", narrated by Mr. Z. in War, Progress, and the End of History, Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ, Three Discussions (page 104) by Vladimir Soloviev (London, 1915, from the Russian original published in 1904)

The two hermits decide to go to Alexandria, and indulge in all sort of debauchery. When they go back to the desert, one of them considers it a closed chapter of their life, and resumes his life as though nothing had happened. The other believes that he will never be forgiven, goes back to Alexandria and gets definitively lost.

  • @David I have not provided a specific reference in answer to the OP, but I have "linked the source" of a very similar story :) May 7 at 14:24

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