The Sacred Writings of John Cassian
Cassian was one of the first and most prominent of the Semi-Pelagians, maintaining that while man is by nature sinful, he yet has some good remaining in him, and that, while the immediate gift of God’s grace is necessary to salvation, conversion may also be begun by the exercise of man’s will. He further asserted that God is always willing to bestow his grace on all who seek it, though, at the same time, it is true that he sometimes bestows it without its being sought. These views have been held by a very large part of the church from his time, and embrace much of the essence of Arminianism. The style of Cassianus is slovenly, and shows no literary polish, but its direct simplicity is far superior to the rhetorical affectations which disfigure most of the writings of that age. At the request of Castor, bishop of Apt, he wrote two monumental and influential treatises on the monastic life. The De Institutione Coenobiorum (twelve books) describes the dress, the food, the devotional exercises, the discipline and the special spiritual dangers of monastic life in the East (gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, gloom, apathy, vanity and pride). The Collationes Patrum, a series of dialogues with the pious fathers of Egypt, deal with the way in which these dangers (and others, e.g. demons) may be avoided or overcome. At the desire of Leo (then archdeacon of Rome) he wrote against Nestorius his De Incarnatione Domini in seven books.
The Sacred Writings of John Cassian.
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Short biography of John Cassian (from wikipedia)
Cassian was born around 360, most likely in the region of Scythia Minor (now Dobruja, a historical region shared today by Romania and Bulgaria), although some scholars assume a Gallic origin. The son of wealthy parents, he received a good education: his writings show the influence of Cicero and Persius. He was bilingual in Latin and Greek.
Cassian mentions having a sister in his first work, the Institutes, with whom he corresponded in his monastic life; she may have ended up with him in Marseilles.
As a young adult he traveled to Palestine with an older friend Germanus, with whom he would spend much of the next twenty-five years. There they entered a hermitage near Bethlehem. After remaining in that community for about three years, they journeyed to the desert of Scete in Egypt, which was rent by Christian struggles. There they visited a number of monastic foundations.
Approximately fifteen years later, about 399, Cassian and Germanus faced the Anthropomorphic controversy provoked in letter form by Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria. Cassian noted that the majority of the monks received the message of their patriarch „with bitterness,“ and charged Theophilus with heresy for impugning the plain teaching of the Holy Scripture. Following an unsuccessful journey to Alexandria to protest the matter, Cassian and Germanus fled with about 300 other Origenist monks. Cassian and Germanus went to Constantinople, where they appealed to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Saint John Chrysostom, for protection. Cassian was ordained a deacon and was made a member of the clergy attached to the Patriarch while the struggles with the imperial family ensued. When the Patriarch was forced into exile from Constantinople in 404, the Latin-speaking Cassian was sent to Rome to plead his cause before Pope Innocent I.
While he was in Rome, Cassian accepted the invitation to found an Egyptian-style monastery in southern Gaul, near Marseilles. He may also have spent time as a priest in Antioch between 404 and 415. In any case, he arrived in Marseilles around 415. His foundation, the Abbey of St Victor, was a complex of monasteries for both men and women, one of the first such institutes in the West, and served as a model for later monastic development.
Cassian’s achievements and writings influenced Saint Benedict, who incorporated many of the principles into his monastic rule, and recommended to his own monks that they read the works of Cassian. Since Benedict’s rule is still followed by Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monks, John Cassian’s thought still exercises influence over the spiritual lives of thousands of men and women in the Latin Church.
Cassian died in 435 at Marseille.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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