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These considerations are sufficient to make us hesitate before
accepting the statement of Gennadius in what would at first sight be
its natural meaning; although from the fact of his connection with
Marseilles, where so much of Cassian's life was spent, as well as the
early date at which he wrote (A.D. 495), it is dangerous to reject his
authority altogether. It is, however, possible that the term
"Scytha" is not really intended to denote a Scythian, but to
refer to the desert of Scete, or Scitis, in Egypt, where Cassian passed many
years of his life, and with which his fame was closely associated;
and, therefore, without going to the length of rejecting the authority
of Gennadius altogether, we are free to look for some other country as
the birthplace of our author. But little light is thrown on this
subject by the statements of other writers. Photius (A.D. 800) calls him
Once more: not only is there this doubt about his nationality, but questions have also been raised concerning his original name. Gennadius and Cassiodorus speak of him simply as Cassianus. In his own writings he represents himself as addressed by the monks in Egypt more than once by the name of John. Prosper of Aquitaine (his contemporary and antagonist) combines both names, and speaks of him as "Joannes cognomento Cassianus." In the titles of the majority of the MSS. of his own writing he is merely "Cassianus," though in one case the work is entitled "Beatissimi Joannis qui et Cassiani." Are we, then, with the writer of the last-mentioned MS., to suppose that the names John and Cassian are alternatives; or, with Prosper, that John was his nomen and Cassianus his cognomen, or, more strictly, agnomen? The former view is, perhaps, the more probable, as he may well have taken the name of John at his baptism or at his admission to the monastic life. The theory which has sometimes been advocated--that he received it at his ordination by S. John Chrysostom--falls to the ground when we notice that he represents himself as called John during his residence in Egypt, several years before his ordination and intercourse with S. Chrysostom.
To pass now from the question of his name and nationality to the narrative of Cassian's life. Various considerations point to the date of his birth as about the year 360. Of his family we know nothing, except that in one passage of his writings he incidentally makes mention of a sister; while the language which he uses of his parents would imply that they were well-to-do and pious. As we have already seen, he received a liberal education as a boy, but while still young forsook the world, and was received, together with his friend Germanus, into a monastery at Bethlehem, where he spent several years and became thoroughly familiar with the customs and traditions of the monasteries of Syria. Eager, however, to make further progress in the perfect life, the two friends finally determined to visit Egypt, where, as it was the country in which the monastic life originated, the most famous monasteries existed, and the most illustrious Anchorites were to be found. Permission to undertake the journey was sought and obtained from their superiors, a pledge being required of a speedy return when the object of their visit was gained. Sailing from some port of Syria, perhaps Joppa, the friends arrived at Thennesus, a town at the mouth of the Tanitic branch of the Nile, near Lake Menzaleh. Here they fell in with a celebrated Anchorite named Archebius, bishop of the neighbouring town of Panephysis, who had come to Thennesus on business connected with the election of a bishop. He, on hearing the object of their visit to Egypt, at once offered them an introduction to some celebrated Anchorites in his own neighbourhood. The offer was gladly accepted, and under his guidance they made their way through a dreary district of salt marshes, many of the villages being in ruins and deserted by their inhabitants owing to the floods which had inundated the country and turned the rising grounds into islands, "and thus afforded the desired solitudes to the holy Anchorites, among whom three old men--Chæremon, Nesteros and Joseph--were famed as the Anchorites of the longest standing." Archebius brought them first to Chæremon, who had already passed his hundredth year, and was so far bent with age and constant prayer that he could no longer walk upright, but crawled upon his hands and knees. The saint's hesitation at allowing himself to be thus interviewed by strangers was soon overcome, and he finally gratified their curiosity by delivering three discourses, on the subjects of Perfection, Chastity, and the Protection of God. From the cell of Chæremon Cassian and his companion proceeded to that of Abbot Nesteros, who honoured them with two discourses, on Spiritual Knowledge, and Divine Gifts; and from him they repaired to Joseph, who belonged to a noble family, and before his renunciation of the world had been "primarius" of his native city, Thmuis. He was naturally better educated than the others, and was able to converse with them in Greek instead of being obliged to have recourse to the help of an interpreter, as had been the case with Chæremon and Nesteros. His first question referred to the relationship between Cassian and Germanus: were they brothers? And their reply--that the brotherhood was spiritual and not carnal--furnished the old man with a text for his first discourse, which was on Friendship, and which was followed up on the next day by one on the Obligation of Promises, called forth by the perplexity in which the travellers found themselves owing to their promise to return to Bethlehem,--a promise which they were loth to break, and which yet they could not fulfil without losing a grand opportunity of making progress in the spiritual life. In their difficulty they consulted Joseph; and, fortified by his authority and advice, they determined to break the letter of their promise and make a longer stay in Egypt, where they accordingly remained for seven years in spite of their brethren at Bethlehem, whose displeasure at their conduct, Cassian tells us, was not removed by their frequent letters home.
It was while Cassian and his fellow-traveller were still in the neighbourhood of Panephysis that these energetic precursors of the modern "interviewers" paid a visit to Abbot Pinufius, a priest who presided over a large monastery. This man was an old friend of theirs, whose acquaintance they had previously made at Bethlehem, whither (after an ineffectual attempt to conceal himself in a monastery in the island of Tabenna) he had fled in order to escape the responsibilities of his office. There he had been received as a novice, and had been assigned by the abbot as an inmate of Cassian's cell, until he was recognized by a visitor from Egypt and brought back in triumph to his own monastery. To him, therefore, Cassian and Germanus made their way; and by him they were warmly welcomed; the old man repaying their former hospitality by giving them quarters in his own cell. While staying in this monastery they were so fortunate as to be present at the admission of a novice, and heard the charge which Pinufius made to the new-comer on the occasion; and afterwards the abbot favoured them with a discourse "on the end of penitence and the marks of satisfaction." After this, resisting his pressing invitation to remain with him in the monastery, they proceeded once more on their travels, and, crossing the river, came to Diolcos, a town hard by the Sebennytic mouth of the Nile. Here was a barren tract of land between the river and the sea, rendered unfit for cultivation by the saltness of the soil and the dryness of the sand. It was, therefore, eagerly seized upon by the monks, who congregated here in great numbers in spite of the absence of water; the river from which it had to be fetched being some three miles distant. In this neighbourhood they made the acquaintance of Abbot Piamun, a most celebrated Anchorite, who explained to them with great care the characteristics of the three kinds of monks; viz., the Coenobites, the Anchorites, and the Sarabaites. This discourse had the effect of exciting their desire more keenly than ever for the Anchorites' life in preference to that of the Coenobite,--a desire which was afterwards confirmed by what they saw and heard in the desert of Scete. They next visited a large monastery in the same neighbourhood, which was governed by the Abbot Paul, and which ordinarily accommodated two hundred monks, but was at that moment filled with a much larger number, who had come from the surrounding monasteries to celebrate the "depositio" of the late abbot.  Here they met a certain Abbot John, whose humility had led him to give up the life of an Anchorite for that of a Coenobite, in order that he might have the opportunity of practising the virtues of obedience and subjection, which seemed out of the reach of the solitary. He was accordingly well qualified to speak of the subject which he selected for his discourse; viz., the aims of the Anchorite and Coenobite life. Another well-known abbot, whose acquaintance they now made, was Theonas, who, when quite a young man, had been married by his parents, and later on, on failing to obtain the consent of his wife to a separation, in order that they might devote themselves to the monastic life, had deserted her and fled away into a monastery, where after a time he had been promoted to the office of almoner. From him they heard a discourse on the relaxation of the fast during Easter-tide and Pentecost, and, later on, one concerning Nocturnal Illusions, and another on Sinlessness. By these various discourses the two friends were rendered more desirous than ever of adopting the Anchorite life, and less inclined than before to return to the subjection of the monastery at Bethlehem. A far better course seemed to them to return to their own home, probably (as we have seen) in Gaul, where they would be free to practice what austerities they pleased without let or hindrance. In their perplexity they consulted Abbot Abraham, who threw cold water on their plan in a discourse on Mortification, which was entirely successful in persuading them to relinquish their half-formed intention. They, therefore, remained in Egypt for some years longer; and it is to the time of their stay in the neighbourhood of Diolcos that their acquaintance with Abbot Archebius must be assigned. This man, so Cassian tells us, having discovered their desire to make some stay in the place, offered them the use of his cell, pretending that he was about to go off on a journey. They gladly accepted his offer. He went away for a few days, collected materials, and then returned and proceeded to build a new cell for himself. Shortly afterwards some more brethren came. He at once gave up to them his newly built cell, and once more set to work to build another for himself.
It is difficult to determine whether a stay in the desert of Scete was comprised in the seven years which the two friends now spent in Egypt, or whether they visited it for the first time during their second tour, after their return from Bethlehem. On the one hand, the language used in Conference XVIII. cc. i. and xvi. would almost suggest that they made their way into this remote district during their first sojourn in Egypt; and, on the other hand, that employed in Conference I. c. i. might imply a distinct journey to Egypt for the sake of visiting this region: and in XVII. xxx. Cassian distinctly asserts that they did visit Scete after their return to Bethlehem in fulfilment of their promise. On the whole, it appears the more natural view to suppose that their first tour was not extended beyond the Delta, more distant expeditions being reserved for a future occasion. Adopting, then, this view, we follow the travellers, after a seven years' absence, back to the monastery at Bethlehem, where they managed to pacify the irate brethren, and, strange to say, obtained leave to return to Egypt a second time. On this occasion they penetrated farther into the country than they had previously done. The region which they now visited was the desert of Scete, or Scitis; that is, the southern part of the famous Nitrian Valley, a name which is well known to all students from the rich treasure of Syrian MSS. brought home from thence by the Hon. Robert Curzon and Archdeacon Tattam now more than forty years ago. The district lies "to the northwest of Cairo, three days' journey in the Libyan desert," and gains its name of Nitria from the salt lakes which still furnish abundance of nitre, which has been worked for fully two thousand years. The valley has some claims to be considered the original home of monasticism. Some have thought that a colony of Therapeutæ was settled here in the earliest days; and hither S. Frontonius is said to have retired with seventy brethren, to lead the life of ascetics, about the middle of the second century. Less doubtful is the fact that S. Ammon, a contemporary and friend of S. Antony, organized the monastic system here in the fourth century, and "filled the same place in lower Egypt as Antony in the Thebaid." Towards the close of the fourth century the valley was crowded with cells and monasteries. Rufinus, who visited it about 372, mentions fifty monasteries; and the same number is given by Sozomen, who says that "some were inhabited by monks who live together in society, others by monks who have adopted a solitary mode of existence." About twenty years later Palladius passed a considerable time here, and reckons the total number of monks and ascetics at five thousand. They were also visited by S. Jerome about the same time, and various details of the life of the monks are given by him in his Epistles. Some few monks still linger on to the present day to keep up the traditions of nearly eighteen centuries. They were visited (among others) by the Hon. Robert Curzon in 1833; and an interesting account of them is given by him in his volume on "the monasteries of the Levant:" but the latest and best account of them is that given by Mr. A. J. Butler, who succeeded in gaining permission to visit them in 1883, and has described his journey in his excellent work on "the ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt." "Four monasteries alone remain; known as Dair Abu Makâr, Dair Anba Bishôi, Dair es Sûrianî, and Dair al Baramûs; but the ruins of many others may still be traced in the desert tracts on the west side of the Natron lakes, and the valley of the waterless river which at some very remote period is supposed to have formed the bed of one of the branches of the Nile." The monasteries are all built on the same general plan, so that, as Mr. Butler tells us, a description of one will more or less accurately describe the others. Dair Abu Makâr (the monastery of S. Macarius), the first which he visited, which lies strictly within the desert of Scete, is spoken of as "a veritable fortress, standing about one-hundred and fifty yards square, with blind, lofty walls rising sheer out of the sand." "Each monastery has also, either detached or not, a large keep, or tower, standing four-square, and approached only by a draw-bridge. The tower contains the library, store-rooms for the vestments and sacred vessels, cellars for oil and corn, and many strange holes and hiding-places of the monks in the last resort, if their citadel should be taken by the enemy. Within the monastery in enclosed one principal and one or two smaller court-yards, around which stand the cells of the monks, domestic buildings, such as the mill-room, the oven, the refectory, and the like, and the churches." The outward aspect can have changed but little since the fourth century. The buildings are perhaps stronger and more adapted to resist hostile attacks, but the general plan is probably identical with that adopted in the earliest monasteries erected in this remote region. Such, then, was the district to which Cassian and Germanus now made their way. Here they first sought and obtained an interview with Abbot Moses, who had formerly dwelt in the Thebaid near S. Antony, and was now living at a spot in the desert of Scete known as Calamus, and was famous not only for practical goodness but also for contemplative excellence. After much persuasion he yielded to their entreaties and discoursed to them "on the goal or aim of a monk," and, on the following day, on Discretion. They next visited Abbot Paphnutius, or "the Buffalo," as he was named, from his love of solitude. He was an aged priest who had lived for years the life of an Anchorite, only leaving his cell for the purpose of going to the church, which was five miles off, on Saturday and Sunday, and returning with a large bucket of water on his shoulders to last him for the week. From him they heard of the "three kinds of renunciation" necessary for a monk. They also visited his disciple Daniel, who had been ordained priest through the instrumentality of Paphnutius, but was so humble that he would never perform priestly functions in the presence of his master. The subject of his discourse in answer to the inquiry of the two friends was "the lust of the flesh and the spirit." The next ascetic interviewed was Serapion, who spoke of the "eight principal faults" to which a monk was exposed; viz., gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger, dejection, "accidie," vain glory, and pride. After this they proceeded on a journey of some eighty miles to Cellæ, a place that lay between the desert of Scete (properly so called) and the Nitrian Valley, in order to consult Abbot Theodore on a difficulty which the recent massacre of a number of monks in Palestine by the Saracens had brought forcibly before them; viz., why was it that men of such illustrious merits and so great virtues should be slain by robbers, and why should God permit so great a crime to be committed? The difficulty was solved by Abbot Theodore in a discourse on "the death of the saints;" and thus the journey was not taken in vain. Two other celebrated monks were also visited by the friends, whose discourses are recorded by Cassian: viz., Abbot Serenus, who spoke of "Inconstancy of mind, and Spiritual wickedness," as well as of the nature of evil spirits, in a Conference on "Principalities;" and Abbot Isaac, who delivered two discourses on the subject of Prayer. A few days after the first of these was delivered there arrived in the desert the "festal letters" of Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, in which he denounced the heresy of the Anthropomorphites. This caused a great commotion among the monks of Scete; and Abbot Paphnutius, who presided over the monastery where Cassian was staying, was the only one who would allow the letters to be publicly read in the congregation. Finally, however, owing to the conciliatory firmness of Paphnutius, the great body of the monks was won over to a sounder and less materialistic view of the nature of the Godhead than had hitherto been prevalent among them.
These are all the details that can be gathered from Cassian's writings of his stay in Scete, further than which he does not appear to have penetrated, as, when he speaks of the Thebaid and the monasteries there, it is only from hearsay and not from personal knowledge, although his original intention had certainly been to visit this district among others.
In considering the date of Cassian's visit to Egypt there are various indications to guide us. In Conference XVIII. c. xiv., S. Athanasius is spoken of by Abbot Piamun as "of blessed memory;" and the language used of the Emperor Valens in c. vii. is such as to imply that he was already dead. The former died in 373, and the latter in 378. Again, in Conference XXIV. c. xxvi. Abbot Abraham is made to speak of John of Lycopolis as so famous that he was consulted by the very lords of creation, who sought his advice, and entrusted to his prayers and merits the crown of their empire and the fortunes of war. These expressions evidently allude to John's announcement to Theodosius of his victory over Maxentius in 388, and his success against Eugenius in 395. If they stood alone, we could scarcely rely on these indications of date with any great confidence because the Conferences were not written till many years later, and it is impossible to determine with certainty how far they really represent the discourses actually spoken by the Egyptian Fathers, or how far they are the ideal compositions of Cassian himself. But, as we have seen, it is certain that Cassian was actually in Egypt at the time of the Anthropomorphite controversy raised by the letters of Theophilus in 399; and, as the other notices of events previously mentioned coincide very fairly with this, we cannot be far wrong in placing the two visits to Egypt between 380 and 400. About the last-named date Cassian must have finally left the country; and we next hear of him in Constantinople, where he was ordained deacon by S. Chrysostom, and, together with his friend Germanus, put in charge of the treasury, the only part of the Cathedral which escaped the flames in the terrible conflagration of 404. Thus Cassian was a witness of all the troublous scenes which attended the persecution of S. Chrysostom, whose side he warmly espoused in the controversy which rent the East asunder. And when the Saint was violently deposed and removed from Constantinople, the two friends--Germanus, who was by this time raised to the priesthood, and Cassian, who was still in deacon's orders--were chosen as the bearers of a letter to Pope Innocent I. from the clergy who adhered to Chrysostom, detailing the scandalous scenes that had taken place, and the trials to which they had been exposed. Of the length of Cassian's stay in Rome we have no information, but it is likely that it was of some considerable duration; and it may have been at this time that he was ordained priest by Innocent. Possibly, also, it was now that he made the acquaintance of one who was then quite young, but was destined afterwards to become famous as Pope Leo the Great; for some years afterwards (A. D. 430) it was at the request of Leo, then Archdeacon of Rome, that Cassian wrote his work on the Incarnation against Nestorius. Leaving Rome, Cassian is next found in Gaul, which (if we are right in the supposition that it was his birthplace) he must have quitted when scarcely more than a child. When he left it monasticism was a thing almost if not quite unknown there, but during his absence in the East a few monasteries had been founded in the district of the Loire by S. Martin and S. Hilary of Poictiers. Ligugé was founded shortly after 360, and Marmoutier rather later, after 371; and about the time of his return similar institutions were beginning to spring up in Provence. In 410 S. Honoratus founded the monastery which will ever be associated with his name, in the island of Lérins, and, in the eloquent words of the historian of the monks of the West, "opened the arms of his love to the sons of all countries who desired to love Christ. A multitude of disciples of all nations joined him. The West could no longer envy the East; and shortly that retreat, destined in the intentions of its founder to renew upon the coasts of Provence the austerities of the Thebaid, became a celebrated school of theology and Christian philosophy, a citadel inaccessible to the waves of barbarian invasion, an asylum for literature and science, which had fled from Italy invaded by the Goths;--in short, a nursery of bishops and saints, who were destined to spread over the whole of Gaul the knowledge of the gospel and the glory of Lérins."
It must have been about the same time--a little earlier or a little later--that Cassian settled at Marseilles; and there, "in the midst of those great forests which had supplied the Phoenician navy, which in the time of Cæsar reached as far as the sea-coast, and the mysterious obscurity of which had so terrified the Roman soldiers that the conqueror, to embolden them, had himself taken an axe and struck down an old oak," two monasteries were now established,--one for men, built it is said over the tomb of S. Victor, a martyr in the persecution of Diocletian, and the other for women. Cassian's long residence in the East and his intimate knowledge of the monastic system in vogue in Egypt made him at once looked up to as an authority, and practically as the head of the movement which was so rapidly taking root in Provence; and, although his fame has been overshadowed by that of the greatest of Western monks, S. Benedict of Nursia, yet his is really the credit of being, not indeed the actual founder, but the first organizer and systematizer, of Western monachism: and it is hoped that the copious illustrations from the Benedictine rule given in the notes to the first four books of the Institutes will serve to show how much the founder of the greatest order in the West was really indebted to his less-known predecessor. "He brought to bear upon the organization of Gallic monasteries lessons learnt in the East. Although S. Martin and others were before him, yet his life must be regarded as a new departure for monasticism in the land. The religious communities of S. Martin and S. Victricius in the centre of France were doubtless rudimentary and half-developed in discipline when compared with that established by Cassian at Marseilles, and with the many others which speedily arose modelled upon his elaborate rules." The high estimation in which his work was held throughout the Middle Ages is shown not only by the immense number of MSS. of the Institutes and Conferences which still remain scattered throughout the libraries of Europe, but also by the recommendation of them by Cassiodorus, and by S. Benedict himself, who enjoins that the Conferences should be read daily by the monks of his order.
At Marseilles, then, Cassian settled; and here it was that he wrote his three great works,--the Institutes, the Conferences, and On the Incarnation against Nestorius; the two former being written for the express purpose of encouraging and developing the monastic life. Of these the Institutes was the earliest, being composed in "twelve books on the institutes of the monasteries and the remedies for the eight principal faults," at the request of Castor, Bishop of Apta Julia, some forty miles due north of Marseilles, who was desirous of introducing the monastic life into his diocese, where it was still a thing unknown. As Castor died in 426, and the work is dedicated to him, it must have been written some time between the years 419 and 426. When it was first undertaken Cassian's design already was to follow it up by a second treatise containing the Conferences of the Fathers, to which he several times alludes in the Institutes as a forthcoming work, and which, like the companion volume, was undertaken at Castor's instigation. But, before even the first part of it was ready for publication, the Bishop of Apta was dead; and thus, to Cassian's sorrow, he was unable to dedicate it to him, as he had hoped to do. He therefore dedicated Conferences I.-X. (the first portion of the work) to Leontius, Bishop (probably) of Fréjus, and Helladius, who is termed "frater" in the Preface to this work, though, as we see from the Preface to Conference XVIII., he was afterwards raised to the episcopate.
This portion of Cassian's work must have been completed shortly after the death of Castor in 426. It was speedily followed by Part II., containing Conferences XI. to XVII. This is dedicated to Honoratus and Eucherius, who are styled "fratres." Eucherius did not become Bishop of Lyons till 434; but, as Honoratus was raised to the see of Arles in 426, the volume must have been published not later than that year, or he would have been termed "Episcopus," as he is in the Preface to Conference XVIII., instead of "frater."
The third and last part of the work, containing Conferences XVIII. to XXIV., is dedicated to Jovinian, Minervius, Leontius, and Theodore, who are collectively styled "fratres." Leontius must, therefore, be a different person from the bishop to whom Conferences I.-X. were dedicated; and nothing further is known of him, or of Minervius and Jovinian. Theodore was afterwards raised to the Episcopate, and succeeded Leontius in the see of Fréjus in 432. This third part of Cassian's work was ready before the death of Honoratus, Bishop of Arles, who is spoken of in the Preface as if still living; and, therefore, its publication cannot be later than 428, as Honoratus died in January, 429.
Thus the whole work was completed between the years 426 and 428; and now Cassian, who was growing old, was desirous of rest, feeling as if his life's work was nearly over. But the repose which he sought was not to be granted to him, for the remaining years of his life were troubled by two controversies,--the Nestorian, and the Pelagian,--or, rather, its offshoot, the Semi-Pelagian. Into the history of the former of these there is no need to enter here in detail. It broke out at Constantinople, where Nestorius had become bishop in succession to Sisinnius, in 428. The immediate occasion which gave rise to the controversy was a sermon by Anastasius, the Bishop's chaplain, in which he inveighed against the title Theotocos, as given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This at once created a great sensation, as Nestorius warmly supported his chaplain, and proceeded to develop the heresy connected with his name, in a course of sermons. News of the controversy was brought to Egypt, and Cyril of Alexandria at once entered into the fray. After some correspondence between the two bishops, both parties endeavoured to gain the adherence of the Church of Rome early in the year 430; and now it was that Cassian became mixed up with the dispute. Greek learning was evidently at a low ebb in the Roman Church at this time; and it was, perhaps, partly owing to Cassian's familiar acquaintance with this language, as well as owing to his connexion with Constantinople, where the trouble had now arisen, that Celestine's Archdeacon Leo turned to him at this crisis for help. Anyhow, whatever was the reason, an earnest appeal from Rome reached him, begging him to write a refutation of the new heresy. After some hesitation he consented, and the result of his labours is seen in the seven books on the Incarnation against Nestorius. The work was evidently done in haste, and published in 430, before the Council of Ephesus (for Cassian speaks of Nestorius throughout as still Bishop of Constantinople), and, judging from the way in which Augustine is spoken of in VII. xxvii., before the death of that Father, which took place in August, 430. A great part of the work is occupied with Scripture proof of our Lord's Divinity and unity of Person; but, taken as a whole, the treatise is distinctly of less value than Cassian's earlier writings, and betrays the haste in which it was composed by the occasional use of inaccurate language on the subject of the Incarnation, and of terms and phrases which the mature judgment of the Church has rejected. But the writer's keen penetration is seen by the quickness with which he connects the new heresy with the teaching of Pelagius, the connecting link between the two being found in the errors of Leporius of Trêves, who, in propagating Pelagian views of man's sufficiency and strength, had applied them to the case of our Lord, not shrinking from the conclusion that He was a mere man who had used his free will so well as to have lived without sin, and had only been made Christ in virtue of His baptism, whereby the Divine and human were associated in such manner that virtually there were two Christs. The connexion between Nestorianism and Pelagianism has often been noticed by later writers, but to Cassian belongs the credit of having been the first to point it out. Of the impression produced by his book we have no record. He appears to have taken no further part in the controversy, which, indeed, must have been to him an episode, coming in the midst of that other controversy with which his name is inseparably associated; viz., that on Semi-Pelagianism, on which something must now be said.
The controversy arose in the following way. During the struggle with Pelagianism between the years 410 and 420, Augustine's views on the absolute need of grace were gradually hardening into a theory that grace was irresistible and therefore indefectible. "Intent above all things on magnifying the Divine Sovereignty, he practically forgot the complexity of the problem in hand and failed to do justice to the human element in the mysterious process of man's salvation." The view of an absolute predestination irrespective of foreseen character, and of the irresistible and indefectible character of grace, was put forward by him, in a letter to a Roman priest, Sixtus, in the year 418. Some years afterwards this letter fell into the hands of the monks of Adrumetum, some of whom were puzzled by its teaching; and, in order to allay the disputes among them, the matter was referred to Augustine himself. Thinking that the monks had misunderstood his teaching, he not only explained the letter but also wrote a fresh treatise,-- "De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio" (426); and, when that failed to satisfy the malcontents, he followed it up with his work "De Correptione et Gratia" (426), which, so far as the monks of Adrumetum were concerned, seems to have ended the controversy. Elsewhere, however, hesitation was felt in going the full length of Augustine's teaching; and, in the South of Gaul especially, many were seriously disturbed at the turn which the controversy had lately taken, and were prepared to reject Augustine's teaching, as not merely novel, but also practically dangerous. "They said, in effect," to quote Canon Bright's lucid summary of their position, "to treat predestination as irrespective of foreseen conduct, and to limit the Divine good-will to a fixed number of persons thus selected, who, as such, are assured of perseverance, is not only to depart from the older theology, and from the earlier teaching of the Bishop of Hippo himself, but to cut at the root of religious effort, and to encourage either negligence or despair. They insisted that whatever theories might be devised concerning this mystery, which was not a fit subject for popular discussion, the door of salvation should be regarded as open to all, because the Saviour `died for all.' To explain away the Scriptural assurance was, they maintained, to falsify the Divine promise and to nullify human responsibility. They believed in the doctrine of the Fall; they acknowledged the necessity of real grace in order to man's restoration; they even admitted that this grace must be `prevenient' to such acts of will as resulted in Christian good works: but some of them thought--and herein consisted the error called Semi-Pelagian--that nature, unaided, could take the first step towards its recovery, by desiring to be healed through faith in Christ. If it could not,--if the very beginning of all good were strictly a Divine act,-- exhortations seemed to them to be idle, and censure unjust, in regard to those on whom no such act had been wrought, and who, therefore, until it should be wrought, were helpless, and so far guiltless, in the matter." Of the party which took up this position Cassian was the recognized head. True, he did not directly enter into the controversy himself, nor is he the author of any polemical works upon the subject; but it is impossible to doubt that the thirteenth Conference, containing the teaching of Abbot Chæremon on the Protection of God, was intended to meet what he evidently regarded as a serious error; viz., the implicit denial by the Augustinians of the need of effort on man's part.
Augustine was informed of the teaching of the School of Marseilles, as it was called, by one Hilary (a layman, not to be confounded with his namesake, the Bishop of Arles), who wrote to him two letters, of which the former is lost. The latter is still existing, and contains a careful account of what was maintained at Marseilles. Towards the close of it Hilary says that, as he was pressed for time, he had prevailed upon a friend to write as well, and would attach his letter to his own. This friend was Prosper of Aquitaine, also a layman and an ardent Augustinian, whose epistle has been preserved as well as Hilary's. From these letters, and from the works which Augustine wrote in reply, we learn that the "Massilians" had been first disturbed by some of Augustine's earlier writings, as the Epistle to Paulinus; and that their distrust of his teaching on the subjects of Grace, Predestination, and Freewill had been increased by the receipt of his work "De Correptione et Gratia," although in other matters they agreed with him entirely, and were great admirers of his. Personally, they are spoken of with great respect as men of no common virtue, and of wide influence; and, though Cassian's name is never mentioned in the correspondence, yet it is easy to read between the lines and see that he is referred to.
Augustine replied to his correspondents by writing what proved to be almost his latest works,--the treatises "De Prædestinatione Sanctorum" and "De dono Perseverantiæ." In these volumes Augustine, while freely acknowledging the great difference between his opponents and the Pelagians, yet maintained as strongly as ever his own position, and "did not abate an iota of the contention that election and rejection were arbitrary, and that salvation was not really within the reach of all Christians." Thus the books naturally failed to satisfy the recalcitrant party, or to convince those who thought that the denial of the freedom of the will tended to destroy man's responsibility. Prosper, however, was delighted with the treatises, and proceeded to follow them up with a work of his own, a poem of a thousand lines, "De Ingratis," by which he designates the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, whose opinions he speaks of as spreading with alarming rapidity. The date of this publication was probably the early part of 430. It was certainly written before the death of Augustine, which took place on August 28 of the same year. The removal from this life of the great champion of Grace did not bring to an end the controversy to which his writings had given birth. The school of Marseilles continued to propagate its views with unabated vigour, in spite of the protests of Prosper and Hilary, who finally took the important step of appealing to Pope Celestine, from whom they succeeded in obtaining a letter addressed to the Gallican Bishops, Venerius of Marseilles, Leontius of Fréjus, Marinus, Auxonius, Arcadius, Filtanius, and the rest. Celestine speaks strongly of their negligence in not having suppressed what he regarded as a public scandal, and says that "priests ought not to teach so as to invade the episcopal prerogative," an expression in which we may well see an allusion to Cassian, the leading presbyter, of the diocese of Marseilles, whose Bishop is named first in the opening salutation; and the letter concludes with some words of eulogium on Augustine "of holy memory." Never, perhaps, was Gallican independence shown in a more striking manner than in the sturdy way in which the Massilians clung to their views in spite of the authority of the Pope now brought to bear upon them. Prosper and Hilary on their return found the obnoxious teaching daily spreading, so that the former of them finally determined to put down, if possible, the upholders of the objectionable tenets by a direct criticism of Cassian's Conferences. This was the origin of Prosper's work "Contra Collatorem," against the author of the Conferences, a treatise of considerable power and force, although not scrupulously fair. The respect in which Cassian was held is strikingly shown by the fact that his antagonist never once names him directly, but merely speaks of hm as a man of priestly rank who surpassed all his companions in power of arguing. The work consists of an examination of the thirteenth Conference, that of Abbot Chæremon, on the Protection of God, from which Prosper extracts twelve propositions, the first of which he says is orthodox while all the others are erroneous. He concludes by warning his antagonist of the danger of Pelagianism, and expresses a hope that his doctrine may be condemned by Pope Sixtus as it had been by Celestine and his predecessors. The last statement fixes the date of the book as not earlier than 432; for Celestine only died in April in that year.
Cassian was evidently still living when this attack upon him was made; but, so far as we know, he made no reply to it. Its publication is the last event in his life of which we have any knowledge. He probably died shortly afterwards, as the expression used by Gennadius in speaking of his work against Nestorius would seem to imply that it preceded his death by no long interval; for he says that with this he brought to a close his literary labours and his life in the reign of Theodosius and Valentinian.
The controversy on Grace and Freewill lingered on for nearly a century longer, and was only finally disposed of by the wise moderation shown by Cæsarius of Arles and those who acted with him at the Council of Orange (Arausio), in the year 529.
While it cannot be denied that the teaching of Cassian and his school in denying the necessity of initial and prevenient grace is erroneous and opens a door at which Pelagianism may easily creep in, yet it was an honest attempt to vindicate human responsibility; and it must be frankly admitted that the teaching of Augustine was one-sided and required to be balanced: nor would the question have ever been brought into prominence had it not been for the hard and rigorous way in which the doctrine of Predestination was taught, and the denial that the possibility of salvation lay within the reach of all men. While, then, it is granted that a verdict of guilty must be returned on the charge of Semi-Pelagianism in Cassian's case, we are surely justified in claiming that a recommendation to mercy be attached to it on the plea of extenuating circumstances. Since his death Cassian has ever occupied a somewhat ambiguous position in the mind of the Church. Never formally canonized, his name is not found in the Calendars of the West; nor is he honoured with the title of "Saint." He is, however, generally spoken of as "the blessed Cassian," holding in this respect the same position as Theodoret, of whom Dr. Newman says that, though he "has the responsibility of acts which have forfeited to him that oecumenical dignity," yet he is "not without honorary title in the Church's hagiology; for he has ever been known as the `blessed Theodoret.'" In the East Cassian's position is somewhat better. He is there regarded as a saint, and may possibly be intended by the Cassian who is commemorated on February 29. It is only natural that this difference should be made, for the Eastern Church has always held a milder view of the effect of the Fall than that which has been current in the West since the days of Augustine; and, indeed, Cassian, in making his protest against the rising tide of Augustinianism, was in the main only handing on the teaching which he had received from his Eastern instructors.
Thus in very early days the fashion was set of expurgating and emending the writings of Cassian; and Leuwis de Ryckel, better known as Dionysius Carthusianus, might have quoted several precedents for his method of dealing with the text. This famous divine,--the doctor exstaticus of the fifteenth century,--shocked as others had been before him at the Semi-Pelagianism of the Conferences, and yet sensible of their real value in spite of sundry blemishes, took in hand to correct them, and gave to the world a free paraphrase both of the Institutes and of the Conferences, in a somewhat simple style and one more easy to be understood than the original. The greatest alterations, as might be expected, are visible in the thirteenth Conference; as Dionysius, in his endeavour to make Cassian orthodox, omits all that savours of Semi-Pelagianism; and from c. viii. onward there are large omissions and various suggestive alterations in the text.
Incidental mention has been already made of the esteem in which the Institutes and Conferences were held by S. Benedict and Cassiodorus. In the Rule of the former (c. xlii.) it is ordered that after supper the brethren should assemble together, and one of them should read the Conferences, or Lives of the Fathers, or any other book calculated to edify. And again, in the closing chapter of the same rule, the study of them is recommended to those who are desirous of perfection; for "what are the Conferences of the Fathers, the Institutes, and the lives of them; what, too, the Rule of our holy father, S. Basil, but examples of virtuous and obedient monks, and helps to the attainment of virtue?" Equally strong is the recommendation of Cassiodorus: "Sedulo legite, frequenter audite;" but at the same time he reminds his readers that Cassian was very properly censured by Prosper for his teaching on Freewill, and that, therefore, he is to be read with caution whenever he touches on this subject. With testimonies such as these to their value it is no wonder that copies were rapidly multiplied, so that scarcely a monastery was without a copy of some part of them; and existing MSS. of the Institutes and Conferences are very numerous. But none of the oldest MSS. contain the complete work. The Institutes were often regarded as made up of two separate treatises,-- (1) the Institutes of the Coenobia, containing Books I.-IV., and (2) On the Eight Principal Faults, comprising Books V.-XII. So, too, with the Conferences, and their three divisions: they are often found separately in different MSS.
The MSS. being so numerous, it was found impossible to collate them all for the latest edition of Cassian's works; viz., that edited by Petschenig for the Vienna Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. The Editor therefore confined his attention to a limited number, of which the following is the list.
Passing now from the Institutes and Conferences to the work "On the Incarnation against Nestorius," we are no longer encumbered by the number of MSS. There was not the same reason for the multiplication of copies of it as there was in the case of those writings which bore on the monastic life. It appears never to have obtained any special popularity, and, so far as is known, only seven MSS. of it are still in existence. The following are those of which Petschenig made use for his edition:--
The remaining MSS. known to exist, but not used by Petschenig, are these:--
It only remains to give some account of the various editions of the printed text.
It has generally been stated that the earliest edition of the Institutes was that printed at Venice in 1481, of which only a single copy is known to exist, viz., in the Laurentian Library at Florence; and that the first edition which included the Conferences was that published by Amerbach at Basle in 1485. This statement, however, appears to be erroneous, as there still exists in the British Museum a single copy of a very early black-letter edition of the Conferences. The title-page is gone, and there is no colophon; and, therefore, the date cannot be given with certainty, but the work is assigned by the authorities of the Museum to the year 1476, and is thought to have proceeded from the press of the Brothers of the Common life at Brussels. The first page of the work begins as follows: "Ut Valeas côr in opere isto citius invenire qd requiris hæc tibi concapitulatio breviter demôstrabit quis unde in singulis collationibus disputaverit." Then follows a list of the twenty-four Conferences with their authors, and the page ends with these words: "Prologus cassiani sup. collationes patrû ad leontiû et elladiû epos. In nomine Domini îhu cristi dei nostri feliciter."
This, then, in all probability was the first edition of the Latin text of the Conferences. But it is a curious fact that at a still earlier date a free German translation or paraphrase of them had already been published. This, like the work just mentioned, has been overlooked by all the editors of Cassian, but two copies of it still remain in the British Museum, beginning as follow: "Hic liber a quodam egregio sacrarum literarum professore magistro Johañe Nide ordis pdicatorum fratre de latino in vulgarem Nuremberge translatus est." The colophon in one copy gives the date as 1472, and the place at which it was printed as Augsberg. The other copy has no date but is assigned by the authorities of the Museum to a still earlier year; viz., 1470.
The Basle edition of 1485 was reprinted at the press of Amerbach in 1497; and at Venice there was issued a second edition of the Institutes, to which the Conferences were added, in 1491. Subsequent early editions are those of Lyons, in 1516 and 1525, and Bologna 1521. But not till 1534 were the seven books on the Incarnation against Nestorius published. They appear for the first time in the edition which was issued in this year from the press of Cratander at Basle.
Far superior to all these early editions, which were very faulty, was that published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp in 1578, edited by H. Cuyck, Professor at Louvain and afterward Bishop of Ruremonde. It was undertaken at the suggestion of Cardinal Carafa, and its full title is the following: "D. Ioannis Cassiani Eremitæ Monasticarum Institutionum libri IIII. De Capitalibus vitiis libri VIII. Collationes SS. Patrum XXIIII. De Verbi Incarnatione libri VII. Nunc demum post varias editiones ad complurium MS. fidem a non pancis mendarum milibus incredibili labore expurgati: id quod ex subiectis ad calcem castigationibus facile cognosci poterit: additis etiam ad quædam loca censoriis notationibus, et obscurarum vocum ac sententiarun elucidatione, un a cum duobus Indicibus locupletissimis. Accesserunt quoque Regulæ SS. Patrum ex antiquissimo Affliginiensis monasterii MS. codice desumptæ. Opera et studio Henrici Cuyckii Sacræ Theologiæ Licentiati."
Cuyck's work was supplemented, also at Carafa's desire, by Petrus Ciacconius, a priest of Toledo, who died in 1581, before it was ready for the press. A new edition was, however, published at Rome in 1588 "ex Edibus Dominicæ Basæ," in which the notes and emendations of Ciacconius were embodied. Unfortunately this edition does not contain the books on the Incarnation. Its full title is as follows: "Ioannis Cassiani Eremitæ de institutis renuntiantium Libri XII. Collationes Sanctorum Patrum XXIIII. Adiectæ sunt quarundam obscurarum dictionum interpretationes ordine alphabeti dispositæ: et observationes in loca ambigua et minus tuta. Præterea Indices duo testimoniorum sacræ Scripturæ, quæ a Cassiano vel explicantur, vel aliter quam vulgata editio habet, citantur: ac postremo verum memorabilium Index copiosissimus. Accedit Regula S. Pachomii, quæ a S. Hieronymo in Latinum sermonem conversa est: Omnia multo quam antehac, auxilio vetustissimorum codicum, emendatiora, et ad suam integritatem restituta." This edition, as well as the previous one, contained a dissertation on a number of passages (some thirty in all) of doubtful orthodoxy, in order to put the reader on his guard against following Cassian in his errors.
In 1616 there was published at Douay in two volumes what has remained until the present day the standard edition of Cassian's works, prepared with loving care by a Benedictine monk of the Abbey of St. Vaast at Arras, named Gazet. This edition is enriched throughout with copious annotations, containing an immense amount of illustrative matter; and besides the text of Cassian's works it contains several other documents of importance for a right understanding of them. The full title is this: "Ioannis Cassiani presbyteri, quem alii eremitam, alii abbatem nuncupant, opera omnia. Novissime recognita, repurgata et notis amplissimis illustrata. Quibus accessere alia ejusdem argumenti opuscula, quorum elenchum sequens pagina exhibebit. Studio et opera D. Alardi Gazæi coenobitæ Vedastini ord. Benedicti."
Besides the Institutes, Conferences, and
the work on the Incarnation against Nestorius, these volumes
contained the following among other material:--
This edition has been frequently reprinted, some of the later reprints containing still more illustrative material. It still remains indispensable to the student of Cassian's works by reason of the valuable commentary with which it is throughout enriched. But for the mere text it is now altogether superseded by the fine edition prepared by Petschenig for the Vienna Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, in two volumes.
Vol. I.--Ioannis Cassiani De Institutis Coenobiorum et de octo Principalium Vitiorum Remediis Libri XII. De Incarnatione Domini Contra Nestorium Libri VII. recensuit et commentario critico instruxit Michael Petschenig. Accedunt Prolegomena et Indices (Vindobonæ, 1888).
Vol. II.--Ioannis Cassiani Conlationes XXIIII. (Vindobonæ, 1886). Petschenig's work is admirably done, and the text of this edition is vastly superior to that of all its predecessors. In the present translation it has been used throughout the Conferences. The volume containing the Institutes and the work on the Incarnation unfortunately appeared too late for the translation to be made from it. It has, however, been carefully compared with the text of Ciacconius, which Gazet merely repeats, and attention is called to the chief variations in the notes.
Mention has already been made of the early German paraphrase or translation, dating from 1470 or 1472; and the popularity of the Cassian's works is evinced by the number of other early translations made into the various languages of Europe. Of these next in order of time is one in Flemish. In the copy of this in the British Museum the title is wanting, the book beginning as follows: "Hier beghint der ouder vader collacie. Hi hyetede Ioannes Cassianus die dese vierêtwintich navolgende vad, collacien ghemaect hevet." The colophon is this: "Hier eyndet een seer goede eñ profitelike leeringhe. Eñ is ghenoemt der ouder vaders collacien. Michiel hiller van Hoochstraten. Tantwerpen 1506. fol."
Very little later is the first of several French translations, with the following curious title: "Les Collacions des sains Peres anciens translateez de Grec en latin. Par Cassiodorus tres sainct docteur en theologie et translateez de latin en francoys par maistre iehâ gosein aussy docteur en theologie de l'ordre des freres de la Montaigne du carme et imprimees nouvellement a paris." No date is given, but the work is assigned by the Museum authorities to the year 1510.
Later French translations are the following:--
There are also two Italian translations, one as early as 1563 (Opera. Tradotta per B. Buffi. Venetia. 1563. 4°), and one of the present century,-- Volgarizzamento delle collazioni dei SS. Padri del venerabile G. C. [By Bartolommeo da San Concordio?] Testo di lingua in edito [edited by T. Bini]. Lucca. 1854. 8°.
It is remarkable that England has till now stood almost alone in possessing no translation, Cassian's works having never yet appeared in an English press. It is hoped that the version now offered to the reader may do something to make the works of this interesting and most instructive writer more widely known than they appear to be at present.