Saint John Cassian (ca. 360 – 435) (Latin: Joannes Eremita Cassianus, Joannus Cassianus, or Joannes Massiliensis), John the Ascetic, or John Cassian the Roman, was a Christian theologian celebrated in both the Western and Eastern Churches for his mystical writings. He is known both as one of the "Scythian monks" and as one of the "Desert Fathers."
Johannes Cassianus, born in 359 or 360, died between 440 and 450, and was educated in a monastery at Bethlehem, under the tutelage of abbot Germanus. In 390 the master and his pupil, now two friends, made a pilgrimage to the Egyptian hermits; and this oasis of stillness and quiet, situated on the very confines of the confusion and restlessness of the ancient world, made so deep an impression on the two wanderers, that they remained there for seven years. Leaving Egypt, they repaired to Constantinople, where Cassianus was consecrated a deacon by Chrysostom; but after the overthrow of Chrysostom in 404, Cassianus went to Rome alone. Of Germanus nothing more is heard.
The sack of Rome by Alaric made upon Cassianus the impression that peace and safety could not be attained except by leaving society and the stir of the multitude, and settling down in solitude. He went to Massilia, founded two monasteries (one for men and one for women), and wrote, for the instruction of his pupils, De Caenohioruni Institutis Libri XII, and Collationes Patrum XXIV. In the former, he gives first the external rules after which a hermit's life is led, and second he describes the internal labor by which the final goal is reached. In the latter he gives his experiences from the Egyptian hermits. By these books, and by his two foundations, he introduced monasticism in the Western Church.
Also from another side the Western Church was deeply moved at that moment by the genius of St. Augustine. But the discrepancy between the ideas of St. Augustine and the theological system of the Eastern Church, in which Cassianus was educated, was so great, that he never felt able to adopt such doctrines as those of predestination, the irresistibility of grace, etc. He did not separate himself, however, so far from the views of St. Augustine as to embrace those of Pelagius. On the contrary, on the instance of Leo the Great, he wrote his De Incarnatione Libri VII., directly against Nestorianism, but indirectly against Pelagianism; and thus he became the founder and first representative of semi-Pelagianism. The best collected edition of his works is that by Gazeus, Douai, 1616, which has been often reprinted, latest at Leipzig, 1733. An accurate analysis of his stand-point has been given by G. Fr.Wiggers: Darstellung des Augustinismus und Pelagianismus, 1833, II. pp. 6-183. [There is an Italian translation of Cassianus's work, Venice, 1663, and a French, Paris, 1667.]
Works by John Cassian
Conferences of John Cassian offer the modern Christian a glimpse into the lives of second and third century Christian monastics. It documents the thoughts of Christians who took Jesus' instructions to take up our own cross, leave our family, and renounce our possessions literally. The Conferences of John Cassian is an early archetype of the monastic way of life where the theology of denying self is implemented in daily living. Cassian's work was highly respected by his contemporaries, as well as those who went on to have enormous influence on the monastic movement. St. Benedict referenced Cassian's work while writing The Rule of St. Benedict, which went on to be the rule of life for countless Benedictine monks.
With over twenty volumes, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers is a momentous achievement. Originally gathered by Philip Schaff, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers is a collection of writings by classical and medieval Christian theologians. The purpose of such a collection is to make their writings readily available. The entire work is divided into two series, each with fourteen volumes. The second series focuses on a variety of important Church Fathers, ranging from the fourth century to the eighth century. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers are comprehensive in scope, and provide keen translations of instructive and illuminating texts from some of the great theologians of the Christian church. These spiritually enlightening texts have aided Christians for over a thousand years, and remain instructive and fruitful even today!
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