otherwise called JOANNES MASSILIENSIS and JOANNES EREMITA, is celebrated in the history of the Christian church as the champion of Semipelagianism, as one of the first founders of monastic fraternities in Western Europe, and as the great lawgiver by whose codes such societies were long regulated.
The date of his birth cannot be determined with certainty, although A. D. 360 must be a close approximation, and the place is still more doubtful. Some have fixed upon the shores of the Euxine, others upon Syria, others upon the South of France, and all alike appeal for confirmation of their views to particular expressions in his works, and to the general character of his phraseology. Without pretending to decide the question, it seems on the whole most probable that he was a native of the East.
At a very early age he became an inmate of the monastery of Bethlehem, where he received the first elements of religious instruction, and formed with a monk named Germanus an intimacy which exercised a powerful influence over his future career.
In the year 390, accompanied by his friend, he travelled into Egypt, and after having passed seven years among the Ascetics who swarmed in the deserts near the Nile, conforming to all their habits and practising all their austerities, he returned for a short period to Bethlehem, but very soon again retired to consort with the eremites of the Thebaid. In 403 he repaired to Constantinople, attracted by the fame of Chrysostom, and received ordination as deacon from his hands. When that great prelate was driven by persecution from his see, Cassianus and Germanus were employed by the friends of the patriarch to lay a statement of the case before Pope Innocent I., and since Pelagius is known to have been at Rome about this period, it is highly probable that some personal intercourse may have taken place between him and his future opponent. From tllis time there is a blank in the history of Cassianus until the year 415, when we find him established as a presbyter at Marseilles, where he passed the remainder of his life in godly labours, having founded a convent for nuns and the celebrated abbey of St. Victor, which while under his controul is said to have numbered five thousand inmates.
These two establishments long preserved a high reputation, and served as models for many similar institutions in Gaul and Spain.
The exact year of his death is not known, but the event must be placed after 433, at least the chronicle of Prosper represents him as being alive at that epoch.
He was eventually canonized as a saint, and a great religious festival used to be celebrated in honour of him at Marseilles on the 25th of July.
The writings of Cassianus now extant are--
Composed before the year 418 at the request of Castor [CASTOR], bishop of Apt, who was desirous of obtaining accurate information with regard to the rules by which the cloisters in the East were governed.
This work is divided into two distinct parts.
The first four books relate exclusively to the mode of life, discipline, and method of performing sacred offices, pursued in various monasteries ; the remainder contain a series of discourses upon the eight great sins into which mankind in general and monks in particular are especially liable to fall, such as gluttony, pride, passion, and the like. Hence Photius (Cod. cxcvii.) quotes these two sections as two separate treatises, and this arrangement appears to have been adopted to a certain extent by the author himself. (See Praef. Collatt. and Collat. 20.1.)
The subdivision of the first part into two, proposed by Gennadius, is unnecessary and perplexing.
Twenty-four sacred dialogues between Cassianus, Germanus, and Egyptian monks, in which are developed the spirit and object of the monastic life, the end sought by the external observances previously described. They were composed at different periods between 419 and 427.
The first ten are inscribed to Leontius, bishop of Frejus, and to Helladius, abbot of St. Castor, the following seven to Honoratus, afterwards bishop of Arles, the last seven to Jovinianus, Minervius, and other monks.
In the course of these conversations, especially in the 13th, we find an exposition of the peculiar views of Cassianus on certain points of dogmatic theology, connected more especially with original sin, predestination, free-will, and grace, constituting the system which has been termed Semipelagianism because it steered a middle course between the extreme positions occupied by St. Augustin and Pelagius; for while the former maintained, that man was by nature utterly corrupt and incapable of emerging from his lost state by any efforts of his own, the latter held, that the new-born infant was in the state of Adam before the fall, hence morally pure and capable in himself of selecting between virtue and vice; while Cassianus, rejecting the views of both, asserted, that the natural man was neither morally dead nor morally sound, but morally sick, and therefore stood in need of medical aid, that aid being the Grace of God. Moreover, according to his doctrine, it is necessary for man of his own free wiil to seek this aid in order to be made whole, but at the same time the free-will of man cannot set limits to the Grace of God which may be exerted on behalf of those who seek it not, as in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. Cassianus certainly rejected absolute predestination and the limitation of justification to the elect, but his ideas upon these topics are not very clearly expressed.
Those who desire full information with regard to Semipelagian tenets will find them fully developed in the works enumerated at the end of this article.
a controversial tract in confutation of the Nestorian heresy, drawn up about 430 at the request of Leo, at that time archdeacon and afterwards bishop of Rome.
The following essays have been ascribed erroneously, or at all events upon insufficient evidence, to Cassianus :--
There are no grounds for believing that he wrote, as some have asserted, a Regula Monastica
, now lost.
The attentive reader of this father will soon perceive that he was thoroughly engrossed with his subject, and paid so little attention to the graces of style, that his composition is often careless and slovenly.
At the same time his diction, although it bears both in words and in construction a barbaric stamp deeply impressed, is far superior to that of many of his contemporaries, since it is plain, simple, unaffected, and intelligible, devoid of the fantastic conceits, shabby finery, and coarse paint, under which the literature of that age so often strove to hide its awkwardness, feebleness, and deformity.
The earliest edition of the collected works of Cassianus is that of Basle, 1559, fol., in a volume containing also Joannes Damascenus. It was reprinted in 1569 and 1575
. These were followed by the edition of Antwerp, 1578, 8vo. The most complete and best edition is that printed at Frankfort, 1722, fol., with the commentaries and preliminary dissertations of the Benedictine Gazaeus (Gazet), and reprinted at Leipzig in 1733, fol. The edition superintended by Gazet himself was published at Douay in 1618, 3 vols. fol., and again in an enlarged form at Arras in 1628
appeared at Basle in 1485 and 1497, fol., and at Leyden, 1516, fol.
The existence of the Venice edition of 1481, mentioned by Fabricius, is doubtful.
The Institutiones and Collationes
appeared at Venice, 1491, fol.; at Bologna, 1521, 8vo.; at Leyden, 1525, 8vo., at Rome, 1583 and 1611, 8vo.
The De Incarnatione, first published separately at Basle in 1534, and reprinted at Paris in 1545 and 1569
, is included in Simler's " Scriptores veteres Latini de una Persona et duabus Naturis Christi," Zurich, 1572, fol.
There is a translation of the Institutiones into Italian by Buffi, a monk of Camaldoli, Venice, 1563, 4to.
, of the Collationes into French by De Saligny, Paris, 1663, 8vo.
, and of the Institutiones, also by De Saligny, Paris, 1667, 8vo.
For a full and elaborate disquisition on the life, writings, and doctrines of Cassianus, consult the two essays by Dr. G. F. Wiggers, De Joanne Cassiano Massiliensi, qui Semipelagianismi Auctor vulgo perhibetur,
Rostochii, 1824, 1825, 4to., and his article " Cassianus" in the Encyclopaedia of Ersch and Gruber.
See also Geffken, Historia Semipelagianismi antiquissima,
Gottingae, 1826. Besides these, we have among the older writers Commentarius de Joanne Cassiano,
by Cuper, in the Acta SS. n. Jul. v. p. 488; also S. Joannes Cassianus illustratus,
by Jo. Bapt. Guesnay, Leyden, 1652, 4to.; and Dissertatio de Vita, Scriptis et Doctrina Joannis Cassiani, Abbatis Massiliensis, Semipelagianorum Princips,
by Ouden, in his Comment. de Script. Eccl.
vol. i. p. 1113.
See also Tillemont, 14.157; Schroeck, Kirchengesch.
8.385; Schoenemann Bibliotheca Patrum Latinorum
cap. 5.26 (Lips. 1792); Baehr, Geschichte der Römischen Literatur,
Suppl. Band, ii. Abtheil. p. 328.