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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Saturday, 25 July 2015

THE TEACHINGS OF ST JOHN CASSIAN ON PRAXIS AND CONTEMPLATION by Alexey Fokin


    
1. Introduction.

As is well known, St. John Cassian (c. 360-435), known in the Byzantine and Russian tradition as Roman[1], occupies an important place among ascetic writers and theologians of the patristic age. Like Evagrius of Pontus in the East, Cassian systematized and popularized Eastern asceticism in the West. His ascetic writings made a considerable influence on the development of Western ascetic tradition. In this works, Cassian managed to combine the experience of Eastern Christian and Western Christian asceticism in the era of its development and establishment in the later 4th – early 5th century. His teaching about the order of monastic life, ascetic work and mystical contemplation gained him enduring glory in subsequent centuries[2].

Cassian is the author of two fundamental works which have long become the classics of Christian ascetical literature translated into many languages: “On the Institutes of Coenobitic Life” (De institutis coenobiorum, в XII volumes)[3]  and ‘The Conferences’ (Collationes)[4]. They were written in circa 420-427[5] in South Gaul, presumably in Marcel, where St. John became abbot of a monastery to be known later as the Monastery of St. Victor, at the request of Gaul’s clergy and monastics. His works became a practical and theoretical guidebook for organizing monastic life in South Gaul. Cassian set forth in them the ascetic rules known to him personally from his life in Egypt and borrowed from monasteries in Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia[6].  His aim was to provide a practical guidance for active life to ascetics who sought to attain a greater level of spiritual perfection, which is a life of contemplation to which he devoted the second of the above-mentioned ascetical works, ‘The Conferences’[7].

Since about a quarter of a century had passed between Cassian’s stay in Egypt and his writing of ascetical works, today’s scholars have raised a question of the relevance of the Cassian’s version of ‘ascetical institutes of Egyptian acsetics’ (or, Instituta Aegyptiorum). Some presume ‘The Institutes of Coenobitic Life’ and ‘The Conferences’ are an invention of Cassian himself, since the uniformity of ascetical and liturgical practices which he believes to be characteristic of Instituta Aegyptiorum is not corroborated by other historical sources. Besides, the teaching as set forth by Cassian is not a monolithic codex, nor is it a synthesis of various ascetical practices, with the teaching of Evagrius of Pontus occupying the first place among them. Others believed that both ‘The Institutes’ and ‘The Conferences’ contain the authentic words of Egyptian ascetics which have parallels in other historical sources. The most probable however seems to be the opinion that though Cassian did not seek to convey literally what he had heard during his stay in Egypt, he ‘can with all seriousness be regarded as a source of information about Egyptian monasticism’[8]. His works faithfully reproduce the ascetic traditions and practices widespread in Egypt in the later half of the 4th century, which St. John edited and arranged as a coherent system[9].  At the same time, it was established that Cassian’s teaching on ascetic work and contemplation was written under a strong influence of the ascetic theology of Evagrius of Pontus and through him Origen[10].



2. Two forms of spiritual life.

The influence of Evagrius’s ascetic theology on that of Cassian is evident from the comparison of their views of the stages and aims of asceticism. Thus, dividing these aims into immediate and ultimate, St. John points out that the immediate aim of ascetic work (σκοπός, or destinatio) consists in seeking ‘purity of the heart’ through which one can attain the ultimate goal of Christian perfection (τέλος, finis) which is the Kingdom of God[11].

Researchers have repeatedly pointed out[12]  that Cassian’s notion of ‘purity of the heart’ (puritas cordis)[13] is essentially identical to the Evagrian notion of ‘impassivity’ (ἀπάθεια)[14] , which in its turn goes back to the Stoic ethics[15] and represents the central notion of the ascetic theology of Evagrius who was the first to introduce it to monastic literature[16]. Cassian’s use of the term ‘impassivity’ (Lat. impassibilitas) instead of ‘purity of the heart’ can be accounted for by the fact he wrote already after Origenism was condemned in 400-401 and tried not to use the terminology associated with him[17], the more so that his contemporary St. Jerome, whose works were known to St. John, linked up the term ἀπάθεια with the Pelagian teaching on the sinlessness of man[18]. In this connection, Cassian could have simply replaced the disputable term ‘impassivity’ with the notion of ‘purity of the heart’ which he could have borrowed from St. Augustine[19] whose works were also known to him.

In addition, Cassian uses the same difference between active and contemplative life so clearly defined by Origen and Evagrius[20].  Like the latter, he understands them as two consequent ways[21]. Indeed, according to Cassian, the purity of the heart is attained by two ways – active and contemplative, which he also describes as two forms of Christian knowledge (duplex scientia):

The first is active knowledge (practice, id est actualis scientia) attained by the correction of one’s morals and cleansing of vices; the second is contemplative (theorice) consisting in the contemplation of divine things (in contemplatione divinarum rerum) and in the knowledge of sacred logoses-meanings (sacratissimorum sensuum cognitione)[22].

Cassian stresses however that the two forms of knowledge are closely bound up so that without acquiring active knowledge, one cannot achieve contemplation and vice a versa. Ascetic work is necessarily crowned with spiritual contemplation[23].  Let us consider these two stages.



3. Ascetic work.

Just as Evagrius[24] St. John points out that active knowledge (actualis scientia), that is, active life (actualis vita)[25], is divided into two parts: negative and positive. The first consists in the knowledge of all one’s vices and ways of their healing, while the second in the ability to discern the order of virtues (ordo virtutum) and perfect one’s spirit in them[26]. Cassian also borrows from Evagrius the teaching on eight principal vices or passions (principalia vitia, principales passions): gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sadness, despondency, vanity and pride[27].  The only miner difference between Cassian’s and Evagrius’s patterns is the position of anger and sadness: in Cassian, anger precedes sadness, while in Evagrius it follows it[28]. 

According to Cassian, in order to overcome these eight principal passions, one has first to examine their properties and peculiarities; secondly, to examine the causes of their development; and thirdly, to master means for their healing or struggling with them[29]. Indeed, as the Stoics had already noticed, all human vices are interrelated and born from one another. For this reason, it is impossible to get rid of one without eliminating the inducements and suggestions coming from the other[30].  Just as Evagrius, St. John believes that the eight principal vices originate directly from the three parts or members of the human soul (animae nostrae partes, membra): rational (λογικόν, id est rationabile), passionate (θυμικόν, id est irascibile) и sensual (ἐπιθυμητικόν, id est concupiscibile):

When any of these abilities (of the soul) is possessed by a harmful passion, then its cause gives the name to the vice. Indeed, if the rational part of the soul is hit by the ulcer of vice, then it will produce the vices of vanity, arrogance, envy, pride, conceit, wrangle, heresy. If [this ulcer] wounds the ability for passion, than it will generate wrath, intolerance, sadness, despondency, cowardice, cruelty. If [this ulcer] damages the sensual part, then it will produce gluttony, lust, greed for money, avidity, and other harmful earthly desires[31].

Moreover, in the opinion of Cassian – and in this he as abbot of a coenobite monastery differs from eremitic Evagrius – the primary role in the cleansing of the soul from vices and passions should belong to monastic coenobitic discipline with its focus on work and full renunciation of one’s personal possessions (abrenuntiatio), mortification of one’ will and ego (mortificatio), strict observance of monastic rule, obedience and humbleness. All this is achieved through opening one’s actions and thoughts to spiritual teachers, ‘elders’ (seniors) and complete obedience to their will to be done without reserve as divine will[32].  Cassian borrowed this ascetic practice from the life of Egyptian coenobitic monasteries, in which, he says,

Nobody is allowed to command not only the assembly of the brethren but one’s own self until one renounces not only all one’s possessions but also realizes that one has not control or power over oneself. Indeed, in retreating from the world to enter a cenobite community, he who possessed of any property and riches should have no addiction to any of the things he left behind in the world or brought to the monastery and should be obedient to everybody as much as, in the Lord’s words (Mt. 18:3), to feel the need to return to his childhood without extolling his age and many years he wasted in worldly vanity but, admitting his lack of experience as a novice and recruit in the service of the host of Christ, to defer to even those who are his junior[33].

In this connection, Cassian distinguishes three forms of ‘renunciation’ (abrenuntiationes) necessary for a monk. Two of them concern the active life and the third one the contemplative life:

The first of them is that in which we physically leave behind all the riches and possessions of the world; the second is that in which we leave behind our former manners and vicious passions, both spiritual and physical; the third one is that in which we, diverting our mind from all that is real and visible, contemplate only the future and seek the invisible[34].

According to St. John, the source and root of all virtues is ‘discernment of intentions’ or ‘discretion’ (discretion)[35].  At the same time,

True discretion (vera discretio) is acquired only through true humbleness (vera humilitate), and its first sign is the ability to leave to the discretion of elders not only what to do but also what to think, since, without relying on one’s own discretion, one should put trust in their decisions and regard as good or evil only that which they recognize as such[36].

Although it is impossible to block the human mind from the interference of various thoughts and desires, everyone is able either to accept or reject them if he so wishes[37].  In Cassian’s opinion, there are three sources of our thoughts (tria cogitationum nostrarum principia): these are God, devil and ourselves (ex Deo, ex diabolo et ex nobis)[38]. However, we are responsible for our own thoughts. If we were not able to control them, we would have no free will left, and the efforts aimed at our perfection would not be in our power[39].  At the same time, Cassian, following the Western tradition, puts a special emphasis on the essential role of divine grace in the task of our moral perfection and spiritual growth. Indeed, according to Cassian,

The grace and mercy of God (gratiam Dei ac misericordiam) are what produces all the virtues in us. And if it leaves us, then the zeal of the toiler has no power, and without its help it is impossible to recover one’s previous condition however strong was the zeal of the spirit exerting its own efforts. So we are always subjects to the fulfilment of what [the apostle] said: It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Rom. 9:16)[40].

At the same time, Cassian observes, the grace of God ‘always accompanies our will, [directing] it towards the good’ (nostro in bonam partem cooperatur arbitrio), helps it in everything, supports and defends it so that what is required and expected of us are ‘some efforts of good will’ (quosdam conatus bonae voluntatis)[41]. God does not do good in our stead but helps us and guides our heart to the good (Domino cooperante et dirigente)[42].

Therefore, according to Cassian, for spiritual perfection one needs equally free will and divine grace. Neither can be removed and both are in accord (utraque concordant)[43].  Indeed, even if we by ourselves (suis motibus) wish to be virtuous, we will always need the divine help to attain virtues, just as it is insufficient for a sick person to wish to be healthy but he needs God to give him strength to be healthy[44]. Nobody can attain perfection through one’s will and desire alone if God’s grace does not favour one[45]. Thanks to our inborn natural goodness though, we can have the rudiments of beneficial wishes (bonarum voluntatum principia), and they can become perfect virtues only if they are guided by the Lord[46]. The seeds of virtue sown by God in the human soul cannot grow up to perfection (ad incrementum perfectionis), if they are not fostered and stimulated by God[47]. 

Among the vehicles of God’s grace and will are often experienced spiritual teachers under whose guidance and in strict subjection to monastic discipline an ascetic should gradually overcome his vices and grow towards ultimate perfection in virtues (ad perfectionem summam), the way to which is outlined by Cassian as follows:

The beginning of our salvation and wisdom is the fear of God (timor Domini, cf. Par. 1:7). The fear of God generates saving remorse [of the heart] (compunctio salutaris). The remorse of the heart generates full renunciation (abrenuntiatio), that is, destitution (nuditas) and disdain for any possession. Destitution generates humbleness (humilitas). Humbleness generates mortification of desires (mortificatio voluntatum). After the mortification of desires, all the vices (universa vitia) are eliminated as well. After the elimination of the vices, virtues (virtutes) grow. In the growth of virtues, the purity of the heart (puritas cordis) is acquired. Finally, through the purity of the heart, the perfection of apostolic love (apostolicae caritatis perfectio)[48] is sought.

Thus, those who have covered the path of active ascesis in a coenobitic monastery with the help of God and under the guidance of experienced elders can attain through the purification of passions the longed-for goal of ascetic work – which is the condition of ‘pure heart’ free from every passions and designs. For Cassian, just as for Evagrius[49], it means at the same time that an ascetic has achieved perfect love (caritas)[50] in all the imperturbability and tranquillity of the spirit (mentis nostrae puritas tranquillitasque)[51].



4. Spiritual contemplation.

Just as Evagrius, St. John Cassian believes that ascetic work (or ‘active knowledge’) should be used to grow in the spiritual knowledge of God, in the ‘pure contemplation’ of God (theoretica puritas)[52], or ‘true knowledge’ (vera scientia)[53]. The principal task of an ascetic here is to seek continuously to unite his spirit with ‘divine things and with God (divinis rebus ac Deo mens semper inhaereat), while all other virtues beneficial and essential (necessarias et utiles) should be now considered to be secondary, as is evident from the story about two sisters from the Gospel, Martha and Mary, who were considered already by Origen and Evagrius[54] to be examples of an active and contemplative life. Indeed, this Gospel’s example shows that the Lord ‘assigned as the principal good (principale bonum) the divine contemplation alone’[55]. Indeed, the active life of a person can be manifold, while the contemplation of God is always one and simple (simplex et una)[56] . Besides, while the physical work of a person will cease in the future life, the contemplation of God, just as love, will never end[57].

According to Cassian, spiritual contemplation (contemplatio, intuitus, spiritalis theoria) has many forms. Just as Evagrius[58], he lists them in descending order. First, it is the contemplation of God Himself (contemplatio Dei, Dei solius intuitus) consisting in the wonder of His incomprehensible nature (incomprehensibilis illius substantiae suae admiratione). This kind of contemplation is still ‘hidden in the hope of promise’ and belongs to the life of the age to come[59].  As some researchers suggest[60], an equivalent to this form of contemplation in Cassian can be found in Evagrius’s notion of θεολογία / θεολογική (‘theological contemplation’), that is, γνῶσις τῆς ἁγίας Τριάδος (‘the knowledge of the Holy Trinity’)[61].  It should be noted that St. John, just as Greek theologians, does not allow of an opportunity to come to the knowledge of God in His nature. In the above quotation[62], he emphasizes its incomprehensibility (incomprehensibilis) and refers only to the man’s wonder (admiratio) at its inscrutability. Speaking about the nature of God or Deity (deitas) elsewhere, Cassian describes it mostly in negative definitions as something uniquely stable, immutable and good in itself (per semetipsum stabile, immutabile, bonum)[63], invisible, ineffable, unchangeable, inestimable, simple and uncomposed (invisibilis, ineffabilis, incomprehensibilis, inaestimabilis, simplex et incompositus)[64].

The second form of contemplation is the contemplation of God’s actions and properties revealed in the creation, providence and judgment. There is a certain correspondence with Evarius’s notions of ‘the logoses of providence and judgment’ (οἱ περὶ προνοίας καὶ κρίσεως λόγοι) which reveal God as Providence for the rational beings, Who leads them by various ways from vice to virtue and from ignorance to spiritual knowledge and as the Judge Who rightly endows every rational being with appropriate reward and destiny[65]. This form of contemplation, like Evagrius’s φυσικὴ θεωρία (‘natural contemplation’) or γνῶσις σωμάτων (‘the knowledge of things physical)[66] is manifold:

It is also the contemplation of the magnificence (magnitude) of God’s creations, the wonder of His power (potentia) which rules the world, His boundless wisdom (immensitas scientiae) and omniscience. It is also reflection on God’s justice (aequitas) and ineffable mercy (ineffabilis clementia), His everyday concern of the people and help to them (quotidianae dispensationis auxilium). It is also meditation on the Economy of His Incarnation for the sake of our salvation (dispensatio suae incarnationis), the wonderful mysteries (mirabilia mysteriorum), the eternal blissfulness promised to us and the endless rewards (aeterna beatitudo ac perpetua praemia), etc[67].

In full harmony with the notion of ‘natural contemplation’ as presented already by St. Paul (cf. Rom. 1:20), Cassian notes that in the world there are many various blessings which not only benefit our physical life, cure our illnesses or the like but also compel us to learn ‘the invisible things of God’ through ‘contemplating creations’ and to discern His ‘everlasting power and divinity’ in so great and orderly organization of the universe and all things in it’[68].

Another kind of contemplation in Cassian implies ‘reflection on the actions and miraculous ministries’ of ‘few saints’ (paucorum consideratio sanctorum, sanctorum actus ac ministeria mirifica)[69]. Some scholars[70] have suggested that these ‘saints’ should be seen as angels and the mysteries of their heavenly worship, which is presumably correspondent with the Evagrian notion of ‘the first natural contemplation’ or ‘the contemplation of the bodiless world’ (γνῶσις ἀσωμάτων)[71] .

Finally, St. John refers to reflection on various scriptural meanings as a special kind of contemplation requiring special skills of interpretation. Following the tradition already established in the West, he divides it into two kinds: historical interpretation (historica interpretatio) and spiritual understanding (intelligentia spiritalis) which in its turn can consist of moral (tropologia), prototyping (allegoria) and anagogical (anagoge) interpretations[72].

It is noteworthy that all these various forms of the contemplation of God and His revelations in the world are accessible to one only in proportion to the quality of one’s life and the purification of one’s heart (pro qualitate vitae ac puritate cordis)[73] which are to be achieved through an active life, which, in Cassian’s view, is impossible to be separated from a contemplative life[74].

According to Cassian, contemplation is affected through the human heart (cor) or spirit (mens, animus, anima) – the abilities of the human soul seen by Cassian, just as Clement, Origen and Evagrius, as synonyms[75]. As was already mentioned, St. John, following the old philosophical tradition borrows by Christian theology, distinguishes three parts of the soul: rational, passionate and sensual[76]. He identifies the first, the highest, part of the soul (λογικόν) with spirit or mind (mens = νοῦς)[77], to be more precise, with its ability traditionally called ‘the eyes of the heart’ (oculi cordis)[78] and ‘the eyes of the soul’ (oculi animae)[79], ‘the eyes of the mind’ (oculi mentis)[80], ‘spiritual eyes’ (oculi spiritales)[81], ‘the eye of the inner man’ (oculi interioris hominis)[82], ‘spiritual vision (spiritalis intuitus)[83], ‘the inner vision of the soul’ (internus obtutus animae)[84], ‘the vision of the mind’ (mentis intuitus/conspectus), etc[85]. At the same time, Cassian borrows his teaching on spiritual feelings from Origen and Evagrius[86], though not fully.

How then is the process of spiritual contemplation realized in Cassian’s understanding? As an ascetic’s ‘eyes of the heart’ are cleansed and liberated from the images of earthly and material things[87], he moves to the contemplation of logoses-meanings of the creation and ‘the deeds of saints’ and from them to a vision of God alone (Dei solius intuitum) and enjoinment of His beauty and wisdom[88]. He gradually learns to despise all things of this world as temporal and transient and to direct the vision of his mind towards things unchangeable and eternal. Thus, being still in flesh, he already contemplates by the heart the future blissful state of the world[89].

Cassian speaks a great deal about the signs of coming spiritual contemplation. At this moment an ascetic feels first of all an ineffable joy (ineffabile gaudium)[90]. But this state can be outwardly expressed in tears (lacrimae) as a fruit of profound remorse (conpunctio)[91] which in this case is not just regret at one’s sins or repentance of one’s deeds but a fruit of hearty emotion or ecstasy leading to a silent prayer[92]. This profound compunction always initiates and crowns the prayerful ecstasy when one’s mind acquires alacrity and sharpness (alacritas)[93]  and is filled with logoses-meanings (exuberantia secretissimorum sensuum)[94], his prayer becoming pure and easy (oratio pura ac prompta). Now he prays even in sleep (per soporem supplicans) and feels that his supplications have become effective and easy to reach up God[95].

Cassian, just as Evagrius[96], identifies this elevated state of spiritual contemplation (praecelsior status) with ‘pure prayer’ (pura oratio) or ‘ardent and silent prayer’ (ignea ac ineffabilis oratio) experienced by only few because it exceeds any human feeling (omnem transcendens humanum sensum) and cannot be expressed in any words. But the mind illuminated by and filled with the heavenly Light (mens infusione caelestis illius luminis illustrata) pours it out abundantly as if sending it up to the Lord from an overfilled source[97]. As an addition to this perfect prayer, Cassian insists on the need for an ascetic to be in ‘incessant prayer’ (oratio perpetua, oratio jugis) through repeating in his mind one and the same brief words, like the later Jesus Prayers. Actually, ‘to acquire perpetual memory of God (ad perpetuam Dei memoriam), some old fathers (a paucis antiquissimorum patrum) suggest this rule of devotion: Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me (Ps. 70:1)[98].

St. John Cassian illustrates the intensity of such prayer by the images of fire and light, ardour (ardor)[99], ‘fervour’ (fervor)[100], ‘flame’/inflamed’ (flamma/inflammatus)[101], ‘fire/fiery’(ignis/igneus)[102], ‘enkindled’ (succensus)[103], etc. To describe the highest prayerful state Cassian sometimes also uses the images of light, such as ‘illumination’ (illuminatio)[104], ‘enlightenment/enlightened’ (illustratio/illustratus)[105], ‘light’ (lumen)[106], etc. Moreover, Cassian’s notion of ‘pure prayer’ (pura, purissima oratio/supplicatio), just as it is in Evagrius[107], means ‘imageless’ prayer, that is, the prayer during which the mind gets rid of all images and does not imagine God in any physical shape, nor in any image or appearance or form whatsoever (nullam divinitatis effigiem, nec ullam quidem in se memoriam dicti cujusdam vel facti speciem seu formam cujuslibet characteris)[108]. The same prayer is characterized by Cassian as ‘silent’, ‘inexpressible in words’ and ‘ineffable’ (ineffabilis, inenarrabilis, inexplicabilis oratio)[109]. Following St. Paul (see Rom. 8:26), St. John says that this prayer can be only expressed through ‘wordless groans’ (per ineffabilem quemdam gemitum)[110]. The achievement of such prayer depends not so much on human efforts as on God’s gift given to an ascetic when he is suddenly visited by divine grace (gratiae visitatio)[111].

Cassian often describes the highest prayerful state as ‘frenzy’ (excessus)[112], ‘mental ecstasy’ (excessus mentis)[113], ‘the ecstasy of the heart’ (cordis excessus)[114] and ‘the ecstasy of the spirit’ (excessus spiritus)[115]. It is a state in which the human spirit can be ‘lifted up’ (rapiatur) to heaven[116] and ‘blinded’ (attonitus) by the shine of the Godhead[117]. It is the third, the most perfect form of ‘release’:

When our mind, not dulled by the impact of carnal fleshiness but freed by the skillful cleansing of every passion and temporal quality in continued reflection on Holy Scriptures and spiritual contemplation, moves so far into the (field) of the invisible that in its aspiration for higher bodiless things it does not feel to be united with perishable flesh and restricted by the position of the body. It is enraptured to such an ecstasy (in hujusmodi rapiatur excessus) that it not only fails to hear any sounds physically and to see those who are passing by but does not see either even large trees and other tremendous objects standing before our eyes[118].

One is suddenly filled with fragrance exceeding any pleasure of perfume made by people, so that the mind engulfed in this delight is lifted up into a certain ecstasy of the spirit (in quemdam spiritus rapiatur excessum) to forget even that it is in flesh[119].

Sometimes the mind is immersed in such silence in the deep silence of retreat that the stupor caused by sudden illumination (stupor subitae illuminationis) suppresses even sounds of voice and, blinded, the spirit holds in or gives out all feelings and pours out to God its desires through wordless groans[120].

In the shortest instant of rapture (in illo brevissimo temporis puncto) the human mind experiences so much that returning to itself it cannot either express or summarize it[121]. Cassian shares St. Anthony the Great’s view that ‘that prayer is not perfect in which a monk is aware of himself and of his praying’ (Non est perfecta oratio in qua se monachus vel hoc ipsum quod orat intelligit)[122]. In this regard, the mystical teaching of St. John Cassian is somewhat different from that of Origen and Evagrius whose mysticism is intellectual in nature since it does not go beyond intellectual knowledge (γνῶσις)[123]. For Cassian, ‘the ecstasy of the mind’ means in the first place that the human mind (or spirit, mens = spiritus) which has been visited by grace leaves the body to go beyond common experience and comes into contact with spiritual reality through its higher abilities or intellectual feelings (intellectuales virtutes), which at this moment are not dulled but, on the contrary, are purified and refined[124]. It also means that the mind forgets itself going out of itself when, being inflamed, cannot hold in itself the prayer which has been inspires by divine grace and which breaks through the narrow limits of human reason and expression[125].

Finally, Cassian, just as St. Gregory of Nyssa[126], characterizes this sublime state of contemplation as the closest union with God in love (caritas, dilectio, amor)[127], like the mystical union described in the Songs of Songs. Indeed, as St. John maintains, in contemplating God alone and adoring Him (caritatis ardore), the human spirit dissolved in this love (in illius dilectionem resoluta atque rejecta) can talk with God intimately (familiarissime Deo colloquitur), like with the Father[128]. Ultimately, the perfect love of God (Dei perfecta dilectio) should turn into a lasting cordial feeling (cordis affectum) so that our every affection (amor), desire, endeavour, effort, intention – all that we see and say and what we hope for will be God Himself and that unity (unitas), which exists between the Father and the Son and the Son and the Father, will pour over into our feelings and minds. Just as God loves us by sincere, pure and unshakable love (caritate), so we will be married to Him by eternal and indivisible love[129].

Cassian notes however that in this life even saints, still bound by the earthly body (hujus corporis vinculis colligatus) cannot always possess of this ultimate Good (summum hoc bonum possidere) and always be in the contemplation of God. Anyway, a human being will be always distracted from it by temporal thoughts and cares for himself and his neighbours[130]. The moments of prayerful ecstasy are very rare in the life of an ascetic[131], and with few exceptions[132] last only brief moments[133]. Moreover, St. John notes that by God’s economy and dispensation (dispensatione Domini ac probatione), ascetics, after achieving the sublime state of contemplation, can fall into an opposite mood of sadness, despair, anxiety and melancholy, for several reasons. First, this state may mean that one is abandoned by God for a while (paulisper ab ipso derelicti) for one to become aware of the weakness of one’s spirit and to be humbled (mentis nostrae humiliter intuentes infirmitatem) or to be tested for the firmness and perseverance of one’s spirit (perseverantia nostra, vel mentis constantia, Collat. 4. 4). Besides, Cassian notes that in this temporal life, contemplation is only a ‘likeness’ of that perfect contemplation and beatitude (similitudo beatitudinis)[134] which one will experience in the future life[135]. Indeed, it is the contemplation of God that will give us perfect beatitude (perfecta beatitudo)[136].



5. Conclusion.

As we have tried to show, St. John Cassian in this teaching on the ascetic work and mystical contemplation united the best elements of Eastern Christian ascetic tradition into a holistic system similar to that of Evagrius of Pontus though unrestricted by Origen’s intellectualism and enriched by elements of both Western ascetic theology with its emphasis on the leading role of God’s grace and Eastern ‘mysticism of love’, which was later continued by such Western mystical writers as St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Hugo and Richard of Saint Victor. In this connection, St. John Cassian can be rightly considered to be one of the most important Western ascetic writers of the 4th-5th century whose mystical and ascetical theology has become fundamental not only for the Catholic West but also the Orthodox East.


[1] Already Patriarch Photius testifies to this title. He believed John Cassian was born in Rome ( ̔Ρώμην λαχόντος πατρίδα, Phot. Bibl. Cod. 197). There is also a hypothesis that this title is prompted by Cassian’s being native of Scythia Minor, a part of the church diocese of Thrace under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople the New Rome. (see, Cuper C. De sancto Joanne Cassiano abbate Massiliae in Gallia // Acta Sanctorum Iulii. Paris, 1868. Vol. 5. P. 463–464). The most probable however is the assumption that the title of Roman means only that Cassian’s mother tongue was not Greek but Latin (see, Stewart C. Cassian the Monk. Oxford, 1998. P. 5).

[2] See, Hamman A. John Cassian // Patrotogy. Vol. IV: The Golden Age of Latin Patristic Literature / Ed. A. di Berardino. Westminster, MD, 1986. P. 518.

[3] CPL, N 513; PL. 49. Col. 53–476; CSEL. 17. P. 3–231; Russian version: Писания преподобного отца Иоанна Кассиана Римлянина / Пер. с лат. еп. Петра. М., 1877; 18922 (репринт: СТСЛ, 1993). С. 7–164.

[4] CPL, N 512; PL. 49. Col. 477–1328; CSEL. 13. P. 3–711; рус. пер.: С. 165–633.

[5] Guy J.-C. Institutions // Sources chrétiennes. Vol. 109 / Texte latin revue, introd., trad. et notes par J.-C. Guy. Paris, 1965. P. 11; Уивер Р. Х. Божественная благодать и человеческое действие: исследование полупелагианских споров. М., 2006. С. 112.

[6] Ioan. Cassian. De inst. coenob. Praef.

[7] Ioan. Cassian. De inst. coenob. II 1, 9, 18; V 4; Collat. 1. Praef.

[8] Casiday A. M. C. Tradition and theology in St. John Cassian. Oxford, 2006. P. 159.

[9] Chadwick O. John Cassian: A study in primitive monasticism. Cambridge, 19682. Р. 18–22; Goodrich R. J. Contextualizing Cassian. Aristocrats, Asceticism and Reformation in fifth-century Gaul. Oxford, 2007. P. 121–126.

[10] See, Marsili D. S. Giovanni Cassiano ed Evagrio Pontico. Dottrina sulla carita e contemplazione. Roma. 1936. P. 87–149; Guillaumont A. Les «Kephalaia Gnostica» d’Évagre le Pontique et l’histoire de l’Orignisme chez les Grecs et chez les Syriens // Patristica Sorbonensia 5. Paris, 1962. P. 77–80; Chadwick. 1968. P. 92–95; Stewart. 1998. P. 36; Уивер. 2006. С. 94–96; 106–112; Ферберн Д. Учение о Христе и благодати в ранней Церкви. М., 2008. С. 154 и др.

[11] Collat. 1. 4; 2. 26; De inst. coenob. IV 43; X 14.

[12] See for instance, Stewart. 1998. P. 42–43; Уивер. 2006. С. 108 and others.

[13] Also puritas mentis «purity of the mind», see, De inst. coenob. II 12; VIII 21–22; Collat. 14. 9, puritas animae «purity of the soul», see, Collat. 10. 14; 12. 5; 21. 22.

[14] See, Evagr. Pract. Prol. 49–51; Pract. 56–57, 78, 81, 84; Gnost. 49; Keph. Gnost. I 81; IV 12; V 82; Skemm. 3; De octo spirit. 2; Sent. ad monach. 67–68, 118; Scol. in Ps 30:22; Schol. Prov. 12, 343 и др.

[15] Cf., Clem. Alex. Strom. IV 22. 138.

[16] Guillaumont A. et C. Évagre le Pontique. Traité pratique, ou, le moine. Introduction // SC. N. 170. Paris, 1971. P. 98, 103.

[17] Stewart. 1998. P. 12.

[18] See, Hieron. Ep. 133. 3; Dial. contr. Pelag. Prol.

[19] See, Aug. De doct. christ. II 7. 9–11.

[20] See, Origen. Fragm. in Luc. 171; Com. Jn. I 16. 91; II 36. 219; Evagr. Pract. Prol.; Pract. 32, 66, 84; Gnost. 1-

[21] See, Stewart. 1998. P. 48–50; Уивер. 2006. С. 106–107.

[22] Collat. 14. 1.

[23] Collat. 14. 2.

[24] See, Evagr. Pract. 86, 89; Gnost. 47; Keph. Gnost. III.35; III.59; De malign. cogit. 3; 17 and others.

[25] De inst. coenob., V 33; also: actualis perfectio «active perfection», see, Collat. 14. 3; actualis disciplina «active exercise», Collat. 21. 34.

[26] Collat. 14. 3.

[27] See, De inst. coenob. V 1–XII 33; Collat. 5. 2–27. Some elements of this teaching go back to Origen., see, Origen. Hom. in Ezech. 6. 11; Hom. in Exod. 8. 5; Hom. in Num. 15. 5.

[28] See, Evagr. Pract. 6–14, 54; Antirr. I–VIII; De vitiis 2–4; De octo spirit. 1–18; De malign. cogit. 1, 12–16, 24–25, 35; Skemm. 40–60 and others.

[29] De inst. coenob. V 1; Collat. 5. 10, 27.

[30] De inst. coenob. V 11; Collat. 5. 10–11, 13–14, 27.

[31] Collat. 24. 15; ср.: Evagr. Pract. 22, 54, 63, 86, 89; Gnost. 47; Keph. Gnost. I 53; III 59; De malign. cogit. 3, 16–17; De orat. 27, 52–53 and others.

[32] See, De inst. coenob. II 3; IV 8–10, 41; Collat. 2. 10; 3. 6 et al.

[33] De inst. coenob. II 3.

[34] Collat. 3. 6.

[35] discretionem fontem quodammodo atque radicem cunctarum esse virtutum, Collat. 2. 9.

[36] Collat. 2. 10.

[37] Collat. 1. 17.

[38] Collat. 1. 19.

[39] Collat. 1. 17; 7. 4.

[40] Collat. 4. 5; cf. De inst. coenob. XII 4–18; Collat. 3. 10–19; 5. 14–15; 7. 8; 13. 3; De incarn. II 5.

[41] Collat. 13. 13.

[42] Collat. 3. 12; 13. 8–9.

[43] Ibid. 13. 11; cf. 13. 9.

[44] Ibid. 13. 9; 10. 11.

[45] De inst. coenob. XII 10, 14.

[46] Collat. 13. 9; 3. 10; 3. 12.

[47] Ibid. 13. 12.

[48] De inst. coenob. IV 43; см. also Collat. 4. 2–5; 9. 26–27; cf. Aug. De doct. christ. II 7. 9–11; Stewart. 1998. P. 122–129.

[49] See, Evagr. Pract. 81, 84; Sent. ad monach. 3, 67, 118; Schol. Prov. 3 et al.

[50] Collat. 1. 7; De inst. coenob. IV 43.

[51] Collat. 1. 7.

[52] Collat. 14.9.

[53] See, De inst. coenob. V 2; V 34; Collat. 6. 3; 11. 13; 14. 9, 13, 16 et al.

[54] See, Origen. In Lucam, fr. 171; In Joan., fr. 80; Evagr. De orat. Prooem.; Pract. 32, 79; Keph. Gnost. V 35; Sent. ad monach. 3; Schol. Prov. 49 et al.

[55] Collat. 1. 8; on «contemplation», theoria, as «the principal good» see also Collat. 23. 11, 15; as «the ultimate good», summum bonum, see. Collat. 1. 7–8, 13; 9. 6; 23. 5, 10, 15, 19; оn Martha and  Mary as examples of work and contemplation see also Collat. 23. 3.

[56] Collat. 1. 8.

[57] Collat. 1. 8–10.

[58] See, Evagr. Schol. in Prov. 2

[59] Collat. 1. 15; cf. Una ergo et sola est theoria, id est, contemplatio Dei, Collat. 23. 3; 1. 8

[60] See, Stewart. 1998. P. 53

[61] See, Evagr. Pract. Prol.; Pract. 1, 3, 84; Gnost. 12–13, 18, 20, 49; De orat. Prooem.; Keph. Gnost. I 52; II 4; II 16; III 6; III 33; V 57; VI 29; Sent. ad monach. 110; Schol. Eccl. 2 et al.

[62] Collat. 1. 15.

[63] Collat. 23. 3.

[64] De inst. coenob. VIII 4.

[65] See,  Evagr. Gnost. 48; Keph. Gnost. I 27; V 4; V 7; V 16; V 23–24; Sent. ad monach. 132–136; Schol. Prov. 2–3, 88, 104, 153, 190; Schol. Eccl. 1; see also, Stewart. 1998. P. 53.

[66] See, Evagr. Pract. 89; Keph. Gnost. I 27; I 74; II 80; II 88; V 52; VI 49; Schol. in Prov. 2-3, 88, 373; Schol. in Ps. 138:16 // PG. 12. Col. 1661CD; see also, Stewart. 1998. P. 53.

[67] Collat. 1. 15; 23. 3.

[68] Collat. 23. 3.

[69] Collat. 1. 8; cf. 1. 15.

[70] See, Bousset W. Apophthegmata. Studies zur Geschichte des ältesten Mönchtums. Tübingen, 1923. S. 310; Marsili. 1936. P. 123–125.

[71] See, Evagr. Pract. 89; Keph. Gnost. II 2–4; III 61; IV 6; IV 10–11; Schol. in Prov. 2–3 et al.

[72] Collat. 14. 8.

[73] Collat. 1. 15.

[74] Collat. 14. 4–5; 19. 1–2; cf. Evagr. Pract. 36, 50, 83; see, Stewart. 1998. P. 54–55.

[75] See, Olphe-Galliard M. Cassien (Jean). // Dictionnaire de spiritualité, 2/1 (1953). Col. 247; Stewart. 1998. P. 46; 166, n. 13; 168, n. 45.

[76] Collat. 24. 15; this teaching was shared by Evegrius, see, Evagr. Pract. 22, 54, 63, 86, 89; Gnost. 47; Keph. Gnost. I.53; III.59; De malign. cogit. 3, 16–17; De orat. 27, 52–53; Schol. Prov. 29, 60, 127; Schol. Eccl. at al.

[77] Also principale cordis = ἠγεμονικόν, «the leading principle of the soul», De inst. coenob. VIII 22; Collat. 20. 9; see, Olphe-Galliard. 1953. Col. 238, 247

[78] See, De inst. coenob. V 34; VIII 6; Collat. 1. 13; 3. 7; 14. 9; 23. 6 et al.

[79] De inst. coenob. IV 35; V 2; Collat. 5. 15.

[80] De inst. coenob. VIII 1.

[81] Collat. 5. 16.

[82] Collat. 7. 21.

[83] Collat. 9. 3; 10. 8.

[84] Collat. 10.6.

[85] Collat. 23. 8; 23. 13.

[86] See, Stewart. 1998. P. 48; 170, n. 61–62.

[87] Collat. 3. 6; 10. 6.

[88] Collat. 1. 8.

[89] De inst. coenob. V 14.

[90] See, Collat. 4. 2; 9. 14–15; 9. 27–29; 10. 10; 12. 12.

[91] Collat. 9. 28–30; см. Also: Olphe-Galliard. 1953. Col. 264; Stewart. 1998. P. 128–129.

[92] See, Collat. 9. 26–27; Stewart. 1998. P. 123.

[93] See, De inst. coenob. IX 1; Collat. 4. 2, 4; 6. 10; 9. 15, 27; 10. 10–11; 11. 12; 12. 12; 19. 6.

[94] See, Collat. 4. 2; 10. 10.

[95] Collat. 4. 2.

[96] См.: Evagr. De orat. 4, 60, 66–67; 114–120; De malign. cogit. 24; Skemm. 20, 22–23 и др.

[97] Collat. 9. 25; a detailed description of pure prayer see also: De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 3. 7; 4. 2, 5, 19; 6. 10; 9. 14–15, 26–29; 10. 10–11; 12. 12; 19. 4–6 и др.

[98] Collat. 10. 10; см. Also: Stewart. 1998. P. 100–113.

[99] Collat. 6. 10; 19. 5.

[100] De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 9. 15; 9. 27; 9. 29; 12. 12.

[101] Collat. 9. 15; 9. 26.

[102] De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 9. 15; 9. 25; 10. 11; 12. 12.

[103] De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 6. 10; 9. 26.

[104] Collat. 9. 27.

[105] Collat. 9. 25; 10. 10.

[106] Collat. 9. 25.

[107] See, Evagr. De orat. 4, 60, 66–67; 114–120; De malign. cogit. 24; Skemm. 20, 22–23 и др.

[108] Collat. 10. 5; cf. Collat. 3. 7; 10. 11; см. Also: Stewart. 1998. P. 110–113, 115, 118.

[109] Collat. 4. 2; 9.14–15; 9. 25, 27–28, 35; 10. 11; 12. 12; 19. 6.

[110] De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 9. 15, 27; 10. 11; 16. 13.

[111] See, De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 4. 5; 9. 26.

[112] Collat. 3. 7; 19. 4–5.

[113] De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 6. 10; 9. 31; 10. 10; 19. 4.

[114] Collat. 10. 11; 12. 12.

[115] Collat. 4. 5.

[116] Collat. 3. 7; 4. 5; 9. 15; 19. 4–5.

[117] Collat. 9. 27; 19. 6

[118] Collat. 3. 7.

[119] Collat. 4. 5.

[120] Collat. 9. 27.

[121] Collat. 9. 25.

[122] Collat. 9. 31; cf. Evagr. De orat. 120; Schol. in Ps 126:2 // PG. 12. Col. 1644A.

[123] See, Olphe-Galliard. 1953. Col. 259–266.

[124] See, Collat. 1. 14; 3. 7; 4. 5; 6. 10; 9. 14–15, 25; 10. 10; 19. 4–5.

[125] См.: De inst. coenob. II 10; Collat. 9. 15, 26–28; 10. 11; 12. 12; см. Also: Stewart. 1998. P. 117.

[126] See, Greg. Nyss. In Cant. Cantic. 1, 6, 13 // GNO. T. 6. P. 15, 180, 383 et al.

[127] See, Collat. 9. 18; 10. 7; 11. 7–12; 16. 13–14.

[128] Collat. 9.18.

[129] Collat. 10. 7.

[130] Collat. 1. 12-13; 23. 5; 25. 13.

[131] Collat. 9. 25, 10. 10.

[132] See, Collat. 19. 4.

[133] Collat. 9. 25.

[134] Collat. 10. 6; imago futurae beatitudinis, Collat. 10. 7.

[135] Collat. 1. 15; 11. 12; 11. 15.

[136] Collat. 1. 8; cf. Evagr. Schol. in Eccl. 55

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