"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will the Real Cassian Please Stand Up?

At his introduction to the All-America Council of the Orthodox Church of America in Seattle in November 2011, the newly appointed chancellor, the Archpriest John Jillions recounted an amusing story (borrowed from a sermon of Met. Anthony Bloom) about St. Nicholas and St. John Cassian coming down from heaven to assist a Russian peasant stuck in the mud. Cassian, more fastidious about not himself getting dirty, was not as helpful as Nicholas and so, the story concludes, the Lord tells them both that Nicholas gets two feast-days in the liturgical calendar while Cassian will be commemorated on February 29th.

Who is this Cassian and what do we know of him? Two books this year may help us understand him further. First, from Ashgate this month is Christopher J. Kelly, Cassian's Conferences (Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and Biblical Studies, 2012, 196pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book explores Cassian's use of scripture in the Conferences, especially its biblical models to convey his understanding of the desert ideal to the monastic communities of Gaul. Cassian intended the scriptures and, implicitly, the Conferences to be the voices of authority and orthodoxy in the Gallic environment. He interprets familiar biblical characters in unfamiliar ways that exemplify his ideal. By imitating their actions the monk enters a seamless lineage of authority stretching back to Abraham. This book demonstrates how the scriptures functioned as a dynamic force in the lives of Christian monks in the fourth and fifth centuries, emphasizes the importance of Cassian in the development of the western monastic tradition, and offers an alternative to the sometimes problematic descriptions of patristic exegesis as "allegory" or "typology". Cassian has been described as little more than a provider of information about Egyptian monasticism, but a careful reading of his work reveals a sophisticated agenda to define and institutionalize orthodox monasticism in the Latin West. 
Then from Brill and set for release in June of this year, is:
P. Tzamalikos, The Real Cassian Revisited: Monastic Life, Greek Paideia, and Origenism in the Sixth Century

About this book the publisher tells us:

This is a critical analysis of texts included in Codex 573 (ninth century, Monastery of Metamorphosis, Meteora, Greece), which are published along with the present volume, in the same series. The Codex, entitled ‘The Book of Monk Cassian the Roman’, reveals a sixth-century heretofore unknown intellectual, namely, Cassian the Sabaite, native of Scythopolis, being its real author. By means of Medieval forgery, he has been eclipsed by a figment currently known as ‘John Cassian of Marseilles’, native of Scythia. Exploration reveals critical aspects of the interplay between Hellenism and Christianity, the Origenism and pseudo-Origenism of the sixth century, and Christian influence upon Neoplatonism in Late Antiquity. Cassian the Sabaite is probably the last great representative of a prolonged fruitful autumn of Late Antique Christian scholarship, who saw Hellenism as a treasured patrimony to draw on, rather than as a demon to be exorcised -which resulted in his ‘second death’(Rev. 2,11).

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