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John Cassian: Conferences Hardcover – Apr 1985


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  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Paulist Pr (April 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0317180835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0317180831
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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The Meditations and Prayers of Anselm, later to be Archbishop of Canterbury, were written or selected for his Benedictines at the abbey of Bec in Normandy. Read the first page
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By notatamelion@aol.com on 3 Nov. 2000
Format: Paperback
As with all the books I have read from "The Classics of Western Spirituality" series, John Cassian's "Conferences" is both important and insightful. Cassian is, via the value placed on his writings by St. Benedict, a major figure in the history of western monasticism.
This volume contains nine of Cassian's twenty-four conferences. The conferences cover such topics as prayer, perfection, and purity of heart. By using the device of interviewing famous Egyptian monks and hermits, Cassian deftly distills the essence of early Egyptian monastic and eremitic teachings on these and other topics.
The scholarly introduction to this volume, written by Owen Chadwick, is indispensable for those wishing to set these teachings within the context of Cassian's life and thought. Mr. Chadwick, who has written a book on Cassian is just the man for this task and he does it well.
Colm Luibheid is both the translator of this volume and the author of its skilled and entertaining preface. Cassian's devotion and humor are brought to life in this translation.
Cassian still speaks to us today, one thousand six hundred after his death; in a world foreign to the one he was writing in. How can this be? It because the message of Cassian's writings: devotion and the quest to follow God in purity, spirit and truth, lies at the core of what we as human beings were created for. There is much here to help us (by the grace of God) along that narrow path which leads to the Father.
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Buyers need to know that this has nine out of the 24 Conferences. I was disappointed. Otherwise all well.
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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Good, but surpassed 20 Sept. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Classics of Western Spirituality edition of Cassian's Conferences seemed extremely appealing, but it is inevitably disappointing to read out-takes from a work as majestic as the Conferences. Admittedly, the Conferences can be daunting: the standard critical edition runs to three volumes, and the recent English translation is a hefty tome of nearly 1000 pages. But (and I say this advisedly) there is no substitute for mulling over the work as a whole. So I would suggest that instead of waiting for this edition to be reprinted, consider buying Boniface Ramsey's translation in the Ancient Christian Writer's series. If you are interested enough to read a second review, then you are probably interested enough to take on an unexpurgated version.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Still speaks today 7 Jun. 2000
By NotATameLion - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As with all the books I have read from "The Classics of Western Spirituality" series, John Cassian's "Conferences" is both important and insightful. Cassian is, via the value placed on his writings by St. Benedict, a major figure in the history of western monasticism.
This volume contains nine of Cassian's twenty-four conferences. The conferences cover such topics as prayer, perfection, and purity of heart. By using the device of interviewing famous Egyptian monks and hermits, Cassian deftly distills the essence of early Egyptian monastic and eremitic teachings on these and other topics.
The scholarly introduction to this volume, written by Owen Chadwick, is indispensable for those wishing to set these teachings within the context of Cassian's life and thought. Mr. Chadwick, who has written a book on Cassian is just the man for this task and he does it well.
Colm Luibheid is both the translator of this volume and the author of its skilled and entertaining preface. Cassian's devotion and humor are brought to life in this translation.
Cassian still speaks to us today, one thousand six hundred after his death; in a world foreign to the one he was writing in. How can this be? It because the message of Cassian's writings: devotion and the quest to follow God in purity, spirit and truth, lies at the core of what we as human beings were created for. There is much here to help us (by the grace of God) along that narrow path which leads to the Father.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
christian wisdom from the fourth century monastic 17 Jan. 2007
By Daniel B. Clendenin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Like many early Christian writers, the life of John Cassian (c. 360-c 435) remains shrouded in the mists of forgotten history. He was probably born in present day Romania (Dacia). When he was about twenty he traveled with his friend Germanus to Bethlehem where he joined a monastery. From Bethlehem Cassian and Germanus made at least two extended visits to the famous monastics down in Egypt (by some estimates they spent ten years there), and from there moved on to Constantinople. In Constantinople the bishop John Chrysostom ordained Cassian to the diaconate some time around the year 400, at which time he traveled to Rome to courier some letters and was ordained a priest by Pope Innocent I. Cassian later settled in Marseilles, where he founded two monasteries, and wrote three books. His Conferences, along with its much shorter companion volume entitled Institutes, chronicle the riches of early Egyptian monasticism based upon his considerable personal experiences and acquaintances, and in so doing transplanted that monastic influence in the West.

These desert monks are so far removed from our own time, place, and Christian experience that we might well ask why one would read them today other than from a sense of historical curiosity. I suggest two reasons, one from Scripture and the other from experience.

In reading Cassian's firsthand accounts of early desert monasticism, one is humbled by the zeal of their renunciation as they explored what the "hard sayings" of Jesus might mean: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). Nor was theirs a mere theoretical inquiry, for the monks prized practical experience and certainly spiritual experimentation above all things. Cassian's Conferences report their conclusions. The monks would never suggest that a life of solitude in the desert was for everyone, and in fact they affirmed that each person is fit for a certain "orientation" in life due to many factors, some beyond their control, and the chief of which is God's call on your life. All Christians, then, must discover a way to live these words of Jesus.

Practically speaking, I have never read any Christian literature that explained myself to myself as well as these monastics. Just what did they find when they fled to the lonely interior of the Egyptian desert? They experienced a raging battle in the geography of the heart, what John Chryssavgis calls a "spirituality of imperfection" that might be thought of as a sustained effort to discover what Paul meant in Romans 7:7-25. Germanus, for example, asks his elder: "Why is it, then, that superfluous thoughts insinuate themselves into us so subtly and hiddenly when we do not even want them, and indeed do not even know of them, that it is very difficult not only to cast them out but even to understand them and to catch hold of them?" And that's only the beginning of the battle for wholeness of the heart. Read through these pages and you discover a remarkable candor "without any obfuscating embarrassment" and that does not in the least "despise anyone in belittling fashion" for their failure and frailty. Here is a quick list of only a few maladies that I underlined--sleeplessness, vile dreams, impulsive urges, seething emotions, foolish fantasies, pious pretense that masks as virtue, clerical ambition, pernicious despair, confusion, wild mood swings, flattery, and lust. The list is almost endless, and these are only those symptoms of ill health we know: "There are many things that lie hidden in my conscience which are known and manifest to God, even though they may be unknown and obscure to me."

Paradox and humor are never far away. Why, Cassian wonders, would a monk renounce great wealth, then exhibit intense possessiveness or irascibility over a pen knife, a needle or a pen? Or consider his description of a monastic church service that includes "coughing or clearing our throat or laughing or yawning or falling asleep." These desert ascetics were brutally realistic about our human condition, and unfailingly tender because of it. Nor were they hopeless, but confident that we can make progress through vigilance and trust in God's grace, even though, paradoxically, the more mature you become the wiser you are regarding your own many failures. "We are," after all, "only human beings."

We read in Hebrews 11:37-38 of early Christians who "went about in sheepskin and in goatskin, in distress, afflicted, needy, the world unworthy of them, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and caverns of the earth." I am not called to be a monk, but I am called to wrestle with "the flighty wandering of the human mind" in order to experience purity of heart by following "the proven compass of love." Thank God for these heroes of faith, and for Cassian's labor of love in recording their blessed memory and example. This is a long book, but I was somehow sad when I came to its end, as if I had left behind trusted, tender, and very wise guides.
AN EGYPTIAN MONK WRITING FOR OTHER MONKS 31 May 2012
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
John Cassian (about 365-435) is one of the "Desert Fathers." The Introduction to this 1985 edition notes that "Cassian's work had two intentions, and the two intentions were mixed as ideas occurred to him. He wanted to point toward the highest modes of prayer... (a)nd he wanted to show the community of monks how to be a good and harmonious community."

Cassian wrote, "there are three sources for our thoughts---God, the devil, and ourselves." (Pg. 52) He suggests that "discernment is the guide of all the virtues." (Pg. 64) He explains that "The reason why our prayers ought to be frequent and brief is in case the enemy, who is out to trap us, should slip a distraction to us if ever we are long-drawn-out." (Pg. 124) He compares training in continuous prayer to "the teaching of children who at first do not know the alphabet, do not recognize letters, and are unable to write with a sure and firm hand." (Pg. 132)

He proposes that "The journey to God follows many routes. So let each person take to the end and with no turning back the way he first chose so that he may be perfect, no matter what his profession may be." (Pg. 158)

He says that in Egypt there are three types of monks: (1) "the cenobites, those who live together in one community under the authority of an elder..."; (2) "the anchorites, men who ... have chosen the hidden life of solitude..." (3) "The third type---and one to be deplored---is that of the sarabites... who prefer to put on the show of evangelic perfection rather than to take it up for what it really is." (Pg. 185, 188)

This is an attractive (if redacted, removing Cassian's more "practical" and graphic suggestions for monks) edition of a classic of monastic literature.
8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Introducing an Essential Christian Witness 4 Oct. 2005
By Billyjack D'Urberville - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best volumes in the Classics of Western Spirituality series, combining a well-translated and shrewdly chosen essence of the 4th century writer, combined with excellent editorial apparatus.

An abbot at the end of his life, Cassian wrote of his youthful spiritual search among desert solitaries for his monks. The recollection is so fresh that it performs a neat trick; you overlook the young Cassian as a character in his own work, lost in rapture. His cooler traveling companian Germanus asks some of the best questions. An excellent writer, the conferences use the Socratic dialogue method, a rarity in Christian writing of any age. The result was a landmark that had a major impact. The pithy Saint Benedict in his rule still gives the best pitch for this writer, on the subject of what a monk ought to read: "Read the bible and read Cassian."

The stories transmitted by the desert abbas, of both humble wisdom and spiritual disaster, are unforgettable. Most important for modern readers -- and vitally so -- are the careful teachings on the so-called higher modes of contemplative prayer including the Jesus prayer. The air today is full of misleading prattle on the subject and worse from various ignoramuses at both the parish level and much higher, from the hallowed groves of Christian and Catholic academe and publishing. Too often the term "ancient Christian prayer" is now used to justify the use of mind-numbing mantras and breathing techniques in a gluttonous drive for spiritual experience. This book is the main necessary source to establish any early precedent, and it by no means justifies such techniques. A spiritual guide such as a priest or abbot is always considered necessary, unlike the "way of the pilgrim"; the Jesus prayer is for avoiding distraction and getting the fallible human senses re-focused, not for turning oneself into a self-hypnotized zombie open to any spirit, good or malign, who then chooses to fly in.

Persons seeking to deepen their prayer life need to own this book, and to keep it side by side with their bible. Take Benedict's advice and go back to the source.
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