Saint John Cassian is best remembered for two lengthy studies of monastic life and moral theology, the first being this one, The Institutes, which presents systematically how the earliest monasteries in Palestine and Egypt operated, plus an examination of eight deadly sins, including gluttony, fornication (now translated into English, as it was not in an earlier Victorian era), pride, avarice, anger, vainglory, sadness and acedia, though in a more structured order from the physical to the most spiritual offenses.
His other most well known work is the The Conferences, also available in this series, a dialogic and thus less structured though much longer meditation on the object of the monastic life: purity of heart in all of its manifestations. This great series from the Newman Press, an imprint of the excellent Catholic Publishing House Paulist Press, presents all of Cassian's writings in a very clear and accurate translation by the Dominican Father, the Reverend Boniface Ramsey, of Manhattan.
Of Cassian I had earlier only encountered the Conferences, in French, in Solesmes, some 33 years ago, and would gratefully have read this present translation into English with excellent annotation, also by Father Ramsey, OP.
The first four books of the Institutes were written by Cassian at the request of a Bishop in southern France (then called Gaul) some seventeen hundred years ago, in order to establish and regulate monasteries there, as Cassian had lived as a monk first in Bethlehem, with frequent journeys to the monasteries in northern Egypt (site of the The Desert Fathers as in BEnedicta Ward's Sayings of the Early Christian Monks or The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century (Shambhala Library)). Therefore in these first four books of the Institutes (referring to the orders established by the Desert Fathers) Cassian reveals with as great a detail as his memory can provide (throughout he remains monastically humble yet direct) how the monks lived, worked and prayed, and the content of their regular prayers.
I find it very exciting to read, with such clarity of translation, the hows and whys of the monastic life, including the daily hours and order of the psalms. It is a great joy to me now to read these origins, so ancient and yet still lived by so pitiful few. We see here clearly the origins even of The Rule of Saint Benedict and Rb 1980: The Rule of st Benedict, as Saint BEnedict himself frequently refers to the work of Cassian and recommends the reading of the Conferences. Both Cassian and Benedict amazingly urge the reading and following of Saint Basil, as in The Fathers Speak: St Basil the Great, st Gregory of Nazianzus, st Gregory of Nyssa, etc.
This collection of four books, therefore might be of interest only to those of us who love the monastic life. The following eight books of the Institutes examine deadly sins and must be of interest to all Christians and those seeking the path to peace, and serve as a profound warning and guide for us even today. Therefore I strongly recommend this book to every reader as helpful and instructive and a strong shield of lectio divina. Please read this book and find peace, even today.
Although it contains no Imprimatur nor Nihil Obstat, it is difficult to imagine any believer so scrupulous as to find seriously this book avoidable on doctrinal grounds, as for nearly two millenia it has formed the backbone of our living the Gospel and served as the source for so many other orthodox sources. The Catholic Paulist Press is clearly itself above reproach, and Father Ramsey, who translates so clearly and accurately here, and who annotates briefly yet very helpfully, is of that great teaching order, the Dominicans, which also brought to our Church such great theologians and writers as Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Reverend Father Edward Schilebeeckx, OP (of whom please see his Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter With God, The Eucharist, Jesus: An experiment in Christology and his Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord, Mary, Mother of the Redemption (New Testament for Spiritual Reading) and Mary: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow Translated Maria for starters).