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John Cassian: the Institutes: Ancient Christian Writer, No 58 (Ancient Christian Writers) [Hardcover]

Boniface Ramsey
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Paulist Press International,U.S. (1 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809105225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809105229
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.6 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 789,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good 2 May 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Arrived in good time and in excellent condition. A very good book to read. Of interest and recommended to anyone exploring the religious life of the church.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars perfection of apostolic love 17 Jan 2007
By Daniel B. Clendenin - Published on Amazon.com
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 Institutes, along with its much longer companion volume entitled Conferences (some 700 pages), 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.

Compared to the Conferences, the Institutes ("teaching" or "guiding principle" worthy of emulation) is a simple book that is composed of two rather unrelated parts. In the first four "books," Cassian describes the nature and symbolic significance of the monastic garb, explains their regimen of day and night canonical prayers, and then provides a fascinating first hand account purportedly from Abba Pinufius about the reception of a new "renunciant" into the monastery. Books five to twelve then analyze the eight principal vices--gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia ("a wearied or anxious heart" that suggests close parallels to what today would pass for clinical depression), vainglory, and pride.

Throughout the Institutes Cassian contrasts the outward and external aspects of monasticism with the inner heart of a person, that place where genuine transformation occurs. The collected wisdom of practical experience, as opposed to mere theory, informed monastic life. Cassian is also clearly eager to place himself in the mainstream of monastic tradition, and to avoid minority opinions and practices: "The opinion of a few must not be preferred to nor must it prejudice the common practice of all." Whether discussing a monk's ambition for clerical rank, the anger in one's heart that can flare even at an inanimate object like a dull penknife, or the horror of "crushing sadness," Cassian can be a master of human observation and psychological insight, often mixed with humor. Here, for example, he describes the silence that characterized night time prayers: "There is no spitting, no annoying clearing of throats, no noisy coughing, no sleepy yawning emitted from gaping and wide-open mouths, no groans and not even any sighs to disturb those in attendance."

Although every person, place, time, and culture is different, and so the externals of habits and practices will rightly differ, the goal of these monastics that remains fixed for us today is "the perfection of apostolic love." Elsewhere Cassian uses the language of human health and wholeness, as when he refers to "integrity of heart" or "a state of integral health." In reading Cassian's firsthand accounts of some of the earliest and most famous monks, one is humbled by their zeal of renunciation as they explored just what the words of Jesus mean: "Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:38).
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Egyptian Monastic Life 26 Jan 2006
By Mark Schmittle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Cassian was a 4th/5th Century religious and priest who founded two monasteries in Western Europe. Later in life he wrote extensively of his experience of Egyptian and Palestinian monasticism. He holds the Egyptian form of cenobitic life as the ideal from which Western monastic communities could learn much. The work is divided into two parts: his description of the institutes or guiding principles of Egyptian monasticism; and in the second part of the book he describes the eight principal vices and their remedies. The book was written several decades after his experience in Egypt and Palestine and so we are depending upon Cassian's ability to recall accurately and objectively events from a somewhat distant past. One gets a first-hand glimpse into the life of the early desert fathers and the spiritual combat or "athletic competition" they engage in.

It is the notion of obedience that stands out in this work. The obedience of the monk to his spiritual father as representative of the monk's single-minded desire to accomplish God's will. Cassian shows that being one with Christ in obedience to the Father's will was what the monks of Egypt aspired to above all else.

The book is more descriptive than systematic in nature and therefore quite easy to read.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy, a consolation and a commanding power to arise and to rejoin the good fight 23 July 2007
By C. Scanlon - Published on Amazon.com
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).
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good...Remember it was in a foreign language! 23 April 2011
By E. Bush - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Truth is, it's a book written in a language where all the English sounds very militant. It was really only militant in thought, and there is a lot of inductive rhetoric. Understood it is one of the first books about the abstention from vices by using virtues, and was originally a thesis for the basis of the monastic orders of the church in the Middle East. It is however a great book, and it will teach you what the vices and virtues are even with some parables.
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