John Cassian (ACW No. 57): The Conferences: 057 (Ancient Christian Writers) Hardcover – 1 Jan 1997
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I remember the first time I discovered the writings of St. John Cassian with the freshness as if it were only yesterday. About 15 years ago I was almost done reading through the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers. St. Cyprian had my affection more than any of the other up to this point, then I began reading Cassian in series 3, volume 11 and discovered what I had been searching for. I have been reading the conferences once per year ever since as well as other times preparing for lectures on the conferences and Institutes.
Each time I read the conferences I fall in love with them all over again. I wish I could read them everyday all year long, but that would preclude me from reading anything else, since the Conferences are about 800 pages in this most recent for the first time in English complete publication.
Ramsay does an excellent translation into modern English. He keeps the flow while remaining true to the text as well as consistently translating particular technical words. Cassian was/is that living bridge between early Egyptian monasticism and that of Southern Gaul, Britain and Ireland. He and his friend Germanus spent about 14 years in Egypt interviewing and training under the most holy, and aged elders. From the abundance of wisdom, He chose to reproduce 24 of the conferences in order to help establish the "best kind of monasticism" in the west. Each conference focus' on a topic necessary to gain "Theoria," or divine contemplation through purity and integrity: in other words, through dispassion acquiring stillness and union with God. Cassian's works are profoundly clear and applicable to just about any situation we may find ourselves in. He writes of setting spiritual goals and objectives, discerning spirits, Biblical interpretation, prayer, patience, the 8 progenitor vices and their opposite virtues; of repentance and mortification of the will.
Not only does Cassian interview such spiritual giants as Paphnutius, Pinufius, Moses, Abraham and others we come across in other sources, but he quotes these elders quoting and sharing stories of their elders - the 1st century Elders such as Antony! Unlike other works of a similar content, Cassian purposely keeps narratives of miracles to a minimum. His primary interest was communicating the teachings of the Elders which serve for example of daily living, rather than wowing his audience with signs and wonders. That said, there is no lack of the supernatural, but only when necessary to drive home a point. He was a strong advocate of "Apostolic brevity."
Cassian is one of the unsung heroes of the faith. His influence, in my opinion is close to, or equals in some respects the blessed Augustine in the West and St. John of the Ladder in the East. Climacus gives due honor to Cassian in his Ladder and Cassian was the first to organize monasticism in the West and his works are found throughout the ancient Celtic Church, which, in turn, re-evangelized Europe after the fall of Rome. This is a long review, I know, but well-worth the read, if I encourage even one person to read even just the first Conference - for then you will be hooked.
also - this is an excellent edition. great intro materials & endnotes in each chapter, readable translation. i would recommend any book in the Ancient Christian Writers series.
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