|"How great is the evil of pride, that it rightly has no angel, |
nor other virtues opposed to it, but God Himself as its adversary."
~Saint John Cassian
July 23 is the feast of Saint John Cassian. Though little remembered in our day, John Cassian was celebrated in his own time as one who helped introduce eastern ascetic practices to the Roman west. He was born ca. AD 360 and passed to eternal life around AD 435. His relics remain to this day in the city of Marseille, France, where he died.
He is featured among the Illustrious Men of his contemporary, Saint Jerome, who records his life and works as follows:
Cassianus, Scythian by race, ordained deacon by bishop John the Great [that is, Chrysostom], at Constantinople, and a presbyter at Marseilles, founded two monasteries, that is to say one for men and one for women, which are still standing. He wrote from experience, and in forcible language, or to speak more clearly, with meaning back of his words, and action back of his talk. He covered the whole field of practical directions, for monks of all sorts, in the following works: On dress, also On the canon of prayers, and the Usage in the saying of Psalms, (for these in the Egyptian monasteries, are said day and night), three books. One of Institutes, eight books On the origin, nature and remedies for the eight principal sins, a book on each sin. He also compiled Conferences with the Egyptian fathers, as follows: On the aim of a monk and his creed, On discretion, On three vocations to the service of God, On the warfare of the flesh against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, On the nature of all sins, On the slaughter of the saints, On fickleness of mind, On principalities, On the nature of prayer, On the duration of prayer, On perfection, On chastity, On the protection of God, On the knowledge of spiritual things, On the Divine graces, On friendship, On whether to define or not to define, On three ancient kinds of monks and a fourth recently arisen, On the object of cenobites and hermits, On true satisfaction in repentance, On the remission of the Quinquagesimal fast, On nocturnal illusions, On the saying of the apostles, "For the good which I would do, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do," On mortification, and finally at the request of Leo the archdeacon, afterwards bishop of Rome, he wrote seven books against Nestorius, On the incarnation of the Lord, and writing this, made an end, both of writing and living, at Marseilles, in the reign of Theodosius and Valentinianus. [Jerome, On Illustrious Men]
Of these many works, the most well known today are his Institutes and his Conferences. These works remain extant to this day and are full of deep wisdom derived from Cassian’s conversations with the anchorite fathers of Egypt. Here are a few quotes from this rich mine of advice on how to live as an authentic follower of Christ:
“How great is the evil of pride, that it rightly has no angel, nor other virtues opposed to it, but God Himself as its adversary!” [Institutes, Book XII, Chapter 7]
“Above all we ought at least to know that there are three origins of our thoughts, i.e., from God, from the devil, and from ourselves.” [Conferences, Book 1, Chapter 19]
“When death has been brought upon a saint, we ought not to think that an evil has happened to him but a thing indifferent; which is an evil to a wicked man, while to the good it is rest and freedom from evils. For death is rest to a man whose way is hidden. And so a good man does not suffer any loss from it.” [Conferences, Book 6, Chapter 6]
“Among all these [types of friendship] then there is one kind of love which is indissoluble, where the union is owing not to the favor of a recommendation, or some great kindness or gifts, or the reason of some bargain, or the necessities of nature, but simply to similarity of virtue. This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part. This is true and unbroken love which grows by means of the double perfection and goodness of friends, and which, when once its bonds have been entered, no difference of liking and no disturbing opposition of wishes can sever.” [Conferences, Book 16, Chapter 3]
“We cannot possibly…make trial of spiritual combats if we are baffled in a carnal contest, and smitten down in a struggle with the belly.” [Institutes, Book 5, Chapter 19]
The image at the top is a 6th century mosaic portrait identified as "Cassianus" which may be found in the Archepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna, Italy. It is most likely not an image of Saint John Cassian, but of Saint Cassianus of Imola, a martyr of the mid-4th century.