St. Caesar of Arles

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Caesar of Arles (470-542), also known as Caesarius of Arles, was the foremost ecclesiastic of his generation in Gaul (modern France) during the Merovingian Dynasty (derived from the Frankish barbarian warlord King Merovech).  Caesarius is considered to be of the last generation of church leaders that worked to promote large-scale ascetics (abstinence from sensual pleasures) into Gaul’s Christian tradition.

Caesarius was born with a very strong and intense feeling for religion which alienated him from the majority of his family and resulted in him leaving home at the age of seventeen to study under Bishop Sylvester.  He joined a monastery in Lerins, but later left to become Bishop of Arles. As bishop, Caesarius lived in a political world whose main theme was competition for Southern Gallic control among the Visigothic, Ostrogothic and Frankish kingdoms which led him to the constant ransoming of victims during these wars. The aftermath of war in 508 between the Burgundians and Franks and Visigothic and Ostrogothic kingdoms was devastating to its citizens. Peasants had no food supply and were in danger of enslavement, exile and death.  Caesar’s concern for the poor and sick was famous throughout and beyond Gaul as he regularly aided the sick and the poor and provided ransom for the peasants of his country who had been taken prisoners.  He also, controversially, ransomed numerous barbarians and enemies of the city.  While many of his countrymen were angered by this, he defended himself by stating that barbarians were human beings and therefore had the potential to enter the City of God.

A notary named Licinianus accused Caesarius of treachery to Alaric II, King of the Visigoths, and Caesarius was exiled to Bordeaux.  Upon the discovery of his innocence, he was allowed to return, where he interceded for the life of Licinianus.  In 512, when Arles was besieged by Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, Caesarius was again accused of treachery and imprisoned, but King Theodoric dispelled the accusation and Caesarius was released.



  • Vita Caesarii
  • de Gratiâ et Libero Arbitrio
  • Regula virginum (Rule for Virgins)

Quotes and Excerpts:

“I beg you, beloved brethren, let us consider more attentively why we are Christians and bear the cross of Christ on our forehead. For we ought to know that it is not enough for us that we have received the name Christian, if we do not do Christian works. If you say a thousand times that you are a Christian and continually sign yourself with the cross of Christ, but do not give alms according to your means, and you do not want to have love and justice and chastity, the name of Christian will profit you nothing….
Above all, as I already said before, give alms to the poor according to your means. Present offerings to be consecrated on the altar; a man of means should blush to communicate in the offering of another. Those who are able should give either candles or oil which can be put in lamps. Know the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer yourselves and teach them to you children. I do not know how a man can call himself a Christian by signing his forehead when he neglects to learn the few short lines of the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer. . .
Go to church every Sunday; for if the unfortunate Jews celebrate the Sabbath with such great devotion that they do no earthly work on that day, how much more should Christians devote themselves to God alone on Sunday and go to church for the salvation of their souls?
Sermons 13:1-2 [ante A.D. 542]).

“Although the apostle [Paul] has mentioned many grievous sins, we, nevertheless, lest we seem to promote despair, will state briefly what they are. Sacrilege, murder, adultery, false witness, theft, robbery, pride, envy, avarice, and, if it is of long standing, anger, drunkenness, if it is persistent, and slander are reckoned in their number. Or if anyone knows that these sins dominate him, if he does not do penance worthily and for a long time, if such time is given him . . . he cannot be purged in that transitory fire of which the apostle spoke [1 Cor. 3:11–15], but the eternal flames will torture him without any remedy. But since the lesser sins are, of course, known to all, and it would take too long to mention them all, it will be necessary for us only to name some of them. . . . There is no doubt that these and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted, and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the saints could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins, but still they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs” (Sermons 179[104]:2 [A.D. 522]).

If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem
Our own sins by good works, we shall have to remain in that purgatorial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay. But someone is saying: ‘It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go on finally to eternal life.” Let no one say that, beloved
brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishments that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life.”
-Sermons 179[104]:2 [A.D. 522]).

“As often, beloved brethren, as we see some of our brothers or sisters asking for penance publicly, we can and should, by God’s inspiration, stir up great compunction in ourselves, of divine fear. And certainly he that receives penance publicly
could have done it privately. But I think he sees, considering the multitude of his sins, that he is not strong enough to cope with such great vices alone; and for that reason he desires to solicit the help of all the people.
-Sermons 67 (261): 

“Notice this, brethren, that when someone asks for Penance, he pleads for himself to be excommunicated. For, when he receives his penance, he is covered with a hairshirt and thrown outside. He asks to be excommunicated, because he judges himself
unworthy to receive the Eucharist of the Lord; and moreover, he wants to be excluded for some time from that altar so that he may merit to arrive with a clear conscience at the altar
in heaven. Moreover, with great reverence he wants to be removed from the Body and Blood of Christ like a guilty and impious person, so that by his humility he may finally one
day deserve to come to the Communion of the sacrosanct altar.
-Sermons 67 (261), 2]

Unless infirmity permit it, let a penitent not drink wine; or if, because of old age or a stomach disorder, this is not possible, let him heed the Apostle, who says: ‘Use a little wine for the sake of your stomach.’ There are some penitents who want to be reconciled immediately, so that they can eat meat. It is certain that a man does not accept his penance with true compunction if he desires or presumes to eat meat without being compelled by infirmity.
Therefore, even when a penitent has been reconciled he ought not eat meat whenever, either at his own table or at the table of another, he is able to find potherbs or beans or fish. I mention this because, so much the worse, there are some penitents who eat meat with great eagerness and who drink wine, sometimes perhaps even to excess. Our poor body should be nourished in great prudence lest it be solicited again to commit such sins through drunkenness and gluttony, and then the repentance that seemed to be ours will profit us little or nothing.
-Sermons 67 (261), 21

As often as some infirmity overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the Body and Blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him.’ See to it, brethren, that whoever is ill hasten to the church, both that he may receive health of body and will merit to obtain the forgiveness of his sins.
-Sermons [13 (265), 3]

There are many people who exert greater care for their bodies than they do for their soul. But they should devote a greater solicitude for their souls, where the image of God is. When the flesh, which they loved so much, begins to be devoured by worms in the grave, the soul is presented to God by the angels in heaven. Then, if it has been good, it is crowned; but if evil, it will be cast out into darkness.
-Sermons [5 (301), 5]

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