St. John Cassian

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John Cassian (360-435), also known as John the Ascetic, was a Christian monk and theologian celebrated in both the Western and Eastern churches for his mystical writings.  Cassian was ordained a deacon and became a member of the clergy attached to the then Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom.  When John Chrysostom was forced into exile from Constantinople in 404, the Latin-speaking John Cassian was sent to Rome to plead his cause before Pope Innocent I.  While he was in Rome, Cassian accepted the invitation to found an Egyptian-style monastery in southern Gaul, near Marseilles.  His foundation, the Abbey of St Victor, was a complex of monasteries for both men and women, one of the first such institutes in the West, and served as a model for later monastic development.  Cassian’s achievements and writings influenced Benedict of Nursia, who incorporated many of the principles into his monastic rule, and recommended to his own monks that they read the works of Cassian.  Cassian died in 435 at Marseille.


  • De institutis coenobiorum (Institutes of the Coenobia)
  • Conlationes or Collationes patrum in scetica eremo (Conferences of the Desert Fathers)

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Quotes and Excerpts:

-Institutes Book III Chapter 3

“But concerning the evening sacrifices what is to be said, since even in the Old Testament these are ordered to be offered continually by the law of Moses? For that the morning whole-burnt offerings and evening sacrifices were offered every day continually in the temple, although with figurative offerings, we can show from that which is sung by David: Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as the incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice, in which place we can understand it in a still higher sense of that true evening sacrifice which was given by the Lord our Saviour in the evening to the Apostles at the Supper, when He instituted the holy mysteries of the Church, and of that evening sacrifice which He Himself, on the following day, in the end of the ages, offered up to the Father by the lifting up of His hands for the salvation of the whole world; which spreading forth of His hands on the Cross is quite correctly called a ‘lifting up.’”

-Institutes Book VIII: Chapter 4

“And so as without horrible profanity these things cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy. . .
So then also when we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not ἀνθρωποπαθῶς ; i.e., according to an unworthy meaning of human passion, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion; so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world; and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will.”

-Institutes Book VIII: Chapter 4

“avenging wrath is usually feared by those who are tormented by some accusation of their conscience; not indeed that this passion exists in the minds of those who are going to judge with perfect equity, but that, while they so fear, the disposition of the judge towards them is that which is the precursor of a just and impartial execution of the law. And this, with whatever kindness and gentleness it may be conducted, is deemed by those who are justly to be punished to be the most savage wrath and vehement anger.”

-Institutes Book II Chapter 1

the soldier of Christ should next learn the system of the canonical prayers and Psalms which was long ago arranged by the holy fathers in the East. Of their character, however, and of the way in which we can pray, as the Apostle directs, without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we shall treat, as the Lord may enable us, in the proper place, when we begin to relate the Conferences of the Elders.”

-Institutes Book II Chapter 5

“At that time, therefore, when the perfection of the primitive Church remained unbroken, and was still preserved fresh in the memory by their followers and successors, and when the fervent faith of the few had not yet grown lukewarm by being dispersed among the many, the venerable fathers with watchful care made provision for those to come after them, and met together to discuss what plan should be adopted for the daily worship throughout the whole body of the brethren; that they might hand on to those who should succeed them a legacy of piety and peace that was free from all dispute and dissension, for they were afraid that in regard of the daily services some difference or dispute might arise among those who joined together in the same worship, and at some time or other it might send forth a poisonous root of error or jealousy or schism among those who came after.”

“And so you say, O heretic, whoever you may be, who deny that God was born of the Virgin, that Mary the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ ought not to be called Theotocos, i.e., Mother of God, but Christotocos, i.e., only the Mother of Christ, not of God. For no one, you say, gives birth to one older than herself. And of this utterly foolish argument . . . we will now prove by Divine testimonies that Christ is God, and that Mary is the Mother of God.”
-On the Incarnation of Christ Against Nestorius 2:2 (Written in 429 A.D.)


“You cannot then help admitting that the grace comes from God. It is God, then, who has given it. But it has been given by our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ is God. But if he is God, as he certainly is, then she who bore God is the Mother of God”
-On the Incarnation of Christ Against Nestorius 2:5 (Written in 429 A.D.)

On the Incarnation Book I: Chapter 1-2

“Thus also heresies in the churches bear some likeness to that hydra which the poets’ imagination invented; for they too hiss against us with deadly tongues; and they too cast forth their deadly poison, and spring up again when their heads are cut off. . .
For these shoots of an unnatural seed are no new thing in the churches. The harvest of the Lord’s field has always had to put up with burrs and briars, and in it the shoots of choking tares have constantly sprung up. For hence have arisen the Ebionites, Sabellians, Arians, as well as Eunomians and Macedonians, and Photinians and Apollinarians, and all the other tares of the churches, and thistles which destroy the fruits of good faith.”

On the Incarnation Book I: Chapter 2

“And of these the earliest was Ebion, who while over-anxious about asserting our Lord’s humanity robbed it of its union with Divinity. But after him the schism of Sabellius burst forth out of reaction against the above mentioned heresy, and as he declared that there was no distinction between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. . . Next after him whom we have mentioned there followed the blasphemy of Arian perversity, which, in order to avoid the appearance of confounding the Sacred Persons, declared that there were different and dissimilar substances in the Trinity. . . Macedonius also blaspheming against the Holy Ghost with unpardonable wickedness, while allowing that the Father and the Son were of one substance, termed the Holy Ghost a creature, and so sinned against the entire Divinity. . . But Photinus, though allowing that Jesus who was born of the Virgin was God, yet erred in his notion that His Godhead began with the beginning of His manhood; while Apollinaris through inaccurately conceiving the union of God and man wrongly believed that He was without a human soul. . . And so one after another out of reaction against heresies they give rise to heresies, and all teach things different from each other, but equally opposed to the faith.”

On the Incarnation Book I: Chapter 4-6

“For Leporius, then a monk, now a presbyter, who followed the teaching or rather the evil deeds of Pelagius, as we said above, and was among the earliest and greatest champions of the aforesaid heresy in Gaul, was admonished by us and corrected by God. . .
This confession of his therefore, which was the faith of all Catholics was approved of by all the Bishops of Africa, whence he wrote, and by all those of Gaul, to whom he wrote. Nor has there ever been anyone who quarrelled with this faith, without being guilty of unbelief: for to deny what is right and proved is to confess what is wrong.”

-On the Incarnation of Christ Book II: Chapter 2 (Written in 429 A.D.)

“‘For the Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you.’ Admirably did the angel speak, and explain the majesty of the Divine work by the Divine character of his words. For the Holy Ghost sanctified the Virgin’s womb, and breathed into it by the power of His Divinity, and thus imparted and communicated Himself to human nature; and made His own what was before foreign to Him, taking it to Himself by His own power and majesty. And lest the weakness of human nature should not be able to bear the entrance of Divinity the power of the Most High strengthened the ever to be honoured Virgin, so that it supported her bodily weakness by embracing it with overshadowing protection.”

-On the Incarnation of Christ Book VI: Chapter 5 (Written in 429 A.D.)

“If you were an assertor of the Arian or Sabellian heresy, and did not use your own creed, I would still confute you by the authority of the holy Scriptures; I would confute you by the words of the law itself; I would refute you by the truth of the Creed which has been approved throughout the whole world. I would say that, even if you were void of sense and understanding, yet still you ought at least to follow universal consent: and not to make more of the perverse view of a few wicked men than of the faith of all the Churches: which as it was established by Christ, and handed down by the apostles ought to be regarded as nothing but the voice of the authority of God, which is certainly in possession of the voice and mind of God.”

-On the Incarnation of Christ Book VII: Chapter 16 (Written in 429 A.D.)

“Why then, you heretic, did you not in this way quote the whole and entire passage which you had read? . . .
Why then, you heretic, did you not in this way quote what you had read in the Apostle, entire and unmutilated? But you insert part, and omit part; and garble the words of truth in order that you may be able to build up your false notions by your wicked act. I see who was your master. We must believe that you had his instruction, whose example you are following. For so the devil in the gospel when tempting the Lord said: If You are the Son of God, cast Yourself down. For it is written that He shall give His angels charge concerning You to keep You in all Your ways. Luke 4:9-10 And when he had said this, he left out the context and what belongs to it.”

-On the Incarnation of Christ Book VI: Chapter 20 (Written in 429 A.D.)

“For that flesh which was born of the flesh of the Virgin had not always existed: but God who always was, came in the flesh of man of the flesh of the Virgin. For the Word was made flesh, and did not manifest flesh together with Himself: but in the glory of Divinity joined Himself to human flesh. For tell me when or where the Word was made flesh, or where He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant: . . . Where but in the holy womb of the Virgin, where at His Incarnation, the Word of God is said to have been made flesh. . .”

-On the Incarnation of Christ Book VI: Chapter 5 (Written in 429 A.D.)

“Therefore, if you had been a follower and assertor of Sabellianism or Arianism or any heresy you please, you might shelter yourself under the example of your parents, the teaching of your instructors, the company of those about you, the faith of your creed. I ask, O you heretic, nothing unfair, and nothing hard. As you have been brought up in the Catholic faith, do that which you would do for a wrong belief. Hold fast to the teaching of your parents. Hold fast the faith of the Church: hold fast the truth of the Creed: hold fast the salvation of baptism.”

-On the Incarnation of Christ Book VI: Chapter 15 (Written in 429 A.D.)

“You must then either deny the Creed or confess that Christ is the Son of God. But if you confess in the Creed that Christ is the Son of God, you must also confess that the same Christ, the Son of God, is of Mary. Or if you make out another Christ of Mary, you certainly make the blasphemous assertion that there are two Christs.”

Conference 20: Chapter 8

“Sometimes too the pardon of our sins is obtained by the intercession of the saints, ‘for if a man knows his brother to sin a sin not unto death, he asks, and He will give to him his life, for him that sins not unto death (1John 5:16)”; and again: ‘Is any sick among you? Let him send for the Elders of the Church and they shall pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:14).’”

Conference 20: Chapter 8

“But if you cannot secure perfection in goodness by the eradication of all your faults, you can show a pious anxiety for the good and salvation of another. But if you complain that you are not equal to this service, you can cover your sins by the affection of love. And if in this also some sluggishness of mind makes you weak, at least you should submissively with a feeling of humility entreat for remedies for your wounds by the prayers and intercession of the saints.”

“For after that grace of baptism which is common to all, and that most precious gift of martyrdom which is gained by being washed in blood, there are many fruits of penitence by which we can succeed in expiating our sins.”

“For eternal salvation is not only promised to the bare fact of penitence, of which the blessed Apostle Peter says: ‘Repent and be converted that your sins may be forgiven’; and John the Baptist and the Lord Himself: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’: but also by the affection of love is the weight of our sins overwhelmed: ‘for charity covers a multitude of sins’ 1 Peter 4:8. In the same way also by the fruits of almsgiving a remedy is provided for our wounds, because ‘As water extinguishes fire, so does almsgiving extinguish sin’ Sirach 3:33.”

“Moreover by means of confession of sins, their absolution is granted: ‘for I said: I will confess against myself my sin to the Lord: and You forgave the iniquity of my heart’ (Psalm 32:5); and again: ‘Declare your iniquities first, that you may be justified (Psalm 51:4).’”

Conference 6: Chapter 9

“For the patience of Job did not bring any gain to the devil, through making him a better man by his temptations, but only to Job himself who endured them bravely; nor was Judas granted freedom from eternal punishment, because his act of betrayal contributed to the salvation of mankind. For we must not regard the result of the deed, but the purpose of the doer.”


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