Sunday, November 30, 2014

Praying at night

As with fasting, praying at night humbles the mind and body so as to make the heart more still and attentive to God.  For this reason, vigils are a special blessing to the ascetic not to be neglected.

The best, most graceful time for a monk's spiritual exercises is at night.  As the holy Fathers said: "It is during nighttime that the monk must best be engaged in his work."  Blessed Philotheus of Sinai teaches that the mind is purified best at night.  And St. Isaac the Syrian says: "Consider every prayer which we offer up in the night to be more important than all our daily actions.  For the sweet consolation which the one who fasts receives during the day comes out of the light received during the monk's nocturnal exercises."

Nil Sorsky

Do we understand the worth of our souls?

If we understood the value of our souls and could see the preciousness of the gifts that God has given us we would labor to deepen and preserve them.  No amount of ascetic labor would, so long as suited to our station in life, seem excessive or beyond our strength.  Sorsky exhorts us not to make asceticism and the spiritual disciplines something of the past and not necessary for ourselves.  We have received the same call to holiness.  The only thing that makes it impossible is the lack of a serious desire to repent. 

We can at least be conscious of the folly that engrosses us, of how we throw away our talents in the pursuit of material things as we give ourselves over to cares and anxieties that are harmful for our souls.  And we regard all such pursuit as good and praiseworthy!  But woe to us!  We do not understand the worth of our souls.  We do not understand that we have not been called to live such an evil life, as St. Isaac says.  Woe to us if we think our life in this world - its sufferings, its joys, its rest - have importance for us!  Woe to us if by the life of our soul, so weighted down by laziness, worldly curiosity, and lack of concern, we should be convinced that the style of life that was proper to that lived by the ancient saints is no longer necessary for us nor is it possible for us to live such ascetical exploits.  No, this cannot be so, in no way!  Such practices are not possible only for those who are immersed by self-indulging passions because of their own free will who do not seriously desire to repent, namely, to truly come under the guidance of the divine Holy Spirit, but who are given over to useless, worldly cares.

Nil Sorsky 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Spiritual adultery

Sorsky encourages the pray-er to hold fast to silence and when it has been achieved in the mind and heart not to seek that which is of lesser value.  We must come to seek out the silence of prayer as the most sublime gift we could receive and as that which fills us with the greatest joy.  Let go of the trivial matters of the world and the trivial nature of your thoughts and meet God who is peace and tranquility.

. . . to leave God within you in order to seek him from outside is like leaving him from the heights to call on him by stooping lower.  But when you allow any distraction to disturb the mind, such draws the mind away from silence.  For silence is had only in peace and tranquility, since God is peace and is beyond all  agitation and noise.  

For the minds of those who idly turn away from the remembrance of God and busy themselves with trivial matters commit spiritual adultery.  St. Isaac writes sublimely on such matters and insists on this: "When such person possess such unspeakable joy, it cuts away any lip-prayer.  Then the mouth and tongue become silenced.  Also the heart is silenced, which stands as a guard over fantasies along with the mind which directs the feeling senses and controls the thoughts that are like swift and bold flying birds."

Nil Sorsky

Pushing the Mind into the Heart

. . . even though there are many good works, their value is only a partial good.  The prayer of the heart is the source of all good and is likened to gardens that are refreshed by water, so does this prayer of the heart refresh the soul . . . 

Blessed is the person who seriously meditates on the Writings of all the Spirit-filled Fathers and follows their teachings and examples.  Such a person is completely taken up with this prayer and is able to overcome always every kind of thought, not only an evil one, but also one that seemingly is a good one.  And in this manner, he attains perfect silence even in his thoughts, for the prayer is the peak and crown of all ascetical practices.  For Symeon the New Theologian teach that true silence and tranquility (hesychia) is to seek the Lord in the heart, that is, to push the mind into the heart consciously and to pray and be concerned only with this.

Nil Sorsky

Monday, May 5, 2014

Whatever a man loves, he desires at all costs

Whatever a man loves, he desires at all costs to be near to continuously and uninterruptedly, and he turns himself away from everything that hinders him from being in contact and dwelling with the object of his love. It is clear therefore that he who loves God also desires always to be with him and to converse with him. This comes to pass in us through pure prayer. Accordingly, let us apply ourselves to prayer with all our power; for it enables us to become akin to God. Such a man was he who said: “O God, my God, I cry to Thee at dawn; my soul has thirsted for Thee” (Psalm 63:1, LXX). For the man who cries to God at dawn has withdrawn his intellect from every vice and clearly is wounded by divine love.

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic
II, A Century of Spiritual Texts, sec. 94”

Friday, May 2, 2014

More Joy in Heaven

Our Lord tells us there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine others who have no need of repentance.  It may seem strange to us to imagine the existence of such a joy, especially in regard to ourselves.  Perhaps very few of us allow ourselves to weep true tears of repentance, to experience true sorrow for our sins, and so never come to know that heavenly joy.  Tears that emerge from eyes that gaze upon Christ are the prelude to the loving embrace of the Heavenly Bridegroom.  

If there is one thing the devil would want to prevent it is this movement from sorrow to joy, from repentance to intimacy.  He would keep us in the despair of our own wretchedness, despondent through lack of hope in forgiveness or convince us that our sins are of no account - such that our repentance produces no tears, internal or external.  In both cases, we see only the light of salvation fade and the heart grow cold.  
Let us not then make ourselves unworthy of entrance into the bride-chamber: for as long as we are in this world, even if we commit countless sins it is possible to wash them all away by manifesting repentance for our offenses: but when once we have departed to the other world, even if we display the most earnest repentance it will be of no avail, not even if we gnash our teeth, beat our breasts, and utter innumerable calls for succor, no one with the tip of his finger will apply a drop to our burning bodies, but we shall only hear those words which the rich man heard in the parable ‘Between us and you a great gulf has been fixed.’ [Luke xvi. 26]
Let us then, I beseech you, recover our senses here and let us recognize our Master as He ought to be recognized. For only when we are in Hades should we abandon the hope derived from repentance: for there only is this remedy weak and unprofitable: but while we are here even if it is applied in old age itself it exhibits much strength. Wherefore also the devil sets everything in motion in order to root in us the reasoning which comes of despair: for he knows that if we repent even a little we shall not do this without some reward. But just as he who gives a cup of cold water has his recompense reserved for him, so also the man who has repented of the evils which he has done, even if he cannot exhibit the repentance which his offenses deserve, will have a commensurate reward. For not a single item of good, however small it may be, will be overlooked by the righteous judge. For if He makes such an exact scrutiny of our sins, as to require punishment for both our words and thoughts, much more will our good deeds, whether they be great or small, be reckoned to our credit at that day.
Wherefore, even if thou art not able to return again to the most exact state of discipline, yet if thou withdraw thyself in a slight degree at least from thy present disorder and excess, even this will not be impossible: only set thyself to the task at once, and open the entrance into the place of contest; but as long as thou tarriest outside this naturally seems difficult and impracticable to thee. [Matt. xxv. 34; 249 Luke xvi. 26]. For before making the trial even if things are easy and manageable they are wont to present an appearance of much difficulty to us: but when we are actually engaged in the trial, and making the venture the greater part of our distress is removed, and confidence taking the place of tremor and despair lessens the fear and increases the facility of operation, and makes our good hopes stronger.
For this reason also the wicked one dragged Judas out of this world lest he should make a fair beginning, and so return by means of repentance to the point from which he fell. For although it may seem a strange thing to say, I will not admit even that sin to be too great for the succor which is brought to us from repentance. Wherefore I pray and beseech you to banish all this Satanic mode of thinking from your soul, and to return to this state of salvation.
+ St. John Chrysostom, An Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall, Letter 1

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A gentle breaking of the heart

Our exposure to sin can coarsen our hearts over time and we can become insensitive to the pleas of Divine Love.  The fathers teach that the heart, therefore, must be broken.  It must be shattered, but not in a violent fashion.  Rather, it is through prayer, especially through vigils - when the mind and body have been humbled - that true compunction emerges.  The heart is shattered through the knowledge of one's sins in the face of the love of God and His desire for the soul.  This sorrow opens the door to the heart.

“To brood on evil makes the heart brazen; but to destroy evil through self-restraint and hope breaks the heart. There is a breaking of the heart that is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking that is violent and harmful, shattering it completely. Vigils, prayer, and patient acceptance of what comes constitute a breaking that does not harm but benefits the heart, provided we do not destroy the balance between them through excess. He who perseveres in them will be helped in other ways as well; but he who is slack and negligent will suffer intolerably on leaving this life. A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas an assiduous heart is an open door.

St. Mark the Ascetic”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Doctor of our souls

Cassian, the great teacher that he is, makes it clear that both internal and external disciplines are needed in the spiritual life and the quest for purity of heart.  Above all, humility stands above all the rest because it leads us to distrust the self and place ourselves completely in the care of the "Doctor of our souls." 

Bodily fasting alone is not enough to bring about self-restraint and true purity; it must be accompanied by contrition of heart, intense prayer to God, frequent meditation on the Scriptures, toil, and manual labor. These are able to check the restless impulses of the soul and to recall it from its shameful fantasies. Humility of soul helps more than anything else, however, and without it no one can overcome unchastity or any other sin. In the first place, then, we must take the utmost care to guard the heart from base thoughts, for, according to the Lord, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, unchastity, and so on” (Matthew 15:19).

The Doctor of our souls has also placed the remedy in the hidden regions of the soul, recognizing that the cause of our sickness lies there when he says: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). He seeks to correct not so much our inquisitive and unchaste eyes as the soul that has its seat within and makes bad use of the eyes that God gave it for good purposes. That is why the book of Proverbs in its wisdom does not say, “Guard your eyes with all diligence” but “Guard your heart with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23), imposing the remedy of diligence in the first instance upon that which makes use of the eyes for whatever purpose it desires.

St. John Cassian
I, On the Eight Vices”

The Unending Battle

Watchfulness of heart must be constant because the demons never sleep and are relentless to gain possession of what belongs to God alone.  We must keep a guard over our senses, in particular, given the fact that through them we are in a constant state of receptivity.  Once one is able to discern the true nature of his thoughts and how they defile, he can remain calm and peaceable even in the midst of attacks.  However, no matter what level of discernment we may have achieved, the battle remains until the end of our lives.  We must have no confidence in ourselves but cast ourselves upon the mercy of God.

The demons cunningly withdraw for a time in the hope that we will cease to guard our heart, thinking we have now attained peace; then they suddenly attack our unhappy soul and seize it like a sparrow. Gaining possession of it, they drag it down mercilessly into all kinds of sin, worse than those that we have already committed and for which we have asked forgiveness. Let us stand, therefore, with fear of God and keep guard over our heart, practicing the virtues that check the wickedness of our enemies.

Stand guard, then, over your heart and keep watch on your senses; and if the remembrance of God dwells peaceably within you, you will catch the thieves when they try to deprive you of it. When a man has an exact knowledge about the nature of thoughts, he recognizes those that are about to enter and defile him, troubling the intellect with distractions and making it lazy. Those who recognize these evil thoughts for what they are remain undisturbed and continue in prayer to God.

I entreat you not to leave your heart unguarded, as long as you are in the body. Just as a farmer cannot feel confident about the crop growing in his fields, because he does not know what will happen to it before it is stored away in his granary, so a man should not leave his heart unguarded as long as he still has breath in his nostrils. Up to his last breath he cannot know what passion will attack him; as long as he breathes, therefore, he must not leave his heart unguarded, but should at every moment pray to God for his help and mercy.

St. Isaiah the Solitary

New podcast up!: Cassian on Renunciation

Cassian takes up the theme of the three sources of one's calling to the monastic life or to conversion (God, the example of others, need) and the three types of renunciation essential for living a life of deep conversion (detachment from worldly goods, one's passions, and from all things that prevent theoria or contemplation.)  Discussion ensued about compunction, conversion in one's daily life, and embracing a spirit of renunciation in the modern world.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fall from grace

Through holy baptism we are granted remission of our sins, are freed from the ancient curse, and are sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit. But we do not as yet receive the perfection of grace … for that is true only of those who are steadfast in faith and have demonstrated this through what they do. If after we have been baptized we gravitate toward evil and foul actions, we lose the sanctification of baptism completely. But through repentance, confession, and tears we receive a corresponding remission of our former sins and, in this way, sanctification accompanied by the grace of God.

St. Symeon the New Theologian

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Repentance Refined and Perfected

First the soul has to surmount afflictions embraced willingly, thereby learning to spurn sensual pleasure and self-glory; and this in its turn will permit us readily to bear the afflictions that come unsought. If for the sake of poverty of spirit you spurn each pleasure and self-glory, and also regard yourself as deserving the more drastic remedy of repentance, you will be ready to bear any affliction and will accept any temptation as your due, and you will rejoice when it comes, for you will see it as a cleansing agent for your soul.

St. Gregory Palamas

Friday, April 11, 2014

Forged in the Fire of Ascetic Struggle

The purgative stage pertains to those newly engaged in spiritual warfare. It is characterized by the rejection of the materialistic self, liberation from material evil, and investiture with the regenerate self, renewed by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 3:10). It involves hatred of materiality, the attenuation of the flesh, the avoidance of whatever incites the mind to passion, repentance for sins committed, the dissolving with tears of the bitter sediment left by sin, the regulation of our life according to the generosity of the Spirit, and the cleansing through compunction of the inside of the cup (Matthew 23:26)—the intellect—from every defilement of flesh and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1), so that it can then be filled with the wine of the Logos that gladdens the heart of the purified (Psalm 104:15), and can be brought to the King of the celestial powers for him to taste. Its final goal is that we should be forged in the fire of ascetic struggle, scouring off the rust of sin, and steeled and tempered in the water of compunction, so that swordlike we may effectively cut off the passions and the demons. Reaching this point through long ascetic struggle, we quench the fire within us, muzzle the brutelike passions, become strong in the Spirit instead of weak (Hebrews 11:33–34), and like another Job conquer the tempter through our patient endurance.

Nikitas Stithatos

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Desert within . . .

I have heard people say that one cannot achieve a persistent state of virtue without retreating far into the desert, and I was amazed that they should think the unconfinable could be confined to a particular locality…. Such a state is not achieved adventitiously, by external influences; it is implanted within us at our creation by virtue of our endemic divine and spiritual consciousness. And when we are impelled by this inner consciousness in accordance with our true nature we are led into the kingdom of heaven, which in our Lord’s words, is “within us” (Luke 17:21). Thus the desert is in fact superfluous, since we can enter the kingdom simply through repentance and the strict keeping of God’s commandments. Entry into the kingdom can occur, as David states, “in all places of His dominion”; for he says, “In all places of His dominion bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 103:22).

Nikitas Stithatos”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tears of repentance and tears of divine compunction

Sometimes the flow of tears produces an acrid and painful feeling in the heart’s organ of spiritual perception; sometimes it induces delight and a sense of jubilation. Thus, when through repentance we are in the process of cleansing ourselves from the poison and stain of sin and, enkindled by divine fire, hot tears of repentance flow from us, and when our conscience is, as it were, smitten by the heart’s anguish, then we experience this acrid feeling and painfulness both spiritually and perceptibly. But when we have been largely cleansed by such tears and have attained freedom from the passions, then—refreshed by the Divine Spirit, our heart pure and tranquil—we are filled with inexpressible tenderness and delight by the joyous tears provoked by compunction.

Tears of repentance are one thing, tears that flow because of divine compunction another. The first are like a river in spate that sweeps away all the bastions of sin; the second are to the soul like rain or snow to a field, making it yield a bountiful crop of spiritual knowledge.

Nikitas Stithatos

Do not abandon your Physician in despair

It is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. “You fell,” it is written, “now arise” (Proverbs 24:16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all of your salvation, no matter what happens. As long as you do not surrender yourself willingly to the enemy, your patient endurance, combined with self-reproach, will suffice for your salvation. “For at one time we ourselves went astray in our folly and disobedience,” says St. Paul. “… Yet he saved us, not because of any good things we had done, but in his mercy” (Titus 3:5). So do not despair in any way, ignoring God’s help, for he can do whatever he wishes. On the contrary, place your hope in him and he will do one of these things: either through trials and temptations, or in some other way which he alone knows, he will bring about your restoration; or he will accept your patient endurance and humility in the place of works; or because of your hope he will act lovingly toward you in some other way of which you are not aware, and so will save your shackled soul. Only do not abandon your Physician.

St. Peter of Damaskos

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Marvel at God's Compassion

“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding him in your ignorance as powerless? Is he, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as his incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and he will receive your repentance, as he accepted that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (Luke 7:37–50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion.

St. Peter of Damaskos

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Podcast Up - St. John Cassian: Life, Times and Writings

The Journey Begins . . .

Merton's Lectures On Cassian's Conference One

This excerpt is taken from Merton's Cassian and the Fathers which contains Merton's insights on
patristic and monastic figures preceding the time of St. Benedict, above all John Cassian, the most significant bridge between the early desert fathers and the monastic life of the West.  They also reveal the continuing relevance of Cassian's teachings for contemporary Christians living in the world.

Merton's Lecture on Conference One

Merton's Notes on Cassian's Conferences

The following attachment is a review of Cassian from Thomas Merton's notes in a work called Pre-Benedictine Monasticism - a compilation of Merton's conferences for novices.  These conferences offer keen observations of Cassian and the milieu in which he wrote.  I hope they are helpful.

Merton Review of Cassian

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hymn to St. John Cassian

Having cleansed yourself through fasting,
You attained the understanding of wisdom,
And from the desert fathers You learned the restraint of the passions.
To this end through your prayers grant our flesh obedience to the spirit.
For you are the teacher, O venerable John Cassian,
Of all who in Christ praise your memory.

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Father,
For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.
By so doing you taught us to disregard the flesh for it passes away
But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.
Therefore your spirit, venerable John Cassian, rejoices with the angels.

As a venerable monk,
You consecrated your life to God,
And radiant with virtue, O John Cassian,
You shine like the sun with the splendor of your divine teachings,
Illumining ever the hearts of all who honor you.
Entreat Christ earnestly in behalf of those
Who praise you with fervent love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Primer to the "Conferences" of St. John Cassian

The following is a brief introduction to the life of St. John Cassian and overview of the basic principles guiding his thought and the structure of his spiritual writings.  On February 5th we will begin discussing St. John's Conferences and as with the previous group the podcast of each evening will be posted.  

How Cassian must be read

Cassian himself ceaselessly reiterated that you cannot understand the monastic life unless you are attempting to live it.  The same could be said about the spiritual life.  None of us are monks and few of us have embraced the spiritual life in the way that Cassian or the monks of his day did.  We must then take care in the way we read his writings and approach them with humility - as beginners sitting at the feet of a master.


+ Lived c. 365-435 A.D. 

+Time like our own:

season of councils - a period when the old and new, traditional and innovative surfaced in a myriad of combinations.

season of great experimentation that revealed the possibilities and limitations of monastic life.

season of doctrinal development when the Church was faced with questions concerning the relationship in the Trinity and the human and divine natures of Christ.

All of this is reflected in John's writings.  In this they become an example of the problem faced by a Christian obliged to reconcile the past with the needs and burdens of his day.  John was responding to the old problem of what to make of the life one has been given by God.

+ John's life:

John was not passive in his response.  Somewhere about the year 380 he set out with a friend, Germanus, to visit the holy places of Palestine.  In Bethlehem they became monks.  But in those days the heart of the contemplative life was in Egypt and before long they went into that country, and visited in turn the famous holy men.  For a time they lived as hermits under the guidance of Archebius, and then Cassian penetrated into the desert of Skete there to hunt out the anchorites concealed among its burning rocks and live with the monks in their cenobia.

For some reason unknown, about the year 400 he crossed over to Constantinople.  He became a disciple of St. John Chrysostom, by whom he was ordained a deacon.  When Chrysostom was uncanonically condemned and deposed, Cassian was among those sent to Rome to defend the Archbishop's cause to the Pope.  He may have been ordained priest while in Rome. 

Nothing more is known of his life until several years later, when he was in Marseilles.
It was at this time that Cassian was asked by a Bishop in the Diocese of Apt to write a
description of the practice of the monks in the east to be applied in a western monastery.
Cassian responded by choosing and interpreting the eastern traditions of the east to create
body of institutes suitable to the west.

Cassian had a long experience of the East.  Meditating on the monastic life as presented to him in Egypt, he dismissed some suggestions and developed others.  He certainly revered Egypt and its spirituality, but not everything he found there.

Out of the diversity of Egyptian ideas and practices, he began to create a coherent scheme of spirituality.  For beginners in the monastic life and for those planning to found monasteries, John wrote the Institutes; and for those interested in the Egyptian ideal of the monk he composed twenty four

In these writings, it was Cassian's conviction that the monastic ideal can indeed be practiced.

The disciple needs common sense, moderation, perseverance, patience and a willingness to endure.  If he has these, then the soul will find that the way of life to God is strengthening and joyful.  Cassian's one warning, however, is that it does little good to share the insights of the Egyptian masters with those who are not prepared to receive them - - for those driven more by curiosity than by desire for God.

His intentions were simple. 

First, he wanted to point to the highest modes of prayer.

Second, he wanted to show his monks how to create a good and harmonious community.
In this task, Cassian was a great ethical guide, a man of distinctive common sense and sensibility.  The goal was perfection of life and the end of perfection was always charity.  Perfection is full of movement -  a direction toward, a loving aspiration after God © a loving response to the love of God.

In Cassian's view, the solitary way was best but the communal life of the coenobium was the necessary training ground of beginners; only when the ascetic had purged his soul of the common vices by the practice of virtue and mortification in community might he pass to the higher contemplation of the solitary.  The coenobium is the kindergarten.  After having lived with hermits in the desert, Cassian knowing his unworthiness and inability to embrace the higher practice returned to the kindergarten.

 General Principles of the Institutes and Conferences

To search his writings for an intricate mystical ladder would be misguided.  No system is
distinguishable in his writing, only certain general lines of thought.

The Monastery:

A. The Three Counsels: chastity, poverty and obedience

1. Cassian treats them not as vows but as virtues.  Egyptian thought censured the practice of vows in the fear that they might lead either to pride or perjury.

chastity was not only abstention from corporal acts, but a limpid purity of soul,
cleansed from desire and virgin to all but God.

Poverty was not just the complete sacrifice of riches; abandonment of property was the
first step - the monk must pass to crush the sin and the desire that proceeds from
possessions and rise above the things that are not God.  Beyond poverty is the separation
from all created things which is the condition of a pure love of God.  All of this is a
conformity to the lowliness of the Lord - a descent to the want and poverty of Christ.

Obedience was paramount over every virtue, the ABCs in the learning of perfection.
The junior is not to trust his judgment, but to pronounce that to be good or bad which is
considered good or bad by his elder.  They must reveal their thoughts of every kind, good
or bad, to receive comment and direction from their guide.

B. Admission of Novices

1. postulant must first lie outside the door for 10 days or longer.  When he had shown
persistence, he entered the house to be stripped of his property and money and to
exchange the clothes of the world for the monastic dress.  Secular garments were stored
as a silent reminder of expulsion in penalty for disobedience.

2. novice remained for a probationary year in the guest house excluded from full
membership of the community, instructed by an elder and responsible for visitors.
Cassian alone required so long a period before admission.  At the end of the year the
novice was admitted formally and placed with other juniors under the supervision of a
senior monk.

C. Work:

1. seen not as creative nor even as primarily useful to the community, but as an
expedient method of keeping the body and mind occupied.  Although work increases the
ability for contemplation, cures accidie, and acts as an aid to prayer, it need fulfill no
useful purpose. Manual labor preferred.  However, writing and reading were customary exercises, but done with the purpose of growing in spiritual knowledge.

 D. Worship:

1. motivated by humility

monks normally fled the idea ordination and the primitive practice was not to receive communion frequently for fear of partaking unworthily.

2. Cassian agreed with the view on ordination of which he saw himself unworthy
receiving and fear being drawn away from the quiet life.  Communion, however, ought to
received often in order to receive medicine and cleansing for our souls.  In his
monasteries they may have received daily!

3. Cassian introduced the eastern customs of common prayer, but adapted them for the
western monk.  Egyptian custom celebrated Vespers and Nocturns only and allowed the
day time for continuous prayer in private.

a. Nocturns, the midnight office(matins): 12 psalms with prayers between each,
followed by two lesson from the OT and NT.

b. dawn office(lauds) - - immediately after matins: psalms 148-150.

c. morning office(prime): marked the beginning of the days work. psalms 51, 63,

d. Terce, Sext, None: 3 psalms each, no lessons.

e. Vespers: 12 psalms and 2 lessons as at Nocturns

no compline, which first appeared in the rule of Benedict; psalmody was done in such a way to ensure understanding and prevent haste.

E. Acts of Mortification:

1. The search for God reveals the somber truth that the carnal instincts of human nature
are a barrier to pure worship and saintly character.  A monk could only mould his will
upon the divine will if he conquered the instinctive self-centeredness of fallen humanity by ceaseless mortification; the sinful desires must die.

2. Cassian had three principles of mortification:

first it is an instrument to be used or unused according to need; secondly it is to Ã
remain secret; thirdly it must be restrained;

3. discretion was the indispensable virtue in the ascetic life; one must balance his way between the twin abysses of laxity and excessive austerity.  Submission to the elders is nowhere more important than in the practice of mortification.

4. repudiating fanaticism, Cassian still demanded an exacting self-discipline in the
common and sober acts of austerity.
II. Conquest of Sin:

Both eastern and western spirituality as a whole conceives of the ascetic life as a slow progress upward toward God, a climb of the hill by spiritual exercise - - prayer, mortification of the carnal lusts, growth in the knowledge of God -  until the soul has become Christ like, God-like.

This being true, there developed early on principles upon which asceticism might be conducted.  Cassian does not develop a system to be followed, but establishes certain principles to be followed in one's spiritual life.  As always he makes these principles
understandable to the western mind.

A.  Flesh and Spirit:

1. basic antagonism between the two -  a war in which neither ceases to attack or defend does not mean the material substance of the body but the carnal desires, the passions. 

2. The essence of the Christian life is seen as a war within the personality.

3. Cassian experience was that the body was not evil in essence, but is inclined to and
encourages evil, though its union with and war against the spirit is nevertheless for the
benefit of the spiritual life.

4. the Christian way is not quiet or gentle or pleasant; it is a battle fought in the soul.
This battle is the condition of spiritual progress.

5. Apart from this violence of warring, there is nothing but indifference, lukewarmness.
 Advance to attack expresses Cassian's outlook; for the lustful will is the chief adversary of man.

B. The Goal:

1. the ultimate goal is the kingdom of heaven, but the aim(skopos) of the purgative
process is purity of heart.  The purgative process must place a person in a state of
freedom from the passions, to produce in the mind a concentration of thought upon God,
in the soul an indifference to all apart from the Creator.  To this goal the monk must
march along the royal road unswervingly, must close his eyes like the competitor in a
shooting contest to all but the bullseye.  Asceticism is a means toward the skopos

 2. Behind this theory lay the ideal of the angelic life.

This was the notion that man must aim at contemplating and worshipping and praising God like the angels and at doing his will on earth as the angels in heaven.  But according to Cassian sinlessness is impossible, temptations never cease in this life and there is always the need to fight.

3. Perfection in this life is relative perfection, not to be identified with sinlessness but
rather with the completion of the purgative process, which can be described as the state
of purity of heart.

It is possible to achieve freedom from the grosser passions, but this does not mean immunity from temptation.  Purity of heart is but the moral platform from whence God can be seen.

C. The Principal Sins:

1. Cassian list contained eight principal sins: gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, dejection, accidie, vainglory, pride.  Cassian treated them as sin produced by
corresponding temptations.

2.  The order is not random. They are linked together as cars in a railroad train.  Because
they are so intimately coupled an attack upon one is an attack upon all and conversely a
surrender to one is a surrender to all, and because gluttony acquires its capital place in
the list as the root instigator of the corrupting series, fasting and abstinence must become
the first and most valuable element in all ascetic practice.

3.  Cassian writing is intended to drive the mind to seek the reason for sin, not in superficial symptoms but in the latent evil in the human heart.  Fight, strive, press on, struggle, resist, conquer - -  are all key words.  Cassian can only repeat, "here is the evil - fight against it.

4.  In all of this grace is presupposed: God is both the goal and the means by which the
goal is attained.  Grace is what leads us to embrace methods of spiritual progress.

D. The Motive of the Life of Virtue:

1.  Three things enable men to control and remedy their faults: a) the Fear
 of hell, or the penalties of earthly laws, b) the thought of and desire for the kingdom of heaven and c) a love of goodness and virtue in itself.

2. These three motives are not equally excellent, but correspond to different grades in the
spiritual life, in which the third, the selfless motive must be the highest aim of all who seek after God.  The Christian is seeking to be united with God.

 3. The soul must love and follow God for his own sake and not in the hope of personal
advantage or enjoyment.  Ethics are the instrument to the love of God.

E. The Virtues:

1. virtue for Cassian consists in not committing sin.  Where he thinks of virtue, he
normally treats it as the opposite of vice: chastity means not fornicating, patience not
being angry, humility not being proud, temperance not being gluttonous. 

2. Charity, or love of God, was the transcendent virtue in which all individual virtues were absorbed.  For this reason he was uninterested in the discussion of the specific virtues and
the distinctions of later moralists.

3. morality acts as an instrument to the contemplation of God, and so Cassian invariably treats good deeds not as the flowing outcome of the love of God but as a useful aid in the
struggle for personal perfection.  Good works and acts of virtue will even disappear in
heaven where all is caught up in the contemplation of God.

4.  He normally conceived the fight as a battle against the pressing, insidious powers of
evil, rarely as a battle for the good.  The assaulting sins are much more numerous than
the defending virtues.

III. Grace:

A. The Doctrine of Cassian:

1. His thought centers upon the strife between flesh and spirit.  The carnality of man
which is the result of the Fall, has not made man incapable of doing good: it has rather
produced a tension in human nature whereby sinful desires pull against the spiritual
desires.  In the middle of the strife, between the flesh on the one side and the spirit on the
other, the free will is set maintaining the tension.  He calls the free will the balance in the
scales of the body.

2. Cassian's view stirred him to emphasize the powers of the human will - - even if it is
weakened.  The whole weight of his thought is thrown upon the necessity for exertion.
The monk must fight to achieve purity of heart, he must work to eject the seeds of vices,
he must fast and watch and labor with his hands, he must direct his mental process and
ward off temptations.  In all of this grace is not discarded but thoroughly assumed, on
account of the enormous importance he attaches to prayer.

3.  Cassian never suggests that sin can be overcome, that the Christian road can be
travelled, unless God grant his grace.  Rather his teaching emphasizes two truths of the
Christian faith - -  that man depends absolutely upon God, and that his will has full
responsibility for choice between good and evil. 

4. Cassian is the teacher, emphasizing opposite sides of the same question for practical
reasons.  Grace is not set in antithesis to freedom of the will, but to laziness.

B. Grace in the Conferences:

1.  In Cassian, as opposed to Augustine, the human will is not portrayed so darkly.  After
the Fall, while having a bias toward and desire for evil, man still has knowledge of the good; and since the human race has this knowledge of the good, it can sometimes
perform it naturally, of its own free will unaided by grace except in so far as God is
regarded as granting his grace when he originally created man capable of doing good.  In
Augustine the will to good is dead: in Cassian it is not dead, but neither is it healthy.
Rather he conceives the human will as sick, needing constant attention from healing
grace, but like a sick man still capable occasionally - if revived by medicine - of healthy

2.  In a more subtle argument, Cassian teaches that grace is sometimes removed for the benefit of the soul.  To prevent the will becoming slothful and idle, grace may wait for some move on the part of the will.  We see here again the connection in his mind between
grace and laziness. 

IV. The Life of Contemplation:

A. Sinlessness:

1. although some ascetics considered sinlessness to be within the power of human nature,
Cassian denied the possibility.  The soul is bound to leave the divine vision because of
that law in human nature resulting from the Fall.  The word saint is not a synonym of the
word immaculate for Cassian.

2. Cassian will allow that an ascetic may achieve the destruction of all his faults.  Yet this is not sinlessness, since the mind cannot maintain it hold upon the contemplation of God; and in the eyes of the saint even momentary departure from contemplation is the vilest of sin.  Full possession of the virtues may be attained, but not the possibility of keeping the mind concentrated on God.

3.  The principal barrier for the monk lies not so much in the commission of external sin,
but in the slippery thought of his own mind.  Thus there can be perfection attain in the
active life, but not in the contemplative life.

B. The Mind

1. Cassian regards contemplation as the mind seeing God; union as the linking of the mind to God.  Since the mind through the Fall is so unstable and wandering that it can never be still, the problem of contemplation consists in fixing the mind to a single point -  God.  Cassian reverts to the difficulty of the mobile mind perhaps more frequently than to any other subject dealt with in the Conferences.

2. Swarms of thoughts enter the mind, whether suggested by devils or by earthly
distractions.  Yet, Cassian did not seek the stripping naked of the mind, but rather the mind must attempt to control the ascending and descending of thoughts, until the former
predominate  over the latter.

3.  In later stages, there is progressive simplification until the state of pure prayer is
reached where the prayer is so concentrated upon God alone that the mind has come to
unity from diversity and holds one prayer, one thought.

C. Prayer and Contemplation

1. Cassian's teaching on prayer is not unlike the consensus of Egyptian monastic thought
upon the beginnings of contemplation: from the discursive use of the mind in meditation,
the soul passes by a gradual simplification of thought to a condition where it does not
need mental variety in order to pray, but can rest "satisfied, and more deeply satisfied,
with a simple look at God than it was at first with much thinking.  In the early stages the
soul is frequently filled with sensible sweetness, with spiritual delight in God.  This
sweetness vanishes as advance is made upon the contemplative way, until the soul
confronts God in a cloud of unknowing, dimly and ignorantly, while the intellect without
concepts and without images, is not only at rest but cannot think discursively at all.  In
pure contemplation all the faculties of the intellect and the heart are silenced in face of the simple longing for God.

2.  For Cassian, the supreme goal of life, the kingdom of God itself, is to be found, in the
direct perception of God.  He is at one with Egyptian tradition in believing that none may
enter upon this way who has not first undertaken the practical training of the active life.
The monk cannot contemplate if he is proud, unchaste or dejected, if he is not seeking
detachment from created things.

3. As prayer is reduced from a multiplicity of thoughts to simplicity, the object of
contemplation, which began by being complex, becomes little by little a unity.  The ladder of contemplation has three rungs: the contemplation of many things, the contemplation of a few, the contemplation of one alone.

4. Cassian only mentions the effects of contemplation occasionally.  It brings union with, by union of wills though not in essence.  The soul comes to the image and likeness of God feeds on the beauty and knowledge of God, it receives the indwelling Christ the Holy Spirit, it is illumined attains to the adopted Sonship and possesses all that belongs to the Father.  The soul is so filled that it begins to share in the love of the Blessed Trinity.  For John, contemplation is a formless thoughtless, vacuity.  Rather it is a unity wherein fullness is found: where God shall be all our love, and every desire and wish and effort, every thought of ours, and all our life and words and breath, and that unity which
already exist between the Father and the Son, and the Son and the Father, has
been shed abroad in our hearts and minds.

V. Conclusions:

Cassian bequeathed to Western Christianity the idea that the spiritual life was a science in which prayer reigned:that it is possible to analyze temptation and the nature of sin: that methods of prayer and mortification are neither haphazard nor individual, but ordered according to established experience.  All the guides to spirituality in which western Europe later abounded are his direct descendants.