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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter II. The History of Cassian's Writings, MSS., and Editions.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter II.

The History of Cassian’s Writings, MSS., and Editions.

The literary history of Cassian’s works is not without an interest of its own. We have already seen the estimation in which they were held in spite of their Semi-Pelagian doctrines. These were naturally accounted a blemish, and it is not surprising that those who most admired their excellences were anxious to avoid propagating their errors. Hence they were often “expurgated,” and in many mss. the text has suffered considerably from the changes made by copyists in the interests of orthodoxy. As early as the fifth century we find two revised versions of portions of his works existing. His friend Eucherius, Bishop of Lyons, p. 194 was the author of an epitome of the Institutes, which still exists; 621 and although this was compiled for convenience’ sake because of the length of the original work, rather than from any suspicion of his teaching, the case is different with a recension made for use in Africa by Victor, Bishop of Martyrites. This is no longer extant, but Cassiodorus distinctly tells us that it was made in the interests of orthodoxy by means of expurgation as well as addition of what was wanting. 622 Yet another epitome of three of the Conferences (I., II., VII.) was made at some time before the tenth century. It was translated into Greek, and known to Photius, who speaks 623 of three works of Cassian as translated into Greek: viz., (1) an Epitome of the Institutes, Books I.–IV.; (2) Epitome of the Institutes, Books V.–XII.; and (3) one of the Conferences I., II., VII.

Thus in very early days the fashion was set of expurgating and emending the writings of Cassian; and Leuwis de Ryckel, better known as Dionysius Carthusianus, might have quoted several precedents for his method of dealing with the text. This famous divine,—the doctor exstaticus of the fifteenth century,—shocked as others had been before him at the Semi-Pelagianism of the Conferences, and yet sensible of their real value in spite of sundry blemishes, took in hand to correct them, and gave to the world a free paraphrase both of the Institutes and of the Conferences, in a somewhat simple style and one more easy to be understood than the original. The greatest alterations, as might be expected, are visible in the thirteenth Conference; as Dionysius, in his endeavour to make Cassian orthodox, omits all that savours of Semi-Pelagianism; and from c. viii. onward there are large omissions and various suggestive alterations in the text. 624

Incidental mention has been already made of the esteem in which the Institutes and Conferences were held by S. Benedict and Cassiodorus. In the Rule of the former (c. xlii.) it is ordered that after supper the brethren should assemble together, and one of them should read the Conferences, or Lives of the Fathers, or any other book calculated to edify. And again, in the closing chapter of the same rule, the study of them is recommended to those who are desirous of perfection; for “what are the Conferences of the Fathers, the Institutes, and the lives of them; what, too, the Rule of our holy father, S. Basil, but examples of virtuous and obedient monks, and helps to the attainment of virtue?” Equally strong is the recommendation of Cassiodorus: “Sedulo legite, frequenter audite;” but at the same time he reminds his readers that Cassian was very properly censured by Prosper for his teaching on Freewill, and that, therefore, he is to be read with caution whenever he touches on this subject. With testimonies such as these to their value it is no wonder that copies were rapidly multiplied, so that scarcely a monastery was without a copy of some part of them; and existing mss. of the Institutes and Conferences are very numerous. But none of the oldest mss. contain the complete work. The institutes were often regarded as made up of two separate treatises,—(1) the Institutes of the Cœnobia, containing Books I.–IV., and (2) On the Eight Principal Faults, comprising Books V.–XII. So, too, with the Conferences, and their three divisions: they are often found separately in different mss.

The mss. being so numerous, it was found impossible to collate them all for the latest edition of Cassian’s works; viz., that edited by Petschenig for the Vienna Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. The Editor therefore confined his attention to a limited number, of which the following is the list.

I. The Institutes.

1. Codex Casinensis Rescriptus, 295. A Palimpsest with the Epistles of S. Jerome written over Cassian’s work. The date of this ms. is the seventh or eighth century, and it contains portions only of the Institutes, nothing remaining of Books I.–IV., or of VIII. and IX.

2. Codex Majoris Seminarii Œduensis (Autun), 24. Seventh century, containing portions of Books V.–XII.

3. Caroliruhensis, 87. Eighth century, containing all twelve books.

4. Sangallensis, 183. Ninth century.

5. Parisinus, 12292. Tenth century.

6. Laudunensis (Laon), 328 bis. Ninth century.

7. Caroliruhensis, 164. Ninth century.

p. 195

II. Conferences I.–X.

1. Vaticanus, 5766. Eighth century.

2. Parisinus, Bibl. Nat., 13384. Ninth century.

3. Vercellensis (Chapter Library), 187, 44. Cent. 8–10.

4. Parisinus, Bibl. Nat. nouv. fonds, 2170. Ninth century. This (with a few lacunæ) contains all the Conferences, being the only one of Petschenig’s mss. of which this can be said.

5. Vaticanus, Bibl. Palat., 560. Tenth century.

6. Sangallensis, 574. Cent. 9–10.

Of these mss. the last two contain many errors and interpolations, some of which are followed in the editions of Cassian published at Basle, 1485–1495.

III. Conferences XI.–XVII.

1. Sessorianus (Rome), 55. Cent. 7–8.

2. Petropolitanus, Bibl. Imp. O. 1, 4. Seventh or eighth century.

3. Sangallensis, 576. Ninth century.

4. Parisinus, Bibl. Nat. nouv. fonds., 2170 (as above).

5. Vindobonensis, 397. Tenth century. This Vienna ms. contains Prosper’s work Contra Collatorem, the passages of Cassian being written in the margin.

IV. Conferences XVIII.–XXIV.

1. Monacensis, 4549. Cent. 8–9.

2. Monacensis, 6343. Ninth century.

3. Parisinus, Bibl. Nat. nouv. fonds., 2170 (as above).

4. Vaticanus, Bibl. Reginæ Sueciæ, 140. Cent. 9–10.

5. Caroliruhensis, 92. Ninth century.

6. Sangallensis, 575. Ninth century.

Passing now from the Institutes and Conferences to the work “On the Incarnation against Nestorius,” we are no longer encumbered by the number of mss. There was not the same reason for the multiplication of copies of it as there was in the case of those writings which bore on the monastic life. It appears never to have obtained any special popularity, and, so far as is known, only seven mss. of it are still in existence. The following are those of which Petschenig made use for his edition:—

1. Codex Bibl. Armentarii Parisiensis (Bibl. de l’Arsenal), 483. Cent. 10–11.

2. British Museum addl., 16414. Cent. 11–12.

3. Parisinus, Bibl. Nat., 14860. Thirteenth century.

4. Bibl. Coloniensium Augustinianorum. This ms. is now lost, but was used by Cuyck for his edition of Cassian, and from this Petschenig is able to give selected readings.

The remaining mss. known to exist, but not used by Petschenig, are these:—

1. Matritensis, Bibl. Nat., Q. 106. Twelfth century.

2. Laurentianus (Laurentian Library at Florence), XXVI., 13. Fifteenth century.

3. Bibl. Leop. Medici Fœsulanæ (also at Florence), 48. Fifteenth century.

4. Parisinus, 2143. Fourteenth century. 625

It only remains to give some account of the various editions of the printed text.

It has generally been stated that the earliest edition of the Institutes was that printed at Venice in 1481, of which only a single copy is known to exist, viz., in the Laurentian Library at Florence; and that the first edition which included the Conferences was that published by Amerbach at Basle in 1485. This statement, however, appears to be erroneous, as there still exists in the British Museum a single copy of a very early black-letter edition of the Conferences. The title-page is gone, and there is no colophon; and, therefore, the date cannot be given with certainty, but the work is assigned by the authorities of the Museum to the year 1476, and is thought to have proceeded from the press of the Brothers of the Common life at Brussels. The first page of the work begins as follows: “Ut Valeas cor in opere isto citius invenire qd requiris hæc tibi concapitulatio breviter demostrabit quis unde in singulis collationibus disputaverit.” Then follows a list of the twenty-four Conferences with their authors, and the page ends with these words: “Prologus cassiani sup. collationes patru ad leontiu et elladiu epos. In nomine Domini ihu cristi dei nostri feliciter.”

This, then, in all probability was the first edition of the Latin text of the Conferences. But it is a curious fact that at a still earlier date a free German translation or paraphrase of them had already been published. This, like the work just mentioned, has been overlooked by all the editors of Cassian, but two copies of it still remain in the British Museum, beginning as follow: “Hic liber a quodam egregio sacrarum literarum professore magistro Johane Nide ordis pdicatorum fratre de latino in vulgarem Nuremberge translatus est.” The colophon p. 196 in one copy gives the date as 1472, and the place at which it was printed as Augsberg. The other copy has no date but is assigned by the authorities of the Museum to a still earlier year; viz., 1470.

The Basle edition of 1485 was reprinted at the press of Amerbach in 1497; and at Venice there was issued a second edition of the Institutes, to which the Conferences were added, in 1491. 626 Subsequent early editions are those of Lyons, in 1516 and 1525, and Bologna 1521. But not till 1534 were the seven books on the Incarnation against Nestorius published. They appear for the first time in the edition which was issued in this year from the press of Cratander at Basle.

Far superior to all these early editions, which were very faulty, was that published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp in 1578, edited by H. Cuyck, Professor at Louvain and afterward Bishop of Ruremonde. It was undertaken at the suggestion of Cardinal Carafa, and its full title is the following: “D. Ioannis Cassiani Eremitæ Monasticarum Institutionum libri IIII. De Capitalibus vitiis libri VIII. Collationes SS. Patrum XXIIII. De Verbi Incarnatione libri VII. Nunc demum post varias editiones ad complurium ms. fidem a non pancis mendarum milibus incredibili labore expurgati: id quod ex subiectis ad calcem castigationibus facile cognosci poterit: additis etiam ad quædam loca censoriis notationibus, et obscurarum vocum ac sententiarun elucidatione, un a cum duobus Indicibus locupletissimis. Accesserunt quoque Regulæ SS. Patrum ex antiquissimo Affliginiensis monasterii ms. codice desumptæ. Opera et studio Henrici Cuyckii Sacræ Theologiæ Licentiati.”

Cuyck’s work was supplemented, also at Carafa’s desire, by Petrus Ciacconius, a priest of Toledo, who died in 1581, before it was ready for the press. A new edition was, however, published at Rome in 1588 “ex Edibus Dominicæ Basæ,” in which the notes and emendations of Ciacconius were embodied. Unfortunately this edition does not contain the books on the Incarnation. Its full title is as follows: “Ioannis Cassiani Eremitæ de institutis renuntiantium Libri XII. Collationes Sanctorum Patrum XXIIII. Adiectæ sunt quarundam obscurarum dictionum interpretationes ordine alphabeti dispositæ: et observationes in loca ambigua et minus tuta. Præterea Indices duo testimoniorum sacræ Scripturæ, quæ a Cassiano vel explicantur, vel aliter quam vulgata editio habet, citantur: ac postremo verum memorabilium Index copiosissimus. Accedit Regula S. Pachomii, quæ a S. Hieronymo in Latinum sermonem conversa est: Omnia multo quam antehac, auxilio vetustissimorum codicum, emendatiora, et ad suam integritatem restituta.” This edition, as well as the previous one, contained a dissertation on a number of passages (some thirty in all) of doubtful orthodoxy, in order to put the reader on his guard against following Cassian in his errors.

In 1616 there was published at Douay in two volumes what has remained until the present day the standard edition of Cassian’s works, prepared with loving care by a Benedictine monk of the Abbey of St. Vaast at Arras, named Gazet. This edition is enriched throughout with copious annotations, containing an immense amount of illustrative matter; and besides the text of Cassian’s works it contains several other documents of importance for a right understanding of them. The full title is this: “Ioannis Cassiani presbyteri, quem alii eremitam, alii abbatem nuncupant, opera omnia. Novissime recognita, repurgata et notis amplissimis illustrata. Quibus accessere alia ejusdem argumenti opuscula, quorum elenchum sequens pagina exhibebit. Studio et opera D. Alardi Gazæi cœnobitæ Vedastini ord. Benedicti.”

Besides the Institutes, Conferences, and the work on the Incarnation against Nestorius, these volumes contained the following among other material:—

The Rule of St. Pachomius.

The Catholic doctrine substituted for the latter part of Conference XIII. by Dionysius Carthusianus.

Prosper “Contra Collatorem.”

This edition has been frequently reprinted, 627 some of the later reprints containing still more illustrative material. It still remains indispensable to the student of Cassian’s works by reason of the valuable commentary with which it is throughout enriched. But for the mere text it is now altogether superseded by the fine edition prepared by Petschenig for the Vienna Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, in two volumes.

Vol. I.—Ioannis Cassiani De Institutis Cœnobiorum et de octo Principalium Vitiorum Remediis Libri XII. De Incarnatione Domini Contra Nestorium Libri VII. recensuit et commentario critico instruxit Michæl Petschenig. Accedunt Prolegomena et Indices (Vindobonæ, 1888).

p. 197

Vol. II.—Ioannis Cassiani Conlationes XXIIII. (Vindobonæ, 1886). Petschenig’s work is admirably done, and the text of this edition is vastly superior to that of all its predecessors. In the present translation it has been used throughout the Conferences. The volume containing the Institutes and the work on the Incarnation unfortunately appeared too late for the translation to be made from it. It has, however, been carefully compared with the text of Ciacconius, which Gazet merely repeats, 628 and attention is called to the chief variations in the notes.

Mention has already been made of the early German paraphrase or translation, dating from 1470 or 1472; and the popularity of the Cassian’s works is evinced by the number of other early translations made into the various languages of Europe. Of these next in order of time is one in Flemish. In the copy of this in the British Museum the title is wanting, the book beginning as follows: “Hier beghint der ouder vader collacie. Hi hyetede Ioannes Cassianus die dese vieretwintich navolgende vad, collacien ghemaect hevet.” The colophon is this: “Hier eyndet een seer goede en profitelike leeringhe. En is ghenoemt der ouder vaders collacien. Michiel hiller van Hoochstraten. Tantwerpen 1506. fol.”

Very little later is the first of several French translations, with the following curious title: “Les Collacions des sains Peres anciens translateez de Grec en latin. Par Cassiodorus tres sainct docteur en theologie et translateez de latin en francoys par maistre ieha gosein aussy docteur en theologie de l’ordre des freres de la Montaigne du carme et imprimees nouvellement a paris.” No date is given, but the work is assigned by the Museum authorities to the year 1510.

Later French translations are the following:—

Paris. Chez Charles Savreux. 8° les Conférences de Cassien traduites en françois par De Saligny. 1663. (This edition altogether omits the thirteenth Conference.)

Paris. Chez Charles Savreux. 8° les Institutions de Cassien traduites en françois par De Saligny. 1667.

Institutions de Cassien traduites par E. Cartier. Paris, Tours, 1872.

There are also two Italian translations, one as early as 1563 (Opera. Tradotta per B. Buffi. Venetia. 1563. 4°), and one of the present century,—Volgarizzamento delle collazioni dei SS. Padri del venerabile G. C. [By Bartolommeo da San Concordio?] Testo di lingua in edito [edited by T. Bini]. Lucca. 1854. 8°.

It is remarkable that England has till now stood almost alone in possessing no translation, Cassian’s works having never yet appeared in an English press. It is hoped that the version now offered to the reader may do something to make the works of this interesting and most instructive writer more widely known than they appear to be at present.



Gennadius, Catal. lxiv. In the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, art. Eucherius, this is said to be lost. But see Migne, Vol. L. p. 867 sq.; and cf. Petschenig’s Introduction to Cassian, p. xcvi.


Div. Lect. c. xxix. Cujus (Cassiani) dicta Victor Mattaritanus Episcopus Afer ita Domino juvante purgavit et quæ minus erant addidit ut ei rerum istarum palma merito conferatur: quem inter alios de Africa partibus cito nobis credimus esse dirigendum.


Biblioth, Cod. 197.


The “Doctrina Catholica Beati Dionysii Richelii Carthusiani precedenti Collationi ab ipso substituta,” given in Gazet’s edition, and hence in Migne’s, as c. xix., is only the latter part of the paraphrase of this Conference, beginning in c. viii., with the words, “Adest igitur inseparabiliter nobis,” etc.

The paraphrase may be found in Vol. III. of the edition of the works of Dionysius, published at Cologne in 1540. Of this there is a copy in the British Museum which was formerly in the possession of Archbishop Cranmer, and which still contains his autograph.


On all these mss. see Petschenig’s introduction, Cassian, Vol. I. pp. xiv.–lxxviii.


Of this edition there is a copy in the British Museum which formerly belonged to the Convent of S. Mark at Florence, and is enriched with marginal notes in the handwriting of Girolamo Savonarola.


Gazet himself prepared a revised edition, which was brought out after his death, at Arras, in 1628.


The edition used is that published at Leipsic in 1733. It cannot, however, be recommended, as it is full of misprints.

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