Teaching Egyptian Monasticism in 4th Century Gaul - The first edition of Cassian's "Institutes"

Cassianus, Johannes (c. 360-435)

De institutis coenobiorum – Collationes patrum XXIV.

Basel: [Johann Amerbach, after 24 September] 1485


Chancery folio: 2 parts in one volume. 30 x 21 cm. [208] lvs. Collation: [*]10, a-b8, c-d6, e-h6.8, i8, k-n6.8, o-t8, v6; A-B8, C-F6.8, G8

FIRST EDITION (with the second edition of the "Collationes Patrum").

Bound in contemporary Buxheim blindstamped pigskin over wooden boards [Schwenke-Sammlung Schrift 264]. Metal clasps, manuscript title on spine and along lower edges. Opening initials supplied in red and blue, rubricated, woodcut of the Conversion of St. Paul on b5. An excellent copy with a few stains, and some small wormholes in final few quires. Provenance: early marginalia in several hands. Buxheim Carthusian Monastery Library (inscription, stamp on title).

Johannes Cassianus is an elusive and remarkable figure. As a young man, he lived as a monk in Palestine for about three years, before venturing on to Egypt. While it is unclear how much time Cassian spent in Egypt, he learned a great deal about the Egyptian monastic tradition. He would later use the Egyptian monastic model as a blueprint when forming his own community in Gaul, and would incorporate the philosophy of the Egyptian monks in his major writings. In about 399, religious controversy caused him to flee to Constantinople, where he became a member of the clergy appointed to the Patriarch, Saint John Chrysostom. When Chrysostom was forced into exile in 404, Cassian went to Rome to plead his master's case before the pope. It was while in Rome that Cassian accepted an invitation to found a monastery in southern Gaul (near Marseilles). Based on the Egyptian model, the community that Cassian founded, the Abbey of St. Victor, was the first of its kind in Europe.

"In Gaul Cassian was to fulfill his first vocation, to the monastic life, by establishing monasteries. But he was also to discover a second vocation, to monastic theology, by undertaking the literary works for which he is now remembered…

"Cassian's "Institutes" and "Conferences" are a remarkable synthesis of earlier monastic traditions, especially those of fourth-century Egypt, informed throughout by Cassian's awareness of the particular needs of the Latin monastic movement he was helping to shape. Sometimes portrayed as simply an advocate of the sophisticated spiritual theology of Evagrius of Ponticus (360-435), Cassian was actually a theologian of keen insight, realism, and creativity. His teaching on sexuality is unique in early monastic literature in both its breadth and its depth, and his integration of biblical interpretation with the ways of prayer and teaching on ecstatic prayer are of fundamental importance for the western monastic tradition. The only Latin writer included in the classic Greek collections of monastic sayings, Cassian was the major spiritual influence on both the Rule of the Master and the Rule of Benedict, as well as the source for Gregory the Great's teaching on capital sins and compunction."(Stewart, Cassian the Monk)

ISTC ic00233000; HC *4562; GW 6160; BMC III 748; Bod-inc C-102; BSB-Ink C-165; Goff C-233