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Tradition and Theology in St John Cassian$

A. M. C. Casiday

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199297184

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199297184.001.0001

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(p.264) APPENDIX 1 Prosper's influence on modern scholarship

(p.264) APPENDIX 1 Prosper's influence on modern scholarship

Tradition and Theology in St John Cassian
Oxford University Press

(p.264) APPENDIX 1

Prosper's influence on modern scholarship

Prosper's influence on modern scholarship Prosper's influence on modern scholarship

In chapter 1, above, I claimed that ‘without exception, earlier serious engagements with Cassian have taken (‘Prosperian’ or medieval) Augustinianism as the basis for the evaluation and, inevitably, criticism of Cassian's works, as is evident over several centuries and across all the major languages of Western Europe’. In this appendix, I supply references and quotations in support of that claim.

In an earlier publication, I provided references to Cornelius Jansen, Alard de Gazet, Petrus Caccianus, Owen Chadwick, and Jaroslav Pelikan, amongst others.1 That list favoured scholarship in Latin and English, but it is clear that modern scholars at work in German, French, and Italian are not free from the interpretive pressure exerted by Prosper. Here are some representative specimens, taken largely at random from the secondary literature.

German perspectives:

  1. 1. Grützmacher (1897): 747: ‘Von den Collationen hat vor allen die 13. eine Bedeutung in dem Streit um die Gnadenlehre Augustins. …Der Gegner, den er in diesen Schriften vorzüglich bekämpft, war Cassian, der in der 13. Collation eine Lehranschauung vorgetragten hatte, die erst im Mittelalter als Semipelagianismus bezeichnet wurde.’

  2. 2. Wrzoł (1918–22): 1: 182: ‘Cassian gilt als der Vater des Semipelagianismus, war sich jedoch seines Gegensatzes zur orthodoxen Lehre nich bewußt.’

  3. 3. Schanz (1920): 516: ‘Ihrem Ruhme taten die semipelagianische Gnadenlehre des Verfassers, die schon Prosper von Aquitanien in seinem Liber adversus collatorem bekämpfte, und um derentwillen die Schriften schom in gelasianischen Dekret unter die Apokryphen versetzt wurden, keinen Abbruch.’

  4. 4. O. Chadwick (1981): 651: ‘[Conlationes Patrum,] Buch XIII ist ein Beitrag zum semipelagianischen Streit…in dem Cassian zu den Hauptgegnern der Lehre von de unwiderstehlichen Gnade zählte, wie sie von Augustin (p.265) und Prosper von Aquitanien vertreten wurder. Prosper richtete sein Werk Contra Collatorem gegen Cassian.’2

French perspectives

  1. 1. Pichery (1920): 290: The Institutes and Conferences ‘accueillies avec une extrême faveur, que les justes critiques de saint Prosper d'Aquitaine contre plusieurs propositions entachées de semi‐pélagianisme ne parviennent pas à diminuer’.

  2. 2. Olphe‐Galliard (1953): 220, 266: ‘Rapports de la grâce avec la liberté (Col. 13 où se manifeste principalement le semi‐pélagianisme de l'auteur…)’; ‘La posterité, toutefois, n'accueillera point en bloc sa doctrine, sans examen et sans réserve; elle lettera l'exclusive sur cette Conférence 13, où il s'était opposé à saint Augustin, aux dépens mêmes de l'orthodoxie. Remarquons‐le: ses formules erronées ou simplement tendancieuses n'ont guère arrêté notre exposé de sa doctrine spirituelle. La Conférence 13 n'est point partie essentielle du corps de doctrine de Cassien et pourrait s'en détacher sans difficulté.’

Italian perspectives

  1. 1. Zannoni (1963): 919: ‘Purtroppo, a questo riguardo, C., privo di sensibilità speculativa e alieno dalla precisione del linguaggio dogmatico, scivola in quell'eresia sottile che dal Medioevo in poi si chiamò semipelagianesimo, delle quale, anzi, egli viene considerato come il padre.’

  2. 2. Tibiletti (1977): 376: ‘In Cassiano il termine “natura” ricorre in senso preagostiniano, col senseo di “bene” (gut). Dopo che il termine era stato usato dal pelagianesimo in senso diverso, per negare la necessità della grazia, Cassiano ebbe il torto di usare il vocabolo nel senso primitivo.’ Even though Tibiletti notes and endorses the developing practice of distancing Cassian from Pelagianism, his attempt, two pages on, to justify Cassian's perceived excesses further demonstrates the staying power of the habits of thought set up by Prosper: ‘Gli aspetti del suo pensiero ritenuti erronei dal punto di visto dogmatico, ed occasionalmente affini al pelagianesimo, dovranno essere ricondotti al pensiero teologico e monastico orientale, di cui sono espressione.’

Such, then, is the conventional wisdom of twentieth‐century Western scholarship. The examples could readily be multiplied. But this sampling gives a sense for the recalcitrance of the conventional view, in consideration of (p.266) which it is implausible in the extreme to think that the disavowal of a single word (Semipelagianism) could possibly transform our understanding of Cassian.


(1) Casiday (2001a): 42 esp. at nn. 9–14.

(2) Chadwick is, of course, not German, but since he wrote these words for a major German reference work, he can be included under this rubric.