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Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian (review)
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Augustine Casiday Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian Oxford Early Christian Studies Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007 Pp. xiv + 303.

In Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian, Casiday offers a provocative reassessment of Cassian's stature and standing as a theologian. He argues for taking Cassian on his own terms rather than reading him through the version of Augustinianism advanced by Prosper of Aquitaine. Casiday also takes issue with those who would devalue Cassian's contribution in response to the twentieth-century rehabilitation of Nestorius. As Casiday dismantles entrenched positions in Cassianic scholarship, he lays the foundation for a fresh approach that recognizes Cassian's importance as a theologian as well as an ascetic expert.

In his first chapter, the author contends that scholarly inertia, coupled with a blind reliance on Prosper of Aquitaine's schematization of Gallic contemporaries as either "pro-" or "anti-Augustine," has meant that the close affinity between the thought of Augustine and his Gallic adversaries has been overlooked. Casiday suggests that the first step in a re-evaluation of Cassian's theology is to discard the semi-Pelagian label foisted upon him by Prosper and to realize that these Gallic writers were generally quite favorable toward Augustine. He then illustrates how badly Prosper's drawing of lines works as a model for understanding Cassian and three other Gallic writers (Vincent of Lerins, Faustus of Riez, and Valerian of Cimiez). These authors and Augustine were united in resisting Pelagian ideas; the fact that their resistance was not monolithic does not mean that they also opposed Augustine. The second half of the chapter draws parallels between Cassian and Augustine's monastic theology, encouraging the reader to see both men as theologians who were informed by their monastic vocations.

In the second chapter, Casiday emphasizes the distance between Cassian and Pelagianism. Casiday argues that Cassian's staunch opposition to Pelagius's views should alone give the modern critic of Cassian pause: it is not enough to follow Prosper's lead and read Cassian as a "semi-Pelagian." An important difference centers on the inviolability of the human will. Pelagius defends this position, but Cassian maintains that God acts directly on the will to turn a human toward salvation. Casiday sums up his findings by concluding that although Cassian certainly could not be considered an Augustinian, he was a fierce opponent of Pelagian views. [End Page 115]

Chapter 3 analyzes the tradition surrounding Cassian and is designed to counter those who see him as an exponent of a rarefied Greek intellectual tradition rather than of authentic Egyptian monasticism. Casiday's survey of recent studies undermines the notion that the Egyptian desert consisted of rustic, illiterate (read spiritual) monks and an Origenistic cadre of Greek intellectuals. Rejecting the idea that authentic Egyptian monasticism eschewed Alexandrian exegesis and Greek intellectual currents, Cassiday rehabilitates Cassian as a voice for Egyptian monasticism rather than as a purveyor of Evagrian ideas.

Chapter 4 treats Cassian's views on prayer. It begins with a survey of the prayer régime recommended by Cassian and then moves to consider the function of prayer. Prayer is a means to one's own salvation, a way to build up the community, and the primary vehicle for relating to God. The chapter closes with a survey of Cassian's teaching on prayer as found in Conferences 9 and 10 and a consideration of the phrase excessu mentis in Cassian's thought.

The final chapter tackles Cassian's Christology, arguing for the significance and merit of Cassian's On the Incarnation. The rehabilitation of Nestorius's reputation over the course of the 20th century has led to a concomitant devaluation of Cassian's Christology because of his alleged misrepresentation of Nestorius's views. This smearing of Cassian's reputation has been accompanied by a scholarly tendency to denigrate On the Incarnation as a work of theology and to downplay Cassian's reputation as a theologian. Casiday argues that On the Incarnation, rather than being the disorganized ramblings of a weary old man, actually served as an opportunity for Cassian to draw together his ideas on Christology in a unified treatise that offers a...