(We return to our sequence of posts about John Cassian, with apologies to those waiting for the last two months! WT).
Karl Rahner wrote, “The Christian faith professes that God is not merely the God far off…. God wills to be, in self-communication, the ‘content’ and future of man.” I would like to explore how this may be realised in us, with the assistance of John Cassian.
This might strike some as an unlikely pairing. Rahner is modern, and John Cassian was born around 360. His birthplace was Dacia (present-day Romania). How can someone who lived so long ago, and in such a far-away land, possibly help us to understand Karl Rahner’s insight? Before we begin to answer this question, a bit of background about John Cassian.
Only a few facts about John Cassian have survived time’s ravages. He was from a well-off family and was well-educated. In his twenties, he entered a monastery in Bethlehem, and several years later he embarked on a pilgrimage to the then-famous monasteries of Egypt. He spent perhaps ten years there, learning about the spiritual life from the great Egyptian monastic fathers.
After this long period of training in monastic wisdom, Cassian was ordained to the priesthood. Finally, he ended up in Marseilles. There, he founded two monasteries and wrote The Institutes and its companion work, The Conferences. These are the writings I would like to refer to in the next several posts, for they speak about what, for Cassian, was the only thing that mattered: life with God.
One of the most intriguing terms Cassian uses to describe our inner self is that of the “vessel”. Cassian first uses the term in his book’s dedication. Addressed to one Bishop Castor, who himself had founded a monastery and had asked Cassian to write about what he had learned of monasticism in Egypt, Cassian says to the Bishop:
You are setting out to construct a true and spiritual temple for God…out of a community of holy men; and you also desire to consecrate very precious vessels to the Lord out of holy souls that bear within themselves the indwelling of Christ the king (emphasis mine).
Here, Cassian is saying that we are created as “containers” – that’s just how we are. And so we are meant to have something inside. Rahner says that God wants to be that “something.” So does Cassian. For both Cassian and Rahner, what makes us precious is not a thing, but a person: God. Christ himself. If we bear Christ within, we shine with his goodness. How? That is something that we will explore.
If we bear Christ within, we shine with his goodness. St Maurice, Switzerland, MMB.