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The Table Video

Gerald Sittser

Leadership of John Cassian

Professor of Theology / Senior Fellow in the Office of Church Engagement, Whitworth University
October 21, 2016

Gerald Sittser introduces the life, contribution, and leadership of John Cassian, who was an early journalist and networker of Christian monastic thought and life. Sittser comments on the “8 Deadly Thoughts” or “8 Deadly Vices” – and how they provide a psychological diagnostic tool for human spiritual growth.


I’m studying John Cassian, very unusual and interesting figure. He was one of these well-connected, we’d say today, networked people, in the ancient world. Grew up in the Baltic area. Fell in love early on with the stories of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers, and with his friend Germanus, he eventually went to Bethlehem, stayed there for a while, grew disillusioned because it was a little soft, and eventually made his way down to Egypt where he met the Stars of the Desert in the later part of the 4th Century.

Interviewed them, traveled around, learned as much as he could, eventually was forced out of Egypt, too long a story to tell, made his way to Constantinopole where he was ordained a Deacon, came to know John Chrysostom, went to Rome, maybe Antioch, eventually ended up in Gaul. So, this guy’s really well-traveled, and one of the Bishops in Gaul asked him to write a report and to reflect on all that he learned in Egypt.

So, he wrote two books, “The Institutes” and “The Conferences”. In, “The Institutes,” he outlines, in detail, and reflects on the wisdom of the idea of the 8 Deadly Thoughts or Vices. Reading these things is like feeling you’re being flayed alive. Honestly, they are so psychologically insightful. His reflections on Gluttony or Avarice or Sadness, yes, Sadness, is one of the 8 Deadly Thoughts or Vices, and of course Pride and so on, and I love to teach these things because they give us a diagnostic tool to understand human nature at its worst, and to see it redeemed by the work of Christ. And, he also tells some great stories in those books too. [thoughtful music]