Caesarius of Arles

Caesarius of Arles
(c. 470-542)
   An important bishop and monk whose influence on the later barbarian churches was great, Caesarius ruled as bishop during a critical period in the transition from the Roman to barbarian world. During his reign his city of Arles was controlled by several different barbarian kingdoms, ultimately becoming part of the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks. Although he carefully guided his diocese through troubled times, Caesarius is best known for his pastoral efforts and simple but elegant sermons. A talented preacher, Caesarius introduced the ideas of Augustine of Hippo to a broader audience. He was also very much interested in monastic life and composed two monastic rules, one for women and the other for men.
   Born to a noble family near Chalon-sur-Saône in circa 470, Caesarius's relatives included his predecessor as archbishop of Arles. Although he later dedicated his life to the church, Caesarius showed interest in classical culture and the arts of rhetoric as a youth. He studied with an acclaimed teacher of rhetoric but, like St. Jerome and others, experienced a dream that persuaded him to devote himself solely to the church. His later sermons revealed the consequences of his decision by their lack of classical allusions. His decision led him to the monastery of Lérins, one of the great centers of monastic life, in 490. He remained there until 497, but was forced to abandon the rigors of the monastic life because of ill health. He left the monastery for the city of Arles, where he was made a deacon and then ordained priest. He later became an abbot of a local monastery and, in 504, archbishop of Arles, a position he held until his death in 542.
   His career as archbishop was an important one for the church in Arles and Gaul. He was confirmed in his position as archbishop by the Visigothic king, Alaric II, and in 505 was summoned to the king's court on charges of conspiring with Alaric's enemies. Caesarius was acquitted, but he was forced to deal with the Ostrogothic king Theodoric after Alaric was defeated by the Merovingian king Clovis (r. 481-511). Although the city was to be ceded to Clovis's descendants in 536, in the meantime it remained subject to the Ostrogoths, and Caesarius was called to appear at Theodoric's court in 513 on suspicion of conspiracy. While visiting Theodoric, Caesarius met with the pope, who named him papal vicar to Spain and Gaul. As archbishop and papal legate, Caesarius assumed important duties in the church, including convening church councils. He held six councils during his reign, councils that shaped religious practice and doctrine. The most important council, at Orange in 529, established the interpretation of Augustine's teachings on salvation.
   Archbishop in a critical time for the church and society in Gaul (now France), Caesarius is remembered best for his preaching and monastic rules. His sermons, which reveal Caesarius as a theologian of no great originality, are models of elegant simplicity and instruction. He abandoned the rhetoric he had once studied for a simpler style of delivery, using a less studied manner to comment on the Scriptures. His style of delivery made his sermons, of which some 238 still exist, more comprehensible to his flock. The sermons, however, were not overly simplistic but contained important lessons. They disseminated the ideas of Augustine, as well as other church fathers, to the faithful and included admonitions against superstition and immorality. He encouraged his listeners to read the Scriptures at home during dinner and throughout the evening and suggested that those who could not read should have the Scriptures read to them. He also called on his listeners to ponder the message of the sermon and to sing the psalms to reinforce the teachings of the faith.
   Caesarius is also known for his monastic rule. Although unable because of health reasons to live as a monk, Caesarius remained dedicated to the monastic ideal during his life. An archbishop, he was also an abbot and the founder of a community of nuns at Arles. It was for this community that he wrote his famous monastic rule. This important rule seems to have been influenced by the Rule of the Master, and Benedict of Nursia seems to have borrowed from Caesarius when composing his monastic rule. Moreover, according to Gregory of Tours, a version of the rule of Caesarius was adopted by the royal nun Radegund for the convent she founded. The rule legislated on such matters as the length of the novitiate, personal property, and stability in the monastery, and set the precedent for monastic life in Gaul for generations to come.
   See also
 ♦ Caesarius of Arles. Caesarius of Arles: Sermons. Trans. Mary Magdeleine Mueller. 3 vols. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1956-1973.
 ♦ Klingshirn, William E. Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
 ♦ Laistner, Max L. W. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
 ♦ Lawrence, Clifford H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1989.
 ♦ McCarthy, Maria Caritas. The Rule for Nuns of St. Caesarius of Arles: A Translation with Critical Introduction. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1960.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. Education and Culture in the Barbarian West: From the Sixth through the Eighth Century. Trans. John Contreni. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1976.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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