A trick of the evidence exaggerates the way in which Italy seems to have changed during Cassiodorus' absence; but an exaggeration is not always a falsification. Cassiodorus himself is the chief source for our knowledge of life in Italy, seen from the inside, throughout these years. Until he departed for the east, his perspective was the same as that of the ruling power--it was centered on Ravenna. Even after his retirement, apparently, he remained at the center of Gothic affairs, watching Gothic Italy being crumpled in the hand of Byzantine might. He was gone, most probably, for almost fifteen years, the very years of his life when he passed to the threshold of old age. When he returned to Italy, he was no longer a great man, nor did he any longer associate with such. It is chance, but symbolic chance, that his retirement retreat was situated very nearly as far as it was possible to get from Ravenna without leaving Italy. Now he was on the periphery.
The Goths are as good as vanished from our story. There was an exarch at Ravenna, and insofar as there was government in Italy it was Byzantine. The Lombards were at most a distant rumor they did not enter Italy until 568 and never penetrated as far as Squillace. In fact, Cassiodorus' homeland remained in Byzantine hands until the Normans arrived in the eleventh century. But for our purposes, even the Byzantine rulers did not exist. Politics, government, armies, all became distant memories, forgotten in the cloister of the Vivarium. This is, I say, deceptive. Merely because the central character of our limited story has disappeared into the monastic life in a remote corner of the continent does not mean that the whole world is somehow colored by this act.
Cassiodorus was about sixty-five years old when he returned to Italy. He had had no special revelation of the kindly fate that would give him almost thirty years of life in retirement at the home of his youth. At the same time, he did not think it worthwhile to withdraw from life completely. To the contrary, the activity that he began then was surely demanding and intellectually rigorous. Because it was prolonged by a kindly fate, he became a symbol of one easy opposition of ancient and medieval qualities; and the symbol would be valueless if it did not in some way reflect the realities of the world in which he lived. At the same time, nothing had changed. One elderly politician, out of office for many years and exiled, had returned home to a monastery he had rounded, to settle down to collecting books. There is nothing remarkable about this, for retirement to family estates and indulgence in literary pastimes was a common decision for Roman aristocrats at all periods.
Both of Cassiodorus' passions in old age, Christian intellectual culture and the specifically religious life, were furthermore the fruit of developments that had been building throughout his life. When he finally got back to Italy, twenty years had passed since his first effort to found a school of Christian learning, and fifteen years had passed since his first published treatise on a theological subject. There is nothing anywhere here of a man in a hurry, of frenetic activity; rather, there is the slow, measured working out of an obsession that had been fostered in the very busiest days of his secular career and that did not finally achieve realization until he at last got himself away from the vicinity of the great and the powerful and back to the land of his birth on the coast of the Ionian Sea.
Cassiodorus did not, however, take the steps that he did out of touch with the rest of his age. If the institution he rounded, at first glance an unseemly hybrid of ancient traditions of rhetoric and "modern" ideas about ascetic life, was a unique place unduplicated by his contemporaries or by following generations, it is nevertheless at least better, if not fully, understood in terms of other institutions in sixth-century Italy, chiefly the schools of Rome and the monastery at Monte Cassino.
In 529, the very year in which we are told that Benedict founded Monte Cassino, Justinian closed the Academy at Athens.[] There is another facile opposition of ancient and medieval here that obscures as much as it illuminates reality. But Athens with its pagan sentiments had already been bypassed; for if Constantinople was the new Rome, it was as well a new capital of Greek culture replacing Athens, supported by Antioch and Alexandria. The last shreds of nostalgia, which had kept the Hellenistic world harking back to Athens as the fountain of their teaching, had blown away, leaving behind a new intellectual map of the Mediterranean. As we shall see below, moreover, for Cassiodorus the life of the mind was something to be pursued in the Latin language, with whatever (limited) support could be brought over from the Greek world within the narrow restraints imposed by the growing division between Greek and Latin lands in the Mediterranean.
Thus it was the schools of Rome that occupied Cassiodorus' mind as representatives of the old intellectual order; from the eastern world he heard only good news. Indeed, the strongest direct evidence for the survival of rhetorical schools in the ancient tradition is Cassiodorus' own opening remark in the Institutiones (however much it must be qualified by regard for the rhetorical point he was making): "When I saw secular studies being pursued with great fervor, so much so that a great mass of men believed such studies would bring them the wisdom of this world, I confess I was seriously perturbed that there should be no public professors of Holy Scripture, when worldly texts were the beneficiaries of a distinguished educational tradition" (Inst., praef. 1). The clear import of this passage seems to be that there really were secular schools flourishing into Cassiodorus' own middle age. He went on immediately in his preface to speak of his collaboration with Agapetus in the 530's, now long forgotten by all but him. Whether some of Cassiodorus' concern was inflamed by seeing similar institutions of higher secular learning at Constantinople, we do not know; but it is clear that this concern with the magistri saeculares and their excessive influence goes all the way back to the 530's. We saw in Chapter 4 how these worthies were made Cassiodorus' chief foils in the De anima, and we saw in Chapter 5 how by the late 540's Cassiodorus had developed a complex theory of the ultimate dependence of secular on sacred learning that would justify to himself and others his own distaste for the secular sciences.
For there must have been some conflict within Cassiodorus on these points. He was himself clearly one of the last completely rhetorical men, owing most of his intellectual formation and his career itself to his rhetorical training. It was as an orator that he came to Theoderic's attention, it was as a wordsmith that he was employed, and it was as a rhetorician that he pleaded the cause of the Gothic kingdom in the published works of his secular career. There was, therefore, a certain breach of pietas in his rebellion against secular rhetoric but a certain manifestation of pietas in the way he attempted to model his school of Christian learning on the secular schools. His theory may have been that secular rhetorical principles were derived from scripture; but nothing could be clearer than that his own Christian rhetorical principles were in fact derived from secular ones. If they were originally Christian, as he would claim, he had them only at second hand, after a filtering through the centuries of ancient pagan tradition.
There is, to be sure, evidence outside Cassiodorus' own assertion in the Institutiones for the existence of schools at Rome in this century. Gregory the Great himself who later expressed impatience with the rules of Donatus, was born perhaps half a century after Cassiodorus and yet still received the old kind of education in the city of Rome. There are other cases, as well, scattered about the literary remains of the period, several in Cassiodorus' own works. For example, there was a quaestor appointed in about 534, following Cassiodorus' footsteps in office by a quarter century, who was specifically praised for having learned his eloquence at Rome, where it was specially cultivated (Var. 10.7.2: "Roma tradit eloquium"). From early in Cassiodorus' career, during the quaestorship, two letters survive directing patricians (Festus in one case, Symmachus in the other) to allow named individuals to return home to Sicily (the letters are almost identical in wording) while leaving their sons behind in Rome for educational purposes (Var. 1.39, 4.6). The most important evidence, however, is the letter in which Athalaric admonished the senate that he had heard that the "doctors of Roman eloquence" were disgruntled about shortages in their pay, "as the sum set aside for the schoolmasters seems to have been reduced" (Var. 9.21.1). These doctores were specifically said to be concerned with the training of adulescentes. The letter praised at length the liberal studies, particularly the trivium. The gist of the letter is that, in some undefined way, the responsibility of the senate to look after the support of these teachers continued, to see that they received the "remuneration fixed for their services" (ibid.). Whether they were being fully subsidized or only partially is not clear; what is clear is that there were schools at Rome and that teachers were finding work.[]
This conclusion is partially supported by what external testimony there is. Venantius Fortunatus, born between 530 and 540, claimed to have gone to school at Ravenna to learn both grammar and rhetoric (obviously in the years during or just after the war of reconquest). Gregory the Great is another principal case, while Benedict himself seems to have had at least some of the old education before devoting himself to ascetic pursuits.[] Despite this relative scarcity of evidence, we are justified in concluding that so well-entrenched an institution was not one that would disappear rapidly. It has been argued with some verisimilitude that Theoderic barred Goths from the schools of Rome; there is certainly no conclusive evidence of Gothic interest in Latin culture outside of Theoderic's own household.[]
There is no reason to doubt the literal sense of Cassiodorus' own words nor the sincerity and purpose of his remarks about his endeavor with Pope Agapetus to found a school of Christian learning at Rome. As he put it, "Together with Pope Agapetus, I sought to raise funds to endow Christian schools with paid professors in the city of Rome, as we hear has long been done at Alexandria and now is reported being done by the Jews at Nisibis in Syria; from these Christian schools the soul could win eternal salvation while the tongues of the faithful were being trained in chaste and eloquent speech" (Inst., praef. 1). Everything thus far in this chapter finds its place in this remarkable sentence. First, we note that Cassiodorus' interest, focused on Rome, was further inflamed by his knowledge of distant lands. We have already discussed his contact with the Nisibean experiment through the quaestor Junillus at Constantinople, where it would also have been easy to hear of the exegetical activities of the schools of Alexandria. Second, we see implicit confirmation of the apparent public support of teachers in the secular schools, since the plan is to provide support for them in Christian schools.
What else we know about Agapetus and his intellectual activities confirms the likelihood of his participation in such an enterprise. There survive today ruins of a library, attributed confidently to Agapetus, that is located west of the Caelian Hill in Rome, on the ancient Clivus Scauri (on the modern Via d. SS. Giovanni e Paolo) opposite a church of fifth-century origin.[] An inscription from the sixth century, now destroyed, was preserved in an early manuscript collection at Einsiedeln and is worth quoting in full:
Sanctorum veneranda cohors sedet ordine [longo], Divinae legis mystica dicta docens. Hos inter residens Agapetus iure sacerdos Codicibus pulchrum condidit arte locum. Gratia par cunctis, sanctus labor omnibus unus; Dissona verba quidem sed tamen una fides.[]There can be no doubt that this preserves an authentic bit of the original ornamentation of the library, probably connected with some mural or fresco; the historical content of the inscription is that Agapetus did indeed found a library. This would be completely in character with the enterprise that Cassiodorus described. From what we know of the area and the ecclesiastical history of the sixth century, it is apparent that this library was one that Gregory the Great knew; his own monastery was close by, just up the Caelian Hill from where Agapetus' structure stood. The likeliest possibility is that the contents of Agapetus' collection were removed to the Lateran by Gregory the Great.[]
It is possible that we know one thing more about the history of this library. In the Institutiones, Cassiodorus alludes in passing to a library at Rome; he speaks of a treatise de musica by one Albinus, "which we recall having and reading carefully in a library at Rome. If that copy has been carried off in the barbarian invasions [gentili incursione], you have a copy of Gaudentius here instead" (Inst. 2.5.10).[] Not only did Cassiodorus make specific reference to a library at Rome (to which he hoped that his monks might yet gain access to retrieve a copy of the work), but it was a library of whose fate Cassiodorus was ignorant. We have already seen very well how this could be, since Cassiodorus seems most probably to have gone from Ravenna to Squillace only via Constantinople. What is remarkable, however, is that Cassiodorus, the great collector and lover of books, would have abandoned such a library behind him, presumably when he went up to Ravenna in 533 to become prefect. There can be no proof one way or the other, but the likeliest explanation of this remarkable and uncharacteristic loss is that the library to which Cassiodorus refers is the one that he created for the institution for which Agapetus built the building.[] It is apparent that the library of Agapetus was to be at least an adjunct to and perhaps the heart of the Christian university planned at Rome, in the way that the library was central to the enterprise at the Vivarium. One coincidence reinforces this hypothesis: the casual remark in the Institutiones speaks of the gentilis incursio by which the work may have been carried off precisely the same circumstance is alleged at the beginning for the failure of the whole plan for the school: "My plan proved impossible of implementation on account of raging wars and upheaval in the Italian kingdom (for an affair peaceful by nature finds no place in turbulent times)" (Inst., praef. 1). Since, moreover, Agapetus died in the midst of the war, in 536, while Cassiodorus was at Ravenna functioning as prefect, Cassiodorus may well have lost contact with the whole institution just at the moment when it was being dragged down by the undertow of war. In that context, more than any other, one can make sense of Cassiodorus' having lost track of the valuable book that he mentioned later in the Institutiones.
What the school in Rome would have been like is another unanswerable question. Clearly the secular schools themselves would be taken as some kind of competitive model, but the intellectual directions taken later at the Vivarium would no doubt have had a dominant role. Most tantalizing, however, is the moot question whether the school was conceived as leading exclusively to the religious life (as medieval monastic schools would), or whether it was meant to be a training ground in direct competition with and imitation of the secular schools, leading to public life. The balance of probability (owing to the deliberate mention of competition) seems to incline slightly in favor of the latter thesis. Furthermore, when Cassiodorus established the Vivarium, one thing that he was clearly not doing was setting up shop in the forum of a great city. By the time the Gothic war had blown itself out in Italy, the model to be pursued was monastic rather than scholastic.
Despite the presence of some isolated centers of ecclesiastical learning in Italy, Cassiodorus' Vivarium was the most ambitious and important such enterprise of its time.[] First, the Vivarium was at least some kind of success; the textbooks and texts composed and copied there found wide diffusion up and down Europe. The Historia tripartita and the Latin Josephus, particularly, were widely popular throughout the middle ages (because of their deliberately useful character) in a way that Eugippius' abridgment of Augustine (compiled at Naples in Cassiodorus' lifetime) was not. Second, there was a clarity of purpose at the Vivarium that was lacking elsewhere. Cassiodorus was not merely preparing convenient handbooks, for he was in his own eyes saving, preserving, expanding, and exalting his idea of Christian intellectual culture. Moreover, his enterprise was comprehensive, in the sense that it sought to provide a complete, well-rounded education for the Christian scholar, concerning itself with all the details of the educational advancement of everyone in the monastery, down to the least literate. In a way, the eccentricities of the Cassiodorian system can be taken as the indications of a firm unified purpose guiding a complex enterprise. Cassiodorus' institution was well-organized while other intellectual projects at the time seem randomly inspired.
If the Vivarium meant a departure on several fronts at the intellectual level, it was considerably less original and more mimetic at the level of the precisely monastic features of the enterprise. For of course Cassiodorus' contemporary, Benedict, born in about the same decade as he, shaped the whole monastic future of the middle ages. The traditional date of the rounding of Monte Cassino is 529, and Benedict's death is given as occurring in about 547. Thus the Benedictine enterprise flourished first in the years between Cassiodorus' term as magister officiorum and the middle of his stay in Constantinople. The first destruction and abandonment of Monte Cassino took place in 581, about the time of the likeliest date for Cassiodorus' own death. How far the odor of Benedict's repute had spread in his lifetime is questionable; and how widely his praises were sung after his death is debatable. The embarrassing truth is that, apart from Gregory's life of Benedict in the second book of his Dialogi, we know virtually nothing of the early history of the Benedictine movement.
What we do know is based chiefly on the Regula that is handed down in Benedict's name. It is too well known to need a summary of its contents, but certain aspects of its tone and tenor are worth remark. Benedictine monasticism strikes a via media in monastic customs. Although it recognizes, for example, the virtues of the anchoritic life, it prescribes the cenobitic, while scorning the wandering life of the gyrovagues. While it does not leave administration entirely to the discretion of the abbot but lays down written regulations for the life of the monastery, at the same time it does not go to the opposite extreme of attempting to define legalistically every detail of the monk's life. Until this time, western monasticism, exemplified by figures like Cassian in Gaul, had sought the two extremes. In Italy, the chief example of the legalistic style of monasticism is recorded in the anonymous Regula Magistri. Benedict is more precise about the order of saying the Psalms and the twelve grades of humility than about the order of seating in choir; his emphasis is on the spiritual life as supported by the minimum of necessary, continuing legislative authority. That his choice was an effective one is testified to by the most pragmatic of standards: it worked, it survived, it lives today.
When we mention the Regula Magistri, however, we address a subject that beclouds our knowledge of early Benedictinism by adding information that we do not know how to use. There has been an effort, moreover, in recent years to use the same document to confuse our knowledge of Cassiodorus. The problems are three in number:
Certain scholars have attempted to use this information to achieve two separate purposes: the establishment of the priority of Benedict's rule over that of the Master, and the subordination of Cassiodorus to Benedictine ideas. Neither attempt, however, is grounded in fact.
The literature on the question in recent years is vast and dismaying. The identification of Cassiodorus with the author of the Regula Magistri was first proposed by Dom Cappuyns and may now be said to have been thoroughly disposed of, most recently and most effectively by Dom David Knowles.[] There is no purpose in recording again at length the tortuous arguments in favor of the identification and their meticulous refutations. I have no arguments to offer in favor of the identification, but I can propose two new ones against it. First, the considerable literary vanity of Cassiodorus, always giving lists of what he had written, signing his name over everything he wrote, even telling one where to find his works on the bookshelves of his library, would not, I am convinced, have allowed him to produce so extensive a work as the Regula Magistri without taking credit for it, both in the work itself and elsewhere. Second, there is a telltale sign lacking in the Regula Magistri that is characteristic of Cassiodorus' other works. After Cassiodorus' conversion to the monastic life, there is no work of his that does not have profusely scattered through its pages phrases like "Domino praestante," "Deo iuvante," and so on.[] By contrast, the lexicon of the Regula Magistri shows such phrases appearing only twice in all the verbiage of that text.[] After extensive contact with Cassiodorus' ecclesiastical prose style, I am convinced that this tag phrase, a defining characteristic of Cassiodorus' own newly emphasized humility, is in itself an acid test to Cassiodorian authorship, especially in a work as personal as a rule of life for his monks.
As to the matter of the duplications of content between Benedict and the Master, the truth is that Benedict was copying the Master and not the other way around. This is not in itself surprising, since the genius of Benedict lay in his temperance rather than in any originality of plan.[] The difficulties in the textual transmission seem to have been fairly clearly solved by a stemma positing an archetypal version of the Regula Magistri that shortly became prevalent in two redactions, one of which leads to the present text of the parent rule, the other of which was used by Benedict.[] With all this said, it can be freely admitted that there does seem to be a purely palaeographic connection between the Regula Magistri and the scriptorium of Cassiodorus.[] This can be explained well and fully by assuming that the text was one that found its way as easily to Squillace as to Monte Cassino, that it was just one of the several "patrum regulae" that Cassiodorus commended to his monks.[] At any rate, it should henceforth stand as proven that Cassiodorus did not write the Regula Magistri, nor did he accord it a special place of honor in his monastery.
But if we have a picture of monastic Italy in which Benedict plays a central role, following somehow in the footsteps of the shadowy Master, and if we now conclude that Cassiodorus did not have direct contact with these movements, what then do we make of Cassiodorian monasticism? That question can only be approached by a consideration first of the historical data about the foundation of the monasteries at Squillace.[]
Here again we know nothing and presume too much. It should be insisted first of all that we have no information about the date or circumstances of the actual foundation of the Vivarium. The assumption of scholars has always been that the foundation of the monasteries was directly connected with Cassiodorus' return to Squillace in retirement. Thus the issue of the date of his retirement has been an important one, as well as the question of his stay in Constantinople. The assumption has been that if he went directly from Ravenna to Constantinople he could not have rounded the monastery until his return in the 550's. Thus the safer assumption has seemed to be that he returned to his estates in the 540's to found the monastery and only then moved on to Constantinople; for this, however, it has been necessary to adduce the motive that Cassiodorus fled Calabria in the face of the approaching armies of the Goths. This is very dangerous, since it is known that at no time did those armies in fact ever reach Squillace.
The assumption of Cassiodorian presence at the creation of his own monasteries is further buttressed by the no less widely-accepted assumption that the first and express purpose of rounding the monasteries was the intellectual enterprise undertaken there. Thus readers of the first pages of the Institutiones have read into the text something like this: "I, Cassiodorus, tried to found a school of Christian learning at Rome; war interfered, so I quit politics in disgust a couple of years later and came home here to found a monastic school instead." This is a tantalizing hypothesis, positing a fleshed-out image of Cassiodorus with which the reader can identify. But there is no shred of evidence for this whatever.
First, it must be stated that it is still perfectly credible that Cassiodorus did not found the monasteries at Squillace until about 554, upon his return from Constantinople. He was then in his middle sixties and still clearly vigorous. Furthermore, if the institution took root in buildings and facilities already present on the comparatively wealthy estates of the Cassiodori, relatively little bricks-and-mortar work would be required of the founder. But I believe there is another, likelier hypothesis. For this we must dissociate the monastic and intellectual enterprises somewhat in our minds.
The great patrician Liberius found time in the midst of his seventy years of public life in every corner of the Mediterranean to found a monastery on estates in Campania.[] Indeed, to found a monastery took little investment of capital and needed only willing manpower. At least through the middle years of the sixth century, such manpower was apparently always forthcoming in Italy. Liberius died in his ninetieth year, having only just returned to Italy at last after the Pragmatic Sanction. Clearly his personal involvement in the administration of the monastery was insignificant; the most that can be said is that he may have had it in mind to use the monastery as a refuge in that old age that he never took the time to have.[]
Entering the realm of speculation, let us turn to Cassiodorus. Let us picture him as a man growing involved in the intellectual life of the church at Rome in the 530's, perhaps planning to move from a political to an educational career before many more years had passed, perhaps intending to remain in Rome for the rest of his life. Add then our assumption (only ex silentio, but relatively firm) that he never married and never had children. In this context it is certainly plausible to imagine him becoming concerned about the fate of his family's estates at Squillace, the more so because he had no heir to enjoy them. It is thus not difficult to imagine that at this stage of his career Cassiodorus took the initial step of establishing a monastic community on his own lands. Indeed, nothing at all prevents us from assuming that he rounded such an institution very early in his career; if personal intervention was required, that could have taken place during one of his periods out of office, most probably during the time between his services to Athalaric (527-533). The purpose of such a foundation would be strictly monastic, in the way that the foundations of Benedict or the Master were monastic as against scholastic or cultural.
Where does this speculation get us, then? First, it gets the monastery established and running under independent leadership well before Cassiodorus ever goes near it to retire. Second, it throws new light on the direction that Cassiodorus' life was taking after his retirement, both while he was still at Ravenna and while he was in Constantinople. For if Cassiodorus at this time had just seen the ruin of his plans for a school at Rome, was just beginning to see that his own political career had ended, and was finding himself half by chance, half by design, a vir religiosus now and no longer a vir illustris, this monastery already existing back at Squillace would have naturally come into his mind. Thus during the stay at Constantinople he would have begun to think more and more of returning directly to Squillace, to think more and more of transferring there, mutatis mutandis, the enterprise that he had thought to establish at Rome. How, then, does his activity at Constantinople appear to us?
First, we begin to understand his growing fascination with the Psalter that we saw starting already at Ravenna. For a man who had a house full of monks back in Squillace already chanting the daily office, and who was himself more and more drawn to the prospect of monastic retirement, the Psalter, the most specifically monastic book of the Bible, was the obvious object to study. Moreover, the particularly pedagogic way in which he chose to treat the Psalter was fully in harmony with an intention to prepare a textbook of the Psalter for a new monk to use in imbuing himself with the music of divine eloquence. Thus at last are explained the particularly monastic features of the commentary itself. Finally, if we choose to believe, as is plausible, that Cassiodorus was in Constantinople not entirely of his own accord, we understand better the nature of the delay and the heightening of the desire, while at the capital of culture, to make preparations for his return to the relative obscurity of Ionian shores.
Thus we reach firm ground for another speculation about Cassiodorus' activities at Constantinople. One of the remarkable things, indeed the most remarkable thing, about the Squillace enterprise is the comparative richness of the library. This is the more surprising since, as we have seen, Cassiodorus' earlier collection at Rome, whatever its institutional affiliation, had clearly not been transferred to Squillace. Nevertheless, within a very few years of Cassiodorus' return (the first draft of the Institutiones can be confidently dated to about 562[]), there was a bountiful library of scripture and scripture commentaries, histories and grammar books, miscellaneous useful guides (e.g., Columella), and the Greek works set for translation. To our picture of Cassiodorus, therefore, abiding impatiently in Constantinople, taking thought of the monastery to which he would return, attempting to salvage something of his notion of a school of Christian learning, we should add the likelihood of his becoming actively involved in the procurement of manuscripts for the library of that institution. He certainly must have picked up his copy of Junillus there, since the work had only just been composed. Other texts as well, particularly the Greek ones that would be translated at Squillace, could most readily have been obtained in Constantinople; there, moreover, would be the likeliest place to get the idea, from the abridgment made by Theodore the Lector, for a Historia tripartita and to collect the raw materials for it.
Thus in 554 we now picture, speculatively but plausibly, Cassiodorus returning to Italy (still accompanied by his steward?) with a trunkload or two of manuscripts, importing a healthy dose of Christian intellectual culture to the hitherto placid monastery. We need not assume that the state of learning at the monastery prior to Cassiodorus' arrival was as high as it became after the founder, hitherto a distant figure, a great man on the stage of politics, swirled in from the east with his load of books. Finally, we must not neglect the strong possibility that the bilingual scholars who did the actual work of translating for Cassiodorus--Mutianus, Bellator, Epiphanius, and perhaps no others--may have come back to Squillace with the monastery's founder, a core of professorial staff, perhaps enticed away from their former positions with promises of lifetime tenure, the scenic delights of Squillace, and the quiet, monastic life in a secluded region.
Some at least of this propaganda seems to have been true. "The site of the monastery of Vivarium conduces to making provision for travelers and the poor, since you have irrigated gardens and the nearby river Pellena full of fish--its waves threaten no danger, but neither is it despicable for its size. It flows into your precincts, channeled artificially where it is wanted, adequate to water your gardens and turn your mills. It is there when you want it and flows on when no longer needed; it exists to serve you, never too roisterous and bothersome nor yet again ever deficient. The sea lies all about you as well, accessible for fishing with fishponds [vivaria] to keep the caught fish alive. We have constructed them as pleasant receptacles, with the Lord's help, where a multitude of fish swim close by the cloister, in circumstances so like mountain caves that the fish never sense themselves constrained in any way, since they are free to seek their food and hide away in dark recesses. We have also had baths built to refresh weary bodies, where sparkling water for drinking and washing flows by. Thus it is that your monastery is sought by outsiders, rather than that you could justly long for other places. These are the delights of temporal things, as you know, not the things the faithful hope for in the future; these things shall pass away, but those shall abide without end. But placed here in the monastery, let us be in the power of those desires that will make us co-regents with Christ" (Inst. 1.29.1). The cloister becomes an image of paradise: an irresistible picture. Numerous travelers over the years sought to establish the site of Cassiodorus' foundations, without much success.[] The evidence had never received close and exacting scrutiny, however, until Pierre Courcelle undertook the study in the 1930's.[] His conclusions, based on textual, palaeographic, topographic, and archaeological evidence, have now won wide acceptance and even, by a stroke of luck, partial archaeological confirmation. Courcelle began principally with the text just quoted wherein Cassiodorus gave the closest description of the precise site of the Vivarium. To this he added the shorter passage a little further on in the Institutiones describing the hermitage monastery on the mons Castellum, which provided a happy retreat for the monks of the Vivarium when they sought anchoritic silence and solitude (Inst. 1.29.3). To these texts he juxtaposed (and this was the telling piece of evidence) manuscript illustrations from three ninth-century copies of the Institutiones. The similarity of these pictures, placed just before the chapter on the site of the monastery in the manuscripts, led Courcelle to believe that they were copies of an original, authentic depiction of the scene, stemming from a Vivarian archetype. These pieces of evidence together began to suggest the probability of identifying the center of the Vivarium with the present site of San Martino di Copanello, a small church now on private property; furthermore, the mention in the Institutiones that the hermitage on the mountain was located inside ancient walls led him to identify that site with the original location of Greek Skylletion, long abandoned in the sixth century, on a mountain overlooking the shore, about half a mile from the Vivarium site. The site of the Vivarium is thus south of the Roman city along the coast, on the Punta di Staletti marked on modern maps just south of the Alessi river, with the hermitage on the site of modern Santa Maria de Vetere.[]
All of this information Courcelle confirmed by a visit to the site in 1936. In the vicinity he found that the monks of the abbey of Gregory Thaumaturgus at Staletti (inland from the coast) claim to succeed Cassiodorus, but their site is no older than the seventeenth century. On the Vivarium site itself there stands a little nineteenth-century chapel built by a Garibaldian colonel near the traces of an earlier church known in the papal bulls of Eugene III (1151) and Alexander III (1178). Since the manuscript illuminations had specifically identified one of the monastery churches as dedicated to St. Martin, and since the cult of that saint is otherwise rare in southern Italy, Courcelle found his conclusion further supported. As corroboration, some decorated stones from the earlier church have come to rest in the museum at Catanzaro; they bear decorative forms identical to ones from the church of Saint Clement on the Caelian Hill in Rome, narrowly dated to the reign of Pope John II (532-535). Two obvious facts leap out of the page with this news: first, the library of Agapetus was in the same neighborhood of Rome; and second, the period 532-535 embraces Cassiodorus' last possible years in Rome before returning to Ravenna for the prefecture, and the period immediately precedes Agapetus' own pontificate. Thus there is further corroboration for at least the possibility of our suggestion that the establishment at Squillace dates to before Cassiodorus' prefecture, when he might have had the opportunity to direct the construction of the church, starting in Rome and perhaps visiting the site himself, perhaps in connection with the formal establishment of the monastic community. Thus it is likely that Cassiodorus took one decision in the early 530's, to spend the rest of his private life in Rome working on the school of Christian studies and to devote his estates at Squillace to monastic purposes; we have already sketched how his plans were changed by the forces of war and politics and how he would then have come to rest at the monastery at Squillace himself.
There are also on the present site three natural basins (10-12 meters long, 4-5 meters wide, 11/2-21/2 meters deep--about the size of a modest swimming pool today) communicating with the sea by narrow canals. These basins could easily be diked off from the sea to make permanent fishponds, in which the fish would not sense themselves captured.
The little church of Santa Maria de Vetere was convincingly identified by Courcelle with the church called the Sancta Maria de veteri Squillatio, known from the sixteenth century. One Marcellus Terracina, inspecting Basilian monasteries in the south of Italy for the Holy See, visited that church on October 11, 1551.[] He saw it when it had only a few monks left suffering badly from the depredations of pirates. Working backward from that identification, Courcelle found the monastery recorded in a list of Basilian institutions of the fourteenth century; there are as well two Greek documents of September 1242 and June 1243, recording a land deal participated in by the abbot of the monastery THS THEOTOKOU TOU PALEOU SKULLAKOS. Finally, there is a bull of Honorius III of May 26, 1219, which a seventeenth-century commentator explained by citing a tradition that the Basilian monastery succeeded one of Cassiodorus' foundations. In all likelihood, Courcelle concludes, the name change to the typically Greek invocation of the Theotokos came some time around the end of the seventh century, when Basilian monks took over.
Courcelle concluded his article in 1937 by urging the need for excavations on the site of San Martino. The tides of war washed away those plans, but not all was lost.[] For in 1952, workmen beginning construction on a private summer house on the site uncovered a sarcophagus of considerable archaeological interest.[] This object, associated with the ruins of the ancient church (a tidy structure with a foundation only 20 meters by 12 meters), and containing a few bones, seems to be contemporary with firmly datable sixth-century sarcophagi from Ravenna. Furthermore, there are two short Greek graffiti on the outside that indicate that the coffin's occupant was treated as a saint by local inhabitants. The irresistible conclusion (to which I subscribe) is that the coffin is that of Cassiodorus himself. The truly remarkable feature of the discovery is that it came after Courcelle's groundbreaking article, enabling the new find to be treated as corroborating evidence for the former conclusions and to be itself authenticated in part by them. Thus the happy sequence of events increases on all sides the probability for identifying the site and the sarcophagus.
Of what import is all this information for our knowledge of Cassiodorian monasticism? First, it gives us a notion of the size of the property owned by Cassiodorus and composing the establishment. Roughly half a mile lay between Castellum and Vivarium proper, then another kilometer or so up the coast lay another church associated with the monasteries (known from the manuscript illustrations). We know that there were agricultural laborers, perhaps regular tenant farmers, living on the land controlled by the monastery, and providing in part for its material needs (Inst. 1.32.3). But for all this expanse of rural country, there are indications that the monastic community itself was modest in size; the ruins described for the one church, apparently the central establishment, do not indicate a large body of monks. With space set aside for altars and processional and ritual space, a building 20 meters by 12 might conceivably have had room for as many as a hundred monks, so long as one assumes an interior austerity of plan to go alone with the apparent austerity of size. Such a building, however, would be more comfortable with only a quarter to a half that number of monks.
We possess one other piece of information about the monasteries of Cassiodorus that we could too easily overlook: they did not survive and thrive. We have already seen that the successor monastery established by Basilian monks took the most remote of the Cassiodorian sites for its own, and how even it was not safe from piracy in the later middle ages. We know nothing of the later history of the Vivarium and how it came to an end; yet we can at least conclude that it did not, at any rate, prove widely attractive, nor did it grow to great size, nor did it win wide influence over other monasteries. This is some kind of evidence for scarcity of recruits and hence perhaps a relatively small community.
Once we have appreciated, then, the attractions of the site and the comparative luxuries afforded by nature if not by the builder's art, what is more worthy of our consideration is the kind of life that Cassiodorus and his monks lived at Squillace. Unfortunately there has not been a shortage of scholarly energy trying to prove connections of monastic customs between Cassiodorus and Benedict. Before plunging once again into that fevered pool of speculation, it is well to review the Cassiodorian texts that tell us something specific.
First, we know that Cassiodorus recommended the writings of John Cassian. In the chapter in which he described the sites of the Vivarium and Castellum, he appended to the description of the first his only specific recommendation for readings on particularly monastic subjects: "Read diligently and heed willingly the precepts of Cassian, who wrote on the indoctrination [de institutione] of faithful monks and who set out at the beginning of his work the eight principal vices to be avoided" (Inst. 1.29.2). But, he went on to add, Cassian was not to be trusted on the question of free will, and Cassiodorus recommended prudence in reading him, with the help of an expurgated text that Cassiodorus himself had made. (And one Vivarian church was named for the monk of Tours, St. Martin.)
After that crucial chapter, there follow two in which Cassiodorus approved specific kinds of monastic activity, including the scriptorial (resuming some of his earlier arguments) and medical, with his usual bibliographical advice. Then there follows a much disputed chapter entitled "Commonitio Abbatis Congregationisque Monachorum" (Inst. 1.32). In this, Cassiodorus first urged the monks to follow the patrum regulae as much as their own superior's commands ("tam patrum regulas quam praeceptoris proprii iussa servate"), and then he urged two abbots, whose names are given as Chalcedonius and Gerontius (Greek names), to rule their flock (in the singular) wisely. Moreover, they should receive visitors "ante omnia," give alms, clothe the naked, and break bread for the hungry, "for he can truly be called consoled who himself consoles the wretched" (Inst. 1.32.1). The remainder of the chapter is general spiritual advice to the community and the abbots, including only one section on suggested readings: "And so read diligently the lives of the patres, the confessions of faithful souls, and the acts of martyrs, always mindful of future beatitude; to this end particularly see Jerome's letter to Chromatius and Heliodorus" (Inst. 1.32.3).[] That is not much, in sum, to go on. What, then, do we know?
First, there is no mention in the Institutiones, a work obviously addressed to the coming generations of Vivarium monks (we believe it to have been given a last revision in Cassiodorus' very last years, since it mentions the De orthographia, written when he was ninety-two), of any specific monastic Regula to be followed to the letter. This is the strongest obstacle that proponents of Vivarian adherence to the Regula Benedicti or the Regula Magistri have to overcome.
In fact, no convincing case can be made that there had to have been a Regula as such for the community. Everything about Cassiodorus' idyllic description seems more in tune with a community run by an unwritten constitution, populated by a small number of well-disciplined individuals. That impression may not be correct, but it is the only shred of evidence we have. In particular, it seems to give the lie to the possibility that the legalistic and harsh code of administration set out by the Regula Magistri could ever have been intended by Cassiodorus for his monks to follow.
As we move here between our numerous ignorances (whose width and variety, as Housman would have said, are wonderful), we must next confess confusion about the roles of the two named abbots. Cappuyns argued that the existence of two abbots echoed the practice of the Regula Magistri whereby a successor abbot could be created in the lifetime of his predecessor if the former holder of the office was near death; then if he survived, the institution would have two abbots.[] Conversely, it could be supposed that the two officials presided respectively over the Vivarium and the Castellum establishments; but did a hermitage in the hills need an abbot? And why is their flock referred to in the singular? Why, finally, does the title of the chapter, supported by all of the manuscripts in one way or another, give the singular "abbatis"? We simply do not know the answers to these questions--the fact of the names of two abbots flatly defeats us.
The last bit of evidence to be gathered from the Institutiones is that the name of Cassian appears where Benedict's does not. This pattern recurs at one important point in the Expositio Psalmorum, where Cassiodorus follows Cassian and diverges from Benedict on the advisability of using the first line of Psalm 69, "Deus, in adiutorium meum intende," as an ejaculation pre-paratory to undertaking any monastic activity. Writing at Constantinople fifteen or twenty years after Benedict rounded Monte Cassino, Cassiodorus said that "Cassian (who is not always to be trusted, however), discussing this verse's use in his tenth Collatio, thought so highly of it that he directed that monks begin every task with a triple recitation of it" (Ex. Ps. 69.48-52).
More substantial possible indications of Cassiodorian monastic practice come from the evidence for the canonical hours observed at the Vivarium. Both of the testimonia for this, however, come from the Expositio Psalmorum; one passage seems to have been corrupted, moreover, by later hands attempting to increase the parallel to Benedictine practice (Ex. Ps., praef. lines 77-85). The one clearly authentic reference has been shown to agree more closely with a pseudo-Augustinian rule (which may have been one of the sources used by Benedict) than with Benedict himself (Ex. Ps. 118.3045-3048). Specifically, the hour of prime (mention of which was clearly an interpolation in the passage in the preface) is not mentioned, but compline is already in its place.
On these unsatisfactory and somewhat discordant notes we come to the end of our tether. A review is in order. There is no hard evidence that Cassiodorus had ever even heard of Benedict. There is no evidence that he knew the Regula Benedicti. Although there may be enough evidence to link the manuscript tradition of the Regula Magistri with Cassiodorus, there is no credible evidence that it played any significant role in his community. There are apparent analogies in Cassiodorian practice with various elements of the monastic culture common at the time and with Christian monasticism of the preceding centuries in general. Cassian is the only monastic author specifically recommended by name for the monks to read. The only picture we are capable of drawing on this basis, I hold, is of an independent foundation guided benevolently and liberally.
After our earlier discussion of the position of Benedictine monasticism in the western tradition, we can see that Cassiodorus' enterprise, understood in this way, was indeed more liberal than Benedict's. If there was less regulation and authoritarian government, there was more concern for the niceties of the spiritual life. Less austere and more genial (on the seashore rather than a mountaintop), the abbey of the Vivarium (with the "secreta suavia"--on a mountaintop--of the Castellum for the most ascetically minded) was perhaps a little too urbane, too gentle to survive beyond the enthusiasm and self discipline of the first generation of monks. We noted already that Benedict's more tightly disciplined style of monasticism was the one that proved to have the staying power and the inbuilt tendency to self-reform that let it survive and flourish for centuries.
We said earlier that Cassiodorus does not seem to have left a Regula for his monks to follow, but everything we have said in this chapter undercuts that statement to some extent. For the book that Cassiodorus did write about his monastery, with its admonitions to seek the heights of monastic spirituality and the discipline of intellectual activity, the Institutiones, we must now examine. It seems to have taken the place of a formal Regula; it is clearly the founder's apologia for his enterprise and his exhortation and guide for those to come after him. Its form and content tell us most of what we could want to know about the life of the monastery of the Vivarium and the way its founder approached the monastic ideal.
If, in fact, we consider the Institutiones as a substitute for a formal monastic rule, some of its characteristics come into plainer light. There is certainly every reason to believe that the work was intended for no wider audience than the monks at the Vivarium. On the very first page of the preface, Cassiodorus addresses his audience familiarly: "Caritas inspires me to prepare this introductory volume for you, with the Lord's help, to serve in place of a live teacher [ad vicem magistri]" (Inst., praef. 1). If, as Lehmann demonstrated with considerable certainty, the Institutiones was first written about 562, this motive becomes even clearer.[] Cassiodorus was at that time by our best calculations about seventy-five years old, nearing the end of his first decade at Squillace with his monks. Certainly in his own lifetime and in the formative years of the institution especially, Cassiodorus himself would function as the director of studies for this school of Christian learning. But with encroaching old age he would be of a mind to put down his plan to study in the form of a bibliographic guide, to serve "ad vicem magistri" when he had died. Thus it is that the last chapters of the first book of the Institutiones are addressed to members of the community, first reminding them of the happy situation of the monastery, praising the work of the scribes and physicians (the two most important supporting specialist groups within the community), then directing a commonitio to the abbots and community, and concluding the introduction to the Christian intellectual life with exhortations to seek the heights of the Christian spiritual life of monasticism. Just in the same way, the second book of the Institutiones, dedicated to the exposition of the secular arts and disciplines necessary to the Christian scholar, ends in a six-page conclusion that puts the secular sciences back into perspective and recommends readings like the Apocalypse of St. John and the De videndo Deo of Augustine.
There are, of course, many other marks of the audience that the author of the Institutiones had in mind; there are specific sections on the contents of the numerous manuscript collections made at the Vivarium and even distinct references to the location of specific books in the cabinets of the monastery's library. In every way, then, this treatise is a handbook of a very practical nature written with a specific audience in mind. Empirically, then, this work is a handbook for the Christian scholar. But what kind of book is it in formal terms, and how does it achieve its numerous ends? The title itself, howbeit obscured by the manuscript tradition, shows the way. Mynors rightly preferred shorter forms, placing only Institutiones on the title page of his edition.[] Beyond that, the choices offered by the manuscripts are numerous but closely similar; the clearest distinction is always between the contents of the first book (always described with the adjective divinae) and the second (almost always saeculares, but occasionally humanae), reflecting the different contents of the books. Just what the noun for the contents may be is uncertain, but again similar terms occur: litterae, lectiones, res.[] The sense of institutio here clearly has to do with education, in the way that Lactantius (whom Cassiodorus may not have known) and Calvin used the word in their Divinae Institutiones and Institutio christianae religionis, respectively. The direct sources of the title may have been twofold; the first was Cassian's De institutis cenobiorum, which Cassiodorus knew and recommended to his monks, and which, if it were the source, would add to the character of Cassiodorus' work as something functioning in place of a monastic rule. The second source, even closer at hand, was the Instituta divinae legis of Junillus, which, as we have seen, Cassiodorus recommended to his monks, and whose author he probably knew personally. In either case, however, it is to be noted that Cassian and Junillus used the simpler form instituta; Cassian used it to denote a work concerned chiefly with monastic discipline, while Junillus used it for one providing guidance in exegetical practice. Cassiodorus wrote a book with both purposes in mind and used the slightly more sesquipedalian word, perhaps only out of a pardonable literary vanity and a preference for longer words.
If the title and certain obvious statements indicate that the two books of the work were meant to be a unified whole, there is much in the respective books, both in tone and content, to belie that assumption.[] In the first place, Book I is far more personal in tone and far more devoted to specific discussions of practical questions than is Book II; furthermore, it is bibliographical in content, attempting to show the beginning student where to go to begin his course of studies in Christian learning. Book II, by considerable contrast, is far more austere in outline (divided rigidly into seven chapters on the seven components of trivium and quadrivium), and is in fact an attempt to teach a certain amount of material of substance, as well as to provide a propaedeutic for further studies in the subjects covered. We are again face to face with Cassiodorus' theory of the subordination of the secular disciplines to sacred science. Far from being the avid humanist student of secular learning that he is often made out to be, Cassiodorus is here in fact only following the tradition set forth by Augustine's influential De doctrina christiana, which urged the acquisition of necessary skills from the secular doctores in order to facilitate the accurate interpretation of scripture. Not only is Cassiodorus far from original in the treatment he gives of the secular subjects, he is far from enthusiastic about their study. Note the negative phrasing he uses in describing their worth: "It is not irrelevant to discuss briefly in the following book the rudiments of secular education, the artes and disciplinae, as a refresher for those who have already studied them and as a brief compendium for those who cannot read more widely in those subjects. Knowledge of these things, as the patres saw, is clearly useful and not to be shunned, since you find them sprinkled throughout the Bible, that fount of universal and perfect wisdom" (Inst. 1.27.1). The whole tone of the conclusion at the end of Book II echoes this restrained advice to use the secular studies but not to delight in them too much for their own sake. There is a similarity in his language here, where he speaks of "rejecting and condemning the vanities of this world," and studying the scriptures in such a way "so that what men are seen to have sought on account of earthly praise, we might helpfully refer to heavenly mysteria, converting all things to the glory of the Creator. And so, as blessed Augustine and the other learned patres said, secular writings ought not be rejected" (Inst. 2, concl. 3). Thus, in both places, the emphasis is on the strictly negative formula that secular studies are not to be scorned, not to be fled from.
Thus the Institutiones establishes the theoretical principles and guidelines for the kind of study that we saw Cassiodorus himself practicing in the Expositio Psalmorum. It is clear that the unified theory that he propounded there about the scriptural origin of the secular sciences dominates the conception of this work.[] It is no accident, therefore, that the first book is an annotated bibliography of the study of scripture and religious subjects, while the second book is designed chiefly as a textbook in itself.
With this in mind, we are better able to appreciate the internal order of the first book. It begins, as the Christian student's work begins, with the Bible. Cassiodorus expended considerable effort in establishing in his library accurate texts of Sacra Scriptura. These included one gigantic edition in nine volumes of a Vulgate text written per cola et commata, clearly the chief treasure of the Vivarium library; its traces are seen today in the codex Amiatinus, a close descendant of the Cassiodorian edition, perhaps even including a quaternion of pages from the original archetype. Also influencing the Amiatinus was the codex grandior, a non-Vulgate text in one large volume. Finally, another text, "minutiore manu," called a pandect, provided a copy of the entire Bible in one volume containing the Vulgate of Jerome.[]
The order of the first book of the Institutiones follows the nine biblical volumes in order, introducing the patristic texts that explain each section of scripture. Thus the first volume of the large edition, containing the Octateuch, is presented with a long list of subsidiary texts; these include no fewer than fifteen works treating in some way the book of Genesis (the most popular subject, I venture, of all patristic exegesis). The list gives an instructive glimpse of the breadth, and occasionally the shallowness, of Cassiodorus' library. There is Basil's Hexaemeron (probably in the translation of Eustathius), bound together with Augustine's De Genesi contra Manichaeos. Ambrose's Hexameron (which, as we've already seen, Cassiodorus knew and used in the earliest days of his political career) is mentioned next, with no mention of the parallels between that work and Basil's, with which it would more appropriately have been bound. There is much more Augustine to be had, understandably, since Augustine wrote prolifically on Genesis. There is his De Genesi ad litteram in twelve books, the Contra Faustum in thirty-three books, and the Contra inimicum legis et prophetarum in two books. Cassiodorus is among the first, though not the last, to point out the last three books of the Confessiones as a Genesis commentary; he does not say, however, that he has had those books separated from the whole for juxtaposition with other works on Genesis. Then Cassiodorus praises the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum of Augustine, as well as the Locutiones in Heptateuchum (which he calls the De modis locutionum). The collection of Augustine on Genesis is incomplete, however, since Cassiodorus confesses that he has heard of--but not been able to find--seven sermons of Augustine on the seven days of creation; he seems not to have heard of the De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber.
The list does not stop with Augustine, however; there are seven books of Ambrose, De patriarchis, mentioned for what they offer on Genesis and the other books of the Octateuch. Then there are mentioned the works of Jerome on Hebraicae quaestiones and Hebraeorum nomina, both of which Cassiodorus recommends highly (and we have seen how he made frequent use especially of the latter in the Expositio Psalmorum). Prosper's Liber de promissionibus is next on the list, completing the collection of works by Latin authors.
What remains in this chapter is a lengthy discussion of the works and authority of Origen. The Vivarium had three codices of his homilies, covering all the Octateuch except Ruth.[] Cassiodorus' defense of Origen freely admits the difficulties with that author, balancing Jerome's praise against Pope Vigilius' condemnation and adding other authorities. Cassiodorus quotes what he calls the conclusive dictum already proverbial in his day concerning Origen: "Where he's good, there's none better; but where he's bad, none worse" (Inst. 1.1.8). To get around the problems of Origen's heterodoxy, Cassiodorus devised a technique for guiding his monks without mangling his copy of the manuscript: "So in reading the works of Origen, I have marked passages which contradict the teaching of the partes with the sign achresimon --'unusable'--so that he will not deceive those who heed the warning of that sign" (Inst. 1.1.8). This affectation of a scholiastic term in the margin, Cassiodorus is sure, will suffice to warn his monks away from doctrinal error. This is the first place in the Institutiones where Cassiodorus mentions precautions of this sort taken to sanitize a doctrinally suspect author. It is perhaps a sign of the underlying respect in which Origen was held (and the relative innocuousness of his errors; Cassian and Pelagius erred on grace and free will, hotter topics than the eternity of creation and apocatastasis) that Cassiodorus thinks it sufficient to mark off doubtful passages without going to the trouble of preparing an expurgated edition.[]
Cassiodorus' practice of introducing the first volume of scripture with its supporting library is repeated in treating the remainder of the Bible. The Old Testament is divided into one volume of historical books, one of prophets, one of sapiential literature (entitled "De Salomone"), one of "Agiographi" (i.e., Esther, Tobias, Maccabees, etc.), and of course the Psalter, with respect to which Cassiodorus offers not only his own introductory commentary, but also Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, and as much of Augustine (apparently only comments on twenty Psalms) as he has been able to acquire for the Vivarium. There are then three volumes of the New Testament, one of Gospels (with the fewest commentaries associated with it of any of the volumes), one of Epistles, and one of the Acts of the Apostles bound together with the Apocalypse. In nine chapters, then, Cassiodorus goes through the contents of his exegetical library.
This only furnishes, as it were, the raw materials for the study of scripture. The practical guidance must now grow more fundamental. Unfortunately, the first chapter with which Cassiodorus began that instruction is the apparent victim of a textual defect that confuses (though it does not destroy) the order of Cassiodorus' suggestions. Briefly, the chapter advises the student to begin with certain elementary guidebooks (Augustine, Tyconius, Adrian, Eucherius, and Junillus--whose short treatises Cassiodorus had bound together in a codex introductorius[]), to proceed by studying existing commentaries on scripture, then catholici magistri treating individual theological problems, then various occasional writings of the patres (including letters and sermons), and finally to consult the elders of the monastic community.
There is much more to the first book of the Institutiones, however. After the first nine chapters on the books of the Bible and the tenth on methodology, there follow numerous chapters of technical information. The first chapter lists the four major synods of the church that are to be accepted as authoritative; the three chapters that follow this listing of the synods (and index the text of their decrees in the library) are actually concordance tables, showing the different listings of the authoritative books of scripture according to different authorities--Jerome, Augustine, and the Septuagint (Inst. 1.12-14). This measure enabled students to find their way from one text of scripture to another, a matter that was particularly important since Cassiodorus' own arrangement of the nine-volume set was idiosyncratic and grouped the books according to their contents, in slight violation of the other usual orders. Chapter 14, indeed, concludes with a summary of the codices available at the Vivarium. From this it is a logical step to turn to the subject of correct copying of texts and the precautions to be taken therein: "Sub qua cautela relegi debeat caelestis auctoritas" (Inst. 1.15).
The chapter on accurate transcription is concerned chiefly with preventing eager scribes from altering the inspired words of scripture in the name of grammatical and stylistic rules. Where the text of scripture is not at risk, Cassiodorus encourages the emendation of texts according to the rules of secular magistri, but the text of scripture must always be checked against good and ancient exemplars (a principle curiously similar to that with which Richard Bentley planned to edit the New Testament twelve and a half centuries later).
The remainder of the first book of the Institutiones is a sequence in no clearly defined order of chapters on other matters of bibliographical importance for the monks of the Vivarium. There is a general chapter, for example, "de virtute scripturae divinae," which repeats some earlier material (e.g., it recommends Augustine's De doctrina christiana again) and offers general principles for the study of scripture. A separate chapter is set aside for Christian historians, chiefly making mention of works available at the Vivarium. Then comes a series of chapters naming and praising those doctors of the church whom Cassiodorus esteemed most highly: Hilary of Poitiers, Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and his own contemporaries, Eugippius and Dionysius (Inst. 1.17-23). We are, of course, most intrigued by his choice of contemporary writers to praise; mention has often been made of the presumed early friendship between Cassiodorus and Dionysius Exiguus, perhaps beginning when the latter was teacher and the former pupil. The choice of Eugippius was at least in part based on comparative geographical proximity (Eugippius wrote from a monastery near Naples), and in part on a similarity of purpose in monastic intellectual enterprise. Cassiodorus, however, seems to have a more personal reason for mentioning him, claiming a relationship to the Proba to whom Eugippius' Augustine anthology was dedicated (Inst. 1.23.1).[]
After a short chapter exhorting the monks to make the study of scripture the goal of all their intellectual work ("Let us not let an excess of curiosity deflect us toward empty speculations" [Inst. 1.24.1]), we get a scattered sequence of chapters on subjects not strictly religious. In fact, had Cassiodorus been of a different mind, these chapters could well have been relegated to the second book on secular studies; they treat cosmographers (like Ptolemy), agronomists (Gargilius Martial and Columella), orthographers, and Greek physicians (Inst. 1.25, 1.28, 1.31). There is, moreover, the chapter on the site of the Vivarium and the recommendation for readings on monasticism, chiefly from Cassian, and a chapter "de schematibus ac disciplinis," which introduces and justifies the second book to follow (Inst. 1.27, 1.29). Finally, there are the two chapters of commonitio to the abbots and community and of prayer in conclusion.
To understand the peculiar difference in structure and style between the first and second books of the Institutiones, however, it is necessary to look closely at the chapter in Book I that introduces the second book. It comes in the middle of the sequence of miscellaneous chapters on the auxiliary sciences that monks should study if they are able; it justifies attention to the secular studies by pointing out how useful they are in understanding scripture and how, of course, they got their start from scripture itself. Then Cassiodorus states his particular purpose in composing Book II: "Let us accept the burden of antiquity, collecting in our second book the things they wrote of more extensively in many volumes...; thus what they have furtively carried off will be restored to the service of accurate understanding" (Inst. 1.27.2). Book II, therefore, is a kind of extended gloss on this single chapter of Book I, taken out and expanded so that the subject could be treated at an appropriate length without spoiling the structure of the first book.
In this way, Book I of the Institutiones is a theoretically complete work, covering everything about divine and secular learning that the student needs to know. But it has been necessary for Cassiodorus to provide a text of the seven artes and disciplinae of a sort that will reduce those studies to the appropriate state of subservience to scriptural ones, a state they have long avoided in the hands of their secular practitioners.[] It is true, therefore, that Cassiodorus introduces the study of what we would call "humanities" to his monastery; but he does so only in order to take command of those subjects once and for all, to make them truly a branch of "divinity," to subordinate them to higher things.
It is inevitable, therefore, that the second book should be of vastly less interest to us than the first. In it Cassiodorus is merely repeating what he has been told by the authors he excerpts.[] It is in many ways difficult for us to appreciate just how so schematic and abstract a treatise could have been of real use to students; I think it must be thought of in connection with Cassiodorus' true magnum opus, the Expositio Psalmorum. The only students for whom the second book of the Institutiones was written were themselves monks. In Cassiodorus' monastery they would have been educated in the opus Dei, the divine office, by means of that very Cassiodorian commentary, full of allusions to all the devices of secular learning. For them, then, this second book of the Institutiones would be a valuable companion text, taking the material scattered at random according to the disposition of the text in the Expositio and presenting it in a unified whole in one short book. Thus the excessive schematization of the presentation would be precisely its virtue; for the student who came from the Expositio with his head buzzing with arcane bits of rhetorical and scientific information, the straightforward style of the Institutiones, showing the elements of these sciences in their necessary relationships to one another, would provide just the organizational information to enable the student to make sense of what he had learned. Hence, the longest section of the second book is on dialectic, sorting out all the syllogisms and categories that had been noted in passing throughout the Psalter; after that, rhetoric and arithmetic got the most extended attention.[]
Thus the Expositio and the Institutiones provide together all the practice and the theory, respectively, that a monastic scholar needed for introduction to the life of Christian intellectual culture. Having read through the commentary, he would know the monk's book, the Psalter, as well as could be expected, having learned well the techniques of exposition as practiced by Cassiodorus; the Institutiones gave theoretical order to the techniques of exposition as well as comprehensive and orderly bibliographical material on the further study of all of scripture, with all the ancillary material that was at the student's disposal in the Vivarium. On this basis the intellectual and cultural enterprise of the Vivarium takes on new unity, in harmony with the monastic enterprise that lay at the base of all life there; we can now see more clearly the kind of education that Cassiodorus had had in mind as far back as the days at Rome when he and Agapetus were conspiring together.
It can also now be seen in what way the two works we have discussed, the Expositio Psalmorum and the Institutiones, were the centerpieces of Cassiodorus' own intellectual labors through the 540's and 550's. When he had completed these works, in his seventy-fifth year or thereabouts, he could be to some degree confident that he had provided for his monks and for the study of Christian culture. How much success was actually visited upon this endeavor we will attempt to discuss in the next chapter. In the meantime it must not be neglected that there were many other works published for the monks at the Vivarium, spinoffs from the central purposes of the enterprise.
These works divide themselves into two interacting categories, There were, first of all, numerous works that Cassiodorus had translated from the Greek for the use of his monks; and there were the manuscript collections that he made of numerous works of the Greek and Latin fathers for various purposes. We have already seen that throughout the first book of the Institutiones he was mentioning the compilation of manuscript editions of groups of commentaries on individual sections of the Bible.[] In this regard the Institutiones are as much a record of the program of works intended to be compiled as of the work already done; for frequently Cassiodorus mentioned works that he had been unable to get but for which he urged his followers to be vigilant.
The question of translations raises the arguable question of the state of knowledge of Greek at the Vivarium.[] Despite efforts to prove that Squillace was in a Greek-speaking vicinity and drew its monks from among native Greek speakers, the evidence seems to be that the bulk of the people for whom and with whom Cassiodorus was working neither spoke nor read the Greek language. We know the names of only three individuals (Bellator, Mutianus, and Epiphanius) who worked for Cassiodorus in translating Greek into Latin. Cassiodorus himself seems never to have done any translating. The chief products of the Greek translators at the Vivarium were three: the Latin version of the homilies of Chrysostom on Hebrews, which had a considerable medieval vogue; the Latin Josephus, a best-seller for centuries; and the Historia ecclesiastica tripartita, The other translations included chiefly commentaries on books of scripture for which Latin treatments were not available, but also the work of Gaudentius on music.
Of these works, the only one to show any trace of originality was the Historia tripartita, and even it was a borrowed idea. Designed to fill up the period from the end of Eusebius' ecclesiastical history (which was present at Squillace in Rufinus' translation), the Historia tripartita translated and conflated passages from the three Greek ecclesiastical historians, Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, covering the period from the conversion of Constantine down to the year 429, when the narrative of Socrates ends. There is a preface that is obviously by Cassiodorus, but it is also clear that the bulk of the work was done by Epiphanius.[] There has been a certain amount of scholarly gloating over the translation errors in this work;[] but a more balanced view shows that it is comparatively accurate for works of that genre and period.[]
If we assume that Cassiodorus' knowledge of Greek was relatively slight, we will find support in the Historia tripartita; Epiphanius had in hand the tripartite history of Theodore the Lector (completed around 530, in Greek), which he followed in selecting passages from the three historians down through the middle of the second book. From there on he had a free hand in the selection and translation of passages, which he seems to have exercised judiciously.[] A glance at the contents will show, for example, that the compiler largely followed the narrative of Socrates, the best of the three from an historical point of view. The whole project is thus one that Cassiodorus inspired (possibly bringing a manuscript--perhaps a partial one--from Constantinople for the purpose) but that he put almost entirely into the hands of Epiphanius.[] The Latin of the Historia is good, albeit sounding as much like a translation as it in fact was.[]
We know of one other original work compiled at the Vivarium at this period: the computus that was keyed to the year 562 and designed to explain the Christian calendar. The work is of slightly greater interest than the usual such treatise (although it is very short and simple), because it is the first document from the medieval world that uses the Dionysian system of reckoning dates anno Domini. The little treatise was generally ascribed to Cassiodorus in the past (it is transmitted with his work: see below), then denied by Mommsen on the grounds that at that time (1861, in his first edition of the Chronica) he thought Cassiodorus must have been dead by 562. Paul Lehmann, however, showed with clarity and vigor that the probability favors a Vivarian origin for the work, in the time of Cassiodorus, for three reasons: that Cassiodorus lived well past 562; that he knew and admired Dionysius Exiguus, the author of the new reckoning, and had just the sort of curiosity about natural history to be intrigued by such a system; and that all four manuscript versions of the computus appear in codices bound with Book II of the Institutiones, three of them immediately following the end of the authentically Cassiodorian work.[] The treatise itself is of merely antiquarian interest now, with its rules for determining the year A.D. when the indiction is known and vice versa, as well as rules for determining the arcane numbers of epactae, adiectiones solis, the year of the 19 year circulus, and the date of the next bissextile day, as well as complex rules for determining the date of Easter and simpler ones for the day of the week.
The last major surviving work produced by the Vivarium enterprise is the only one that shows the continuation of Cassiodorus' work after the master left off. This is the commentary on the Epistles, originally written by Pelagius the heresiarch, revised by Cassiodorus and his school, and now associated with the works of Primasius of Hadrumetum.[] Cassiodorus knew the work under the name of Gelasius and saw the need to expunge heretical ideas from it (Inst. 1.8.1). He himself only managed to get through the part of the commentary that treated Romans, leaving the rest for his monks to expurgate. (Note that this work was so infected as to need a completely revised edition and could not make do, as did Origen and Cassian, with marginal warning notes.) Examples can be adduced of the use of the Rules of Tyconius the Donatist in the revision of the commentary on Second Thessalonians and of the use of Eucherius' Instructiones in several cases (but never in revising the commentary on Romans); both authors had been recommended by Cassiodorus (cf. Inst. 1.10.1). What is more, this later revision gives us a glimpse of the level of intellectual activity at the Vivarium when Cassiodorus himself was not directly involved; where Cassiodorus had relentlessly purged the Pelagian poison on his own authority, his monks had recourse to the most elementary of the scriptural handbooks that Cassiodorus had recommended to them.
For special reasons, the last two works of Cassiodorian authorship have been reserved for consideration in our next chapter. But the picture drawn so far of intellectual activity at the Vivarium is completely consistent with that painted by the Institutiones. It can be clearly seen how ecclesiastical history, translations or commentaries on scripture, and preparation of doctrinally orthodox editions of other commentaries are all elements in the process of studying scripture that Cassiodorus set up.
Not every work in the Vivarium library was produced there, of course. Our last consideration in examining the intellectual enterprise at Squillace must be the question of the copying of manuscripts preserved there. For centuries, the general assumption of scholars has generally been that Cassiodorus was instrumental in establishing the practice of manuscript copying in monasteries and that particularly he was somehow responsible for the preservation of manuscripts of ancient secular classics.[] We must be blunt: there is no evidence for either assumption. We know that Cassiodorus showed his monks how to copy manuscripts, but they were busied chiefly with scriptural manuscripts and ancillary handbooks and textbooks. It is not, however, surprising that a monastery would be engaged in copying manuscripts of works it needed; even Benedictine monasticism at its inception needed books for distribution to the monks at the beginning of Lent (Reg. Ben. 48). Moreover, there is no convincing palaeographical evidence that any surviving manuscripts of pagan classics passed through the Vivarium. Even more damaging is the realization that it cannot be demonstrated that the library at the Vivarium contained so much as a single manuscript of Vergil.[] In fact, the secular authors whom Cassiodorus can be shown to have known and used at the Vivarium are only those who can be made use of in some way in the study of scripture. Thus there are grammarians present, but not poets or classical historians.[] One is justified in asking, then, what this entire enterprise of students, copyists, and translators added up to. The picture is a simpler one than scholars have ever been willing to admit; it can best be drawn by examining more closely the mind and heart of Cassiodorus at this period.
First, we must rid ourselves of the notion that the retirement to Squillace was a romantic flight to a monastic refuge, that Cassiodorus was taking ancient culture and walling it up inside the monastery with him. In fact, Cassiodorus seems not to have cared one way or the other what happened to secular culture, for he did not admit its theoretical right to exist. Obsessed with his new idea of a Christian culture that rose above and absorbed all previous intellectual culture, he was seeking only the best environment in which to pursue that goal. The decision to work at the Vivarium, on the farthest shore of Italy, was mostly coincidence. The land was there, and we have already seen that the monastery may well have already been there before the idea of locating the school there germinated. Cassiodorus' first choice for a site for his school had been Rome itself, but after the collapse of those efforts and Cassiodorus' departure from Italy, the movement of this man's heart into the monastic life began and quickened. The whole period at Constantinople can only be understood as constituting the time when Cassiodorus the statesman disappears from the stage of history to be replaced by Cassiodorus the monk. Moreover, he had no grandiose conception of himself any longer, if ever he had had one before, nor did he deserve one. He was one man, attempting in his old age to found a school where men might come to a greater knowledge of the things their faith spoke of. To this all his efforts were bent.
Second, we must discount all our notions that Cassiodorus saw a great mission for his institution in some way reaching out to all of Europe. There is no credible evidence that he ever looked beyond the boundaries of his estates except to see if he could pick up a copy of an elusive manuscript. The works produced there were narrowly limited to local use; even the Expositio Psalmorum, written in metropolitan Constantinople, was later revised in places to include references to specific works in the library at Squillace.[] We will discuss in the next chapter the largely coincidental way in which Cassiodorus came to have some impact on later developments. But apart from the very remote possibility that the Vivarium would become a source of teachers for other schools (although there is no evidence for this in the texts), or that students would come from afar to study the methods there (again, no evidence), there is every reason to believe that the self-sufficient Christian life of monasticism was all that Cassiodorus really cared for. That this included scholastic activity was implied in Cassiodorus' understanding of monasticism and the faith he professed; in Cassiodorus, monastic and intellectual activity is fused directly in a way that would be duplicated partially, and independently, throughout medieval monastic Europe.[] We need not look to Cassiodorus, in fact, as the fountainhead of this development; indeed, the love of learning and the desire for God were passions that, when the former was adequately subordinated to the latter, came naturally to the monastic life. In the beginning, one had monks singing the Psalter and reading scripture, doing the opus Dei. That the monastic quest for God took on intellectual forms reflects, not the influence of one inventor, but the nature of man himself It would be astonishing if these men had abided in their cloisters meditating on the Word and not become scholars.
Thus the Vivarium was for Cassiodorus something more than psychotherapy, as one scholar put it,[] but also something less than an evangelical mission to rescue Europe from intellectual disorder. The real quest of Cassiodorus at Squillace was the soul's search for God through faith; in this he was atypical only in the intelligence and resourcefulness, not to mention the bureaucrat's talent for organization, that he brought to the task.
Return to Table of Contents or go on to Chapter 7.