Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Caesarius, bishop of Arles

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Caesarius (3), St., sometimes called of Châlons (Cabillonensis seu Cabellinensis) from his birthplace Châlons-sur-Saône; but more usually known as Caesarius of Arles (Arelatensis) from his see, which he occupied for forty years. He was certainly the foremost ecclesiastic in the Gaul of his own age. The date of his birth lies between a.d. 468 and 470; the date of his death is Aug. 27, 542.

Authorities.—(1) The biography, written by his admiring disciple, St. Cyprian, bp. of Toulon (Tolonensis) with the aid of other ecclesiastics (ed. by d’Achery and Mabillon in the Acta Sanctorum Ord. S. Benedicti, Venet. 1733, tom. i. p. 636, et sqq., also in the Bollandists' Acta Sanctorum under date of Aug. 27).  (2) His will, first published by Baronius (Annal. tom. vi. ad ann. 508) from archives preserved at Arles; also given by Surius, l.c.; a document of some interest for the student of Roman law, but thought by Brugsch (archives of the Society of Ancient History) to be a forgery of Hincmar of Rheims.  (3) Acts of various councils, over all of which Caesarius presided (Labbe, Concilia, tom. ii. pp. 995–1098, ed. Parisiis, 1714).  (4) The Regula ad Monachos and Regula ad Virgines, drawn up by him for a monastery and a convent of his own foundation (ed. by Holstenius in his Codex Regularum; and by P. de Cointe in his Annales Ecclesiastici Francorum). Trithemius, fixing the date of Caesarius much too late, fell into the error of supposing him to be a Benedictine.  (5) His sermons. Of these 40 were pubd. at Basle in 1558; 46 in a Bibliotheca Patrum, ed. at Leyden in 1677; 14 more in another Bibl. Patr. of Gallandi, Venice 1776 (cf. Oudin in Comment. de Script. Eccles. vol. i. p. 1339); and 102, formerly ascribed to St. Augustine, are by the Benedictine editors assigned to Caesarius (Appendix to tom. v. of the works of St. Augustine). Others have been separately pubd. by Baluz; but Neander justly remarks that a complete collection of his sermons, conveying so much important information respecting the character of Caesarius and his times, still remains a desideratum (Church Hist. vol. v. p. 4, note). Cf. also A. Malnory, St. Césaire, évêque d’Arles (Paris, 1894); Arnold, Cesarius von Arelate, (Leipz. 1894).

Life.—Caesarius was born at Châlons of pious parents. His sister Caesaria afterwards presided over the convent which he founded, and to her he addressed his Regula ad Virgines. At the age of thirteen he betook himself to the famous monastery of Lerins (Lerinum), where he rapidly became master of all which the learning and discipline of the place could impart. Having injured his health by austerities, he was sent to Arles (Arelate) to recruit. There the bp. Eonus, having made his acquaintance, ordained him deacon and then presbyter. For three years he presided over a monastery in Arles; but of this building no vestige is now left.

At the death of Eonus the clergy, citizens, and persons in authority proceeded, as Eonus himself had suggested, to elect Caesarius, sincerely against his own wish, to the vacant see. He was consecrated in a.d. 502, being probably about 33 years of age. In the fulfilment of his new duties he was courageous and unworldly, but yet exhibited great power of kindly adaptation. He took great pains to induce the laity to join in the sacred offices, and encouraged inquiry into points not made clear in his sermons. He also bade them study Holy Scripture at home, and treat the word of God with the same reverence as the sacraments. He was specially zealous in redeeming captives, even selling church ornaments for this purpose.

A notary named Licinianus accused Caesarius to Alaric as one who desired to subjugate the civitas of Arles to the Burgundian rule. Caesarius was exiled to Bordeaux, but was speedily, on the discovery of his innocence, allowed to return. He interceded for the life of his calumniator. Later, when Arles was besieged by Theodoric, apparently c. a.d. 512, he was again accused of treachery and imprisoned. An interview with the Ostrogothic king at Ravenna in a.d. 513 speedily dispelled these troubles, and the remainder of his episcopate was passed in peace.

The directions of Caesarius for the conduct of monks and nuns have been censured as pedantic and minute. They certainly yielded to the spread of the rising Benedictine rule, but must be judged by their age and in the light of the whole spirit of monasticism.

As the occupant of an important see, the bishop of Arles exercised considerable influence, official as well as personal. Caesarius was liberal in the loan of sermons, and sent suggestions for discourses to priests and even bishops living in Spain, Italy, Gaul, and France (i.e. the province known as the Isle of France). The great doctrinal question of his age and country was that of semi-Pelagianism. Caesarius, though evidently a disciple of St. Augustine, displayed in this respect considerable independence of thought. His vigorous denial of anything like predestination to evil has caused a difference in the honour paid to his memory, according as writers incline respectively towards the Jesuit or Jansenist views concerning divine grace.

The most important local council over which Caesarius presided was that of Orange. Its statements on the subject of grace and free agency have been justly eulogized by modern historians (see, e.g., Canon Bright's Church History, ch. xi. ad fin.). The following propositions are laid down in canon 25: "This also do we believe, in accordance with the Catholic faith, that after grace received through baptism, all the baptized are able and ought, with the aid and co-operation of Christ, to fulfil all duties needful for salvation, provided they are willing to labour faithfully. But that some men have been predestinated to evil by divine power, we not only do not believe, but if there be those who are willing to believe so evil a thing, we say to them with all abhorrence anathema. This also do we profess and believe to our soul's health, that in every good work, it is not we who begin, and are afterwards assisted by Divine mercy, but that God Himself, with no preceding merits on our part, first inspires within us faith and love." On the express ground that these doctrines are as needful for the laity as for the clergy, certain distinguished laymen (illustres ac magnifci viri) were invited to sign these canons. They are accordingly subscribed by 8 laymen, and at least 12 bishops, including Caesarius. [Pelagianism.]

As a preacher, Caesarius displayed great knowledge of Holy Scripture, and was eminently practical in his exhortations. Besides reproving ordinary vices of humanity, he had often to contend against lingering pagan superstitions, as auguries, heathen rites on the calends, etc. His sermons on O.T. are not critical, but dwell on its typical aspects.

Some rivalry appears to have existed in the 6th cent. between the sees of Arles and Vienne, but was adjusted by pope Leo, whose adjustment was confirmed by Symmachus. Caesarius was in favour at Rome. A book he wrote against the semi-Pelagians, entitled de Gratiâ et Libero Arbitrio, was sanctioned by pope Felix; and the canons passed at Orange were approved by Boniface II. The learned antiquary Thomassin believed him to have been the first Western bishop who received a pall from the pope. Guizot, in his Civilisation en France, cites part of one of his sermons as that of a representative man; while Neander has nothing but eulogy for his "unwearied, active, and pious zeal, ready for every sacrifice in the spirit of love," and his moderation on the controversy concerning semi-Pelagianism. This is indeed the great glory of Caesarius. He more than anticipates the famous picture drawn by Chaucer of a teacher, earnest, sincere, and humble, but never sparing reproof where needed.

[J.G.C.]