Flavius Magnus Aurelius
Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 – c. 585),
commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer
serving in the administration of Theoderic the Great, king of the
Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname, not his rank.
Monastery at Vivarium
3 Educational philosophy
4 Classical connections
5 Lasting impact
10 External links
Cassiodorus was born at Scylletium, near
Catanzaro in Calabria, Italy.
He began his career as councillor to his father, the governor of
Sicily. While still young, he made a name for himself as learned in
the ways of law. During his working life he worked as quaestor sacri
palatii c. 507–511, as a consul in 514, then as magister officiorum
under Theoderic, and later under the regency for Theoderic's young
Cassiodorus kept copious records and letterbooks
concerning public affairs. At the Gothic court his literary skill,
which seems mannered and rhetorical to modern readers, was so esteemed
that when in
Ravenna he was often entrusted with drafting significant
public documents. His culminating appointment was as praetorian
prefect for Italy, effectively the prime ministership of the
Ostrogothic civil government and a high honor to finish any career.
Cassiodorus also collaborated with
Pope Agapetus I in establishing a
library of Greek and
Latin texts which were intended to support a
Christian school in Rome.
James O'Donnell notes:
[I]t is almost indisputable that he accepted advancement in 523 as the
immediate successor of Boethius, who was then falling from grace after
less than a year as magister officiorum, and who was sent to prison
and later executed. In addition, Boethius' father-in-law (and
step-father) Symmachus, by this time a distinguished elder statesman,
Boethius to the block within a year. All this was a result of
the worsening split between the ancient senatorial aristocracy
Rome and the adherents of Gothic rule at Ravenna. But to
read Cassiodorus' Variae one would never suspect such goings-on.
There is no mention in Cassiodorus' selection of official
correspondence of the death of Boethius.
Athalaric died in early 534, and the remainder of Cassiodorus' public
career was dominated by the Byzantine reconquest and dynastic intrigue
among the Ostrogoths. His last letters were drafted in the name of
Around 537–38, he left
Italy for Constantinople, from where his
successor was appointed, where he remained for almost two decades,
concentrating on religious questions. He notably met Junillus, the
Justinian I there. His Constantinopolitan journey
contributed to the improvement of his religious knowledge.
Cassiodorus spent his career trying to bridge the 6th-century cultural
divides: between East and West, Greek culture and Latin, Roman and
Goth, and between an Orthodox people and their Arian ruler. He speaks
fondly in his Institutiones of Dionysius Exiguus, the calculator of
Anno Domini era.
In his retirement, he founded the monastery of Vivarium on his family
estates on the shores of the Ionian Sea, and his writings turned to
Monastery at Vivarium
Vivarium from the Bamberg manuscript of the Institutiones Patr. 61,
Cassiodorus' Vivarium "monastery school" was composed of two main
buildings: a coenobitic monastery and a retreat, for those who desired
a more solitary life. Both were located on the site of the modern
Santa Maria de Vetere near Squillace. The twin structure of Vivarium
was to permit coenobitic monks and hermits to coexist. The Vivarium
appears not to have been governed by a strict monastic rule, such as
that of the Benedictine Order. Rather Cassiodorus' work Institutiones
was written to guide the monks' studies. To this end, the
Institutiones focus largely on texts assumed to have been available in
Vivarium's library. The Institutiones seem to have been composed over
a lengthy period of time, from the 530s into the 550s, with redactions
up to the time of Cassiodorus' death.
Cassiodorus composed the
Institutiones as a guide for introductory learning of both "divine"
and "secular" writings, in place of his formerly planned Christian
school in Rome:
I was moved by divine love to devise for you, with God's help, these
introductory books to take the place of a teacher. Through them I
believe that both the textual sequence of Holy Scripture and also a
compact account of secular letters may, with God's grace, be revealed.
The first section of the Institutiones deals with Christian texts, and
was intended to be used in combination with the Expositio Psalmorum.
The order of subjects in the second book of the Institutiones
reflected what would become the Trivium and
Quadrivium of medieval
liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, music,
geometry, and astronomy. While he encouraged study of secular
Cassiodorus clearly considered them useful primarily as aids
to the study of divinity, much in the same manner as St. Augustine.
Cassiodorus' Institutiones thus attempted to provide what Cassiodorus
saw as a well-rounded education necessary for a learned Christian, all
in uno corpore, as
Cassiodorus put it.
The library at Vivarium was still active c. 630, when the monks
brought the relics of Saint
Agathius from Constantinople, dedicating
to him a spring-fed fountain shrine that still exists. However, its
books were later dispersed, the
Codex Grandior of the
purchased by the Anglo-Saxon
Ceolfrith when he was in
679–80, and taken by him to Wearmouth Jarrow, where it served as the
source for the copying of the Codex Amiatinus, which was then brought
Italy by the now aged Ceolfrith. Despite the demise of the
Vivarium, Cassiodorus' work in compiling classical sources and
presenting a sort of bibliography of resources would prove extremely
influential in Late Antique Western Europe.
Cassiodorus devoted much of his life to supporting education within
the Christian community at large. When his proposed theological
Rome was denied, he was forced to re-examine his entire
approach to how material was learned and interpreted. His Variae
show that, like Augustine of Hippo,
Cassiodorus viewed reading as a
transformative act for the reader. It is with this in mind that he
designed and mandated the course of studies at the Vivarium, which
demanded an intense regimen of reading and meditation. By assigning a
specific order of texts to be read,
Cassiodorus hoped to create the
discipline necessary within the reader to become a successful monk.
The first work in this succession of texts would be the Psalms, which
the untrained reader would need to begin with because of its appeal to
emotion and temporal goods. By examining the rate at which copies
of his Psalmic commentaries were issued, it is fair to assess that as
the first work in his series, Cassiodorus's educational agenda had
been implemented to some degree of success.
Beyond demanding the pursuit of discipline among his students,
Cassiodorus encouraged the study of the liberal arts. He believed
these arts were part of the content of the Bible, and some mastery of
them—especially grammar and rhetoric—necessary for a complete
understanding of it. These arts were divided into trivium (which
included rhetoric, idioms, vocabulary and etymology) and quadrivium:
arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
Cassiodorus is rivalled only by
Boethius in his drive to preserve and
explore classical literature during the 6th century AD. He
found the writings of the Greeks and Romans valuable for their
expression of higher truths where other arts failed. Though he saw
these texts as vastly inferior to the perfect word of Scripture, the
truths presented in them played to Cassiodorus's educational
principles. Thus he is unafraid to cite Cicero alongside sacred text,
and acknowledge the classical ideal of good being part of the practice
His love for classical thought also influenced his administration of
Cassiodorus connected deeply with Christian neoplatonism,
which saw beauty as concomitant with the Good. This inspired him to
adjust his educational program to support the aesthetic enhancement of
manuscripts within the monastery, something which had been practiced
before, but not in the universality that he suggests.
Classical learning would by no means replace the role of scripture
within the monastery; it was intended to augment the education already
under way. It is also worth noting that all Greek and Roman works were
heavily screened to ensure only proper exposure to text, fitting with
the rest of the structured learning.
Cassiodorus's legacy is quietly profound. Before the founding of
Vivarium, the copying of manuscripts had been a task reserved for
either inexperienced or physically infirm devotees, and was performed
at the whim of literate monks. Through the influence of Cassiodorus,
the monastic system adopted a more vigorous, widespread, and regular
approach to reproducing documents within the monastery. This
approach to the development of the monastic lifestyle was perpetuated
especially through German religious institutions.
This change in daily life also became associated with a higher
purpose: the process was not merely associated with disciplinary
habit, but also with the preservation of history. During
Cassiodorus's lifetime, theological study was on the decline and
classical writings were disappearing. Even as the victorious Ostrogoth
armies remained in the countryside, they continued to pillage and
destroy religious relics in Italy. Cassiodorus's programme helped
ensure that both classical and sacred literature were preserved
through the Middle Ages.
Despite his contributions to monastic order, literature, and
education, Cassiodorus' labors were not well acknowledged. After his
death he was only partially recognized by historians of the age,
including Bede, as an obscure supporter of the Church. In their
descriptions of Cassiodorus, medieval scholars have been documented to
change his name, profession, place of residence, and even his
religion. Some chapters from his works have been copied into other
texts, suggesting that he may have been read, but not generally
The works not assigned as a part of Cassiodorus's educational program
must be examined critically. Because he had been working under the
newly dominant power of the Ostrogoths, the writer demonstrably alters
the narrative of history for the sake of protecting himself. The same
could easily be said about his ideas, which were presented as
non-threatening in their approach to peaceful meditation and its
Laudes (very fragmentary published panegyrics on public occasions)
Chronica, (ending at 519) uniting all world history in one sequence of
rulers, a union of Goth and Roman antecedents, flattering Goth
sensibilities as the sequence neared the date of composition
Gothic History (526–533), a lengthy and multi-volume work, survives
only in Jordanes' abridgment Getica, which must be considered a
separate work and is the only surviving ancient work about the Goths'
Variae epistolae (537), Theoderic's state papers.
Editio princeps by
M. Accurius (1533). English translations by Thomas Hodgkin The Letters
Cassiodorus (1886); S.J.B. Barnish Cassiodorus: Variae (Liverpool:
University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-85323-436-1
Expositio psalmorum (Exposition of the Psalms)
De anima ("On the Soul") (540)
Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum (543–555)
De Artibus ac Disciplinis Liberalium Litterarum ("On the Liberal
Codex Grandior (a version of the Bible)
^ O'Donnell, James J. (1995). "Chronology". Cassiodorus.
^ Cf., e.g., F. Denis de Sainte-Marthe: La vie de Cassiodore,
chancelier et premier ministre de Theoderic le Grand. Paris 1694
(online, in French)
^ "Cassiodorus: Chapter 1, Backgrounds and Some Dates".
faculty.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
^ Jean Leclerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, 2nd
revised edition (New York: Fordham, Fordham University Press, 1977)
^ Institutions, trans. James W. Halporn and Mark Vessey, Cassiodorus:
Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning and On the Soul, TTH 42
(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004)I.1, 105.
^ Halporn and Vessey, Cassiodorus: Institutions, 68.
^ Select Abstracts
^ Maria Makepeace, http://www.florin.ms/pandect.html
^ Halporn and Vessey, Cassiodorus: Institutions, 66.
^ Wand, JWC. A History of the Early Church. Methuen & Co. Ltd.
^ a b c d e "Cassiodorus's "Commentary on the Psalms" as an "Ars
Rhetorica"". Rhetorica. XVII (Winter, 1999): 37–73.
^ a b c "The Influence of
Cassiodorus on Medieval Culture". Speculum.
XX (October, 1945): 433–442. doi:10.2307/2856740.
^ General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI,
Boethius and Cassiodorus.
Internet. Available from "Archived copy". Archived from the original
on 2008-12-28. Retrieved 2008-04-30. ; accessed June 21, 2011.
^ "Cassiodorus's Institutes and Christian Book Selection". The Journal
of Library History. I (April, 1966): 89–100.
^ a b "The Value and Influence of Cassiodorus's Ecclesiastical
History". The Harvard Theological Review. XLI (January, 1948):
^ a b "The New
Cassiodorus by EK Rand". Speculum. XIII (October,
1938): 433–447. doi:10.2307/2849664.
^ Pergoli Campanelli, Alessandro (2013). Cassiodoro alle origini
dell'idea di restauro. Milano: Jaca Book. p. 140.
Cassiodorus as Patricius and ex Patricio". Historia: Zeitschrift
für Alte Geschichte. XLI (1990): 499–503.
Cassiodorus, Flavius Magnus Aurelius (780). "Institutiones divinarum
et saecularium litterarum". Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc.Patr. 61,
fol. 1v-67v. Southern Italy. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
Cassiodorus, Flavius Magnus Aurelius (1167). "Gesta Theodorici".
Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Ms. vul. 46. Fulda. Retrieved 24
James J. O'Donnell (1979).
Cassiodorus (Berkeley: University of
California Press). On-line e-text.
James J. O'Donnell (1969).
Cassiodorus University of California Press,
S. J. Barnish, Roman Responses to an Unstable World: Cassiodorus'
Variae in Context in: Vivarium in Context 7-22 (Centre Leonard Boyle:
Vicenza 2008). ISBN 978-88-902035-2-7
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Cassiodorus
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
James J. O'Donnell's
Cassiodorus webpage: an assessment of
Cassiodorus' cultural predicament
Works by Senator
Cassiodorus at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Cassiodorus at Internet Archive
Opera omnia vol. 1, Joannes Garetius, ed., Rouen, 1679. (Google Books)
Opera omnia vol. 2, Joannes Garetius, ed., Rouen, 1679. (Google Books)
History of the Christian Church/A.D. 590-1073 by
Philip Schaff at
History of the Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire — Volume 4 by
Gibbon at Project Gutenberg.
Catholic Encyclopedia article
Site of the Vivarium of Cassiodorus[permanent dead link]- An account
of survey and recognition at the proposed archaeological site of
Vivarium (Coscia di Staletti', Catanzaro, Calabria).
Societas internationalis pro Vivario for the study of
The fountain of Cassiodorus[permanent dead link] A spring situated at
the Coscia di Staletti on the grounds of the monastery of Cassiodorus,
with a grotto, formerly a site of pagan worship and eventually
Christianized by the addition of two large crosses.
Vivarium in Context. Book description and reviews of the essays by Sam
J. Barnish and Lellia Cracco Ruggini.
Flavius Taurus Clementinus Armonius Clementinus
Consul of the Roman Empire
ISNI: 0000 0001 1323 199X
BNF: cb121582004 (data)