chapter  5
14 Pages

Prophets, Psalms, and Proverbs: The Continuity of Experience

Like many patristic texts, Cassian’s Conferences refers to the prophetic narratives and wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible with dizzying frequency. More quotations come from the Book of Psalms, for instance, than from any other book within his text, and they appear in all but one Conference.1 The presence of so many of these verses is not surprising but is further testament to the flexibility of the scriptural canon and the fundamentally exegetical orientation of patristic authors. At first glance, Psalms and Proverbs would not seem to lend themselves to Cassian’s mimetic strategy. Neither book contains a hero-figure whose image and actions personify the monastic ideal. However, his use of these texts suggests a sophisticated pedagogical technique that puts the scriptural verses into the mouths of his audience, who, for the most part, would read his work aloud as part of monastic routine. This technique allows for an immediate association in which reader and text merge. The words of the psalmist come alive again in audible speech and contribute to the monk’s spiritual formation.