Caesarius of Arles

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Saint Caesarius of Arles (468/470–August 27 542), sometimes called "of Chalon" (Cabillonensis or Cabellinensis) from his birthplace Chalon-sur-Saône but more usually known as Caesarius of Arles (Arelatensis) from the see that he occupied for forty years, was certainly the foremost ecclesiastic of his generation in Gaul. In all the Christian West, only Gregory the Great and Gregory of Tours overshadow him.


Caesarius was born at Chalon-sur-Saône 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 that the learning and discipline of the place could impart. He proved unpopular at Lerins when, as cellarer of the monastery, he withheld food from monks because he felt they were insufficiently austere. As a result, the abbot Porcarius removed Caesarius from his post whereupon he began starving himself; the abbot intervened and sent Caesarius to Arles ostensibly for medical care. Upon arriving in the city, the Vita Caesarii claims that Caesarius discovered, completely to his surprise, that the bishop of Arles - Aeonius - was a kinsman from Chalon (concivis pariter et propinquus - "at once a fellow citizen and a relative"). Aeonius later ordained his young relative 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 Aeonius the clergy, citizens, and persons in authority proceeded, as Aeonius himself had suggested, to elect Caesarius to the vacant see although Klingshirn suggests that there may have been considerable local hostility, that Caesarius' election may have been heavily disputed and that another cleric, Iohannes, who appears in the episcopal fasti of Arles may have been elected bishop. Caesarius was consecrated in 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 the people 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 II as one who desired to subjugate the civitas of Arles to the Burgundian rule. Caesarius was exiled to Bordeaux, but on the discovery of his innocence, was speedily allowed to return. He interceded for the life of his calumniator. Later, when Arles was besieged by Theodoric around the year 512, he was again accused of treachery and imprisoned. An interview with the Ostrogothic king at Ravenna the next year 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, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. 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, and elsewhere in Gaul. 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 (529). Its statements on the subject of grace and free agency have been eulogized by modern historians (see, e.g., Canon Bright, Church History, ch. xi. ad fin.). The following propositions are laid down in the Council of Orange's 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 magnifici viri) were invited to sign these canons. They are accordingly subscribed by eight laymen, and at least twelve bishops, including Caesarius.

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

Several volumes of his sermons have been published in Sources Chrétiennes.

Some rivalry appears to have existed in the sixth century between the sees of Arles and Vienne, but was adjusted by Pope Leo, whose adjustment was confirmed by Pope 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 IV; and the canons passed at Orange were approved by Pope Boniface II. The learned antiquary Louis Thomassin believed him to have been the first Western bishop who received a pall from the pope. François Guizot in Civilisation en France cites part of one of Caesarius' sermons as that of a representative man of his age; while August Neander eulogizes his "unwearied, active, and pious zeal, ready for every sacrifice in the spirit of love," and his moderation on the controversy concerning semi-Pelagianism.


There are several authorities for ascertaining the facts of his career.

  1. The biography, written by his admiring disciple, St. Cyprian, bishop of Toulon (Tolonensis) with the aid of other ecclesiastics[1] has been edited and translated by W.E. Klingshirn, Caesarius of Arles: Life, Testament, Letters. Translated Texts for Historians 19 (Liverpool, 1994).
  2. His will, first published by Baronius (Annal. vi, under the year 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 by Hincmar of Rheims.
  3. Acts of various councils over which Caesarius presided (Philippe Labbe, Concilia, vol. ii. pp. 995-1098, (Paris, 1714).
  4. The Regula ad Monachos and Regula ad Virgines, drawn up by him for a monastery and a convent of his own foundation (edited 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. Of his sermons[2] a recent edition is M.-J. Delage, Césare d'Arles: sermons au peuple 1, Sources Chrétiennes 175 (Paris, 1971).

The only modern assessment of Caesarius, setting him in context, is William E. Klingshirn, Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late antique Gaul (Cambridge University Press) 1994.[3]


  1. It was edited by d'Achery and Mabillon in the Acta Sanctorum Ord. S. Benedicti, Venice 1733, vol. i. p. 636ff, also in the Bollandists' Acta Sanctorum under date of Aug. 27).
  2. Forty were published at Basel in 1558; 46 in a Bibliotheca Patrum, eitedat Leyden in 1677; 14 more in another Bibliotheca Patrum of Gallandi, (Venice 1776; cf. Casimir Oudin in Commentarius de Scriptoribus Ecclestiasticis vol. i. p. 1339); and 102, formerly ascribed to St. Augustine, are by the Benedictine editors assigned to Caesarius (Appendix to vol. v. of the works of St. Augustine); others have been separately published by Baluz.
  3. Full monographs of Caesarius were A. Malnory, St. Césaire, évêque d'Arles (Paris, 1894) and Arnold, Cesarius von Arelate, (Leipzig 1894).

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