Caesarius of Arles was born around 468 in France to Roman parents in the last years of the Western Empire. His sister, Caesaria, to who he called his Rule for Virgins presided over the convent he founded. At the time of his birth, Germanic kings governed Burgundy with little oversight from Rome. Unlike his parents, Caesarius was born with an intense feeling for religion. This separated him from his family for most of his time Caesarius left home at seventeen and studied under Bishop Sylvester for a few years. Afterwards, he found his way to Lérins, an island monastery, which was known to be a creative force in the Catholic Church in Gaul. After training as a monk at Lérins he read and applied the scripture to improve the quality of Christian life and serve the poor. He was unpopular at Lérins because he withheld food from monks when he felt they weren’t strict enough or weren’t denying themselves enoch. The abbot Porcarius removed Caesarius from his job and he began starving himself. The abbot sent him for medical care. After living at Lérins for over a decade his health declined from monastic over-exertion. Caesarius sought out a different Catholic community in Arles.
The Catholic community he joined brought him back to health. He provided ransom for prisoners and helped the sick and the poor. Caesarius was consecrated as a bishop in 502. He was probably about 33. He asked the laity to ask about points not clear in his sermons. He brought the Divine Office into the local parishes He ordered people to study Holy Scripture at home, and treat the word of God with the same reverence as the sacraments.
As bishop, Caesarius lived in a political world. The aftermath of war in 507/508 was devastating to its citizens. Peasants had no food supply and were in danger of enslavement, exile and death. Although Caesarius saved and ransomed many citizens, He also ransomed many barbarians and enemies. stating they were human beings and had the potential to enter heaven.
Caesarius was a faithful champion of St. Augustine of Hippo in the early middle ages. Thus Augustine’s writings are seen to have profoundly shaped Caesarius’ vision of human community,
Catholics in the late Roman and Early Medieval West were slow, inconsistent, and incomplete social and religious change. It required the building of churches, conversion of elites, and widespread adoption of Catholic identity with a system of Christian values, practices, and beliefs. The church was constantly struggling against superstitions and pagan practices that were common in communities and among common people Only with the consent and participation of local populations did often contend with pagan practices.
Caesarius has over 250 surviving sermons. His sermons reveal him as a pastor dedicated to the formation of the clergy and the moral education of the laity. He preached on Christian beliefs, values, and practices against paganism He emphasizes the life of a Christian as well as the love of God, reading the scriptures, asceticism, love for one’s neighbor, and the judgment that would come
The most important local council over which Caesarius presided was the Council of Orange in 529. Its statements on the subject of grace and free agency have been written about by modern historians (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 fulfill all duties needful for salvation, provided they are willing to labor 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.”
Caesarius’ Regula virginum, also known as the Rule for Virgins, is the first western rule written exclusively for women. He begins his “Rule” by saying the virgins for which he was writing this rule were the “gems of the Church” as they, “with God’s help, evade the jaws of spiritual wolves Caesarius argues the complete containment of women in the monastery from their entry until death. Caesarius also created a strict regime for women in the monasteries to adhere to, specifying times for prayer, limits on earthly luxuries such as fine clothes and elaborate decoration, and standards of modesty and piety. Caesarius was captured and later returned from Bordeaux. After he returned he began to build a monastery for women outside of Arles. The monastery was built for a group of ascetic women living under the spiritual direction of his sister Caesaria.
When the Franks captured Arles in 536, Caesarius retired to St. John’s Convent. He was revered for his more than forty years of service and for presiding over Church synods and councils, including the Council of Orange in 529. He died on August 27.