Δευτέρα, 25 Απριλίου 2011

Asceticism

http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/a/asceticism.htm


Asceticism is the practice of austere self-discipline, voluntary undertaken, in order to achieve a higher or spiritual ideal. 

The term is derived from the Greek ‘ασκείν’, which in the time of Homer meant, "to practice an art or skill." Later in Greece the term took on a broader meaning of "exercise"; so the early ascetics were skilled in athletics and the military arts. 



The various Greek philosophical schools, such as the Pythagoreans, Stoics, Sophists, and Cynics, used asceticism as a system of moral practices to free men of vices. Plato viewed asceticism as a means of not only conditioning the body but also conditioning it up to a point at which the soul could be free. The term seemed to have come into Christian and Western thought through the Hellenistic-Jewish philosopher Philo.


The above is the Western version of the development of asceticism, however, asceticism has Eastern roots too. The earliest exponents of asceticism were the Jain Buddhists whose religious teachings influenced the Essenes. Jain Buddhist monks had penetrated the courts of Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, and Epirus by the 4th century BC. They claimed to have gained magical abilities through self-denial.


One of the original reasons for practicing austere self-denial was man's desire to be able to give birth. Oriental myths said the first creator-gods acquire their ability to produce living things by "practicing fierce asceticism for ten thousand years." Although men were never able to acquire the female ability to give birth, they have claimed the abilities to fly, walk on water, heal the lame and blind, and perform other miracles.


Asceticism in its broadest sense is man's practice of renunciation of his physical self and world in order to attain a higher ideal or spiritual good; in summary, it's the renunciation of the physical, which has been deemed of lesser worth, for the spiritual. This has been the teaching of most cultural and almost explicitly all religious training. It is true almost every society from the primitive to the most sophisticated teach some type of asceticism to teach self-control that is expected from its members, without which the society could not exist.


The need for such social asceticism can readily be recognized, although members of such societies may complain such asceticism may be too stern or lack at times. And, occasionally during these times is when social and religious asceticism tend to intermix. Such conjunctures can cause conflicts. Many such conflicts have occurred within the Christian church and
a majority of them focused upon sexual activity of the members. 



Many of the medieval clergy became overzealous on this issue. It was reasoned that the reason man fell from grace was because of woman, therefore, man could only return to grace by renouncing woman. Sexuality was declared to be the worst of all heresies and sins, since it was St. Augustine who said all men were conceived in sin, the effect of original sin.


However, let not the reader forget that the church that is now condemning sexuality as the worst of all sins, several centuries earlier condemned the Gnostics as heretics for their refusal to bear children. One of the Orthodox Church's charges against the austere Gnostic sects was that they practiced almost total monasticism, but this was when the church was still in its infancy and needed members. Also, St. Augustine, one of the church's leading exponents against sexuality, was a member of the Gnostic Manichaens before becoming a Christian.


Protestant theologians shared similar views too. Calvin said that, because of its origin in sexuality and in a woman's body, every child was "defiled and polluted" in God's sight, even before it saw the light of day; a newborn infant is a "seed-bed of sin and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God." When Martin Luther married an ex-nun he still did not hold sex in a high regard. "Had God consulted me on the matter, I would have advised him to continue the generation of the species by fashioning them out of clay."


Here lies the hidden component of asceticism, the arrogance in the idea that man can instruct God in what he should do, which leads many people to think they are governed by a "man-made god." Those sharing this latter conception usually are not misled by the unnatural humility of asceticism. "Nothing is prouder than the humility of the ascetic of the other-worldly spirit that proclaims itself superior to the whole natural world, or than the mysticism that renounces the self only to commune with God himself." True humility is the desire to unite with and be within the whole of things but not above it.


Asceticism is not to be completely condemned. As previously mentioned every society has taught some form of asceticism to promote self-control within its members. Such social asceticism is justified for social existence. But, the key to its validity is in its function; to teach self-control without which there could be no social structure. This is far different than people practicing asceticism in order to commune with God, or condemning sexuality because they believe it to be sinful. If their reasoning is questioned it soon becomes fallacious or nonexistent. It soon becomes obvious for the individual wishing only to commune with God gains self-satisfaction rather than his proposed goal of the denial of self. The one who proclaims the sinfulness of sexuality seemed not to have considered the fact that God created sexual propagation for the continuation of people. Whether one includes God within this conclusion or not seems insignificant, to desire to eliminate sexual propagation because it is sinful seems to erroneously deny the fact of its necessity. Also denied are the natural love between mother and child, husband and wife, lovers, and the pleasure of sexual activity in general.




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