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ASCETICISM

though there is no discoverable trace of it before the middle of the 4th century, subsequent references to it assume its long establishment. Thus St Augustine (Ep. 54 ad Januar.) mentions it as having been kept from time immemorial and as probably instituted by the apostles. Chrysostom, in his homily on the ascension, mentions a celebration of the festival in the church of Romanesia outside Antioch, and Socrates (Hist. eccles. vii. 26) records that in the year 390 the people of Constantinople “of old custom” (ἐξ ἔθους) celebrated the feast in a suburb of the city. As these two references suggest, the festival was associated with a professional pilgrimage, in commemoration of the passing of Christ and his apostles to the Mount of Olives; such a procession is described by Adamnan, abbot of Iona, as taking place at Jerusalem in the 7th century, when the feast was celebrated in the church on Mount Olivet (de loc. sanct. i. 22). The Peregrinatio of Etheria (Silvia), which dates from c. A.D. 385, says that the festival was held in the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (Duchesne, Chr. Worship, p. 515). In the West, however, in the middle ages, the procession with candles and banners outside the church was taken as symbolical of Christ’s triumphant entry into heaven.

In the East the festival is known as the ἀνάληψις, “taking up,” or ἐπισωζομένη, a term first used in the Cappadocian church, and of which the meaning has been disputed, but which probably signifies the feast “of completed salvation.” The word ascensio, adopted in the West, implies the ascension of Christ by his own power, in contradistinction to the assumptio, or taking up into heaven of the Virgin Mary by the power of God.

In the Roman Catholic Church the most characteristic ritual feature of the festival is now the solemn extinction of the paschal candle after the Gospel at high mass. This candle, lighted at every mass for the forty days after Easter, symbolizes the presence of Christ with his disciples, and its extinction his parting from them. The custom dates from 1263, and was formerly confined to the Franciscans; it was prescribed for the universal church by the Congregation of Rites on the 19th of May 1697. Other customs, now obsolete, were formerly associated with the liturgy of this feast; e.g. the blessing of the new beans after the Commemoration of the Dead in the canon of the mass (Duchesne, p. 183). In some churches, during the middle ages, an image of Christ was raised from the altar through a hole in the roof, through which a burning straw figure representing Satan was immediately thrown down.

In the Anglican Church Ascension Day and its octave continue to be observed as a great festival, for which a special preface to the consecration prayer in the communion service is provided, as in the case of Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday. The celebration of the Feast of the Ascension was also retained in the Lutheran churches as warranted by Holy Scripture.

See Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (1900), s. “Himmelfahrtsfest”; L. Duchesne, Christian Worship (2nd Eng. ed., London, 1904); The Catholic Encyclopaedia (London and New York, 1907).

ASCETICISM, the theory and practice of bodily abstinence and self-mortification, generally religious. The word is derived from the Gr. verb ἀσκέω, “I practise,” whence the noun ἄσκησις and the adjective ἀσκητικός; and it embodies a metaphor taken from the ancient wrestling-place or palaestra, where victory rewarded those who had best trained their bodies. Not a few other technical terms of Greek philosophic asceticism, used in the first instance by Cynics and Neo-pythagoreans, and then continued among the Greek Jews and Christians, were metaphors taken from athletic contests—but only metaphors, for all asceticism, worthy of the name, has a moral purport, and is based on the eternal contrast of the proposition, “This is right,” with the proposition, “That is pleasant.” The ascetic instinct is probably as old as humanity, yet we must not forget that early religious practices are apt to be deficient in lofty spiritual meaning, many things being esteemed holy that are from a modern point of view trifling and even obscene. We may therefore expect in primitive asceticism to find many abstentions and much self-torture apparently valueless for the training of character and discipline of the feelings, which are the essence of any healthy asceticism. Nevertheless these non-moral taboos or restraints may have played a part in building up in us that faculty of preferring the larger good to the impulse of the moment which is the note of real civilization. Aristotle in his Ethics defines, as the barbarian’s ideal of life, “the living as one likes.” Yet nothing is less true; for the savage, more than the civilized man, is tied down at every step with superstitious scruples and restrictions barely traceable in higher civilizations except as primitive survivals. It is not that savages are devoid of the ascetic instinct. It is on the contrary over-developed in them, but ill-informed and working in ways unessential or even morally harmful. It is the note of every great religious reformer, Moses, Buddha, Paul, Mani, Mahomet, St Francis, Luther, to enlighten and direct it to higher aims, substituting a true personal holiness for a ritual purity or taboo, which at the best was viewed as a kind of physical condition and contagion, inherent as well in things and animals as in man.

It is useful, therefore, in a summary sketch of asceticism, to begin with the facts as they can be observed among less advanced races, or as mere survivals among people who have reached the level of genuine moral reflection; and from this basis to proceed to a consideration of self-denial consciously pursued as a method of ethical perfection. The latter is as a rule less cruel and rigorous than primitive forms of asceticism. Under this head fall the following:—Fasting, or abstention from certain meats and drinks; denial of sexual instinct; subjection of the body to physical discomforts, such as nakedness, vigils, sleeping on the bare ground, tattooing, deformation of skull, teeth, feet, &c., vows of silence to be observed throughout life or during pilgrim-ages, avoidance of baths, of hair-cutting and of clean raiment, living in a cave; actual self-infliction of pain, by scourging, branding, cutting with knives, wearing of hair shirts, fire-walking, burial alive, hanging up of oneself by hooks plunged into the skin, suspension of weights by such hooks to the tenderer parts of the body, self-mutilation and numerous other, often ingenious, modes of torture. Such customs repose on various superstitions; for example, the self-mutilation of the Galli or priests of Cybele was probably a magical ceremony intended to fertilize the soil and stimulate the crops. Others of the practices enumerated, probably the greater part of them, spring from demonological beliefs.

Fasting (q.v.) is used in primitive asceticism for a variety of reasons, among which the following deserve notice. Certain animals and vegetables are taboo, i.e. too holy, or—what among Semites and others was the same thing—too defiling and unclean, to be eaten. Thus in Leviticus xi. the Jews are forbidden to eat animals other than cloven-footed ruminants; thus the camel, coney, hare and swine were forbidden; so also any water organisms that had not fins and scales, and a large choice of birds, including swan, pelican, stork, heron and hoopoe. All winged creeping things that have four feet were equally abominable. Lastly, the weasel, mouse and most lizards were taboo. All or nearly all of these were at one time totem animals among one or another of the Semitic tribes, and were not eaten because primitive men will not eat animals between which and themselves and their gods they believe a peculiar tie of kinship to exist. Men do not eat an animal for which they have a reverential dread, or if they eat it at all, it is only in a sacramental feast and in order to absorb into themselves its life and holy properties. Such abstinences as the above, though based on taboo, that is, on a reluctance to eat the totem or sacred animal, are yet ascetic in so far as they involve much self-denial. No flesh is more wholesome or succulent than beef, yet the Egyptians and Phoenicians, says Porphyry (de Abst. ii. 11), would rather eat human flesh than that of the cow, and so would two hundred and fifty millions of modern Hindus. The privation involved in abstention from the flesh of the swine, a taboo hardly less widespread, is obvious.

Similar prohibitions are common in Africa, where fetish priests are often reduced to a diet of herbs and roots. That such dietary restrictions were merely ceremonial and superstitious, and not