Quote of the Day 1-6-14 (W.E.H. Lecky)

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Christianity, Quotations, Religion
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William Edward Hartpole Lecky (* 1838; † 1903)...

William Edward Hartpole Lecky (* 1838; † 1903), British historian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is, perhaps no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper or more painful interest than this ascetic outbreak [starting in the late 3rd century A.D.]. A hideous, sordid, and emaciated maniac, without knowledge, without patriotism, without natural affection, passing his life in a long routine of useless and atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his delirious brain, had become the ideal of the nations which had known the writings of Plato and Cicero and the lives of Socrates and Cato. For about two centuries, the hideous maceration of the body was regarded as the highest proof of excellence. St. Jerome declares, with a thrill of admiration, how he had seen a monk, who for thirty years had lived exclusively on a small portion of barley bread and of muddy water; another who lived in a hole and never ate more than five figs for his daily repast; a third, who cut his hair only on Easter Sunday, who never washed his clothes, who never changed his tunic till it fell to pieces, who starved himself till his eyes grew dim, and his skin ‘like a pumice stone’…

The cleanliness of the body was regarded as a pollution of the soul, and the saints who were most admired had become one hideous mass of clotted filth. St. Athanasius relates with enthusiasm how St. Antony, the patriarch of [monasticism], had never to extreme old age, been guilty of washing his feet.

St. Ammon had never seen himself naked. A famous virgin named Silvia, though she was sixty years old and though bodily sickness was a consequence of her habits, resolutely refused, on religious principles, to wash any part of her body except her fingers. St. Euphraxia joined a convent of one hundred and thirty nuns, who never washed their feet, and who shuddered at the mention of a bath.

The occasional decadence of the monks into habits of decency was a subject of much reproach. ‘Our fathers,’ said the abbot Alexander, looking mournfully back to the past, ‘never washed their faces, but we frequent public baths.'”

W.E.H. Lecky, History of European Morals

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Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations


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