955. Asceticism.

955. Asceticism.NOUN. asceticism, puritanism, sabbatarianism; cynicism, austerity; total abstinence; nephalism.

mortification, maceration, sackcloth and ashes, flagellation; penance &c. 952; fasting &c. 956; martyrdom.

ascetic; anchoret, anchorite; martyr; Heautontimorumenos; hermit &c. (recluse) 893; puritan, sabbatarian, cynic, sanyasi, yogi.

ADJ. ascetic, austere, puritanical; cynical; over-religious; acerbic.

A PURITAN

Is a diseased piece of apocalypse: bind him to the Bible, and he corrupts the whole text. Ignorance and fat feed are his founders; his nurses, railing, rabies, and round breeches. His life is but a borrowed blast of wind: for between two religions, as between two doors, he is ever whistling. Truly, whose child he is is yet unknown; for, willingly, his faith allows no father: only thus far his pedigree is found, Bragger and he flourished about a time first. His fiery zeal keeps him continually costive, which withers him into his own translation; and till he eat a schoolman he is hide-bound. He ever prays against non-residents, but is himself the greatest discontinuer, for he never keeps near his text. Anything that the law allows, but marriage and March beer, he murmurs at; what it disallows and holds dangerous, makes him a discipline. Where the gate stands open, he is ever seeking a stile; and where his learning ought to climb, he creeps through. Give him advice, you run into traditions; and urge a modest course, he cries out counsel. His greatest care is to contemn obedience; his last care to serve God handsomely and cleanly. He is now become so cross a kind of teaching, that should the Church enjoin clean shirts, he were lousy. More sense than single prayers is not his; nor more in those than still the same petitions: from which he either fears a learned faith, or doubts God understands not at first hearing. Show him a ring, he runs back like a bear; and hates square dealing as allied to caps. A pair of organs blow him out of the parish, and are the only glyster-pipes to cool him. Where the meat is best, there he confutes most, for his arguing is but the efficacy of his eating: good bits he holds breed good positions, and the Pope he best concludes against in plum-broth. He is often drunk, but not as we are, temporally; nor can his sleep then cure him, for the fumes of his ambition make his very soul reel, and that small beer that should allay him (silence) keeps him more surfeited, and makes his heat break out in private houses. Women and lawyers are his best disciples; the one, next fruit, longs for forbidden doctrine, the other to maintain forbidden titles, both which he sows amongst them. Honest he dare not be, for that loves order; yet, if he can be brought to ceremony and made but master of it, he is converted.

{Sir Thomas Overbury—Witty Descriptions of The Properties of Sundry Persons. A Puritan.}.


Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men, the one all self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion; the other proud, calm, inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated himself in the dust before his Maker: but he set his foot on the neck of his king. In his devotional retirement, he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears. He was half-maddened by glorious or terrible illusions. He heard the lyres of angels or the tempting whispers of fiends. He caught a gleam of the Beatific Vision, or woke screaming from dreams of everlasting fire. Like Vane, he thought himself intrusted with the sceptre of the millennial year. Like Fleetwood, he cried in the bitterness of his soul that God had hid his face from him. But when he took his seat in the council, or girt on his sword for war, these tempestuous workings of the soul had left no perceptible trace behind them. People who saw nothing of the godly but their uncouth visages, and heard nothing from them but their groans and their whining hymns, might laugh at them. But those had little reason to laugh who encountered them in the hall of debate or in the field of battle. These fanatics brought to civil and military affairs a coolness of judgment and an immutability of purpose which some writers have thought inconsistent with their religious zeal, but which were in fact the necessary effects of it. The intensity of their feelings on one subject made them tranquil on every other. One overpowering sentiment had subjected to itself pity and hatred, ambition and fear. Death had lost its terrors and pleasure its charms. They had their smiles and their tears, their raptures and their sorrows, but not for the things of this world. Enthusiasm had made them Stoics, had cleared their minds from every vulgar passion and prejudice, and raised them above the influence of danger and of corruption. It sometimes might lead them to pursue unwise ends, but never to choose unwise means. They went through the world, like Sir Artegal’s iron man Talus with his flail, crushing and trampling down oppressors, mingling with human beings, but having neither part nor lot in human infirmities, insensible to fatigue, to pleasure, and to pain, not to be pierced by any weapon, not to be withstood by any barrier.

Such we believe to have been the character of the Puritans. We perceive the absurdity of their manners. We dislike the sullen gloom of their domestic habits. We acknowledge that the tone of their minds was often injured by straining after things too high for mortal reach: and we know that, in spite of their hatred of Popery, they too often fell into the worst vices of that bad system, intolerance and extravagant austerity, that they had their anchorites and their crusades, their Dunstans and their De Montforts, their Dominics and their Escobars. Yet, when all circumstances are taken into consideration, we do not hesitate to pronounce them a brave, a wise, an honest, and an useful body.

The Puritans espoused the cause of civil liberty mainly because it was the cause of religion. There was another party, by no means numerous, but distinguished by learning and ability, which acted with them on very different principles. We speak of those whom Cromwell was accustomed to call the Heathens, men who were, in the phraseology of that time, doubting Thomases or careless Gallios with regard to religious subjects, but passionate worshippers of freedom. Heated by the study of ancient literature, they set up their country as their idol, and proposed to themselves the heroes of Plutarch as their examples. They seem to have borne some resemblance to the Brissotines of the French Revolution. But it is not very easy to draw the line of distinction between them and their devout associates, whose tone and manner they sometimes found it convenient to affect, and sometimes, it is probable, imperceptibly adopted.

{Thomas Babington Macaulay—Critical and Historical Essays. Vol. II. John Milton. (August 1825). }.


Some weeks later, when he had been rejoicing in the new bodily comfort which resulted from his relinquishment of all outward mortifications, Suso received a still more pointed lesson on his need of moral courage. He was sitting on his bed and meditating on the words of Job “Militia est.” 1 “The life of man upon the earth is like unto that of a knight”: and during this meditation, he was once more rapt from his senses, and it seemed to him that he saw coming towards him a fair youth of manly bearing, who held in his hands the spurs and the other apparel which knights are accustomed to wear. And he drew near to the Servitor, and clothed him in a coat of mail, and said to him:

“Oh, knight! hitherto thou hast been but a squire, but now it is God’s will that thou be raised to knighthood.”

And the Servitor gazed at his spurs, and said with much amazement in his heart,

“Alas, my God! what has befallen me? what have I become? must I indeed be a knight? I had far rather remain in peace.”

Then he said to the young man,

“Since it is God’s will that I should be a knight I had rather have won my spurs in battle; for this would have been more glorious.”

The young man turned away and began to laugh: and said to him,

“Have no fear! thou shalt have battles enough. He who would play a valiant part in the spiritual chivalry of God must endure more numerous and more dreadful combats than any which were encountered by the proud heroes of ancient days, of whom the world tells and sings the knightly deeds. It is not that God desires to free thee from thy burdens; He would only change them, and make them far heavier than they have ever been.”

Then the Servitor said,

“Oh, Lord, show me my pains in advance, in order that I may know them.”

The Lord replied,

“No, it is better that thou know nothing, lest thou shouldst hesitate. But amongst the innumerable pains which thou wilt have to support, I will tell thee three. The first is this. Hitherto it is thou who hast scourged thyself, with thine own hands: thou didst cease when it seemed good to thee, and thou hadst compassion on thyself. Now, I would take thee from thyself, and cast thee without defence into the hands of strangers who shall scourge thee. Thou shalt see the ruin of thy reputation. Thou shalt be an object of contempt to blinded men; and thou shalt suffer more from this than from the wounds made by the points of thy cross. 2 When thou didst give thyself up to thy penances thou wert exalted and admired. Now thou shalt be abased and annihilated. The second pain is this: Although thou didst inflict on thyself many cruel tortures, still by God’s grace there remained to thee a tender and loving disposition. It shall befall thee, that there where thou hadst thought to find a special and a faithful love, thou shalt find nought but unfaithfulness, great sufferings, and great griefs. Thy trials shall be so many that those men who have any love for thee shall suffer with thee by compassion. The third pain is this: hitherto thou hast been but a child at the breast, a spoiled child. Thou hast been immersed in the divine sweetness like a fish in the sea. Now I will withdraw all this. It is my will that thou shouldst be deprived of it, and that thou suffer from this privation; that thou shouldst be abandoned of God and of man, that thou shouldst be publicly persecuted by the friends of thine enemies. I will tell it thee in a word: all thou shalt undertake, that might bring thee joy and consolation, shall come to nothing, and all that might make thee suffer and be vexatious to thee shall succeed.” 3

1. Job vii. I (Vulgate).

2. During the years of purgation Suso had constantly worn a sharp cross, the points of which pierced his flesh.

3. Leben, cap. xxii.

{Evelyn Underhill—Mysticism. A Study into The Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciosness. Pt. II. Ch. IX. The Dark Night of The Soul. p.485.}.

See also Evelyn Underhill on chaos and transformation as it relates to ‘The Dark Night of The Soul’ in Phrases for Change.

See also Vladimir Solovyof on the ascetic and the negative doctrine of Nirvana in Phrases for Inexistence.


Roget’s Thesaurus 1911. Compiled, edited and supplemented by Nicholas Shea. Dev version 1.7.9b Compiled on: 19 January 2022 at 05:16:38
CORRECTED HEADS: 1 to 905; CORRECTED QUOTES: 1 to 905; ALL OTHER HEADS & QUOTES IN PROGRESS. www.neolithicsphere.com

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