THE INDISPENSABILITY OF THE ASCETIC IDEAL

by Friedrich Wilhelm Förster

From “Marriage and Sex-problem”

CHAPTER IX

The replies which have been given in the foregoing
chapters to various modern theories for the re-
formation of sexual relationships, amount in essence
to the following:

All solutions of the sex problem which tend to
emancipate sex feeling from the control of moral
and spiritual law (instead of making it the chief
aim to place the spirit in a position of mastery
over the sex nature), are essentially hostile, not only
to our whole social evolution and to the development
of individual character, but to actual physical health
in the sphere of sex. To secure the mastery of
man’s higher self over the whole world of animal
desire is a task, however, which demands a more
systematic development of will-power and the culti-
vation of a deeper faith in the spiritual destiny of
humanity than are to be found in the superficial
intellectualistic civilisation of to-day. To achieve
such a result it will be necessary not only to have
recourse to new methods and new ideals, but to
make sure that we do not allow what is valuable
and in any way worthy of imitation, in the old, to
be forgotten. The ascetic principle, in particular,
is to-day in danger of being undervalued.
Asceticism should be regarded, not as a negation of
nature nor as an attempt to extirpate natural forces, but
as practice in the art of self-discipline. Its object
should be to show humanity what the human will
is capable of performing, to serve as an encouraging
example of the conquest of the spirit over the
animal self. The contempt which has been poured
upon the idea of asceticism in recent times has con-
tributed more than anything else towards effeminacy.
Nothing could be more effective in bringing humanity
back to the best traditions of manhood than a re-
spect for the spiritual strength and conquest which
is symbolised in ascetic lives.

It may well be true that in the history of asceti-
cism there have been absurdities and abuses. But
this must not blind us to the eternal value of
complete self-conquest in the task of attaining true
inner freedom. The orgies of the French Revolu-
tion do not discredit the principle of political
freedom. Neither should the occasional excesses of
individuals, or even the degenerate condition of
whole epochs, prevent us from appreciating the
educational value of the ascetic principle and the
inspiration and encouragement which come from
contemplating the lives of the great saints.

In this chapter I propose to deal with the social
and psychological value of the ascetic ideal. By the
ascetic ideal is meant that view of life which does
not simply regard self-conquest as a stage in self-
development, but which assigns a definite and es-
sential function in the evolution of humanity to men
and women who shall demonstrate, in one sphere
or another, the possibility of living a life of con-
tinual and complete abnegation not in order to
make a more natural life appear contemptible, but
with the express purpose of enriching life and pre-
serving it from degeneration by means of heroic
examples of spiritual power. Properly to under-
stand the significance of asceticism, it should be
remembered that natural life does not flourish
unless the spirit retains the upper hand; and since
we are surrounded for the most part by striking
examples of lives in which the spirit plays any-
thing but a leading part, it is in the highest degree
desirable that living and striking examples of men
and women who have fully freed themselves from
the distraction of the world and the domination of
natural desires should be continually before our
eyes. The vast majority of modern men will see
nothing but matter for laughter in such an ideal
as this. Even earnest and spiritually minded people
regard it as an obsolete and erroneous view, which
must soon give place to a more harmonious con-
ception of life. I am, however, profoundly con-
vinced that this attitude is the product of a shallow
understanding of actual human nature. Ignorance
of the awful dangers latent in our weak nature is
very commonly to be met with in epochs still power-
fully influenced by great traditions of moral discipline.
Those born in such periods are apt to be lacking
in personal acquaintance with the darker side of
human nature, owing to the very state of discipline
into which their fellow-citizens have been brought.
Hence they fail to realise what a laborious taming
of passion has preceded the comparative security
they find around them. Time will soon give us a
demonstration on a large scale of what men can be
like when undisciplined.

In the sphere of sex a rapid disintegration of
character is already going on. The effect of the
increasing laxity in this direction will make itself
felt in other directions. A disrespect for definite
moral standards in this region will tend to initiate
a spirit of license in every other department of
social and moral life. It is astounding with what
rapidity all moral convictions are to-day breaking
down in the minds of vast masses of the people.
This would not occur if the deepest foundations of
these convictions had not been long undermined.
The suggestive force of tradition continues to
be operative in an age which has largely aban-
doned the positive belief lying behind the tradition,
and this deceives us as to the real extent of the
disintegration. The first vigorous push shows us
how far the process of undermining has gone.

Without most people being conscious of the fact,
one of the main foundation-stones of our traditional
moral culture has been the constant presence in our
midst of great personalities illustrating in their own
lives the highest possible degree of spiritual freedom,
the complete conquest of the spirit over the world
and the senses. The presence in society of such
spiritually dedicated characters is a source of psychic
inspiration for the whole community, and a constant
and courageous protest against the smug Philistinism
of the men of the world. The true building up
moral ideals and the chief stimulus towards their
fulfilment come from the embodiment of the spiritual
life in its most perfect form in heroic human life,
and not from any kind of merely intellectual
demonstration.

A belief in the spiritual destiny of man no mere
dream, but a belief confirmed and strengthened by
the lives of great spiritual geniuses is the first
necessity in arousing and developing a spiritual
conscience in the human race, a sense of the
bounden duty of resisting the lower self. Unless
this feeling has been brought into being, morality
itself has no deep soil in which to take root. There
could be no greater aid to its creation than the
spectacle of men who can pursue spiritual things
with a more powerful passion than that with which
men of the world follow after gold, fame, and
women.

These ultimate inspirations of all great self-mastery
may be hidden from consciousness for generations;
they nevertheless continue to perform their work and
to supply the higher aspirations with their final autho-
rity and reality. But one day the world of sensuous
impulses will again raise itself in opposition to the
dominion of the spirit, and a fresh sophistry will
undermine the last foundations of spiritual dignity;
then humanity will again discover the real bases of
civilisation and realise the impotence of all moral
culture (in the absence of these inspirations) over
against the influence of more tangible things. These
spiritual factors grow more and more indispensable
the greater becomes the disturbing influence of outer
things, and the more the uniting communal nature
of man gives way to individual instincts, feelings,
interests and fancies, which carry in themselves no
fixed norm.
It is from this point of view that we should con-
sider the charge of retirement from the world and
opposition to nature, which has always been brought
against the ascetic ideal of life by those who regard
it as a fruitless and weakening error. Every moral
action is in a certain sense a resistance to nature
and an overcoming of the world, and therefore
needs the suggestive influence of elevated and perfect
examples of self-mastery, in order, through a connec-
tion with such tangible embodiments of the spiritual
life, to be equal to the power of the outer world, and to
the task of retaining faith in the right and possibility
of resistance to mere nature.

There is an Indian saying; “Humanity waits
upon the sacrifice of those who overcome the world,
as the hungry young birds wait upon their mother”.
This is a very drastic expression of the manner in
which the world depends upon those who can rise
superior to it; it gives voice to the intense desire
for spiritual strength on the part of those who are
occupied with the tragedies and difficulties of their
own lives a desire which can be satisfied only by
those who have attained to complete freedom. It is
an eternal fact that humanity continually scorns and
rejects the high, and yet at the same time dimly
realises that it cannot master its own life without
the illumination and power coming from thence.
Therefore the demonstration of a complete over-
coming of the world is in no sense an attack upon
life rather is it a contribution towards life. In the
face of the immense suggestive power of wealth, of
ambition, and of every kind of sensuous temptation,
humanity cannot dispense with the counteracting
suggestion of a life which has made itself absolutely
independent of all these things.

As is well known, it was the Franciscan movement
which gave rise to the so-called Third Order: the
members of this order were permitted to live in
the world, to carry on business and to marry;
but they were required at the same time, through
specific vows, to honour the saints to whom their
order was dedicated, and they were enjoined
throughout their economic and family life never
to lose sight of the spiritual destiny of man. This
Third Order symbolises the influence of the ascetic
ideal upon real life; it shows the manner in which
this ideal provides our earthly existence with an
access of power not the least of its services being
the strengthening of the individual spirit against the
confused world of human instincts and feelings.

From this point of view the saints are of im-
perishable importance in the world of education.
They illuminate and demonstrate the teaching of
Christ in many and varied directions, at the same
time linking it up with human life. In order to
avoid every misunderstanding, I must make it clear
that I do not ask Protestant ministers or teachers
simply to take over Catholic doctrines, customs, or
institutions. They cannot, however, afford to
neglect the psychology and pedagogy which lie
behind the Catholic system; these must be
thoroughly understood and valued, in order that
the broader view of life which thus results should
give rise to something of a corresponding nature
within the framework of the Protestant tradition.
With regard to the question of asceticism; I should
not expect Protestants to undertake the worship
of the saints, but they might well make the heroic
lives and achievements of those men and women,
who dedicated themselves to the Church, fruitful
for Christian worship and for the development of
will and character. Indeed we are driven in this
direction by the simplest fundamental truth of all
moral education the decisive importance of example.
“Thou shalt” is indeed great and important: but
not less important is the “Thou canst” which is
forced upon us by a mighty and consistent example.
It is indeed true that we need in the first place the
perfect example of Christ Himself, in which the
higher is revealed in its entire purity; but in
another sense we need also the encouragement of
personalities more closely related to our weakness
and error, and who have nevertheless attained to
inner freedom in so impressive a manner. That
the human soul should never be without a secret
desire for absolute perfection bears witness to the
divine light within us: even in a mistaken character,
such as Nietzsche, this desire clamoured for ex-
pression, and created the idea of the superman as
a protest against a deadening materialism and a
cheap and levelling education. This desire is
enormously stimulated by the heroic consistency
with which these great Christians worked out its
possibilities, if one may use such an expression,
and made into a complete whole all that which
remains so weak and incomplete in our own
Christian life. From the immense earnestness and
decision of such heroes there radiates a suggestive
influence of incomparable power, strengthening the
shifting will of the ordinary man; on this point
Hilty justly remarks (New Briefe, p. 135) “From
a fear of the excesses of the Catholic Church at
the time of the Reformation, we have rejected the
veneration of the saints, and in this manner have
lost a powerful stimulus for good; for men learn
more willingly and more easily from examples than
from sermons. . . But a time is coming in which
the true saints of the Catholic Church will be
better known to us than has been the case in
the past”.

From the fact that recent Protestant writers, like
Sabatier and Thode, have devoted much thorough
study to the life of St. Francis of Assisi, we may
perceive that the period of mere neglect has come
to an end. The Church of England has always
attached a high value to the lives of the saints,
both for sermons and for educational purposes,
and has drawn no small inspiration from this source ;
it has recently paid peculiar attention to the legends
of St. Francis, and has issued good editions of these
works for its priests and educators. What reason
is there, indeed, why our youth should be brought
up upon legends and biographies from the antique
world ? Why should they be intimately acquainted
with the deeds of Hercules, and yet be practically
ignorant of the life of St. Francis or of St. Vincent
de Paul, who stand incomparably nearer to our social
and spiritual needs?
A modern philosopher (I refer to H. von Stein,
whose too early death was so deplorable) has drawn
attention in his later works to the imperishable
significance of the lives of the saints. Attracted to
their study through Schopenhauer, he discovered
behind every negation their mighty positive element,
their gift to the world and to those who live and
struggle in it : “In the highest and noblest”, he
says, “our experience is unfortunately confined to
what is limited and inadequate . . . they, however,
experienced in themselves the absolute, and life is
nothing when one has not in some fashion or
another acquired this experience”.
All such thoughts as these have to-day sunk into
the background. In the last few centuries mankind
has increasingly occupied itself with the question
of external freedom, and the personalities of the
saints have largely passed into oblivion; but they
will again come into the forefront of our conscious-
ness when the most important of all the problems
of freedom has again become a central question:
“How shall I become free from myself?” This
question may from time to time be drowned through
the clash of outward interests, but just as the great
pyramid of Cheops always majestically reappears,
even if it be temporarily veiled by the sandstorms
of the desert, so, too, this great question of inner
freedom will ever again raise its head above the
dust and storm of daily existence, leading man
back from all external things to the great problems
of his own nature.

But is it not a fact that the lives of the saints
abound in exaggerations and eccentricity? What
would become of humanity if such types were
raised to be authoritative ideals of life? We are
quite prepared to admit that there is here much
exaggeration and eccentricity, as indeed there is
in the lives of all men of genius. But why should
one prefer to allow the genius almost any moral
laxity rather than an exaggerated attempt at secur-
ing spiritual power? Doubtless because in the
first case we are encouraged in our own inadequacy,
whereas in the latter the distressing gap between
his intense spiritual endeavour and our easy-going
lives becomes painfully evident! Moreover, the
majority of men are restricted to normal conditions
of life, and are able to develop their powers within
these limits only. The genius of self-discipline, the
saint, does not despise these conditions, nay, he
may himself temporarily or wholly exist within
them like St. Louis of France or St. Elizabeth;
but in any case he attains to a superhuman inner
freedom which cannot be imitated by any- and every-
one, but which even for the ordinary man remains
an inexhaustible source of encouragement and a
species of outer conscience. Rather than venture
to call all that eccentric, or even morbid, which
goes beyond our own moral power and does not
fit within our scheme of life, we should rather
acknowledge that throughout the whole of life the
visible rests upon the invisible, the ordinary upon
the extraordinary, and that we ourselves, in all our
customs, our affections and our freedom, are reaping
the benefit of these great spiritual conquests over
the sensuous world.

It should never be forgotten that behind the
purest and sweetest gifts of Nature there often lie
the greatest dangers for the character of man so
soon, namely, as we become the slaves of these gifts
instead of maintaining our freedom with regard to
them. In family life, for example, there certainly
lies a source of the finest human feeling ; but this
is not unaccompanied by the danger of family
egoism and of the destruction of all higher caritas
and all higher spiritual endeavour. Therefore there
should be gifted personalities who know how to
sacrifice not only the ugliest but even the most
beautiful things in life not in order to embitter
earthly things for man, but in order to liberate them
from the dangers of misuse, exaggeration, and over-
valuation, which lie ready in man’s nature. Of
the great followers of Christ it may be said that
they, too, take the guilt of the world upon them-
selves ; they sacrifice so much because the others
are able to sacrifice so little.

The spirit which animated the great saints was
one of pure devotion to God. With the penetrating
gaze of the purified soul, they saw that a family
life not based upon anything higher than earthly
love may be no more than a species of extended
self-interest; they perceived that blunting of all
higher needs which so often accompanies the mere
worship of motherhood, that naive self-expansion
and self-reflection in the offspring, that character-
destroying exaggeration of outward care, that grow-
ing indifference to everything except the welfare of
one’s own circle, that idolatrous cult of the work
of human propagation, without any true and consist-
ent worship of GOD. They knew, too, that children
thus loved and thus brought up, in spite of all outer
baptism would never possess the true baptism: they
are reared in the flesh and not in the spirit, and
therefore they will be ruled by the flesh and not
by the higher life of the spirit. Thus the separation
of St. Elizabeth from her children, for example,
was an extraordinary step; but it was the heroic
action of a soul wholly devoted to God, who, through
such an example, and in the face of the one-sided
worship of family life and children, aimed at pointing
out those high goals, in the absence of which family life
itself lacks its commanding ideals and the true care of
the soul is neglected. For nothing allows children so
to degenerate, and so shuts them out from all
higher life, as the fact of being trained in an atmos-
phere of family egoism, and being brought up by
a mother who knows nothing higher than her own
offspring. And nothing educates and preserves the
children so effectually as the example of a mother
who shines with the inspiration of a higher love
than .that of the natural maternal instincts. Such
rare examples of a completely self-forgetful approach
to heavenly love, far removed from attacking or
lowering human family life, act continually as a
wonderful source of sacrificial strength and spiri-
tual dignity, in this way enriching all earthly bonds.
Characters like St. Elizabeth, even though, in their
enthusiastic devotion to their Saviour, they burst
the limits of ordinary family life, are the protecting spirits
of the family; they bring into domestic life a deeper
loyalty, a more self- sacrificing devotion, and a more
spiritual care, and protect it from the connection
with lower instincts, and thus from disintegration.

What has just been said with regard to the
ascetic view of life in general must apply also to
our valuation of the religious orders. In the lower
Franciscan church in Assisi, we see a representa-
tion of the threefold sacrifice, poverty, chastity, and
obedience, with which Christian asceticism opposes
the strongest passions of humanity. These three
sacrifices give those living in the world and strug-
gling with the desire for material gain, with sen-
suality and with personal ambition, a continual
reminder of their spiritual origin and a continual
assistance against the over-valuation of external
things. The earnestness and reality of the spiritual
world is strengthened, in an altogether indispens-
able fashion, by the fact that there are and have
been men who voluntarily denied themselves all
these things, devoting themselves entirely to spiritual
contemplation or Christian charity. And in face
of the extraordinary tangibility of outward claims
and temptations, what could be more necessary
than such a strengthening? In the case of the
energetic races of the Western World, occupied as
they are so largely with outward and politico-
economic activities, such an opposition on the
part of a whole class to the over-valuation of
material things is of the most imperative importance
not least for the health and true productivity of
our worldly civilisation itself. What is all “laborare”
without the right “orare”; whither leads all creation
without self-knowledge and self-recollection and un-
inspired by those high aims which first enable
us to distinguish between primary and secondary
things in life, nay, which first enable our whole
work to acquire a deeper meaning? “We need
seers and doers”, a great American capitalist once
said the true seer, however, indispensably requires
such a radical liberation from the goods and
illusions of the world and from the turmoil of
secular activity, and the ideal of such a liberation
(in spite of all “progressive” blindness) will never
perish, but will always acquire new strength from
the necessities of our social life itself. A modern
free-thinking criminalist, who stands entirely on the
basis of scientific materialism, has very justly ob-
served : “Only a view of the matter which over-
looked the realities of human nature itself, and was
blind both to historical and philosophical considera-
tions, could fail to recognise the importance and
justification of the religious orders from the point
of view of human culture itself”. He does not
doubt in the least that such retreats as these should
play a very important role in the regeneration of
weak and erring humanity, and in general in the
liberation of the soul from the darkness of the
past. So that even outside the Ancient Church itself
there is again a feeling that it will be necessary
to come back to these fundamental ideas and give
them a new form. He says, for example:

“Even in the oldest Oriental philosophy we see
this spiritual instinct on the part of man, causing
him to withdraw from the world and from the cor-
ruption of society in order to seek protection against
evil and temptation in solitude or in intercourse
with similar souls, and, through a life of contempla-
tion and asceticism, gradually to withdraw himself
from the demands of the senses. . . Not less
ancient and universal is the conviction, which has
become a regular dogma throughout the Eastern
World, that one can best reconcile oneself with the
Divine Power through such a retired existence de-
voted to spiritual elevation… In the Nazarenes
the Jews, too, possessed such a body of men, to
whom Moses had already granted specific rights.
There were also the flourishing Hebrew sects of
the Essenes and the Therapeuteans, who were con-
temporaneous with Christ in Palestine and Egypt,
and devoted themselves to a life of monastic piety”.

In the structure of our book as a whole, these
indications of the pedagogical value of the ascetic
ideal and of the religious orders are of peculiar
importance. Here we may perceive with the greatest
clearness the relationship between such a retire-
ment from the world and the needs of secular life
itself. We shall thus be able to realise that in
the future all these institutions will experience a
development and fructification on a grand scale ;
the more the one-sided cultivation of merely worldly
activity breaks down the nervous and psychic force
of civilised man and coarsens his moral nature,
and the more the increasing cult of the Ego destroys
the capacity for true self-denial, the more their
indispensability will be recognised.

[Here there is a note (1) that will be put at the end of the text]

The full and permanent resignation of that which
for the majority of men alone makes life desirable,
has a power of attraction only for the rarest natures,
and for this very reason the ascetic type will never
lose its honourable position among the people, but
will be newly produced and newly honoured in
every age : and it is not the most enlightened but
the darkest ages of history in which men so forget
their own deeply hidden yearning for spiritual freedom
and the torment of their actual lack of freedom
that they fail to recognise those who overcome the
world as social assets of the first rank. Degeneration
and abuse of all kinds naturally await all institutions
and ideals when they are translated into life, and
the highest thoughts and customs will be the most
liable to such misuse since they are the furthest
removed from the ordinary level of human life.
How can it be attempted to refute the institutions
of religion, which are indeed the answer to the
fundamental weaknesses of human nature, through
a reference to abuses which are after all only a
new proof of this weakness itself? What would
the champions of democracy say if one met the
ideal of self-government with a reference to the
political corruption of the United States? The
radicalism and individualism of our age has not
the faintest idea how deeply all the victories of
personal freedom over the omnipotence of the state,
all the so-called “rights of man”, are linked up
with this much scorned retirement from the world,
which has brought personality to its highest concen-
tration and raised spiritual life above all other aims.
It was doubtless the fervour and intensity with which
whole groups of individuals left domestic and social
life, in order to come entirely to themselves, which
first made men conscious, in the most impressive
manner, that man has a right to himself that there
is a holiness of inner life and effort, in which society
and the state have no right to interfere. Moreover
the right and dignity of the woman, apart from her
mere valuation as a sexual being, is closely related
to the existence and honourable recognition of bodies
of women dedicated to God, in which human person-
ality found a safe refuge from the world and all
its merely utilitarian aims.
[Here there is a note (2) that will be put at the end of the text]
Thus these ascetic institutions on closer study reveal themselves as a
most powerful support for everything which one may
call character y and a pillar of that great and true
resistance to all that is merely tangible and useful,
upon which, ultimately, everything depends which
makes life worth living and lends men real power
over material things.

Very interesting from this point of view are the
conclusions drawn by Frau Gnauck-Kühne in her
penetrating book “Die deutsche Frau” (Berlin, 1904).
The authoress here shows us that the deeper problems
associated with the woman question cannot be solved
without the help of the ideal of the Order, and she
shows what a deep understanding of the heart of
this question has been acquired by the Catholic
Orders through the experience of centuries. One
must not leave out of account, she says, that the
modern tendencies within the woman’s movement
which aim at a breaking down of strict monogamy
have their origin to no small extent in the fact that
it is exceptional for a woman to feel her whole nature
satisfied by any mere profession, and that the mere
cult of her individuality leaves her deep desire for
concrete human devotion and companionship un-
satisfied. Thus, for those women who do not marry
and who have no family circle, there remains only
the following alternative : either one allows them
that fulfilment of those natural and psychic needs
which the merely professional life does not satisfy,
through free love relationships (a tendency represented,
for example, by those modern reformers who pro-
claim “the right of motherhood”), or one creates
for them, along some other line, the social life, the
fulfilment of maternal instincts, and the concrete
human work, which they do not find in their abstract
professional work. The latter is done, however, in
the best and most definite manner by the Orders,
with their close social life, their manifold tasks of
love, and their work of personal education. At
the same time, through their rules, their self-elected
authority, and their religious self-discipline, these
institutions best meet the great difficulties which
follow upon the lasting communal life of women,
when the individuals are without higher order and
the calming influence of a dedicated life. And finally,
it is these institutions alone, which, by virtue of
the solemn dignity which they assign to the virgin
state, overcome the customary disparagement of the
” old maid.” This disparagement rests upon the
idea that the one decisive question in a woman’s
life is whether or not she finds favour in the eyes
of a man. Frau Gnauck-Kühne regards this view
as the foundation of all feminine inferiority and
lack of freedom, and observes with justice:
“There can be no question of a choice between
two courses, unless the condition of virginity offers
the possibility of a life fully as happy and fully as
valuable as that of the married woman. This choice
is given by the Women’s Orders, which, in the shape
of a celibate life dedicated to God, provide an earthly
existence which in happiness and value yields nothing
to the married state . . . There are two paths open
to a woman: the path without a man and the path
with a man. Of these two possibilities, the nuns
are an example of the first, of the life without the
man. Upon the summit of the other path, the life
with the man, stands the happy mother . . . From
both these summits, and with an understanding for
spiritual necessity, the right way must be sought
by which to approach the solitary women in the
world, the brave women workers of all classes. The
matrons will have no difficulty in getting into touch
with such women workers. The convents can be-
come centres for whole classes of women workers,
places of refuge, which release their charges in the
morning and receive them again in the evening;
they can be developed as institutions for mutual
assistance and social work”.
[Here there is a note (3) that will be put at the end of the text]
Frau Gnauck-Kuhne is hence right when she
asserts that for the real solution of this problem there
is no alternative to the course which she suggests.
This brings us round to a point of view to which
we have already called attention: the development
of our civilisation is leading us to perceive, with
more and more clearness, that the bases upon which
our modern society has built its moral and spiritual
structure are absolutely inadequate. Many deep
needs, serious temptations, and severe conflicts have
been entirely neglected. In every direction forces
have been liberated and needs have been exposed
or created but there has been no corresponding
provision of spiritual education, care, and leader-
ship. The modern moralists, who wax so indignant
over the “new ethic”, should be mindful of the fact
that it is very easy, on paper, to call whole classes
of people to self-denial, but that one cannot reckon
upon obedience and any enduring joy in life, if at
the same time one deprives such people of their
faith in another world with its illuminating re-
minder of man’s higher destiny, and if at the same
time one provides no spiritual equivalent for the painful
vacuity which the non-fulfilment of natural instincts
always leaves in the minds and hearts of the majority of
women. When a higher view of life is lacking, it
must always seem a cruel accident that a particular
individual should be deprived of the satisfaction of
marriage and this individual is expected, merely
for the sake of “ethics”, to bow to this accident
for a lifetime, while at the same time all the voluble
culture of our age and all the ideals of everyday
citizenship are unable to offer him or her anything
which really satisfies the heart in the place of what
has been missed. The authoress of the book to
which we refer is undoubtedly right when she says
that the increasing concentration of the modern
world upon sensuous satisfaction, the more and
more insistent cry of carpe diem f is no more than
the necessary consequence of wide circles of people
having abandoned all deep religious care of the
soul and spiritual fulfilment of life.
It is indeed time to consider the great problems
of our civilisation more from this standpoint, instead
of merely condemning, from the moral point of
view, the whole modern revolt and desire for an
enhancement of life. Who knows if among those
in revolt we may not find the more gifted and
deeper characters, who have been prevented from
rising above their merely natural desires, in the
first place on account of the frequently weak and
uninspiring character of our modern Christianity
and social morality ? Under the influence of a
greater inspiration these would perhaps be the very
people to respond most eagerly to a higher view
of life.
When the rejection of the ascetic principle has
proceeded yet further, men will be forced to realise
that in an atmosphere of indulgence even the
simplest and most indispensable acts of self-mastery
will give way to the tyranny of the desires. For
even the most elementary act of self-mastery pre-
supposes a certain acceptance and social recognition
of the principle of abnegation. “Can you conceive
of a moral action”, Richard Wagner once asked,
“otherwise than under the conception of abnega-
tion?” Truthfulness, loyalty, honour all these
elements of character demand an overcoming of self.
They therefore need a view of life which empha-
sizes the spiritual power of man over mere impulses
and desire, a view in which this spiritual element
is cultivated and practised as the foundation of all
moral reliability. In order to realise this, one should
consider the intelligent hatred with which the more
consistent anti-moralists regard the ascetic principle
and look upon all our moral views as the conse-
quences of this principle. In this sense, Nietzsche
describes the insistence upon truthfulness as an
ascetic principle, which cannot justify itself from
the point of view of mere life expansion. Who
cannot perceive, that, from this point of view, all
earnest sense of honour undoubtedly bears within
itself an element of self-overcoming, and who could
be so blind, in the face of all such consequences, as
not to perceive whence the rejection of the ascetic
principle would ultimately lead?

All the points of view which we have above
justified are also applicable to the objections raised
against ecclesiastical celibacy, as if it were a sort of
treachery to the race and an entirely antiquated and
fruitless form of asceticism. To begin with, it seems
to be quite forgotten that a class of persons who are
not married owing to natural causes will always exist.
Hence it is of great importance, in the interests
of the happiness and vital energy of the unmarried,
that their condition shall not be regarded as one of
necessity, and as a frustrated form of existence, but
as a hallowed state full of its own special advantages
and blessings. This service is rendered by the volun-
tarily celibate life, dedicated to God, with all the
glory of its heroic renunciation. By this means the
state of the unmarried gains an altogether new
dignity and meaning. The final trend of all argu-
ments against celibacy dedicated to the service of
religion, is towards strengthening the view quite
sufficiently strengthened by nature that the real
meaning of life lies in the fact of marriage, and
that the unmarried are an inferior class. It can be
cloaked with fine words, but it is nevertheless the
logical outcome of this attitude towards life. But it
should never be forgotten that family life itself de-
generates, unless it is kept in subjection to higher
aims. Now celibacy is an extremely valuable means
of representing the independence of higher aims in
life against the ascendancy of family impulses and
family cares, thus safeguarding marriage against
being degraded from a sacrament to a mere matter
of gratification.
Moreover, the argument already propounded in
favour of asceticism, by the side of worldly callings
and situations, is also applicable to this question. The
oath of voluntary celibacy, so far from degrading
marriage, is a support to the holiness of the marital
bond, since it gives material shape to the spiritual
freedom of man in the face of natural impulses ; it
also acts like a conscience, in respect of all passing
moods and encroachments of the sensual tempera-
ment. Celibacy is a protection of marriage in this
sense, too, that its existence prevents married people,
in their relations to one another, from feeling them-
selves as the mere slaves of obscure natural forces,
and leads them to take their stand against nature as
free beings able to command.
[Here there is a note (4) that will be put at the end of the text]
Those who mock at celibacy as unnatural and impossible, know not, in
very truth, what they do. They do not see that
the attitude which induces them to speak thus must
lead, as its logical consequence, to prostitution and to
the dissolution of monogamy. For, if the compulsion
of nature be so urgent, how can one demand continence
before marriage ? In fact, how can one demand a
chaste life from the unmarried ? And finally, do
they not give a thought to the number of marriages
which are for months, or years, or even for life, tanta-
mount to celibacy for one of the partners, because
the husband or wife has fallen a victim to illness ?
For this reason alone, consistent monogamy stands
or falls with the esteem in which celibacy is held.
It is no accident that Luther, by his fight against
celibacy, was led to the secondary result that breach
of marriage is permissible in cases where the physio-
logical aim of the marriage cannot be fulfilled. He
says, for instance:

“If a healthy woman has an impotent husband,
she is to say to him : See, dear husband, thou canst
not take my virginity from me, and thou hast cheated
me out of my young life, wherefore thine honour and
hope of felicity are endangered, and there is no
marriage between us in the sight of God. Grant that
I may have a secret marriage with thy brother or
nearest kinsman and thou shalt have the name, so
that thy goods may not be inherited by strangers ;
and allow thyself to be willingly deceived in thy turn
by me, as thou hast deceived me”.

This position (taken up, consistently enough, by
the Reformer personally) has checked further influence
by the power of the deeper Christian tradition in this
sphere. To-day Luther’s strongly naturalistic view of
these things revives again, and in modern writers it
develops similar consequences. Forel, Ellen Key,
and others, attack absolute monogamy for the same
reasons which have been urged against celibacy ;
from which circumstance one only too clearly
recognises that celibacy is not a merely hierarchical
institution, as has been assumed, but is at the
same time an institution in favour of family life,
a heroic taking of the offensive against the confi-
dent power of merely natural impulses which
make more and more demands the more conces-
sions one makes to them, and whose despotism
can be broken only by renunciation on the great
scale.
Justly do the Protestants point to the great bles-
sings which have issued from the evangelical manse ;
but they forget that truly Christian family life
existed before Luther and exists still in both con-
fessions, so that the married pastor is not uncondi-
tionally necessary for this side of Christian culture.
And they also forget that the Protestant manse
itself, like the whole family of Christians, is still
unconsciously nourished by the spiritual greatness of
the institution of celibacy, of the mighty advance
against the dominion of the senses which it repre-
sents. Marital fidelity is not in the least “natural”,
it is already an extraordinary conquest of Nature.
Psychologically it is inextricably bound up with
the demand that the spiritual man shall be stronger
than his impulses and shall not be their obedient
servant. Celibacy was the great sacrifice whose
flame ever nourishes and irradiates this faith anew.
And, in truth, how is one seriously to justify fidelity,
if natural impulses are so unconquerable that celibacy
must be pronounced to be folly and a sin against
nature?
[Here there is a note (5) that will be put at the end of the text]
I have expressly drawn attention to the deeper
consequences of the contempt of celibacy, because
we have to deal in this book with the fundamental
bases of all our pedagogic operations. In this
connection I should not omit to point out that
Schopenhauer characterised the rejection of celibacy
as a fatal error on the part of Protestantism. Bähr,
in his “Gesprächen mit Schopenhauer”, reports that the
latter said:

“Protestantism killed one of the vital nerves of
Christianity in combating the value of celibacy,
which in the Catholic Church still rinds its visible
expression in the monasteries and nunneries. That
Luther had by then entered into the state of matri-
mony, that he maintained the impossibility of a
chaste life outside matrimony, is held to have de-
cided the matter. ‘Wait! that which thou hast
said, that shall break thy neck’. Continuing the
conversation in a gentler tone, he admitted that
Luther was a great man, a deep and powerful thinker,
but that he was driven by the conditions of the
times into too wide-reaching admissions”.

These are very serious objections, but it is indeed
the duty of our age to examine them and see if they
are justified. It is an indisputable fact that Protes-
tantism, with its objection on principle to the ascetic
ideal of life, occupies an entirely isolated position
amidst all the great religions, including those of the
Ancient World. This should indeed give us pause.
And the matter is not by any means settled by drawing
attention to the unnatural character of asceticism,
or by reference to the abuses and exaggerations
which naturally accompany such a great and difficult
attempt to elevate man above himself. Protestantism
should rather ask itself if, as a result of this position,
it does not lend assistance to a species of naturalism
which may some day prove disastrous to itself.
When one bears in mind the remarkable reverence
which was paid to the Vestals, and when one thinks
of the saying “casta placent diis”, while remembering
the almost universal rejection of the ascetic idea in
Protestant literature, one is compelled to recall
Schopenhauer’s saying. One feels that Schopenhauer,
in this elementary remark, gave expression to a
sudden vision namely, that such a position as this
is absolutely incompatible with the essential founda-
tions of a spiritual religion. In this respect Pro-
testantism will be compelled to alter its position or
to perish. The people itself demands a standpoint
superior to the world. It pays no attention to a
form of belief which leaves it too much upon the
level of its natural and economic life. Precisely
those very people who live and work amidst material
things demand, consciously or unconsciously, an ideal
of super-material freedom. As is well known, Chris-
tianity would not have become a universal religion
but for its immense power of resistance to the world.
For secular life pure and simple, indeed, a religion is
not necessary! The turning away of the young
generation is not merely the result of religious
indifference; only too often it represents the rejec-
tion of a species of faith which no longer appears to
possess a genuine inward belief in the superhuman,
or which at any rate produces the impression that
Christ only lived a superhuman life in order that
we might be justified in remaining on the merely
human level. For this reason Nietzsche sought to
attain the superhuman by another road ; he missed
the heroic element in Christianity because it had
fallen under the dominion of the domestic Philistine.

The rejection of every species of asceticism is,
moreover, especially connected with the spirit of
the great industrial community. Our economic
system, with its unceasing pursuit of new oppor-
tunities for expansion, is wholly dependent upon
an ever-increasing multiplication of human needs,
not only in the case of the consumers, but also in
the case of the workmen, who will work with greater
intensity the more needs they and their women-
folk have to satisfy. W. von Siemens tells us in
his Recollections, how, when building a great
electricity works in the Caucasus, he had in the
first place to solve the problem of the workers:
this he did by encouraging the workmen’s wives
to wish for increased luxuries, jewellery, &c., in
consequence of which the men were compelled to
work with increased diligence. Modern industrial
society regards the multiplication of material needs
as the basis of its entire existence and therefore
perceives in the ascetic principle its deadliest enemy,
as clearly as the brewer sees his ruin threatened
by the temperance movement. In his “Asiatic
Studies”, Lyall has given a vivid picture of the
conflict between the Eastern ascetic view of life
and modern civilisation in India; we see the in-
compatibility of the two points of view and the
moral confusion of the younger generation of
Indians which is growing up in the midst of this
conflict. Japanese writers, in dealing with the fit-
ness of the Asiatic races for modern industrial
competition, have also drawn frequent attention
to the fact that the whole view of life prevailing
in the East is, so to speak, “anti-economical”, and
stands in diametrical opposition to that principle
of industrial expansion which is the real motive
power of the Western world;
[here there is a note (6) that will be put at the end of the text]
it will be necessary, therefore, for the East, if it is to enter into successful competition with the West, to take over not only
the machines but also the philosophy of modern
civilisation.
In the opinion of a typical modern thinker such
as Fr. Naumann, the ascetic ideal has passed away,
never to return. He cannot see that it has any
relationship to the great forces which mould life,
and he regards it as a childish answer to the great
economic questions of the day. In the face of the
great industrial tasks of modern life, of what use
to us is the ideal of voluntary poverty? Do we
not rather need the desire for wealth, the greatest
possible exertion and expansion of material power,
to enlarge the bounds of human life? From this
standpoint are we not compelled to regard the
simplification of life as a weakening of economic
energy?
The Bible tells us we are to make the world
subject to ourselves ; but it also says, “Seek ye first
the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be
added unto you”. There is a full realisation of
the fact that matter is only really organised by
means of spirit. From this point of view even an
apparently remote and other-worldly inward deepen-
ing of life provides, at the same time, an increment
of energy for secular civilisation, and the most
consistent liberation from the world is at the same
time an increase in power over the world. Thus
in the face of the modern type of civilisation we
may well ask : Is economic progress really bound
up with this blind and feverish multiplication of
needs, or is not man’s material civilisation itself
dependent, perhaps, for its inner health, upon a
strong counteracting factor in the shape of ascetic
ideals? This is a question of decisive importance,
in answering which the Western world may have
occasion to realise anew the significance of the
phrase “ex oriente lux. In the midst of our ap-
parently healthy and productive development of
economical and technical energy who cannot per-
ceive on every hand the symptoms of hidden
disease? Consider, for example, the increasing
brutality with which we pursue an aimless and
meaningless struggle for life, the disintegration of
will-power through the ever-increasing multiplica-
tion of the demands upon it, the disturbance of
nervous equilibrium as a result of the creation of
artificial needs, and the stimulus of more and more
urgent claims, the deadening of spiritual power
caused by the breathless pace of our machine-like
system of life, in which all the inner needs of man
are reckoned as no more than sand in the bearings!
One day we shall come to ourselves and ask: What
is the object of all this perpetual strain, all this
restless activity; what is the ultimate aim of this
soul-destroying haste and competition? Is it so
important that men should travel more and more
rapidly from St. Petersburg to Paris, or that one
nation should outdo another in the manufacture of
the best motor-cars? All deeper life, all sacred
peace and solemnity, all humanity’s higher goods,
all quiet love, are sacrificed to the insatiable de-
mands of our ever-increasing material needs. Every
section of society is compelled to join in this ac-
celeration of life and this restless multiplication of
needs. Is it absolutely indispensable that the
cultivation of the earth and the technical mastery
of nature should be accompanied by this destruc-
tion of the deeper life of humanity?
There can be no doubt that, either through
its own downfall or through a timely regeneration,
the civilised world will be compelled to abandon
its present belief that the immeasurable increase of
personal needs is the proper basis of its economic
activity. An age will come when social thought
will be deepened and purified, and when, even
outside the Catholic Church, St. Francis of Assisi
will raise up new disciples under new conditions.
There can be no real love without great sacrifice,
no true communal life without great abnegation,
no renovation of society without a heroic struggle
against selfishness. The creation of artificial neces-
sities for personal life, is, however, an incentive to
the growth of selfishness; while our slavish depend-
ence upon a recognised “standard of life” is the
deepest cause of the bitter obstinacy of the op-
posing parties in our economic conflicts. The
humanisation of the economic struggle cannot come
about except through the adoption of new values
resulting from the ascent of new and higher ideals
of life. On the other hand, the increase of the
purely materialistic view of life, with its concentra-
tion upon outward things, will drive the struggle to
a bitterness and intensity of which we can to-day
form no conception.
Would it not be possible for the initiative of the
individual and the total economic energy of humanity
to accomplish much higher achievements, if we could
succeed in freeing ourselves from the tyranny of
a morbid individualism and in placing ourselves
under the inspiration of great ideals and institu-
tions in the service of justice and Christian charity,
while at the same time not depriving natural human
individualism of all its scope ?

To-day all this sounds Utopian. It will appear
less so when our civilisation has proceeded a few
more decades along its present line. It will be per-
ceived that no merely socialistic machinery will be
capable of controlling its impulse. Along this path
there will be developed a corporative brutality and
selfishness which will show only too clearly what
socialisation of the means of production signifies,
when it is carried on by mere communities or political
majorities, and not supported by superior ideals.
There will be no escape from this, except through
the spirit, and there will be none without the aid
of religion; for the latter has most clearly and
purely embodied and exhibited the spiritual and
has best shewn us the significance of spiritual free-
dom. We feel inclined to remark at this point that
St. Francis of Assisi has still much to say to our
civilisation. This is not meant in the sense that
our industrial economics should take the form of
an Italian idyll ; on the contrary, there must be a
full recognition of all the great accomplishments of
modern technical science. But our economic life
must in a great measure be subordinated to the
development of the soul. In this manner alone
our technical and economic activity will receive a
counteracting force in face of the immense tempta-
tions which result from the ever-increasing power
of man over the gifts and forces of the external
world. Therefore the principle of asceticism, as an
educational method and as a way of life on the
part of individual gifted natures, does not stand in
opposition to economic development, but is rather
the condition of its health. When there is no such
active opposition to the tyrannical power of material
interests, then economic development falls entirely
into the hands of an ever-increasing desire for
pleasure and a more and more unprincipled selfish-
ness and in this case there must come a catastrophe
in comparison with which all the previous crises
through which our civilisation has passed will seem
almost insignificant.
We should, at any rate, bear in mind that the
passionate antipathy of the modern man to the
ascetic principle is connected with the “laisser faire,
laisser aller”, and other characteristic tendencies of
our great industrial system of competition. The
personal deepening of the social idea will doubtless
also contribute towards the counteraction of the
reckless and unscrupulous multiplication of needs
and luxuries, towards awakening an understanding
of the education for inner freedom, and towards
destroying that false and misleading doctrine of
freedom which encourages all our inclinations to
run riot, while allowing our higher nature to pass
into decay.
Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology and the
first really consistent social philosopher of the nine-
teenth century, was also the first modern thinker
who again assigned to asceticism its full rights. This
he did in the name of social education. It was his
regular custom to eat a piece of dry bread instead
of dessert, in order that he might not fail to recollect
those who had not even bread. We may take this
as a symbol of the imperishable social value of the
ascetic principle. It may serve to remind us that
the limitless satisfaction of our personal needs and
passions brings us into unavoidable conflict with
all really deep social life, and that we do not become
free to think of others, unless we are thoroughly
practised in our own emancipation from our own
moods and instincts. Only the really free man is
capable of true social conduct. Of freedom, how-
ever, we may say that it can be attained only by
those “who must conquer it daily”.

NOTES

1. In the nursing profession, too, the Orders with their vows are indispens-
able. The lack of power constantly exhibited by the Protestant diaconal
system [in Germany], as well as on the part of the secular nursing sisters, shows clearly that the supply of spiritual force has been inadequate to the very difficult demands of this kind of work. Hence it frequently occurs that
doctors of great experience give the preference to Catholic sisters. There
are, of course, numbers of self-sacrificing characters outside the Orders.
But the Orders understand how to inspire mediocre characters, and to
educate them in a magnificent fashion to an almost superhuman degree of
self-sacrifice. And the main reason for this superiority on the part of the
Catholic sisters is the vow of voluntary celibacy: in the first place, it puts the nurses in quite a different position with regard to the patients and
doctors; they cease, indeed, to be women, and become sisters; and,
moreover, they have put away the idea of leading lives of their own outside
the hospital. This gives them a wholeness, dignity, and sacredness which
they would not otherwise be able to acquire. Here, again, we perceive the
deep relationship between social service and the ascetic ideal the close
connection between the capacity for the greatest sacrifice, and a form of
retirement from the world; we see that only those who have left the “natural
man” entirely behind are able to do the best work in many spheres of life.
There are a great many men and women who entirely fail to realise the
need for such ascetic examples, because their view of life is not sufficiently realistic to enable them to grasp the actual needs of our human life. Dostojewski once said: “He who does not understand the monk, does not
understand the world”. It is frequently asked to-day: “Is it not more useful to live in the midst of the world rather than withdraw from its keenest attractions and temptations and make vows of solitude?” But this question is quite irrelevant when we look upon these ascetic figures as object lessons in spiritual earnestness, and thus essential to our social and educational work. Certainly it is more difficult to remain quite pure and free in the midst of the world and this was achieved only by a very few of the greatest saints. The Orders, however, assist men of a more ordinary stamp to attain to this condition of inner peace and of freedom from the fever of needs and passions, a state of mind which they would not achieve if they lived in the world, and one which is not achieved by those who, in the midst of comfortable worldly circumstances, contemplate with superiority this world of discipline and obedience, and feel themselves to be more developed and more useful personalities. There can be no manner of doubt that there are highly developed men and women worthy of the greatest honour who live exemplary lives in commerce, family relationships, and secular activities in general, in the midst of great conflicts and temptations; but along with their burdens and duties they also enjoy all the alleviations and satisfactions which accompany the cares and disappointments of secular life. We must on no account deceive ourselves as to this. Let one but approach these people with the veil or the monk’s vow, and they would draw back in horror.

2. Mausbach says that it was, indeed, the “Bride of Christ” which won for
women the freedom of professional life see his book “Altchrisiliche und
moderne Gedanken über Frauenberufe” (Gladbach, 1906).

3. The American Social Settlements, more especially the Hull House
Settlement in Chicago, form a new step in this direction. At the same time
the initiated know how, in such places, as the result of contact with the real problems of life, one realises the value of such an order and inspiration as is found in the religious communities.

4. Anyone wishing to convince himself completely how necessary this is,
need only inform himself through experienced medical men and women, what
misery is caused in so-called happy marriages by a slavish yielding to impulse on the part of the man.

5. This has been very emphatically expressed by Hilty on the occasion of
the Congress on Morality at Cologne, when he pointed out that the argument
urged against celibacy that it was impossible to live a moral life outside
the bonds of matrimony directly justifies prostitution. For it does not lie
in the option of everybody to enter upon matrimony at the time when the
impulses are strongest.

6. See Prof. Yoshida’s speech at the “Congres internationel d’expansion
économique mondiale” (Mons, 1905).