A Monk by Any Other Name… (Dr. David C.A. Hillman, 2012)

NOTE: The following article is the 11th chapter of Original Sin: Ritual Child Rape and the Church, pp. 82-88.

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“What can I do? My mind is always thinking about fornication and does not let me rest even for an hour, and my heart is suffering.”—Question posed to a Monk.

The Christian monk came to the fore on the stage of history when cultural customs concerned with the protection of children became the purview of men—and not just any men, but men of the cloth. This transference of traditional roles facilitated a much greater tolerance for child abuse within the Church. The teachings of monks are a reflection of both a virulent hatred of feminine authority and a disregard for the safety of children. The inflexible misogyny of Christian monks helped to create an environment that enabled priests to abuse children.

Christian monks didn’t materialize out of thin air; they stepped into a vacuum left by Roman religious officials who followed in the footsteps of the earliest Greek temple servants who had protected priestesses and reinforced their proclamations. Archaic Greek Medusae defended and upheld the decrees of temple priestesses and thereby set a precedent for the generation of Greeks and Romans that followed. Christian monks merely assumed the roles that classical “enforcers” had carried out for centuries.

The Medusae who served oracular priestesses acted as the law enforcement, secret service and special operations agents of ancient temples; they carried out the will of the gods, as revealed by the priestesses they were sworn to protect. The Christian world had similar sorts of religious figures, who attempted to live up to the highest and most extreme spiritual standards of “The Way.” During the early history of the Church, Christian monks served Christianity in much the same way as the Sphinxes and Wolves served the Greco-Roman gods.

The Medusae were best known for their hatred of injustice. As temple guardians, these women enforced the declarations of oracular priestesses who were very much involved in civic affairs. It’s fair to say the Medusae were wrapped up in human affairs.

The Medusa's head central to a mosaic floor in a tepidarium of the Roman era. Museum of Sousse, Tunisia
The Medusa’s head central to a mosaic floor in a tepidarium of the Roman era. Museum of Sousse, Tunisia

When it came to ideology, Christian monks were very much the opposite of the Medusae. Rather than being burdened with earthly affairs, monks moved out of large urban centers into isolated communities where they prepared for the cataclysmic return of their messiah. Christian monks did not champion causes to further civilization. On the contrary, they promoted an ascetical lifestyle—and perhaps most symbolically important, they encouraged combat with the forces of spiritual darkness.

Like pagan Medusae, Christian monks possessed a distinctly independent authority. While they were indeed under the authority of the priestly hierarchy of the Church, they were much freer than priests and parishioners to set their own lifestyle and personal standards. In addition, monks, like oracular guardians, were considered to be the defenders of the ancient world’s prophetic voice. This office gave them a level of respect not accorded to other religious figures. Monks, as the practical defenders of the Christian faith, had a way of communing with God that went beyond the forms of divine communication used by priests and Church elders.

The teachings of monks and hermits often provide an interesting glimpse into the psyche of the most involved and dedicated of the early Christians. Their thoughts and reflections tell us much about the undercurrent of opinion and ideology that flowed beneath the surface of official Church doctrine.

One particular story, the popular account of the life of a nameless hermit in Egypt, strikes a serious chord when considered against the background of the prominence of the feminine political voice in classical society and the stark contrast of the movement against women waged by priests in the first few centuries of the Common Era.

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Extremist Monks

“Look what the child of the devil has done to me”—Christian Monk on Lust

The monks of the early Church period sometimes carried the teachings of the Church Fathers to an extreme, and frequently manifested the concretely bizarre expressions of theological theories and propositions demanded by Church officials. The story survives of one such monk in Egypt who struggled against the temptation to have intercourse by developing his own unique method of self-mutilation.

This hermit lived by himself and established his own reputation for continence, something highly valued in the community of ancient Christian monks, who, like most Church Fathers, considered sexual intercourse with a woman to be a contaminating influence that always resulted in eternal judgment. At some point in this hermit’s life, a woman familiar with the monk’s sterling reputation made a wager with some local boys that she could successfully seduce him. The boys agreed to pay her if she could do so.

After dark, the bet was on, and the presumably attractive woman approached the monk’s domicile with ill intentions. After pretending to be lost and afraid, the girl pleaded with hum to allow her to stay for the evening. The monk was visibly distressed by the proposition of keeping a young woman in his home for the evening, but he allowed her to stay in order to provide her charitable shelter.

As she predicted, it didn’t take long for the monk to become aroused. However, his reaction to her feminine allure was not what she anticipated. For the monk became so preoccupied with his current sexual temptation and the prospect that he could end up in Hell if he should act on his impulses that he placed one of his fingers in the flame of an oil lamp. The monk stoically blackened his entire finger, to the point that it would be permanently deformed. This overwhelmed the girl with fright, and she cowered in the corner as the monk celebrated his willingness to sacrifice his physical well-being in order to maintain his continence.

The next morning, the boys who made the bet with the woman gathered outside the monk’s dwelling, knowing that she had spent the night with him; they doubtlessly wanted to mock the poor monk for having given in to temptation to have intercourse with the girl, and stood ready to celebrate her triumph.

Eventually, the door opened and the monk emerged with his hands tucked into his robes. The boys asked if a woman had spent the night with the monk, and the hermit replied in the affirmative and pointed them to the inside of the dwelling after telling them she was asleep. When the young men entered the home, they found the girl dead. Exiting the house in horror, they confronted the monk again. The proud, historically anonymous, ascetic monk removed his hand from his cloak and showed the stunned boys that every finger on his hands had been burnt to the bone, with an air of triumph, he proclaimed that the woman, a child of the devil, had cost him all his fingers.

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The story of this nameless desert-dwelling monk’s victory over the desires of the flesh was a tale related by Christians that was meant to illustrate the power of God and the ability of the followers of Christ to resist the onslaught of the devil. Christians spread the story of the Egyptian hermit who burned off all his fingers, not to express the horror and extremes of their beliefs, but to provide a positive example for all men, everywhere, who struggled with sexual temptation.

The ghastly reckoning of the story must have rattled even the Christian community, for the form of the tale handed down to posterity—as Desert Fathers, On Lust—includes an addendum that the monk raised the girl from the dead after the boys had learned their lesson.

The story of this monk resonates with the myths surrounding the exploits of the Medusae who served oracular priestesses throughout the classical world. Christian monks, like temple bodyguards, were willing to go to extreme lengths to protect the dictates of their religious authorities—be they bishops, priests or simply New Testament scriptures. And like the Medusae, Christian monks perceived that they were at war with an element of their society that rejected their teachings.

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Sources of Authority

“We cannot make temptations vanish, but we can struggle against them.”—A Monk’s Words on Temptations of the Flesh

Although pagan temples viewed their war as one waged with murderers, tyrants and the immensely wealthy aristocrats who trampled on the freedoms of the common person, Christian monks battled for the teachings of their own priests, regardless of their conception of justice and injustice. That is, the real difference between the monks and the religious pagans was simply the source of their authority: whereas the pagans believed their ultimate moral source was Nature, the Christians believed they were compelled to obey the dictates of the Church.

This difference is important when we consider the accomplishments of both groups and the stark contrast of their respective influences on western civilization. For example, the oracular temples and the Medusae who served them ultimately pushed the Greek world toward the creation of democracy. By intimidating and occasionally executing tyrants, the pagan religious world reinforced a natural democratic inclination. Much the opposite, Christian monks popped up and defended a political system that favored oppression and the subservience of all people to the will of a small oligarchy.

Christian monks were the “boots on the ground” of the cultural war between Christians and pagans. Monks put the teachings of priests into practice and essentially enforced the social demands of the Church. Monks taught that women were spiritually corrupt temptresses, whose allure was the work of demonic forces. And according to these same monks, all such trouble started with a young man’s interest in a woman.

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Monks abolished the figure of the nurturing woman who traditionally protected her offspring from masculine forms of abuse, and replaced her with a masculine defender of doctrine. The result was a cultural catastrophe, and the fear of judicial retribution by priests for crimes committed against children practically disappeared—as witnessed by the flippant attitude toward the victimization of children seen in the writings of such prominent Church Fathers and abusers as Cyril and Ambrose.

This seeming disregard for human suffering shown by Christian priests and bishops was not just a personality flaw of callous individuals; it had very real consequences. Women and children became the victims of abuse and even murder, as a direct result. Despite pagan claims that the early Church was involved in various forms of sexual perversion, Church leaders continued to protect their own members; when monks attacked women for sexual allure, they helped to redefine womanhood itself.

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