The proposed paper offers a re-evaluation of the relationship between the church and the state in Greece and the EU, focusing on the case of Mt. Athos. The paper argues that in order to reconstitute social and cultural cohesion between both Greece and the EU with the Orthodox Church, on the basis of diversity and heterogeneity according to the unified ideal of European solidarity, it is necessary in this process of transformation to highlight aspects of transparency and regulation. In Mauss’s terms, Athos is both a ‘gift’ to Greece: the carrier of the Modern Greek identity, and a poison (farmakon) to the Greek economy, symbolizing decades of corruption of a state that is still struggling to get over its feudal past. The paper further argues that it is vital to work collectively towards social and political cohesion through transparency and regulation in Greece, in order to confront the challenge of the European Unification and the unregulated market. The recent developments between the Cypriot monks of Vatopaidi and the Greek and Cypriot states regarding the issues of the avaton, metochia, and taxation, as well as, the impact of the UNESCO Heritage funding, the recent visits of Putin to Athos and public discussions over Russian investment to construct a railway that will directly connect Moscow to the monasteries, and further discussions regarding a wider future cooperation between Russia, Greece and Cyprus over energy policies and transport networks, all amount to a serious challenge to the European policy objectives for the environment and the Trans-European Transport Network operations undertaken by Structural Funds. In this context, Athos becomes a meeting place of contestation between various secular (i.e. ‘cosmopolitan’) forces, including those between the Greek state, the Church, and the monasteries, as well as, Europe. A re-evaluation of the relation of Athos to Greece and Europe could be then used as a strategic model for restructuring and regulating the relationship between secular and theocratic offices; the present and the past; change and tradition
In the first few centuries of Orthodox Christianity, the Orthodox Church and the Church Fathers accepted the act of suicide if it was to preserve one’s virginity; i.e. an individual could commit suicide to prevent being raped and it was not considered a mortal sin and one was even eligible to be ranked as a virgin-martyr. Also, some of the martyrs commemorated in the Church were not actually killed by their tormentors but rather they leapt to their own deaths after a period of torture or with the threat of martyrdom. Thus, in the Lives of the Saints of the first few centuries, one can find many saints who committed suicide. After the 4th-5th century, suicide was no longer an acceptable practise to preserve chastity which creates a little confusion. Those before this time period are saints in the ranks of heaven, whereas those who commit suicide after this time period have committed mortal sin and lost their souls.
The majority of the early Church Fathers evidently not only justified but commended suicide in such an extremity. The first Father distinctly to condemn the practice was Augustine (De civ. Dei. I. 22–27). He takes strong ground on the subject, and while admiring the bravery and chastity of the many famous women that had rescued themselves by taking their own lives, he denounces their act as sinful under all circumstances, maintaining that suicide is never anything else than a crime against the law of God. The view of Augustine has very generally prevailed since his time. In the 9th century, St. Theodore of Studite clearly states in his epistle: “It is not permitted in any situation whatsoever for a service or liturgy to be performed for him (namely, the one who commits suicide)” [PG 99, 1477B].
Interestingly, though homosexual rape and pedophilia were quite predominant in the early days of the Church (both within and without of Christianity), the Fathers seem to only accept women virgin-martyrs. There is no mention of “economia” when it comes to male on male rape. It should be noted that in some medieval non-Christian cultures, a common practise of male victors in a raid or war was to rape (sometimes gang-rape) the male captors to shame and humiliate them. This practise continues today throughout the world both in war and prison systems.
Also, the early Fathers don’t talk much about clergymen hiding behind their rank to sexually abuse others (whether heterosexual, homosexual or pedophilia). This trend which existed in the early Orthodox Church is today quite predominant worldwide. Perhaps this silence is because St. Constantine the Great set the precedent of protecting them when he stated at the First Ecumenical Council: “If I would see with my own eyes a bishop, a priest or a monk in a sinful act, I would cover him with my cloak, so that no one would ever see his sin.”
ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO SUPPORTED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c.): Though St. Ambrose disapproved of suicide in general, he embraced the idea that women who committed suicide to protect their virginity received the martyr’s crown. St. Ambrose ends his ascetical treatise On Virgins by explaining to his sister that suicide is preferable to losing one’s virginity. He tells his sister that she can be confident suicide is permissible when protecting chastity because the Church has examples of martyrs who did that very thing. He then proceeds to tell the story of a teenager named Pelagia who lived in Antioch. She threw herself off a building to avoid lecherous pursuers. St. Ambrose even has her rationalizing her plans in his retelling. Ambrose’s Pelagia says, “God is not offended by the remedy [avoiding rape], and faith mitigates the misdeed [of suicide].” Though still a “misdeed,” St. Ambrose clearly views it as the lesser of two evils when a woman’s virginity is at stake.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, Church Historian (4th c.): In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius writes about the abominable treatment of female Christians formed a feature of the persecutions both of Maximian and Maximin, who were alike monsters of licentiousness. Eusebius wrote about the suicides of St. Domnina and Her Two Daughters and evidently approved of these women’s suicide. [Book VIII, Chapter 12]
St. John Chrysostom (4th-5th c.): St. John Chrysostom’s stance regarding suicide and martyrdom is relatively close to St. Ambrose’s. John condemns suicide, believing it to be against God’s will, and claims that real martyrs do not commit suicide. Even though they do not kill themselves, John believed they must face death willingly. However, like St. Ambrose, Chrysostom accepts suicide for women who are attempting to protect their purity.
St. John Chrysostom, like many of his contemporaries, highly prized virginity, and when he considered the importance of sexual purity, St. John rationalized behaviors that would otherwise be condemnable. Specifically, John advocated suicide for women when necessary to protect their chastity. In his sermon on Julian, suicide is a defeat, though John probably had men in mind while preaching that sermon. In his sermon on the Virgin-Martyr Pelagia, suicide is victory over the enemies of God and over the Devil himself.
St. Jerome (4th-5th c.): The early Church Father St Jerome categorically stated that Christ would not receive the soul of one who commits suicide. [Saint Jerome, Letters 39:3]. However, St Jerome makes an interesting exception to their otherwise absolute and inclusive condemnation: those who commit suicide in order to preserve their chastity.
ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO OPPOSED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Augustine of Hippo (5th c.): This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her. (Of Lucretia, Who Put an End to Her Life Because of the Outrage Done Her, City of God Chapter 19).
ORTHODOX SAINTS IN THE SYNAXARION WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE
This list is just a brief sample and by no means complete. One can find numerous examples from the first few centuries of the Orthodox Church in the Synaxarion.
St. Agathonike (165 or 251 AD): St. Agathonike did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity, but is in the ranks of “voluntary martyr.” During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Agathonike became so excited while watching Carpus and Papylus die martyrs’ deaths that she believed she should join them on the pyre. The crowd tried to dissuade her after she announced her intentions, reminding her that her son needed her. She replied that God would take care of him, at which point she disrobed and threw herself on the fire. In the Latin recension of the text, however, Agathonike is arrested with the other two martyrs, which leads Musurillo to suggest, “The Latin redactor was attempting to colour the facts for a later age.” [See: Martyrdom of Carpus, Papylus, and Agothonike 44].
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 13th
St. Apollonia (2nd century): St. Apollonia also did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity but did so after being tortured. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (247–265), relates the sufferings of his people in a letter addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, of which long extracts have been preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: “At that time Apollonia, parthénos presbytis (mostly likely meaning a deaconess) was held in high esteem. These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words (either a blasphemy against Christ, or an invocation of the heathen gods). Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death.” [6.41 (PG 20:605–607)]
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on February 9th.
St. Pelagia of Antioch (late 3rd century): St. Pelagia was a Christian saint, virgin, and martyr who committed suicide during the Diocletian Persecution rather than be forced by Roman soldiers to offer a public sacrifice to the pagan gods. She was 15 years old.
She was home alone during the Diocletian Persecution when Roman soldiers arrived. She came out to meet them and, discovering they intended to compel her to participate in a pagan sacrifice, she received permission to change her clothes. She went to the roof of her house and threw herself into the sea. The patristic sources treat this as a sacred martyrdom rather than an ignoble suicide, usually with reference to the potential that she would have been dishonored by the soldiers.
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 8th.
Saints Domnina, Berenice, and Prosdoce (c. 310)
Saint Domnina and her daughters Berenice (Bernice, Veronica, Verine, Vernike) and Prosdoce are venerated as Christian martyrs by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Domnina was arrested by soldiers for her adherence to the Christian religion. Fearing that the soldiers would rape her and her daughters, they threw themselves into a river after they asked their guards for a chance to rest for a while or after the soldiers had become drunk with wine. All three women drowned.
The account of St. John Chrysostom tells a slightly different story: according to Chrysostom, Domnina, after jumping into the river, pulled her daughters in with her to prevent them from being raped. Chrysostom praised Domnina for her courage and Domnina’s daughters for their obedience.
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 4th.
PATRISTIC SERMONS LAUDING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
Saint John Chrysostom delivered the following sermon about St. Pelagia, the Virgin Martyr:
“Even women now poke fun at death and girls mock passing away and quite young, unmarried virgins skip into the very stings of Hades and suffer no ill effects. All of these blessings we experience because of Christ, born of a virgin. For after those blessed contraction pains and utterly awe-inspiring birth the sinews of death were unstrung, the devil’s power was disabled and from then on became contemptible to not just men but also women, and not just women, but also girls….
“It’s for this reason that blessed Pelagia too ran to meet death with such great delight that she didn’t wait for the executioners’ hands nor did she go to court, but escaped their cruelty through the excess of her own enthusiasm. For while she was prepared for tortures and punishments and every kind of penalty, even so she was afraid that she would destroy the crown of her virginity. Indeed, that you might learn that she was afraid of the sexual predation of the unholy men, she got in first and snatched herself away in advance from the shameful violence. None of the [Christian] men ever attempted any such act at all. Instead they all filed into court and displayed their courage there. Yet women, by nature vulnerable to harm, conceived for themselves this manner of death. My point is that, were it possible both to preserve one’s virginity and attain martyrdom’s crown, she wouldn’t have refused to go to court. But since it was utterly inevitable that one of the two would be lost, she thought it a sign of extreme stupidity, when it was possible for her to attain each victory, to depart half crowned. For this reason she wasn’t willing to go to court or to become a spectacle for lecherous eyes, or to give opportunity for predatory eyes to revel in the sight of her own appearance and crudely insult that holy body. Instead she went from her chamber and the women’s quarters to a second chamber – heaven….
“Don’t simply pass over what happened, but consider how it’s likely that she was raised as a gentle girl, knowing nothing beyond her chamber, while soldiers were posted against her en masse, standing in front of the door, summoning her to court, dragging her into the marketplace on weighty sorts of grounds. There was no father inside, no mother present, no nurse, no female attendant, no neighbor, no female friend. Instead, she was left alone in the midst of those executioners. I mean, how isn’t it right that we be astonished and amazed that she had the strength to come out and answer those executioner soldiers, to open her mouth and utter a sound, just to look, stand, and breathe? Those actions weren’t attributable to human nature. For God’s influence introduced the majority. Most assuredly, at the time she didn’t just idly stand around, but displayed all her personal qualities – her enthusiasm, her resolve, her nobility, her willingness, her purpose, her eagerness, her bustling energy. But it was as a result of God’s help and heavenly good goodwill that all these qualities reached maturity….
“In addition to what’s been said, I marvel as well at how the soldiers granted her the favor, how the woman deceived the men, how they didn’t work out the deception. After all, one can’t say that no one effected anything of the sort. For many women, it seems, gave themselves up to a cliff or hurled themselves into the sea or drove a sword through their breast or fastened a noose. That time was full of numerous dramas of that kind. But God blinded the soldier’s hearts so that they wouldn’t openly see the deception. That’s why she flew up out of the middle of their nets….
“Lot’s of people who’ve tumbled from a high roof haven’t suffered any ill effect. Others, in turn, despite suffering permanent disability to some part of their body, have lived for a long time after the fall. But in the case of that blessed virgin God didn’t allow any of these options to happen. Instead, he ordered the body to release the soul immediately and received it on the grounds that it had struggled sufficiently and completed everything. For death wasn’t caused by the nature of the fall, but by God’s command. From that point the body wasn’t lying on a bed, but on the pavement. yet it wasn’t without honor as it lay on the pavement…For this reason, then, that virginal body purer than any gold lay on the pavement, on the street.” [St. John Chrysostom, A homily on Pelagia, Virgin and Martyr, translated into English by Wendy Mayer, from the book Let Us Die That We May Live (pp. 148-161)]
Saint John Chrysostom delivered a sermon about St. Domnina and her two daughters:
In St. John’s sermon probably preached in the 390s in Antioch, the story takes an interesting turn. The women do not just kill themselves; John suggests that the mother actually drowns her daughters. He preaches, “And so, the mother entered in the middle [of the river], restraining her daughters on either side.” Once in the river, John says, “That blessed woman [Domnina] … lowered them down into the waters, and in this way they drowned.” Domnina then drowns herself to claim her martyr’s crown. Astonishingly, in this sermon, the protection of virginity not only justifies self-murder, but also John uses it justify murdering one’s children. He actually esteems Domnina because he claims that drowning her own daughters was an exceedingly painful form of martyrdom. Domnina could have suffered at the court, but then she would not have been able to ensure her daughters’ purity.
She endured far greater tortures in the river [than she would have at court]. My point, as I started saying, is that it was truly far more cruel and painful than to see flesh scourged, to drown her own innards, I mean her daughters, by her own hand, and to see them suffocating, and it required far greater philosophy than to endure tortures for her to have the capacity to restrain her children’s right hands and to drag them along with her into the river’s currents. For it was not the same in terms of pain to see [her daughters] suffering badly at the hands of others and to herself act as death’s servant, to herself promote their end, to herself stand against her daughters in place of an executioner.
John imputes extraordinary suffering to a mother who kills her young daughters, and he not only excuses the killing but also lauds it because she did it to preserve virginity. John commends these martyrs as prime examples for mothers and daughters in his congregation. No doubt, this sermon worried not a few daughters whose reputations were at risk. [see, The Cult of the Saints: St. John Chrysostom, http://www.svspress.com/the-cult-of-the-saints-st-john-chrysostom/ ]
Saint Ambrose replies to Marcellina, who had asked what should be thought of those who to escape violence killed themselves, by narrating the history of Pelagia, a virgin, with her mother and sister…
As I am drawing near the close of my address, you make a good suggestion, holy sister, that I should touch upon what we ought to think of the merits of those who have cast themselves down from a height, or have drowned themselves in a river, lest they should fall into the hands of persecutors, seeing that holy Scripture forbids a Christian to lay hands on himself. And indeed as regards virgins placed in the necessity of preserving their purity, we have a plain answer, seeing that there exists an instance of martyrdom.
Saint Pelagia lived formerly at Antioch, being about fifteen years old, a sister of virgins, and a virgin herself. She shut herself up at home at the first sound of persecution, seeing herself surrounded by those who would rob her of her faith and purity, in the absence of her mother and sisters, without any defence, but all the more filled with God. What are we to do, unless, says she to herself, you, a captive of virginity, takest thought? I both wish and fear to die, for I meet not death but seek it. Let us die if we are allowed, or if they will not allow it, still let us die. God is not offended by a remedy against evil, and faith permits the act. In truth, if we think of the real meaning of the word, how can what is voluntary be violence? It is rather violence to wish to die and not to be able. And we do not fear any difficulty. For who is there who wishes to die and is not able to do so, when there are so many easy ways to death? For I can now rush upon the sacrilegious altars and overthrow them, and quench with my blood the kindled fires. I am not afraid that my right hand may fail to deliver the blow, or that my breast may shrink from the pain. I shall leave no sin to my flesh. I fear not that a sword will be wanting. I can die by my own weapons, I can die without the help of an executioner, in my mother’s bosom.
She is said to have adorned her head, and to have put on a bridal dress, so that one would say that she was going to a bridegroom, not to death. But when the hateful persecutors saw that they had lost the prey of her chastity, they began to seek her mother and sisters. But they, by a spiritual flight, already held the field of chastity, when, as on the one side, persecutors suddenly threatened them, and on the other, escape was shut off by an impetuous river, they said, what do we fear? See the water, what hinders us from being baptized? And this is the baptism whereby sins are forgiven, and kingdoms are sought. This is a baptism after which no one sins. Let the water receive us, which is wont to regenerate. Let the water receive us, which makes virgins. Let the water receive us, which opens heaven, protects the weak, hides death, makes martyrs. We pray You, God, Creator of all things, let not the water scatter our bodies, deprived of the breath of life; let not death separate our obsequies, whose lives affection has always conjoined; but let our constancy be one, our death one, and our burial also be one.
Having said these words, and having slightly girded up the bosom of their dress, to veil their modesty without impeding their steps, joining hands as though to lead a dance, they went forward to the middle of the river bed, directing their steps to where the stream was more violent, and the depth more abrupt. No one drew back, no one ceased to go on, no one tried where to place her steps, they were anxious only when they felt the ground, grieved when the water was shallow, and glad when it was deep. One could see the pious mother tightening her grasp, rejoicing in her pledges, afraid of a fall lest even the stream should carry off her daughters from her. These victims, O Christ, said she, do I offer as leaders of chastity, guides on my journey, and companions of my sufferings. [On Virgins, Book III, Chapter 7:32-35]
SERMONS OF CHURCH FATHERS CONDEMNING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Augustine of Hippo, That Christians Have No Authority for Committing Suicide in Any Circumstances Whatever, City of God Chapter 20.
It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books there can be found either divine precept or permission to take away our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning, or ridding ourselves of anything whatever. Nay, the law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says, “Thou shalt not kill.” This is proved especially by the omission of the words “thy neighbor,” which are inserted when false witness is forbidden: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Nor yet should any one on this account suppose he has not broken this commandment if he has borne false witness only against himself. For the love of our neighbor is regulated by the love of ourselves, as it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If, then, he who makes false statements about himself is not less guilty of bearing false witness than if he had made them to the injury of his neighbor; although in the commandment prohibiting false witness only his neighbor is mentioned, and persons taking no pains to understand it might suppose that a man was allowed to be a false witness to his own hurt; how much greater reason have we to understand that a man may not kill himself, since in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid! And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature. But if so, why not extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth? For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed. So, too, the apostle, when speaking of the seeds of such things as these, says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;” and in the Psalm it is said, “He killed their vines with hail.” Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans? Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it remains that we understand that commandment simply of man. The commandment is, “Thou shall not kill man;” therefore neither another nor yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else than man.
St. Augustine of Hippo, Of Suicide Committed Through Fear of Punishment or Dishonor, City of God Chapter, Book I, Chapter 17.
And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them? And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own, he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly. For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die. Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence? How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime. Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent to escape another’s guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him?
NOTE: This is an early Patristic treatise against make-up, cosmetics, hair dye, etc. It is taken from The Paedagogus, Book III, Chapter 2:
It is not, then, the aspect of the outward man, but the soul that is to be decorated with the ornament of goodness; we may say also the flesh with the adornment of temperance. But those women who beautify the outside, are unawares all waste in the inner depths, as is the case with the ornaments of the Egyptians; among whom temples with their porticos and vestibules are carefully constructed, and groves and sacred fields adjoining; the halls are surrounded with many pillars; and the walls gleam with foreign stones, and there is no want of artistic painting; and the temples gleam with gold, and silver, and amber, and glitter with parti-coloured gems from India and Ethiopia; and the shrines are veiled with gold-embroidered hangings.
But if you enter the penetralia of the enclosure, and, in haste to behold something better, seek the image that is the inhabitant of the temple, and if any priest of those that offer sacrifice there, looking gave, and singing a pæanin the Egyptian tongue, remove a little of the veil to show the god, he will give you a hearty laugh at the object of worship. For the deity that is sought, to whom you have rushed, will not be found within, but a cat, or a crocodile, or a serpent of the country, or some such beast unworthy of the temple, but quite worthy of a den, a hole, or the dirt. The god of the Egyptians appears a beast rolling on a purple couch.
So those women who wear gold, occupying themselves in curling at their locks, and engaged in anointing their cheeks, painting their eyes, and dyeing their hair, and practising the other pernicious arts of luxury, decking the covering of flesh—in truth, imitate the Egyptians, in order to attract their infatuated lovers.
But if one withdraw the veil of the temple, I mean the head-dress, the dye, the clothes, the gold, the paint, the cosmetics,— that is, the web consisting of them, the veil, with the view of finding within the true beauty, he will be disgusted, I know well. For he will not find the image of God dwelling within, as is meet; but instead of it a fornicator and adulteress has occupied the shrine of the soul. And the true beast will thus be detected— an ape smeared with white paint. And that deceitful serpent, devouring the understanding part of man through vanity, has the soul as its hole, filling all with deadly poisons; and injecting his own venom of deception, this pander of a dragon has changed women into harlots. For love of display is not for a lady, but a courtesan. Such women care little for keeping at home with their husbands; but loosing their husbands’ purse-strings, they spend its supplies on their lusts, that they may have many witnesses of their seemingly fair appearance; and, devoting the whole day to their toilet, they spend their time with their bought slaves. Accordingly they season the flesh like a pernicious sauce; and the day they bestow on the toilet shut up in their rooms, so as not to be caught decking themselves. But in the evening this spurious beauty creeps out to candle-light as out of a hole; for drunkenness and the dimness of the light aid what they have put on. The woman who dyes her hair yellow, Menander the comic poet expels from the house:—
Now get out of this house, for no chaste
Woman ought to make her hair yellow,
nor, I would add, stain her cheeks, nor paint her eyes. Unawares the poor wretches destroy their own beauty, by the introduction of what is spurious. At the dawn of day, mangling, racking, and plastering themselves over with certain compositions, they chill the skin, furrow the flesh with poisons, and with curiously prepared washes, thus blighting their own beauty. Wherefore they are seen to be yellow from the use of cosmetics, and susceptible to disease, their flesh, which has been shaded with poisons, being now in a melting state. So they dishonour the Creator of men, as if the beauty given by Him were nothing worth. As you might expect, they become lazy in housekeeping, sitting like painted things to be looked at, not as if made for domestic economy. Wherefore in the comic poet the sensible woman says, What can we women do wise or brilliant, who sit with hair dyed yellow, outraging the character of gentlewomen; causing the overthrow of houses, the ruin of nuptials, and accusations on the part of children?
In the same way, Antiphanes the comic poet, in Malthaca, ridicules the meretriciousness of women in words that apply to them all, and are framed against the rubbing of themselves with cosmetics, saying:—
She goes back, she approaches, she goes back.
She has come, she is here, she washes herself, she advances,
She is soaped, she is combed, she goes out, is rubbed,
She washes herself, looks in the glass, robes herself,
Anoints herself, decks herself, besmears herself;
And if anything is wrong, chokes [with vexation].
Thrice, I say, not once, do they deserve to perish, who use crocodiles’ excrement, and anoint themselves with the froth of putrid humours, and stain their eyebrows with soot, and rub their cheeks with white lead.
These, then, who are disgusting even to the heathen poets for their fashions, how shall they not be rejected by the truth? Accordingly another comic poet, Alexis, reproves them. For I shall adduce his words, which with extravagance of statement shame the obstinacy of their impudence. For he was not very far beyond the mark. And I cannot for shame come to the assistance of women held up to such ridicule in comedy.
Then she ruins her husband.
For first, in comparison with gain and the spoiling of neighbours,
All else is in their eyes superfluous.
Is one of them little? She stitches cork into her shoe-sole.
Is one tall? She wears a thin sole,
And goes out keeping her head down on her shoulder:
This takes away from her height. Has one no flanks?
She has something sewed on to her, so that the spectators
May exclaim on her fine shape behind. Has she a prominent stomach?
By making additions, to render it straight, such as the nurses we see in the comic poets,
She draws back, as it were, by these poles, the protuberance of the stomach in front.
Has one yellow eyebrows? She stains them with soot.
Do they happen to be black? She smears them with ceruse.
Is one very white-skinned? She rouges.
Has one any part of the body beautiful? She shows it bare.
Has she beautiful teeth? She must needs laugh,
That those present may see what a pretty mouth she has;
But if not in the humour for laughing, she passes the day within,
With a slender sprig of myrtle between her lips,
Like what cooks have always at hand when they have goats’ heads to sell,
So that she must keep them apart the while, whether she will or not.
I set these quotations from the comic poets before you, since the Word most strenuously wishes to save us. And by and by I will fortify them with the divine Scriptures. For he who does not escape notice is wont to abstain from sins, on account of the shame of reproof. Just as the plastered hand and the anointed eye exhibit from their very look the suspicion of a person in illness, so also cosmetics and dyes indicate that the soul is deeply diseased.
The divine Instructor enjoins us not to approach to another’s river, meaning by the figurative expression another’s river, another’s wife; the wanton that flows to all, and out of licentiousness gives herself up to meretricious enjoyment with all. Abstain from water that is another’s, He says, and drink not of another’s well, admonishing us to shun the stream of voluptuousness, that we may live long, and that years of life may be added to us; (Proverbs 9:11) both by not hunting after pleasure that belongs to another, and by diverting our inclinations.
Love of dainties and love of wine, though great vices, are not of such magnitude as fondness for finery. A full table and repeated cups are enough to satisfy greed. But to those who are fond of gold, and purple, and jewels, neither the gold that is above the earth and below it is sufficient, nor the Tyrian Sea, nor the freight that comes from India and Ethiopia, nor yet Pactolus flowing with gold; not even were a man to become a Midas would he be satisfied, but would be still poor, craving other wealth. Such people are ready to die with their gold.
And if Plutus is blind, are not those women that are crazy about him, and have a fellow-feeling with him, blind too? Having, then, no limit to their lust, they push on to shamelessness. For the theatre, and pageants, and many spectators, and strolling in the temples, and loitering in the streets, that they may be seen conspicuously by all, are necessary to them. For those that glory in their looks, not in heart, (1 Thessalonians 2:17) dress to please others. For as the brand shows the slave, so do gaudy colours the adulteress. For though you clothe yourself in scarlet, and deck yourself with ornaments of gold, and anoint your eyes with stibium, in vain is your beauty, (Jeremiah 4:30) says the Word by Jeremiah. Is it not monstrous, that while horses, birds, and the rest of the animals, spring and bound from the grass and meadows, rejoicing in ornament that is their own, in mane, and natural colour, and varied plumage; woman, as if inferior to the brute creation, should think herself so unlovely as to need foreign, and bought, and painted beauty?
Head-dresses and varieties of head-dresses, and elaborate braidings, and infinite modes of dressing the hair, and costly specimens of mirrors, in which they arrange their costume,— hunting after those that, like silly children, are crazy about their figures—are characteristic of women who have lost all sense of shame. If any one were to call these courtesans, he would make no mistake, for they turn their faces into masks. But us the Word enjoins to look not on the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
But what passes beyond the bounds of absurdity, is that they have invented mirrors for this artificial shape of theirs, as if it were some excellent work or masterpiece. The deception rather requires a veil thrown over it. For as the Greek fable has it, it was not a fortunate thing for the beautiful Narcissus to have been the beholder of his own image. And if Moses commanded men to make not an image to represent God by art, how can these women be right, who by their own reflection produce an imitation of their own likeness, in order to the falsifying of their faces? Likewise also, when Samuel the prophet was sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse for king, and on seeing the eldest of his sons to be fair and tall, produced the anointing oil, being delighted with him, the Lord said to him, Look not to his appearance, nor the height of his stature: for I have rejected him. For man looks on the eyes, but the Lord into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
And he anointed not him that was comely in person, but him that was comely in soul. If, then, the Lord counts the natural beauty of the body inferior to that of the soul, what thinks He of spurious beauty, rejecting utterly as He does all falsehood? For we walk by faith, not by sight. Very clearly the Lord accordingly teaches by Abraham, that he who follows God must despise country, and relations, and possessions, and all wealth, by making him a stranger. And therefore also He called him His friend who had despised the substance which he had possessed at home. For he was of good parentage, and very opulent; and so with three hundred and eighteen servants of his own he subdued the four kings who had taken Lot captive.
Esther alone we find justly adorned. The spouse adorned herself mystically for her royal husband; but her beauty turns out the redemption price of a people that were about to be massacred. And that decoration makes women courtesans, and men effeminate and adulterers, the tragic poet is a witness; thus discoursing:
He that judged the goddesses,
As the myth of the Argives has it, having come from Phrygia
To Lacedæmon, arrayed in flowery vestments,
Glittering with gold and barbaric luxury,
Loving, departed, carrying away her he loved,
Helen, to the folds of Ida, having found that
Menelaus was away from home.
O adulterous beauty! Barbarian finery and effeminate luxury overthrew Greece; Lacedæmonian chastity was corrupted by clothes, and luxury, and graceful beauty; barbaric display proved Jove’s daughter a courtesan.
They had no instructor to restrain their lusts, nor one to say, Do not commit adultery; nor, Lust not; or, Travel not by lust into adultery; or further, Influence not your passions by desire of adornment.
What an end was it that ensued to them, and what woes they endured, who would not restrain their self-will! Two continents were convulsed by unrestrained pleasures, and all was thrown into confusion by a barbarian boy. The whole of Hellas puts to sea; the ocean is burdened with the weight of continents; a protracted war breaks out, and fierce battles are waged, and the plains are crowded with dead: the barbarian assails the fleet with outrage;wickedness prevails, and the eye of that poetic Jove looks on the Thracians:—
The barbarian plains drink noble blood,
And the streams of the rivers are choked with dead bodies.
Breasts are beaten in lamentations, and grief desolates the land; and all the feet, and the summits of many-fountained Ida, and the cities of the Trojans, and the ships of the Achæans, shake.
Where, O Homer, shall we flee and stand? Show us a spot of ground that is not shaken!—
Touch not the reins, inexperienced boy,
Nor mount the seat, not having learned to drive.
Heaven delights in two charioteers, by whom alone the chariot of fire is guided. For the mind is carried away by pleasure; and the unsullied principle of reason, when not instructed by the Word, slides down into licentiousness, and gets a fall as the due reward of its transgression. An example of this are the angels, who renounced the beauty of God for a beauty which fades, and so fell from heaven to earth.
The Shechemites, too, were punished by an overthrow for dishonouring the holy virgin. The grave was their punishment, and the monument of their ignominy leads to salvation.
Also see the writings of Tertullian on The Apparel of Women, and Why Women are to Veil Themselves, below: