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humanity owes much to the ascetic.
But this debt is in the past.
How intoxicating indeed, how penetrating
like a most precious wine is that love which is the sexual transformed
by the magic of the will into the emotional and spiritual! And what a loss
on the merest grounds of prudence and the economy of pleasure is its unbridled
waste along physical channels! So nothing is so much to he dreaded between
lovers as just this the vulgarization of love and this is the rock upon
which marriage so often splits.
And because marriage so often splits upon this
rock, or because men and women have in all ages yearned for spiritual beauty,
there have been those who shut themselves off from all the sweet usages
of the body.
Yet, as we live today, with still so many remnants
of the older standards within and upon us, we must endeavour to understand
One of the most famous instances of the married
ascetic is Tolstoy, whose later opinion was that the highest human being
completely inhibits his sex-desires and lives a celibate life.
Chrysostom begins (Against those who keep Virgins in their Houses),
only knew two forms of sexual intimacy, marriage and fornication. Now a
third form has appeared: men introduce young girls into their houses and
kept them there permanently, respecting their virginity.
The absence of restraint to desire in marriage,
he continues, often leads to speedy disgust, and even apart from this,
sexual intercourse, pregnancy, delivery, lactation, the bringing up of
children, and all the pains and anxieties that accompany these things,
soon destroy youth and dull the point of pleasure.
"A double ardour thus burns in the heart of him who lives with her, and the gratification of desire never extinguishes the bright flame which ever continues to increase in strength."
Chrysostom describes minutely all the little cares
and attentions which the modern girls of his time required, and which these
men delighted to expend on their virginal sweethearts whether in public
or in private.
Thus Jerome, in his letter to Eustochium, refers to those couples who "share the same room," often even the same bed, and call us suspicious if we draw any conclusions; while Cyprian (Epistola, 86) is unable to approve of those men he hears of one a deacon, who live in familiar intercourse with virgins, even sleeping in the same bed with them, for, he declares, the feminine sex is weak and youth is wanton.
The harsh ascetic, however, is the one the word
ascetic most generally conjures up.
As Ellen Key says (Love and Marriage): Those ascetics who recommend only self-control as a remedy for the mastery of sexual instinct, even when such control becomes merely obstructive to life, are like the physician who tried only to drive the fever out of his patient: it was nothing to him that the sick man died of the cure.
But these ascetics may have arrived at their fanaticism
by two different paths.
Approaching the subject in a more modern and scientific
attitude of impartial inquiry, the medical man can produce an imposing
list of diseases more or less directly caused by abstinence both in men
and in women.
Thus the ascetic and the profligate (whether or
not in legal marriage) have both to run the gauntlet of disease.
The profound truth which is perceived by the ascetics is that the creative energy of sex can be transformed into other activities.
This truth should never be lost sight of in marriage; where between the times of natural, happy, and also stimulating exercise of the sex-functions, the periods of complete abstinence should be opportunities for transmuting the healthy sex-power into work of every sort.
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