Read our new article «Ex - Jehovah's Witnesses, who are now members of the Catholic Church, share their personal stories»

Sunday, 15 September 2013

THE PRECURSORS OF CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM AND ASCETICISM: PYTHAGORAS – PYTHAGORISM

Translated from the original by Costas Balomenos


Pythagoras
                                                       
T
he main characteristic of the ancient Greek religion as developed through the two masterpieces of Homer's epics, the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and from Hesiod in his “Theogony” is the anthropomorphism.  Be presented namely the Gods with human passions and actions, which of course only to gods do not match, so the man made a game into the hands and the passions of the gods.
   Also in Homeric poetry, there is no belief in afterlife personal life. The soul exists only when it is connected with the body. From the moment you separated from it, running as shade into Hades and takes again life and movement when drinking blood. The soul is not therefore the bearer of life, but the blood...

   Thus, within anthropomorphism - where it becomes overvaluation of the body - there is no place for any kind of mysticism, in which the soul excels because of kinship with the divine.
   The simplistic these religious concepts shaken in the air by the Ionians philosophers, although most of them do not reject religion and God, but they strive to clean them.
   And then is born the mysticism from the great figures of Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus. Certainly, forerunner of all this was the Orphism, which is attributed to the mythical figure of Orpheus.
   In Orphism, the man is considered to have two components: the Dionysian (soul) and the Titanic (body), of which the first outweighs the second. The main concern of Orphism is the liberation of the soul from the body that keeps her captive and its union with God.
   Successor of Orphism is the Pythagorism, whose founder is Pythagoras (582-497 BC) from Samos, since - according to the tradition of the Pythagoreans - the “Holy Word” which the members of Pythagorean communities they recited was the same which he pronounced Pythagoras, when he was initiated to the village Livithra of Thrace.
   The researchers, however, are cautious about the details of his life, because many of them are not only contradictory and conflicting, but it is much later and come from circles of the Pythagoreans.
   However, the affinity of Orphism and Pythagorism to the issue of reincarnation, which presupposes divine and immortal soul, and of ascetic life, is not disputed by anyone, because the few ancient testimonies militate in favor of this affinity.
   Orphism had the good fortune to be adopted by this great philosopher and mutated for the better, to express the tendency towards mysticism and the divine of Greek spirit. He managed so parallel to the stream that existed for the release of the philosophical thought from religion, as it had ended up by the mythologists Homer and Hesiod, to purify the religion from the anthropomorphism and to live together with science and philosophy.
   Certainly Pythagoras is known in history for the ontology, which is connected with mathematics and numbers, which it considered as elementary principles of beings, something similar to the Ideas of Plato. Such as then, in the teaching of Platonic "Ideas" the sensate and variable beings of our world owe their existence to the partaking” (methexis) of the “Ideas”, so to Pythagoras the existence of of appreciable beings is nothing more than “imitation” of numbers. Very rightly, the above affinity observed by Aristotle, who said that Plato simply changed the name of the word.
   Also known by Pythagoras is the famous theorems of geometry. In this was giving so much importance that it is said that at the entrance of his house - which served as a school - there was the inscription no one enters who does not know geometry”.
   With Mathematics is connected and another feature of the philosophical thinking of Pythagoras. His love for music that was based on numerical data. The division into numerical intervals of the musical scale, tones and semitones, is based on the relevant observations. He noticed that there are mathematical relationships between different musical tones. Strings of different lengths produce musical tones of different heights. The music is something that expresses the harmony, which he saw that there is in the world who consisted thus of numbers and for this reason is the first, who he named the universe world” (in Greek “cosmos” = ornament).
   Pythagoras is not just known as a mathematician, but equally - or more - is known as undercover and founder of religious communities with strict hierarchical organization and ascetic life.
   In Croton of Down (Southern) Italy where he resorted from Samos - his hometown, founded and organized the religious communities, which can be characterized as the first hesychastic movement in history. His sermon finds great resonance in the souls of people and his contribution to the promotion of education and morality is huge. He addressed to all ages indiscriminately, to men and women. Were running to hear him not only from Croton, but also from other cities and countries. Porphyrius and other biographers attribute that to his external appearance.
   But Pythagoras is not limited to teaching to the general public, but organizes successfully a closed group of learners, a company, whose members had to be distinguished for the strict observance of the hierarchy, obedience without objection of the principles of Pythagoras’s teaching, ascetic life, mutual support and confidence. There is no difficulty to find human material for the establishment of this company, since people come in great numbers and they have craving to join the inner circle of partners. For this, the selection and the assay are rigorous. In fact, the test lasted many years and progressed in steps up to permit to the partner get to know the teacher personally and discuss with him various problems. The safeguarding of a secret superior knowledge, which was broadcasting the teacher, it was mandatory for the partners and in this is due - according to many - that were not salvaged writings of Pythagoras that contain his moral and religious teaching. In organizing they imitate the Pythagoreans and the Tektons, known as Free Masons, who consider Pythagoras as their prostate.
   Let us now see how someone became a member of the Pythagorean community. To be introduced anyone in the school” or “society” and become speaker”, undergo rigorous examination even physiognomic, which he oversaw even Pythagoras himself. Were examined the character of the candidate, his habits, feelings, his conduct in the past and the present and thereafter were allowed to co-numbered in the Pythagorean community. However, until becoming a full member, a perfect student has had to pass two stages of assays. During the first stage, which lasted for three years, were not allowed to monitor and hear with their ears the teaching of Pythagoras. Was testing the stability of a decision to follow the Pythagorean life” and was examined the motivations of this decision.
   When passed three years of probation, during which the young students were not resident in the community, they delivered their assets to the community and thereafter were living in it with coenobitic way. Nonetheless and after the coenobitic life, there was a period of five years probation and apprenticeship, the main feature of which was the silence. For five years they were listening to the teachings of Pythagoras, without talking, they lived always in lasting silence and without seeing the face of Pythagoras. For this reason and also received the nickname acousmatic”. Having spent five years went by to the next stage of “mathematics”. As “mathematicians” now they could to consort with Pythagoras to submit to several questions, certainly not to challenge his teaching, but to ask for some clarification. There was absolute and blind trust in the truth of his teaching. The «αυτός έφα» namely «he said» shows with very precision the - without objection - acceptance of his teachings and his opinions.
   Besides, this was also a weapon in the hands of Christian authors, when the Gentiles (idolaters) writers blamed them for acceptance - without consideration - of doctrines of their faith. They reminded to the blind faith of the Pythagoreans.
   Now, if after the five-year ordeal of silence the student were deemed unworthy to get into the class of mathematics”, they driving out from the community and were returning double his property, which had been deposited. Indeed, they open a tomb at home of the community where he lived, which meant that he is now a dead man and is forbidden any contact and conversation with him from other members of the community. The same penalty was imposed on those who betrayed the secrets of the community.
   But the support of a community member by another has remained proverbial. Let us allow at this point to narrate an episode that rescues the (Pythagorean) Iamblichus:

   «Someone Pythagorean man, after a long and arduous march on a deserted road, reached in an inn, where due to the suffering of this, became seriously ill. He had not, however, the needed money for his health care. But to the innkeeper - who nevertheless took care of him movingly - before dying, left a billboard with a symbol, and told him to hang on in his shop, because the first who will recognize this symbol and he will be informed the details, will reward him richly. The innkeeper - although not hoped would never recover what he had spent - he performed his desire and hung in a conspicuous place a billboard with the symbol. And indeed, after a long time someone Pythagorean, who recognized the symbol, rich and gladly paid the expenses». (Iamblichus 239)

   With quietness and silence are closely related the self-control and the exercise of memory. It is known the recommendation of Pythagoras to his disciples, as we are informed by Diogenes Laertius 8.22: What I did, that ought not? What I did, that ought? What I had to do and I did not?” The memory ought be practiced, to be able to keep the teachings. Therefore, never ceased to dealing repeatedly with the Taught, until it becomes their estate. And the way they exercised his memory was: Before Pythagoras to get up from his bed was required to remember everything that had happened the previous day in turn. What he said or what he heard just got out of bed, what was first and what second, what happened, who met first and who second and what discussed with them.
   Following the exercise of memory, the Pythagoreans venerated much the medicine and the music for moralistic reasons. From medical were mostly occupied with the “arbitral kind”, order to be precise in their diet, with the knowledge of the symmetry of foods and beverages. They did this because they wanted to keep their bodies in stable condition, so that to be not, sometimes thin and sometimes thick. The music also contributes to the health of the body and is - especially for the soul - a major means of catharsis. Indeed Basil the Great our it rescues the following incident with Pythagoras and the therapeutic property of music: It is also said that Pythagoras, when once he met drunken dancers, who were singing making ugliness on the streets, begged him playing the flute and he was the head of this orgiastic procession to change harmony and with the flute to play them the Doric member of the musical melody. Then, with this melody they thought correctly, so - after they threw away the wreaths - shamefully they turned again to their homes. To the young, E.P. 31, 581-584.
   Pythagoras and his disciples - in relation to the soul - accepted the teaching of reincarnation or meta-incorporation. It is said that Xenophanes who mocked this teaching, presents him to berate his student, which wanted to hit a barking dog, because in the barking of the dog he recognized the voice of a friend.
   Himself Pythagoras was telling for himself that he remembers his various incarnations. Indeed, he attributed this gift as a bonus of Hermes to his face.
   The cycle of reincarnations was intended to liberate the soul from the shackles of flesh by chastity, purity and exercise and return to the hearth, to God. There is i.e. also in the Pythagorism the view of a drama of the soul, that was removed from God and is struggling to terminate the cycle of reincarnations, to come back to him. The soul is immortal, because that from which was detached is immortal. Is divided into three parts: mind, wisdom and anger. Mind and anger have and the animals, but wisdom only in Man. The seat of the soul is the section between the heart and brain. In the heart dwell the anger, mind and wisdom in the brain. Immortal is just the prudent part of the soul. The veins, arteries and nerves are shackles for the soul. Diogenes Laertius 8.28 to 31.
   They are interesting and the ascetical teachings of Pythagoras. Were forbidden to eat living creatures, not only because of the theory of reincarnation, namely about the presence in these of human souls, but mainly to get used to the austere and ascetical life, a factor of physical and mental health. For him were sufficient only: honey, wax, vegetables and bread. He not was drinking wine, nor was he seen never to entertains, without aphrodisiacs passions, or to inebriates. He shunned the laughs, the flatteries, the burdensome narrations and the teasing. Diogenes Laertius 8.13 to 20.
   Indeed, he was teaching that this practice in nutrition and dressing should begin in the childhood. Most of the wishes of the people are acquired and manufactured by themselves, so it required a lot of attention and exercise regime. The Pythagoreans criticized the prim food, the sumptuous costumes, the spacious and luxurious house. Iamblichus 205
   This strictness of the Pythagoreans in diet and dressing was the cause for mimicry by many. It is said that the comedienne Aristofontas in narration refers to someone, who visited Hades and he saw the Pythagoreans to differ from everyone and are eating together with Pluto because of their piety. And define, what the comedian responds: “It must be very convenient this god, who delights to hobnob with people unwashed, without taking bath, who are full of lice”. Diogenes Laertius 8.37
   Ascetic attitudes we find in the position of the Pythagoreans towards sexual life and marriage. Himself Pythagoras was married with children. He condemned the satisfaction of carnal momentum outside of marriage, but he was accepting within marriage for childbearing, because the man leaves in the world, adorers of the gods.
   According Hieronymus, Pythagoras descended into Hades and he saw the souls of Homer and Hesiod to punished severely for what ungodly they said about Gods, and together with them to punished the souls of those who refused to copulated with their wives. This attitude towards marriage resulted to be honored by the residents of Croton. His pupil Theano, according to others his wife, when asked if the intercourse with a man is impurity she responded that only with a foreign man is so. General, Pythagoras was against to the aphrodisiac hedonism, because they make the man weaker.
   In the 4th century BC the Pythagorism falls into decadence because of the terrible persecution which was brought against the Pythagoreans and revived as Neo-Pythagorism in the 1st century BC, but mainly in the 1st century AD with the great form of Apollonius of Tyana.
   But this is another issue that we hope to negotiate in the future.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Theodore Zissis: Secret Fathers and ascetical Authors (Mysticism and Exercise to Hellenism)
Anthology of Patristic Texts Third Grade, 1984.



Writer Christos Pal

No comments: