Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The Father William Most Collection

Asceticism: Scripture; Intertestamental and Rabbinic Writings

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Scripture: Old Testament

Tobit 12:8: Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving along with righteousness... For almsgiving saves from death and cleanses away every sin."

Sirach 3:30: "Water puts out a blazing fire; and almsgiving atones (exilasetai) for sin.

17:22: "A man's almsgiving is like a signet ring with Him [the Lord] and He will keep a man's favor [to others] like the apple of his eye."

29:12: "Store almsgiving among your treasures and it will draw you out of every evil."

40:17: "almsgiving remains forever."

40:24: "A brother, a help, is for time of need but giving alms delivers more than both."

2 Sam 12:16ff: David fasted in hope of saving his son's life. When that failed, he stopped fasting. His servants thought he would fast in mourning. David said: Why should he continue, he can no longer save the child. "I fasted and wept, for I said; 'Who knows? The Lord may be kind to me, and the child may live. '"

Psalms 32:13: "When they were sick I put on sackcloth and afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with bowed head."

69:9-10: "Zeal for your house consumed me... when I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me because I did it."

Fasting with prayer in time of crisis: Judges 20:26; 1 Sam 13:24; 1 Kgs 21:9; Ezra 8:21-23; Jer 14:12; Jer 36:6, 9.

Wisdom 4:12: "The witching spell of things that are little makes it hard to see the good things."

CONCLUSIONS: 1. Fasting and almsgiving help get requests in prayer. 2. Alms atones for sin. 3. Creatures make it hard to see the true goods. Implication: get loose from them. Does almsgiving help get loose or is it just charity to others? Unclear from texts on hand.

Scripture: New Testament

Mt. 5:8: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God."

Mt. 10:38: "He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

Mt. 16:24: "He who wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me."

Mt. 19:21: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me."

1 Cor 7:31: "And let those who use this world be as though not using it."

1 Cor 9:27: "I beat my body under the eyes and lead it around as a slave, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be rejected."

2 Cor. 11:23-27: To counter the claims of false apostles, Paul rehearses his own sufferings. He mentions hunger and thirst, and right after that adds nesteia -- which can mean just a repeat of hunger and thirst, but usually means fasting, especaially in a line where he has just mentioned hunger and thirst incurred from his travels.

Phil 3:8-9: "But I consider all things as loss because of the eminent knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have taken the loss of all things, and I consider them as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own justice, but that which is through faith in Christ, the justice of God which depends on faith."

Conclusions: Same values as found in OT but much clearer on the need of alms, getting rid of earthly things, taming the body, for spiritual growth. Deny self, not just possessions, and take up cross. This can refer to acceptance of providentially sent hardships, or to self-imposed mortification. In Paul's case, it is the latter in 1 & 2 Cor. for he adds fasting to, providential hardships, and hits his body under the eye to tame it, fearing he might be lost if it gets out of hand.

Intertestamental Writings

Philo. De Spec. Legibus 2. 195 says purpose of the fast that occurs on the Day of Atonement is to control the tongue, the belly, and the organs below the belly.

Psalms of Solomon 3:7-8 (1 cent. B. C, prob. Greek original - in Rahlfs): " the righteous constantly searches his house, to remove his unintentional sins. -- He atones for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and humbling his soul, and the Lord will cleanse every devout person and his house."

History of the Rechabites (1 -4 cent A.D. with Christian interpolations): Story of a holy man Zosimus who did not eat or drink for 40 years and then was shown the abode of the Blessed ones, who are the Rechabites, who left Jerusalem for their island in the times of Jeremiah.

Apocalypse of Abraham 12:1-2 (1-2 cent. A.D. ): Abraham ate no bread and drank no water for 40 days and nights, before offering the great sacrifice.

Apocalypse of Elijah 1. 15-22 (1-4 cent. A.D. ): "It [a pure fast] releases sin, it heals diseases, it casts out demons, it is effective up to the throne of God for an ointmennt, and for a release from sin by means of pure prayer."

Apocalypse of Zephaniah 7:6 (1 cent. B.C. or A.D.): Zeph sees a vision of two manuscripts, which tell his sins: "A day on which I did not fast (or) pray in the time of prayer I found written down as a failing upon my manuscript."

2 Baruch 20:5 (Early 2d cent. A.D.): "Therefore go away and sanctify yourself for seven days and do not eat bread and do not drink water and do not speak to anybody." - similar in 47:2 [23:4 has original sin]

Pseudo Philo 13:6 (1 cent. A.D.): "A fast of mercy you shall fast for me for your own souls so that the promises made to your fathers may be fulfilled."

Testament of Isaac 4:1-2 (2d cent. A.D.): "Now Isaac used to fast every day, not breaking his fast until evening. He would offer up sacrifices for himself and for all the people of his household, for the salvation of their souls." Ibid. 4:5-6: "And he would not eat meat or drink wine all his life long. He also would not enjoy the taste of fruit, nor would he sleep upon a bed, because he was devoted to prayer every day and to supplication to God all his life."

Testament of Jacob 7:17-18 (perhaps 2-3 cent. A.D. -- with Christian matter in it): "So now, my beloved sons, do not slacken from prayer and fasting ever at any time, and by the life of the religion you will drive away the demons."

Conclusions: Here we find fully developed asceticism, wish special emphasis on fasting, which is used for spiritual vision, to obtain mercy, to tame the body so as to avoid sin.

Rabbinic Texts

Gemara on Kiddushin 1. 10. 40a-b: "R. Eleazar son of R. Zadok said:... . the Holy One, blessed be He, brings suffering upon the righteous in this world, in order that they may inherit the future world... . the Holy One, blessed be He, makes them [the wicked] prosper in this world, in order to destroy them and consign them to the nethermost rung... ."

Baraitha in Kiddushin 40b::"Rabbi Eleazar ben R. Sadok, of the lst century in Jerusalem, said: 'God brings chastisements upon the righteous men in this world, in order that they may inherit the world-to-come'" {15}.

"R. Eleazar b. R. Sadok says: God bestows prosperity in fullness upon the sinners in this world, in order to drive them (from the world-to-come) and give them as their portion the lowest step (of Gehinnom)."

The same idea, in almost the same words is in

Pesikta 73a R. Akiba: "God bestows prosperity and well-being in fullness in this world and pays the sinners for the few good deeds done by them in this world, in order to punish them in the world-to-come." {16}

Sifre on Deuteronomy, Piska 32:"Furthermore, a man should rejoice more in chastisement than in times of prosperity. For if a man is prosperous all his life, no sin of his can be forgiven. What brings forgiveness of Sin? Suffering... . R. Meir says, Scripture says 'Know in your heart that the Lord your God chastises you just as a man chastises his son' (Deut 8:5). You and your heart know the deeds that you have done and you know that whatever sufferings I have brought upon you do not outweigh all your deeds. R. Yose ben R. Judah says, Precious are chastisements, for the name of the Omnipresent One rests upon one who suffers them... . R. Nehemiah says, Precious are chastisements, for just as sacrifices bring appeasement, so do chastisements bring appeasement... . Indeed, suffering appeases even more than sacrifices, for sacrifices involve wealth, but suffering involves one's body... ."{17}

B. Sabb 2. 6. fol. 32a: "If one is led to the place of judgment to be judged he can be saved if he has great advocates [prqlitin], but if he does not... he will not be saved;and these are the advocates [prqlitin] of a man: conversion and good works."

B. Baba Bathra 1. 5. fol. 10. a: "All the moral rightness [sedaqah] and covenant fidelity [hesed] that Israel does in the world are great well-being [shalom] and are great advocates [prqlitin] between Israel and their Father in heaven." COMMENT: We note that it is within the covenant framework- hesed--and justice-- sedaqah. The advocates, -- we note the Greek loan word - are the reasons to balance the objective order favorably. {18} At times paraclete seems to mean a weight in the scales, as in the above. At other times it seems to mean a person who pleads for another. Thus in Shemoth Rabbah 32 we read that for keeping one precept God gives one angel, for two, two angels, for many, half of his host. And in Exodus Rabbah 18. 3 (on 12. 29) Moses is called a good paraclete. The Targum on Job 33. 23 says that if a man has merit, an angel intervenes as an advocate among 1000 accusers.

Semahoth III. 11. R. Yehudah ben Ilai asserts that the ancient pious men ,"used to be afflicted with intestinal illness for about ten to twenty days before their death, so they might... arrive pure in the hereafter.".{19}

Conclusion: Again, fully developed ascetic thought. Especially suffering brings forgiveness, makes up for sins. Without it no sin can be forgiven.



To Most Collection home page