Plato and Aristotle, Raphael
Greek word for asceticism:
originally referred in
classical Greek to training, practice, exercise, or discipline. It was
particularly used in regard to the quest for athletic excellence,
but was also applied to training for a profession, an art, or a mode of
The following is adapted from:
THE VERB, ASKEŌ, ἀσκέω,
I , work raw materials, εἴρια, κέρα, Il.3.388, 4.110;
1). work curiously, form by art, [κρητῆρα] Σιδόνεσ πολυδάδαλοι εὖ ἤσκησαν ib.23.743; ἑρμῖν᾽ ἀσκήσας Od.23.198; πτύξασα καὶ ἀσκήσασα χιτῶνα having folded and smoothed it, ib.1.439; ἅρμα .. χρυσῷ καὶ ἀργύρῳ εὖ ἤσκηται Il.10.438; χορὸν ἤσκησεν ib.18.592; γόμφοις ἀ. Emp.87: added in aor. part. to Verbs, [θρόνον] τεύξει ἀσκήσας elaborately, Il.14.240; [χρυσὸν] βοὶς κέρασιν περίχευεν ἀσκήσας Od.3.437; [ἔξυα᾽ ἀσκήσασα Il.14.179.
2). of personal adornment, dress out, trick out, ἀ. τινὰ κόσμω Hdt.3.1; ἐς κάλλος ἀσκεῖ decks herself, E.El.1073; δέμας Id.Tr.1023:—freq. in Pass., σκιεροῖς ἠσκημένα γυίοις furnished with .., Emp.61.4; πέπλοισι Περαικοῖς ἠσκημένη A.Pers.182; οὐ χλιδαῖς ἠσκημένον S.El.452; of buildings, παστὰς ἠσκημένη στύλοισι Hdt.2.169; Παρίῳ λίθῳ ἠσκημένα Id.3.57; abs., οἴκημα ἠσκημένον Id.2.130; σῶμα λόγοισ ἠσκ. tricked out with words only, not real, S.El.1217:—Med., σῶμ᾽ ὅπλοισ ἠσκήσατο adorned his own person, E.Hel.1379, cf. Alc.161.
II. practise, exercise, train, esp. in Prose and Com., properly of athletic exercise,
. . . 3). c. inf., ἄσκει τοιαύτη μένειν practise, endeavour to remain such, S.El.1024; λέγειν ἠσκηκότες Id.Fr.963; εὐσεβεῖν ἠσκηκότα E.Fr.1067; ἀ. γαστρὸς κρείττους εἶναι, τοὺς φίλους ἀγαθὰ ποιεῖν, X.Cyr.4.2.45, 5.5.12, cf. Mem.2.1.6; ἤσκει ἐξομιλεῖν παντοδαποῖς he made a practice of associating .., Id.Ag.11.4.
4). abs., practise, go into training, Pl.R.389c, X.Cyr.2.1.29; οἱ ἀσκέοντες those who practise gymnastics, Hp.Acut.9; περὶ τὰς βαναύσους τέχνας Plb.9.20.9.
THE NOUN, ASKĒSIS, ἄσκησις -εως, ἡ, (ἀσκέω)
I. exercise, practice, training, ἐξ ἀσκήσιος ἀγαθοὶ γίνονται Democr.242, cf. Protag.3, Pl.Prt.323d, al.; γυμνασίων καὶ ἀσκησίων ἐπιμελόμενοι Hp.VM4, cf. Th.2.39; πολεμική X.Cyr.8.1.34; ἱππική IG2.478b18: in pl., exercises, ἔθεσι καὶ ἀσκήσεσι Pl.R.518e, cf. Plt.294d.
II. c. gen., ἄ. τινος practice of or in a thing, Th.5.67; ἀρετῆς X.Mem.1.2.20; δειλίας ἀλλα᾽ οὐκ ἀνδρείας Pl.Lg.791b.
III. generally, mode of life, profession, Luc.Vit.Auct.7; of a philosophical sect, ἡ Κυνικὴ ἄ. Id.Tox.27.
2. of religious sects, asceticism, Str.15.1.61, 17.1.29, Ph.1.643, J.BJ2.8.10.
IV. adornment, τῶν τριχῶν (of the hair) Aeschin.Socr.18.
The following is adapted from:
THE VERB, ASKEŌ, ἀσκέω,
IN the New Testament this word is found only at Acts. 24:16:
SO I always exert myself (askō) to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men at all times.
|ἐν τούτῳ καὶ αὐτὸς ἀσκω̂ ἀπρόσκοπον συνείδησιν ἔχειν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους διὰ παντός|
IT is used here in the sense of “I exercise or exert myself.” In taking pains to have a conscience void of offence towards God and man, Paul is careful to listen constantly to the admonishing and warning voice of conscience in order not to offend God or man and not to neglect any obligations towards them.
THIS sense of askein/ἀσκεῖν is already current in classical and Hellenistic Greek, and also in Jewish Hellenism [the Greek-speaking Jewish tradition, influenced to some extent by Greek philosophy, especially Plato].
In the ancient Greek literary tradition Homer uses the term only in the sense of technical adornment and artistic effort.1 From the time of Herodotus and Pindar, however, it acquires the more spiritual sense of exercising a virtue.
e.g., Hdt., 1,96; VII, 209: τὴν ἀληθείην ἀσκέειν; Plat.Euthyd., 283a: σοφίαν καὶ ἀρετὴν ἀσκει̂ν; Gorg., 527e: δικαιοσύνην καὶ … ἀρετήν; though naturally also in the opp. sense, as in Aesch.Prom., 1065: κακότητ ἀσκει̂ν. With the acc., ἀσκει̂ν in this sense (e.g., in Ac. 24:16) has also an infin., e.g., Xenoph.Cyrop., V, 5, 12: ἀσκω̂ν … τοὺς φίλους ὡς πλει̂στα ἀγαθὰ ποιει̂ν; Epict.Diss., III, 12, 10: ἄσκησον, εἰ γοργὸς εἰ̂, λοιδορούμενος ἀνέχεσθαι, ἀτιμασθεὶς μὴ ἀχθεσθη̂ναι.
AN important special meaning develops in relation to , i.e., the training of the body (soma askein/σω̂μα ἀσκει̂ν) in the sense of gymnastic and athletic exercises; hence askētes = athlētes
ἀσκητής == ἀθλητής (→ ἀθλέω), as may be seen clearly in Xenoph.Mem., 1, 2, 19: ὁρω̂ γάρ, ὣσπερ τὰ του̂ σώματος ἔργα τοὺς μὴ τὰ σώματα ἀσκου̂ντας οὐ δυναμένους ποιει̂ν, οὕτω καὶ τὰ τη̂ς ψυχη̂ς ἔργα τοὺς μὴ τὴν ψυχὴν ἀσκου̂ντας οὐ δυναμένους. Thus ἀσκει̂ν becomes synon. with → γυμνάζεσθαι (cf. Epict.Diss., III, 10, 7: ἕνεκα τούτου ἐγυμναζόμην, ἐπὶ του̂το ἤσκουν), or with → μελετα̂ν (cf. Epict.Diss., I, 25, 31; 1 Tm. 4:7).2
[THROUGH the writings of the Greek philosophers] the Greek world was already familiar with spiritual asceticism in the sense of exercise in the taming of the passions and the doing of righteous acts, or of conscious and almost technical exercise in the control of thoughts and impulses. We can see this in the older Sophists, who singled out
Further examples are to be found especially in Epict.Diss., III, 3, 16: καὶ του̂το εἰ ἐπολου̂μεν καὶ πρὸς του̂το ἠσκούμεθα καθ ἡμέραν ἐξ ὄρθρου μέχρι νυκτός, ἐγίνετο ἄν τι, νὴ τοὺς θεούς, and again in IV, 1, 81; III, 2, 1, where there is mention of the three τόποι in which the man who would be καλὸς καὶ ἀγαθός must exercise himself. Cf. also III, 12, 8.
IN [the philosopher] Epictetus, however, we can already see indications of the later concept of asceticism, i.e., the voluntary adoption of renunciations, privations and self-chastenings, cf. Ench., 47.
PHILO of Alexandria [, a Jewish contemporary of Jesus whose mystical commentaries on the Old Testament strongly influenced the mystical exegesis of early Christianity] introduced both the term [askēsis] and the reality into theological ethics. He allots the three functions in the Sophist doctrine of education, i.e.,
to the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.5 Jacob is for [Philo] the model ascetic = [moral] athlete ἀσκητής == ἀθλητής, the spiritual wrestler (on the basis of Genesis 32:24 ff.);6 cf. Leg. All., III, 190 … πτερνισθήσεται πρὸς του̂ πάλην ἠσκηκότος Ιακώβ—πάλην δ οὐ τὴν σώματος, ἀλλ ἣν παλαίει ψυχή, πρὸς τοὺς ἀνταγωνιστὰς τρόπους αὐτη̂ς πάθεσι καὶ κακίαις μαχομένη. Here we have the foundation of the later ecclesiastical concept of asceticism to the degree that in this bodily and spiritual training the emphasis lies on the taming of desires and abstention from all enjoyment.7 Philo already makes the link ὀλιγοδεΐαν καὶ ἐγκράτειαν ἀσκει̂ν in Praem. Poen., 100, as also καθαρὰν εὐσέβειαν ἀσκει̂ν in Abr., 129.
IT is from [Philo] particularly that the fathers of the Christian Church from the time of Clement of Alexandria and Origen adopt both the usage and the corresponding scriptural types (Jacob etc.). Cf. Cl. Al.Paed., I, 7, 57; Strom., I, 5, 31 (Jacob the athlete / ἀθλητής and ascetic / ἀσκητής); Orig.Cels., VII, 48 (of Christians): ἀσκου̂σι τὴν παντελη̂ παρθενίαν; and the ancient burial inscription:8 τὸν μοναδικὸν ἀσκήσας βίον.9 Yet already in Tat.Or. Graec., 19 there is reference to the θανάτου καταφρονει̂ν καὶ τὴν αὐτάρκειαν ἀσκει̂ν of the philosophers, which they preach but do not practise. Ascesis/ἄσκησις is here training and perseverance in renunciation and contempt for death. The asceticism of Christian monasticism has one of its roots in that of the New Testament. But it does not take from it either the despising of the body or the prescription of definite exercises.
APART from Acts 24:16, Paul never uses the word [asceticism]. Yet in substance we already find in Paul this training in bodily and spiritual self-discipline and renunciation, e.g., in 1 Cor. 9:25–27,
25 Every athlete exercises self-control (enkrateuesthai) in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; 27 but I pommel (hupōpiazō) my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
where the words → enkrateuesthai/ἐγκρατεύεσθαι and hupōpiazō/ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ obviously depict the asceticism (askein/ἀσκεῖν)of the spiritual athlete. This meaning is not so dramatically expressed in Acts 24:16. It is obvious, however, that the concern of the apostle to have a conscience void of offence is a definite task which fully occupies him from morning to night in all the situations in which he has dealings with God and human beings.
IT the Septuagint [the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Jews who lived outside of Israel] askein/ἀσκει̂ν and its derivatives are almost completely absent. Only in 2 Macc. 15:4 do we find ἀσκει̂ν τὴν ἑβδομάδα, “to keep the Sabbath” (= → τηρει̂ν in Rev. 1:3 and → παρατηρει̂ν in Gl. 4:10); in 4 Macc. 13:22 askesis/ἄσκησις occurs in the sense of discipline and training in the keeping of the Law: καὶ αὔξονται σφοδρότερον διὰ συντροφίας καὶ τη̂ς καθ ἡμέραν συνηθείας καὶ τη̂ς ἄλλης παιδίας καὶ τη̂ς ἡμετέρας ἐν νόμῳ θεου̂ ἀσκήσεως. [. . .]
IT is perhaps surprising that when ἀσκει̂ν is so common in Jewish Hellenism and Christian literature from the time of the post-apostolic fathers, it should occur only once in the NT, and its derivatives not at all. For Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25 ff.), the author of Acts and above all the author of the Pastorals this is possibly a mere accident. Cf. especially 1 Tm. 4:7f., where γύμναζε σεαυτόν seems to be the equivalent of ἄσκει and σωματικὴ γυμνασία of ἄσκησις, just as τὸ δὲ ἀσκει̂ν εὐσέβειαν might well have been written for the antithetical ἡ δὲ εὐσέβεια.
This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 2003