b) Forgiveness through Monasticism:
Monasticism in Christianity derives from a belief that Adam's sin is closely related to physical desire. This idea was inherited by the Christians from the Greek Philosophers, especially Plato who wrote about the dichotomy of soul and body. He sees the body as the prison of the soul which strives all the time to reach its supreme origin, for it had been part of God and then it was separated from Him to incarnate in all living creatures. Thus, it is in constant struggle with the body which hinders soul's ascending to its origin to unify with Him. The author of Religions and Creeds, reviewing Plato's views on God and creation, said, "The universe has its own Eternal Creator. The real nature of any individual thing depends on the form in which it participates. The forms differ greatly from the ordinary things that we can see around us. Ordinary things change, but their forms do not. Forms exist neither in place nor in time. They can be known by the intellect, not by the senses. Plato believed that though the body dies and disintegrates, the soul continues to live forever. After the death of the body, the soul migrates to what Plato called the realm of the pure forms. There it exists without a
body, contemplating the form. The soul always retains a dim recollection of the realm of forms and yearns for it. In order to set the soul free, Plato saw that the body must be fought and punished by making it weak and tired through worship, hunger and austerity. The body will eventually disintegrate and collapse and the soul will migrate to its pure form."
Christian leaders adopted these ideas from Plato and developed them under the name of 'monasticism'. Of all the leaders, the most important figures regarding this concept are Paul, Augustine and the Nestorians.
We have seen in an earlier context how Paul connected the belief in the idea of crucifixion with forgiveness of the original sin. He also claimed that Jesus willingly allowed himself to be humiliated and crucified. Thus, Pauline doctrine suggests that the body deserves to be tortured until it grows pure. In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul worte, "Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind: and were by nature the children of wrath.
But God, who is rich in mercy, hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Christians believe that Adam responded to his physical desires and bestial lusts and so he disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree. Body, then, is the origin of all sins, and it cannot be purified unless it is tortured and humiliated. According to Christians, the soul is the victim of the body and its eternal torture is caused by the body's constant offences. To help the soul migrate freely to its Creator, the body must be humiliated.
In the course of time, a class of monks and nuns appeared. To belong to this class, a new member had to pass a number of phases during which he had to expose his body to humiliation and torture. Those who showed fortitude would be admitted as members of what Christians call, the Holy Saints. One way of fighting the body was to refrain from getting married; in one of his epistles, Saint Paul wrote, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But he hath married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife."
Influenced by this passage, free masons in the twelfth century went so far as to deny members of
their creed the right to get married. An already married person would have to divorce his/her partner if he/she wanted to join them.
Augustine in the fifth century asserted Paul's principle of staying a bachelor and preached that marriage, an inclination of spiritual weakness and of fierce struggle to satisfy physical desires, would have to be avoided. Monks and nuns were strictly forbidden to get married in order to be good examples. Augustine also claimed that depriving the body of its sensuous pleasures such as good food, smooth clothes, soft beds or having a wife was the battle that every true Christian should fight. This would qualify him to enter the Kingdom of God after being forgiven.
The author of The History of Western Philosophy explained Augustine's view on this matter. He wrote "Earthly life existed for people to live in toil and misery and so they should not occupy themselves with such earthly things as politics, sociology, astrology, etc., since the search for these things will distract the believers and waste their energy. I therefore invite true believers to renounce pleasures in worldly things and become ascetics. Marriage is not becoming for those who want to enter the Kingdom of God."
According to these ideas, we find that Christianity, theoretically, regards virginity, as the ideal state for both men and women. This conceptualization has gradually led to the adoption of mysticism by the Catholic clergy.
The concept of forgiveness through monasticism is well summed-up in the practices and ideas of the Nestorians. In their doctrines we find the following:
"If man devoted his life to worship and abandoned physical desires, such as eating meat and satisfying his bestial lusts, his essence will be pure and will reach the Kingdom of God and can see God overtly. The invisible world will be revealed to him."
In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII issued a decree strictly forbidding all priests and nuns from getting married, since sexual intercourse, he claimed, could eradicate their purity and chastity.
But this decree led to negative consequences.
Adultery and homosexuality spread. As a result, the reputation of clergymen, monks and nuns became stained among their followers and the public.