Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age

The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera
by Edward Muir
Introduction
pp. 5-7

One of the most disturbing sources of late-Renaissance anxiety was the collapse of the traditional hierarchic notion of the human self. Ancient and medieval thought depicted reason as governing the lower faculties of the will, the passions, and the body. Renaissance thought did not so much promote “individualism” as it cut away the intellectual props that presented humanity as the embodiment of a single divine idea, thereby forcing a desperate search for identity in many. John Martin has argued that during the Renaissance, individuals formed their sense of selfhood through a difficult negotiation between inner promptings and outer social roles. Individuals during the Renaissance looked both inward for emotional sustenance and outward for social assurance, and the friction between the inner and outer selves could sharpen anxieties 2 The fragmentation of the self seems to have been especially acute in Venice, where the collapse of aristocratic marriage structures led to the formation of what Virginia Cox has called the single self, most clearly manifest in the works of several women writers who argued for the moral and intellectual equality of women with men.’ As a consequence of the fragmented understanding of the self, such thinkers as Montaigne became obsessed with what was then the new concept of human psychology, a term in fact coined in this period.4 A crucial problem in the new psychology was to define the relation between the body and the soul, in particular to determine whether the soul died with the body or was immortal. With its tradition of Averroist readings of Aristotle, some members of the philosophy faculty at the University of Padua recurrently questioned the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul as unsound philosophically. Other hierarchies of the human self came into question. Once reason was dethroned, the passions were given a higher value, so that the heart could be understood as a greater force than the mind in determining human conduct. duct. When the body itself slipped out of its long-despised position, the sexual drives of the lower body were liberated and thinkers were allowed to consider sex, independent of its role in reproduction, a worthy manifestation of nature. The Paduan philosopher Cesare Cremonini’s personal motto, “Intus ut libet, foris ut moris est,” does not quite translate to “If it feels good, do it;” but it comes very close. The collapse of the hierarchies of human psychology even altered the understanding of the human senses. The sense of sight lost its primacy as the superior faculty, the source of “enlightenment”; the Venetian theorists of opera gave that place in the hierarchy to the sense of hearing, the faculty that most directly channeled sensory impressions to the heart and passions.

Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage
edited by Nicholas Price, M. Kirby Talley, and Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro
Reading 5: “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline”
by Erwin Panofsky
pp. 83-85

Nine days before his death Immanuel Kant was visited by his physician. Old, ill and nearly blind, he rose from his chair and stood trembling with weakness and muttering unintelligible words. Finally his faithful companion realized that he would not sit down again until the visitor had taken a seat. This he did, and Kant then permitted himself to be helped to his chair and, after having regained some of his strength, said, ‘Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen’—’The sense of humanity has not yet left me’. The two men were moved almost to tears. For, though the word Humanität had come, in the eighteenth century, to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment served to emphasize: man’s proud and tragic consciousness of self-approved and self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjection to illness, decay and all that implied in the word ‘mortality.’

Historically the word humanitas has had two clearly distinguishable meanings, the first arising from a contrast between man and what is less than man; the second between man and what is more. In the first case humanitas means a value, in the second a limitation.

The concept of humanitas as a value was formulated in the circle around the younger Scipio, with Cicero as its belated, yet most explicit spokesman. It meant the quality which distinguishes man, not only from animals, but also, and even more so, from him who belongs to the species homo without deserving the name of homo humanus; from the barbarian or vulgarian who lacks pietas and παιδεια- that is, respect for moral values and that gracious blend of learning and urbanity which we can only circumscribe by the discredited word “culture.”

In the Middle Ages this concept was displaced by the consideration of humanity as being opposed to divinity rather than to animality or barbarism. The qualities commonly associated with it were therefore those of frailty and transience: humanitas fragilis, humanitas caduca.

Thus the Renaissance conception of humanitas had a two-fold aspect from the outset. The new interest in the human being was based both on a revival of the classical antithesis between humanitas and barbartias, or feritas, and on a survival of the mediaeval antithesis between humanitas and divinitas. When Marsilio Ficino defines man as a “rational soul participating in the intellect of God, but operating in a body,” he defines him as the one being that is both autonomous and finite. And Pico’s famous ‘speech’ ‘On the Dignity of Man’ is anything but a document of paganism. Pico says that God placed man in the center of the universe so that he might be conscious of where he stands, and therefore free to decide ‘where to turn.’ He does not say that man is the center of the universe, not even in the sense commonly attributed to the classical phrase, “man the measure of all things.”

It is from this ambivalent conception of humanitas that humanism was born. It is not so much a movement as an attitude which can be defined as the conviction of the dignity of man, based on both the insistence on human values (rationality and freedom) and the acceptance of human limitations (fallibility and frailty); from this two postulates result responsibility and tolerance.

Small wonder that this attitude has been attacked from two opposite camps whose common aversion to the ideas of responsibility and tolerance has recently aligned them in a united front. Entrenched in one of these camps are those who deny human values: the determinists, whether they believe in divine, physical or social predestination, the authoritarians, and those “insectolatrists” who profess the all-importance of the hive, whether the hive be called group, class, nation or race. In the other camp are those who deny human limitations in favor of some sort of intellectual or political libertinism, such as aestheticists, vitalists, intuitionists and hero-worshipers. From the point of view of determinism, the humanist is either a lost soul or an ideologist. From the point of view of authoritarianism, he is either a heretic or a revolutionary (or a counterrevolutionary). From the point of view of “insectolatry,” he is a useless individualist. And from the point of view of libertinism he is a timid bourgeois.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, the humanist par excellence, is a typical case in point. The church suspected and ultimately rejected the writings of this man who had said: “Perhaps the spirit of Christ is more largely diffused than we think, and there are many in the community of saints who are not in our calendar.” The adventurer Uhich von Hutten despised his ironical skepticism and his unheroic love of tranquillity. And Luther, who insisted that “no man has power to think anything good or evil, but everything occurs in him by absolute necessity,” was incensed by a belief which manifested itself in the famous phrase; “What is the use of man as a totality [that is, of man endowed with both a body and a soul], if God would work in him as a sculptor works in clay, and might just as well work in stone?”

Food and Faith in Christian Culture
edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden
Chapter 3: “The Food Police”
Sumptuary Prohibitions On Food In The Reformation
by Johanna B. Moyer
pp. 80-83

Protestants too employed a disease model to explain the dangers of luxury consumption. Luxury damaged the body politic leading to “most incurable sickness of the universal body” (33). Protestant authors also employed Galenic humor theory, arguing that “continuous superfluous expense” unbalanced the humors leading to fever and illness (191). However, Protestants used this model less often than Catholic authors who attacked luxury. Moreover, those Protestants who did employ the Galenic model used it in a different manner than their Catholic counterparts.

Protestants also drew parallels between the damage caused by luxury to the human body and the damage excess inflicted on the French nation. Rather than a disease metaphor, however, many Protestant authors saw luxury more as a “wound” to the body politic. For Protestants the danger of luxury was not only the buildup of humors within the body politic of France but the constant “bleeding out” of humor from the body politic in the form of cash to pay for imported luxuries. The flow of cash mimicked the flow of blood from a wound in the body. Most Protestants did not see luxury foodstuffs as the problem, indeed most saw food in moderation as healthy for the body. Even luxury apparel could be healthy for the body politic in moderation, if it was domestically produced and consumed. Such luxuries circulated the “blood” of the body politic creating employment and feeding the lower orders. 72 De La Noue made this distinction clear. He dismissed the need to individually discuss the damage done by each kind of luxury that was rampant in France in his time as being as pointless “as those who have invented auricular confession have divided mortal and venal sins into infinity of roots and branches.” Rather, he argued, the damage done by luxury was in its “entire bulk” to the patrimonies of those who purchased luxuries and to the kingdom of France (116). For the Protestants, luxury did not pose an internal threat to the body and salvation of the individual. Rather, the use of luxury posed an external threat to the group, to the body politic of France.

The Reformation And Sumptuary Legislation

Catholics, as we have seen, called for antiluxury regulations on food and banqueting, hoping to curb overeating and the damage done by gluttony to the body politic. Although some Protestants also wanted to restrict food and banqueting, more often French Protestants called for restrictions on clothing and foreign luxuries. These differing views of luxury during and after the French Wars of Religion not only give insight into the theological differences between these two branches of Christianity but also provides insight into the larger pattern of the sumptuary regulation of food in Europe in this period. Sumptuary restrictions were one means by which Catholics and Protestants enforced their theology in the post-Reformation era.

Although Catholicism is often correctly cast as the branch of Reformation Christianity that gave the individual the least control over their salvation, it was also true that the individual Catholic’s path to salvation depended heavily on ascetic practices. The responsibility for following these practices fell on the individual believer. Sumptuary laws on food in Catholic areas reinforced this responsibility by emphasizing what foods should and should not be eaten and mirrored the central theological practice of fasting for the atonement of sin. Perhaps the historiographical cliché that it was only Protestantism which gave the individual believer control of his or her salvation needs to be qualified. The arithmetical piety of Catholicism ultimately placed the onus on the individual to atone for each sin. Moreover, sumptuary legislation tried to steer the Catholic believer away from the more serious sins that were associated with overeating, including gluttony, lust, anger, and pride.

Catholic theology meshed nicely with the revival of Galenism that swept through Europe in this period. Galenists preached that meat eating, overeating, and the imbalance in humors which accompanied these practices, led to behavioral changes, including an increased sex drive and increased aggression. These physical problems mirrored the spiritual problems that luxury caused, including fornication and violence. This is why so many authors blamed the French nobility for the luxury problem in France. Nobles were seen not only as more likely to bear the expense of overeating but also as more prone to violence. 73

Galenism also meshed nicely with Catholicism because it was a very physical religion in which the control of the physical body figured prominently in the believer’s path to salvation. Not surprisingly, by the seventeenth century, Protestants gravitated away from Galenism toward the chemical view of the body offered by Paracelsus. 74 Catholic sumptuary law embodied a Galenic view of the body where sin and disease were equated and therefore pushed regulations that advocated each person’s control of his or her own body.

Protestant legislators, conversely, were not interested in the individual diner. Sumptuary legislation in Protestant areas ran the gamut from control of communal displays of eating, in places like Switzerland and Germany, to little or no concern with restrictions on luxury foods, as in England. For Protestants, it was the communal role of food and luxury use that was important. Hence the laws in Protestant areas targeted food in the context of weddings, baptisms, and even funerals. The English did not even bother to enact sumptuary restrictions on food after their break with Catholicism. The French Protestants who wrote on luxury glossed over the deleterious effects of meat eating, even proclaiming it to be healthful for the body while producing diatribes against the evils of imported luxury apparel. The use of Galenism in the French Reformed treatises suggests that Protestants too were concerned with a “body,” but it was not the individual body of the believer that worried Protestant legislators. Sumptuary restrictions were designed to safeguard the mystical body of believers, or the “Elect” in the language of Calvinism. French Protestants used the Galenic model of the body to discuss the damage that luxury did to the body of believers in France, but ultimately to safeguard the economic welfare of all French subjects. The Calvinists of Switzerland used sumptuary legislation on food to protect those predestined for salvation from the dangerous eating practices of members of the community whose overeating suggested they might not be saved.

Ultimately, sumptuary regulations in the Reformation spoke to the Christian practice of fasting. Fasting served very different functions in Protestants and Catholic theology. Raymond Mentzer has suggested that Protestants “modified” the Catholic practice of fasting during the Reformation. The major reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, all rejected fasting as a path to salvation. 75 For Protestants, fasting was a “liturgical rite,” part of the cycle of worship and a practice that served to “bind the community.” Fasting was often a response to adversity, as during the French Wars of Religion. For Catholics, fasting was an individual act, just as sumptuary legislation in Catholic areas targeted individual diners. However, for Protestants, fasting was a communal act, “calling attention to the body of believers.” 76 The symbolic nature of fasting, Mentzer argues, reflected Protestant rejection of transubstantiation. Catholics continued to believe that God was physically present in the host, but Protestants believed His was only a spiritual presence. When Catholics took Communion, they fasted to cleanse their own bodies so as to receive the real, physical body of Christ. Protestants, on the other hand, fasted as spiritual preparation because it was their spirits that connected with the spirit of Christ in the Eucharist. 77

21 thoughts on “Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age

  1. The author wrote: “for Catholics fasting was an individual act”. Although this may be true prior to communion it is not true regarding “fast & abstinence” days. This kind of fasting was family oriented and in that sense, a communal act since Catholic families in Ireland fasted as a collective unit, usually under the watchful eyes of a parent.

    • I haven’t read much of the book. So, I cant fairly present, much less defend, the author’s position. But I can think of some responses.

      First, the author was to some degree generalizing, although he does go into specifics. I’m not sure what he might have said about 20th century Irish Catholics, since the book is mostly a historical survey from earlier centuries. The practice of Catholic fasting, at least in some places, may have changed over time.

      Second, it might depend on who is considered an ‘individual’ in the adult sense. Children, as dependents, are surely treated differently. That would still leave it as something for parents to encourage privately in the household. And so it would still not be a publicly enforced activity, especially not in 20th century Western countries.

      I don’t speak from any special knowledge. Just speculating about possible explanations.

    • I was further perusing this book, Food and Faith in Christian Culture. Chapter 2 is an essay by Ken Albala, “The Ideology of Fasting in the Reformation Era”. He touches on the change in how fasting was practiced — writing that, “There was thus no longer a pious and abstinent ideal outside the family context, and fasting became a private matter, often observed in practice, but not enforced. Gradually, but over centuries, it disappeared.”

      This is specifically about Protestantism and the loss of the monastic tradition, but the changes over time certainly carried over to Catholicism as most countries become secularized and modernity weakened family ties. Then again, the Irish were a more isolated Catholic population and so may have developed a distinct fasting culture. There is no discussion of Irish Catholicism in the book and so I can’t offer a direct response to your personal experience. Another perspective is that fasting becoming ever more a “private matter” over time included both the individual and the family, and which was emphasized would depend on specific context.

      Anyway, below is the whole paragraph by Albala from page 55:

      “Among the first Protestant reformers, it is interesting that ritual and food practices do not gain great attention. Luther, like Erasmus, mentioned the absurdity of restrictions. For example, Germans were forced to buy oil rather than use local and plentiful butter. This was oil that the people in Rome “would not use to grease their shoes. But they sell us permission to eat butter and other things in spite of the holy apostle who says that the gospel gives us complete freedom to do everything.” “They think that eating butter is a greater sin than lying, swearing or committing fornication.” 11 Yet in the end Luther had little deep abiding interest in much beyond the theological doctrine of sola fidei , salvation by faith alone. How one worships, what form of church government is put in place, and indeed whether one fasts or not was of no great importance as long as one understands that these are not the means whereby we attain grace. A fast can be useful, but we can not gain merit thereby. Such trivial concerns should be left to magistrates to decide. And, in fact, after the Peasant Wars, magistrates were more interested in not upsetting the fabric of society, so they left Lent in place along with most of the trappings of the Church hierarchy, including bishops. But equally as interesting is the focus on family, marriage, and procreation, which put an end to the ascetic/celibate and monastic traditions in Lutheran regions. There was thus no longer a pious and abstinent ideal outside the family context, and fasting became a private matter, often observed in practice, but not enforced. Gradually, but over centuries, it disappeared.”

  2. This is an outstanding collection of great information. Just gave it a cursory first read and it exposes j Peterson et al as total knobs. And this: “John Martin has argued that during the Renaissance, individuals formed their sense of selfhood through a difficult negotiation between inner promptings and outer social roles.”

    Echoes of Foucault’s The Order of Things.

      • The lobster King and his crew are adamant that the crisis of individuality or social anxiety about the nature of the self (and corollary issues in women’s identity/rights) are strictly a product of the yeti or “Postmodern-Marxist” which they insist started in the 1960s

        Your excerpts about Renaissance anxiety is fascinating.

        One of the hallmarks of hacks or Peterson & Co is the refusal to address context. When they describe ’68 it’s as if it was a Big Bang – nothing before and catastrophe since. A cursory excavation of, say Foucault, instantly contextualizes him as being in dialogue with world culture, European culture, French culture, Paris culture and so on. As one should expect from a PhD at a major university.

        That he and the rest of his cohort never mentioned the root of their ideas (in Hume or the Agora) is down to both refined snobbery (you’re supposed to get the references – an aesthetic that dominates Modernism) and because they were/are elitists.

        So J.P. says in an interview with British GQ that (and he’s practically foaming at the mouth) “identity politics” begins in the 1960s.

        Period. Gospel.

        But while one can easily push it back to the 18th century what I find fascinating about your excerpts is how they push it back further.

        I was going to reread the post and go deeper but on a first read what I found was as one should expect the seeds of the Enlightenment Project with all its anxiety begins in the Renaissance. After all The Bonfire of the Vanities wouldn’t have occurred if everyone was in lockstep.

        What also struck me was that the books/authors you quote have no establishment media presence. It’s relatively easy to hunt
        French intellectual stars but as always the academic trench warfare is full of material that has the potential to change one’s thinking.

        I’ll add more after a deeper read.

        As to Micky F: In the Order of Things he describes the rise of the concept of the individual through the gradual disintegration of the previous system of association. Hard to summarize but essentially that the revolution in optics and expanding trade/colonization exploded the known world to such a degree that to cope people had to invent categories of knowledge vs a system that relied on a relatively limited set of association – human is like an ocean and the ocean is like a river and the elephant is like, etc

        As optics revealed “worlds” both microscopic and universal humans invented not just new system but a new language which in turn transformed the conception of the “individual” and how it fit into the larger system.

        Foucault concludes that the “self” is both provisional, flimsy and subject to vanishing since it was a recent invention.

        This in turn again takes the ground out from under Peterson & co as Foucault as o0ne would expect lays on the details with a howitzer of facts that stretch one’s capacity to digest but leaves you with a sense that the amount of data is vast and most of it is ignored resulting in fabricated truths.

        The Order of Things begins with a lengthy essay on Velasquez and Las Meninas and the issue of reflection/identity.

        I still plan on finishing a lengthy piece on that and optics but have been busy with other projects.

        I’d recommend at least a cursory read of Foucault on all of this but I’ll be taking your list to the library!

        • That is amusing. I take it for granted that anxiety has been around for a long time. But that is something I get from reading the likes of Julian Jaynes, as he demonstrates the highly anxious laments in the ancient world about the gods disappearing or going silent since that meant humanity was alone. The god-and-spirit-drenched world offered a sense of intimacy and belonging within a living universe, similar to how easily many tribal people can fall into trance and change their identities through spirit encounters. Along with individualism, mind-body dualism also began in the Axial Age (something Jaynes, among others, writes about), and mind-body dualism is the source of what has been called Cartesian anxiety.

          More in line with this post, Barbara Ehrenreich in “Dancing in the Streets” writes about the rise of depression that came with the loss of community, ecstasy, and carnival.
          https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/christians-dancing/
          But others have written about the increase of mental illness over the centuries — anxiety being one among many worsening conditions. I’ve quoted an early 19th century physician as observing the increase of schizophrenia in line with the advance of modern civilization, something that seems corroborated by recent studies showing higher rates of schizophrenia as mass concentrated urbanization goes up. For a historical survey, see E. Fuller Torrey’s work: “The Invisible Plague” and “Schizophrenia and Civilization”.

          Even limiting ourselves to this past century or so, there have been plenty of commentary about the rise of anxiety prior to the 1960s. The changes that happened to the Lost Generation created a highly disturbed peer cohort and it can be observed in the writings and art they produced. For scholarly work, the two books I’m familiar with are Jackson Lears’ “Rebirth of a Nation” and Tom Lutz’s “American Nervousness, 1903”. I’m sure I could come up with some other books from various historical eras, if I thought about it for a bit longer. I suppose one could throw out the writings on the reactionary mind by Corey Robin and Mark Lilla which deals with not only anxiety but also the emergence of nostalgia as a sociopolitical force.

          Going back to the 17th century, nostalgia (originally referring to a complex condition) was seen as a dangerous disease among soldiers that could lead to wasting away and death. It was largely because of the development of modern armies where people fought alongside strangers in far off strange lands. The military leadership wanted to break the community and regional ties of soldiers in order to encourage ethno-nationalism. Nostalgia became associated with other people as well with elements of depression, anxiety, homesickness, etc. I noticed some books: Thomas Dodman’s “What Nostalgia Was” and Michael S. Roth’s “Dying of the Past”. Also, here is an article similar to one I’ve read before:
          https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/when-nostalgia-was-a-disease/278648/

          “Swiss physician Johannes Hofer coined the term in his 1688 medical dissertation, from the Greek nostos, or homecoming, and algos, or pain. The disease was similar to paranoia, except the sufferer was manic with longing, not perceived persecution, and similar to melancholy, except specific to an object or place.
          “Though Hofer is credited with naming nostalgia, it existed prior to that. During the Thirty Years War, at least six soldiers were discharged from the Spanish Army of Flanders with el mal de corazón. The disease came to be associated with soldiers, particularly Swiss soldiers, who were reportedly so susceptible to nostalgia when they heard a particular Swiss milking song, Khue-Reyen, that its playing was punishable by death.”

          You and I have also talked about related issues. There is the craziness and moral panic, for example, surrounding the spread and popularization of the romance novel.

          I should read Foucalt. He is on my reading list, if that helps.

          • In reverse order: Foucault is difficult but so are a lot of other great artists. I say artist because Foucault is a hybrid merging “philosophy” and “art.” There is a novelistic quality to his work. Madness and Civilization is the best one to start with but be prepared as he’s dense and the very definition of convoluted but seminal.

            Peterson’s squirt gun attack on Foucault and Postmodernity is really laughable once one dives in and reads what they had to say.

            That leads me to your comment about anxiety being a long term condition. Foucault is very good at contextualizing that and showing how far back it goes.

            Jaynes is of course barely mentioned among intelligent people let alone the “dark web” crew.

            The Erenriech quote is fascinating. The end of ecstasy and carnival (two sides of the same coin) is a theme in many places but a telling recent one is The Sun Also Rises. Essentially Hemingway takes the Dionysian cult and post WW1 shows how it’s been hollowed out – Eliot with Waste Land and Prufrock and so many others all of whom were well versed in ancient cultures and of course again show Peterson to be an amateur.

            To go back even further consider Euripides and his Bacchae series which clearly show a state of anxiety – and I think fits perfectly into a Jaynesian narrative.

            As to the rise of mental illness – one really has to wrestle with Foucault and his idea that it really is a social construct with an attendant quality of objective facts but is really about power dynamics – that is, the “truth” is a question of who speaks last not the objective facts of mental illness. After all a description of a serial killer is not remarkably different from any number of political figures but of course the very idea of saying Kissinger is a mass murderer is a non issue but Ted Bundy is held up as a textbook example of a serial killer – which he was but what does one say about LBJ etc?

            “I’ve quoted an early 19th century physician as observing the increase of schizophrenia in line with the advance of modern civilization, something that seems corroborated by recent studies showing higher rates of schizophrenia as mass concentrated urbanization goes up.”

            Can’t recommend Foucault enough on this issue.

            The info on nostalgia is fascinating and interesting about the home sickness (fascinating by itself) but as a corollary – three Florentine/or Venetian mercenaries deserted from the Spanish army and were granted a stipend by the Dutch because they had glass grinding skill and they set up a shop to make glass setting in motion a part of the optics revolution which as we’ve discussed completely undermines arguments about the mid 20th century as the start of anxiety and issues of the self and women’s rights, etc.

            Sorry if this is jumbled but there’s a mountain of material here.

            Romance novels as a sign of social anxiety is fascinating.

            Thanks for the links!

  3. ‘that is, respect for moral values and that gracious blend of learning and urbanity which we can only circumscribe by the discredited word “culture.”’

    There’s an English word for that: svelte.

    Asceticism has its beneficial side: when you are denied something for long enough, you miss it, your appetites miss it, you may even get symptoms of its deficiency in you, then you know how valuable it is to you. Hahaha. The funny thing about asceticism is how different its definition would be in different societies. To me, even denying oneself sour tastes, or bitter, is ascetic: sour, or bitter, is not necessarily ugly; so denying oneself any sensation for a period is ascetic, to me.

    But that’s not what Catholics would have. They say luxury. But what is luxury? It is entirely European in definition. Some societies find eating insects a luxury; Catholics wouldn’t. That would be even penitential or punitive, for Catholics. Thus, ascetic means very different things depending on who’s talking. If luxury can be anything at all, what then defines luxury? Hahaha. Luxury is contextual.

    • Asceticism can have a positive side. I’ve often been attracted to simplicity. My main luxury is that of books.

      The issue of ‘asceticism’ has come up in my dietary interests lately, the reason for looking at that particular book. I saw someone quote from it. Perusing it, I found an interesting chapter that discussed vegetarianism and the church I grew up in, Unity. I didn’t even know about that history of my childhood religion. I wasn’t raised vegetarian and don’t recall it being an issue that ever came up in the church. But apparently from the late 1800s to early 1900s, Unity Church was a major proponent of this dietary lifestyle.

      The diet I’ve been following lately involves decreased carbs and sugar, restricted eating times, and intermittent fasting. I’ve cut back so far on my carbs and sugar that I’m in ketosis for a fair amount of time, but my intake crept up since the holidays. I limit my eating period to about 4 hours on three days, fast entirely on one day, and then eat as much as I want on the other three days.

      It’s not so much that I’m trying to be ascetic. There are scientific reasons why these practices have health benefits. And I’ve found that they do work for me. My hunger is less and my cravings have disappeared, such that I feel no compulsion to snack, especially not on junk food. Also, my mood is improved and my energy is increased. So, it doesn’t feel like austerity. I don’t have to struggle to deny myself certain foods. I’m never starving, as when I do eat I take in lots of healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods. I feel satisfied. I usually don’t think about food at all when fasting.

      If anything, eating the high quality foods as I do now is a luxury. I spend the extra money to get quality: pasture raised or grass fed, organic, and local and in season when possible (from the farmers market). I make sure to regularly get organ meats, ghee, kefir, fish oil, etc. All these foods, when from a good source, are high in omega-3 fat and fat soluble-vitamins (A, D, K2). Even at the higher cost, I actually don’t know that I’m spending more since I’m eating less often than in the past. Constantly snacking even on cheap junk food does add up in costs, especially if one indulges in fast food.

      • I never knew Mr. Steele could cook! 😄

        I read somewhere that hunters in hunter-gatherer cultures forgo breakfast to stay quick and light on their feet and sharp in mind/spirit. I identify with fasting doing just that! I understand what you say.

        • Maybe no one knew I could cook. Not like I do now, at least. I actually cook meals these days by following recipes. The extent of my ‘cooking’ skills in the past was limited to mixing a few things in a skillet and then seasoning it with salt and pepper. The improvement of mood with my present diet helps with the motivation of cooking. When depressed in the past, my level of motivation usually involved, at best, cooking a frozen pizza.

          I was fasting in the morning for a while. It did help me lose weight. I found, by exercising before eating, that my hunger decreased. I accidentally discovered that a long ago, maybe a couple decades past. But I didn’t know the reason for it. And so I didn’t know how to take advantage of it as part of a healthy lifestyle. From learning more on the topic, I now know that the cause is ketosis. It’s an interesting phenomenon. When combined with all the rest, it has a powerful effect not only on hunger and cravings but on my mood and energy. I wish I had figured out all this long ago. It would have been nice to have avoided a lifetime of unnecessary depression.

          Because of my schedule, I’ve started fasting later in the day. It’s more convenient with work. I eat in the first few hours of the day before work. That way, I don’t have to concern myself with eating for the rest of the day and so don’t need to bring any food with me when I leave the house. It simplifies my life. And it helps now that I no longer have the carb/sugar cravings I used to have that led me to snack all the time.

  4. It appears the former meaning for svelte is no longer favored. It’s nowhere in the dictionaries! It used to have two meanings. Well, meh.

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