Oriental asceticism has often been considered the most remarkable manifestation of pessimism; Hartmann is certainly right when he regards it as having only the value of an anticipation, which was useful since it reminded men how much there is that is illusory in vulgar riches; he was wrong, however, in saying that asceticism taught men that the "destined end to all their efforts" was the annihilation of will, for in the course of history deliverance has taken quite other forms than this.
In primitive Christianity we find a fully developed and completely armed pessimism: man is condemned to slavery from his birth—Satan is the prince of the world—the Christian, already regenerate by baptism, can render himself capable of obtaining the resurrection of the body by means of the Eucharist; he awaits the glorious second coming of Christ, who will destroy the rule of Satan and call his comrades in the fight to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Christian life of that time was dominated by the necessity of membership in the holy army which was constantly exposed to the ambuscades set by the accomplices of Satan; this conception produced many heroic acts, engendered a courageous propaganda, and was the cause of considerable moral progress. The deliverance did not take place, but we know by innumerable testimonies from that time what great things the march towards deliverance can bring about.
Sixteenth-century Calvinism presents a spectacle which is perhaps even more instructive; but we must be careful not to confuse it, as many authors have done, with contemporary Protestantism; these two doctrines
- Hartmann, loc cit. p. 130. "Contempt for the world, combined with a transcendent life of the spirit, had, indeed, in India, already found a place in the esoteric doctrine of Buddhism. But this teaching was only within the reach of a narrow circle of celibate adepts; the outside world had only taken the 'letter which kills,' so that the thought only attained realisation in the eccentric phenomena of hermits and penitents" (p. 81).
- Battifol, Études d'histoire et de théologie positive, 2nd series, p. 162.