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The Bath--Antagonism of Primitive Christianity to the Cult of the
Skin--Its Cult of Personal Filth--The Reasons which Justified this
Attitude--The World-wide Tendency to Association between Extreme
Cleanliness and Sexual Licentiousness--The Immorality Associated with
Public Baths in Europe down to Modern Times.
The hygiene of the skin, as well as its special cult, consists in bathing.
The bath, as is well known, attained under the Romans a degree of
development which, in Europe at all events, it has never reached before or
since, and the modern visitor to Rome carries away with him no more
impressive memory than that of the Baths of Caracalla. Since the coming of
Christianity the cult of the skin, and even its hygiene, have never again
attained the same general and unquestioned exaltation. The Church killed
the bath. St. Jerome tells us with approval that when the holy Paula noted
that any of her nuns were too careful in this matter she would gravely
reprove them, saying that "the purity of the body and its garments means
the impurity of the soul." Or, as the modern monk of Mount Athos still
declares: "A man should live in dirt as in a coat of mail, so that his
soul may sojourn more securely within."
Our knowledge of the bathing arrangements of Roman days is
chiefly derived from Pompeii. Three public baths (two for both
men and women, who were also probably allowed to use the third
occasionally) have so far been excavated in this small town, as
well as at least three private bathing establishments (at least
one of them for women), while about a dozen houses contain
complete baths for private use. Even in a little farm house at
Boscoreale (two miles out of Pompeii) there was an elaborate
series of bathing rooms. It may be added that Pompeii was well
supplied with water. All houses but the poorest had flowing
jets, and some houses had as many as ten jets. (See Man's
_Pompeii_, Chapters XXVI-XXVIII.)
The Church succeeded to the domination of imperial Rome, and
adopted many of the methods of its predecessor. But there could
be no greater contrast than is presented by the attitude of
Paganism and of Christianity toward the bath.
As regards the tendencies of the public baths in imperial Rome,
some of the evidence is brought together in the section on this
subject in Rosenbaum's _Geschichte der Lustseuche im Alterthume_.
As regards the attitude of the earliest Christian ascetics in
this matter I may refer the reader to an interesting passage in
Lecky's _History of European Morals_ (vol. ii, pp. 107-112), in
which are brought together a number of highly instructive
examples of the manner in which many of the most eminent of the
early saints deliberately cultivated personal filth.
In the middle ages, when the extreme excesses of the early
ascetics had died out, and monasticiam became regulated, monks
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