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Old September 5th, 2011, 08:53 AM   #1

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Attitude toward suicide in the Middle Ages


I know suicide was considered a damnable sin by the Catholic Church (and still is I believe). But were there situations when suicide could be pardoned, such as a woman to avoid rape, or a man to avoid torture?
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Old September 5th, 2011, 08:54 AM   #2

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Life was so short in the Middle Ages, I would think a suicide wouldn't be
frowned upon other by the Catholic Church.
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Old September 5th, 2011, 09:26 AM   #3

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Not at all TJ

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earl Byrhtnoth View Post
I know suicide was considered a damnable sin by the Catholic Church (and still is I believe). But were there situations when suicide could be pardoned, such as a woman to avoid rape, or a man to avoid torture?
Nope. One of the biggest taboos (still today) was to take ones own life, christianity has never looked kindly upon this action and heaven wasn't exactly where you would go, regardless of the motivation. Of course, you might fathom your king closer to god then your local friar, a sacrifice however wasn't the same as a suicide. Of course, a theological taboo was hardly a sufficient reason to not do it. I'm most familiar with the Early Modern context as this period is my forte, the attitudes can however be applicated to the medieval period as well since the Early Modern period from as far as social rules of conduct go, is simply a continuation of the former. Suicide was seen with great horror and to the courts of justice suicide was a crime. Canon law forbade church burial and in some cases once property was even declared forfeit. The suicide was not seen as an individual within society but as a satanic deviant who had put himself out of that society. Only by the 18th century did changes occur in the way jurists treated suicide and finally they began to refuse to label it as a crime any longer. Rationalist thinkers started to dismiss the idea that it was satanic and amongst the higher classes the passive acceptance of the (suicidal) rite of duelling also eased the path to accept self-killing as a fact & not a satanic deviance. In 1735 the city council of Geneva declared suicides 'insane' and that there was no need to further castigate their goods and honour.

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Old September 5th, 2011, 09:33 AM   #4
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In Dante's Inferno isn't their a special level in Hell specifically for those who have committed suicide?
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Old September 5th, 2011, 09:46 AM   #5

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In Dante's Inferno isn't their a special level in Hell specifically for those who have committed suicide?
Yes there is, like I said above, it was a satanic crime, the individual that commited such an act was not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground... he was cast out of society even after death, there was no repentance, no excuse, it was death in all possible ways both socially and physically.
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Old September 5th, 2011, 05:09 PM   #6

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I recall that in Kingodm of Heaven, Orlando Bloom's character's wife commits suicide after the death of their child. The clergyman overseeing her burial at the crossroads remarks that 'she committed suicide, cut off her head'. Was this an actual practice or a Hollywood construct?
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Old September 5th, 2011, 05:17 PM   #7
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in the medieval ages in Africa committing suicide got you thrown into the evil forests for outcasts.
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Old September 5th, 2011, 05:38 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by tjadams View Post
Life was so short in the Middle Ages, I would think a suicide wouldn't be
frowned upon other by the Catholic Church.

Au contraire. In Christendom suicide was (and is) considered a mortal sin. The person could not be buried in hallowed ground,often being interred at cross roads.

Perhaps life was valued all the more for being short?

Today,the Church's attitude is more compassionate,often considering the suicide of being of unsound mind,and hence free of sin for the act.


This book looks interesting, although I have not read it (looks pretty depressing):

"Suicide In The Middle Ages:The Curse Of Self Murder"

Suicide in the Middle Ages: The ... - Google Books
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Old September 5th, 2011, 06:21 PM   #9

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I think that suicide was considered particularly grievous for two reasons :
- The example of Judas in the bible.
- The fact that as death followed, it could not be confessed and repaired.
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Old September 5th, 2011, 07:47 PM   #10

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Perhaps charging into the enemy who is clearly going to annihilate you might be an acceptable form of "suicide".

They did line up in rows and charge at each other with swords, pikes, and such.

If we are talking about Christianity specifically, well, Jesus Christ did essentially sacrifice himself for everybody else.
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