chapter  2
38 Pages

The Changing Face of Despair: The Catholic Response to Ancient Suicide

ByRobert L. Barry

In virtually all societies, some sorts of religious or therapeutic suicides were permitted, and almost all of these societies had very serious difficulties in curbing suicides. Many now believe that two kinds of suicide were common in preliterate societies: personal suicide to escape shame, pain, and suffering; and institutional suicide to promote a given institutional value. The Hellenistic suicidal practices were typical of those of many ancient peoples, for on the one hand there were pre-Homeric elements that strongly and bitterly opposed suicide and that developed moral condemnations and antisuicide rituals to stop it. The Romans acquired at least some of their views about the value of life from the Greeks, but they gave suicide a scope, dimension, and intensity not seen in the Hellenistic world. The orthodox Christian view of suicide was grounded on its belief that the Incarnation so intimately related one to God that it imputed a radical value to human life.