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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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SELF-SUPPRESSION.—Religion may be thought of as having for its aim either the complete suppression or the development to its highest expression of the individuality of man. In the history of Christianity both these conceptions have been adopted, and each has been regarded as the true interpretation of the spirit of the Lord.

Those Christian teachers whose bent is towards Mysticism have for their ideal the ultimate suppression of self. The elevated expression which their doctrine found in the German mystics of the 14th cent. gives us the clearest view of this tendency. Eckart, and afterwards Tauler, taught that the spiritual life was at its highest when self was annihilated. The complete suppression of self was attempted in a wholly different spirit by certain societies of late origin, notably by the Society of Jesus. In the Jesuit system the individual is completely subordinated to the community, and the suppression of each man’s self is of vital necessity for the accomplishment of perfect discipline. The tendency of Protestantism, on the other hand, has been towards the development of individuality. Its teachers have aimed at allowing free play to natural diversities of character, and have even justified the accentuation of the various ways in which men differently constituted have apprehended the gospel message.

Our Lord, in His dealings with men, seems always to have assumed that natural varieties of character and the varied environment of each individual required differences of treatment. His advice changes according to the temperament and circumstances of those to whom it was given. A leper, after his healing, is bidden to ‘tell no man’ what was done for him (Matthew 8:4). Other lepers are told to go and show themselves to the priests and make the offerings commanded in the Law (Luke 17:14). One who wished to follow Him but desired first to bury his father, receives the stern word—‘Let the dead bury their dead’ (Matthew 8:22). A restored demoniac, anxious ‘to be with him,’ is told to go home to his friends (Mark 5:19). One rich man is commanded to sell all that he has (Matthew 19:21). Others are allowed to continue in possession of the whole or part of their property (Luke 19:8, Matthew 27:57). To a certain hard saying the Lord appends the caution, ‘He that is able to receive it, let him receive it’ (Matthew 19:12). These and other sayings which might be quoted display our Lord’s evident desire to develop rather than annihilate individuality. In the training of the Twelve, who were to carry on His work after the Ascension, He aims not at creating a spirit of unquestioning obedience to plain commands, but rather at developing a highly intelligent and spiritually energetic kind of character. We are necessarily ignorant of much that passed between Him and them especially during those forty days when He spoke to them ‘of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3), but we Know enough to feel sure that He wished the Twelve to work for His cause with a certain independence and personal responsibility, rather than to suppress in them personal freedom of intellect and will. See also Self-Denial.

Literature.—A. W. Hutton, The Inner Way; W. R. Inge, Light, Life, and Love, and the same writer’s Christian Mysticism; R. A. Vaughan, Hours with the Mystics; Molinos, The Spiritual Guide (English translation Glasgow, 1885); Zöckler, Askese und Mönchtum (pp. 592, etc.); art. ‘Jesuitenordnen’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] vol. viii.

J. O. Hannay.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Self-Suppression'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/self-suppression.html. 1906-1918.