Hair Shirts
Below, the Hair Shirt of Ivan The Terrible
(From: Wikipedia)

Hair Shirts.

My daughter is very well read. Thanks to an impressive scholarship, she was able to attend a prestigious Midwest liberal arts college. Happily she seems to have managed to retain a good amount of her "classical education." She works as senior language arts editor for a company that creates educational materials.

She and I will often have long talks; about things that most people would not consider worthwhile discussing. For instance who was the most worthy Hobbit in Tonkin's Lord of the rings? Bilbo, Samwise, Frodo? Our conversation might drift off into a netherworld where we might discuss the various personality traits of the characters in Joss Whedon's "Buffie" series. Most people would say, "Who cares?" and let it go at that, but not daughter and I, we enjoy our discussions, no matter how strange they might appear to outsiders. Today our conversation drifted into the realm of hair shirts.

Just in case you don't know;  "Hair Shirts" or Cilice's used to be made of sack cloth or animal hair and were used in some religious traditions to create discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and/or atonement.

I commented to daughter that the albino assassin that Dan Brown wrote about in his Book, Da Vinci Code, wore a Cilice.

My well-rounded daughter countered "Wearing a hair shirt has been endorsed by popes as a way of following Christ. They believed that mortifying the body was another way to follow Christ." She had more to add. "I read in a history of epidemics and plagues, that Thomas Becket wore one. After he died, while preparing his body, there were so many lice in his hair shirt that it "boiled over with them (lice) like water in a simmering Cauldron.""

I answered that with a resounding "Yuck!"

"Wearing a hair shirt used to be an accepted way of doing penance" said daughter. "Many important people and saints, like St. John the Baptist, St. Jerome, and Charlemagne wore hair shirts. Members of many religious orders commonly also wore hair shirts; it was a sign of piety and repentance."

I shook my head. "I know that I wouldn't want to wear one. I like being comfortable."
My daughter continued. "I remember reading that even Ivan the Terrible wore a cilice or a hair shirt)."

I countered, "I recall reading about him in College. History has him as Ivan IV. He was supposed to be very pious. He also had a hair trigger temper. I remember a story about him being upset with his pregnant daughter in law. He didn't think she was dressed modestly, so he beat her. He beat her up so badly that she lost her baby. His son (also named Ivan and the chosen heir to the throne) came to his wife's defense and out of anger; Ivan The Terrible beat him to death. Because of his actions, he was forced to allow his mentally disabled younger son to become his heir.

My daughter nodded "He had lots of piety and very little compassion. Not exactly my idea of a good ruler."

I snorted "He was sort of like the incredible hulk. You didn't want to make him mad.
On the other hand, he was a brilliant military strategist and was responsible for creating the Russian Empire. He went from Grand Prince of Moscow to becoming the first Tsar of all the Russias. According to the Wikipedia he transformed Russia into a multiethnic and multi-confessional state, spanning almost one billion acres, or one and a half million square miles. He introduced social reforms, was considered a capable diplomat, a patron of the arts and was responsible for introducing the first printing press to Russia. He built ports, opened foreign trade and did much to modernize his country…but you have to admit that he was meaner than a junk yard dog."

My daughter interjected: "It was probably because he wore a hair shirt."

I nodded. "I think you may have just hit upon something. The hair shirt made him mean, and if he hadn't been wearing it he would not have been called 'Ivan the Terrible'. He probably would have been called something like 'Ivan the Nice'.

Think about this, as Ivan The Nice, would he have been able to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies? Would he have been able to conquer and unite all of the Russias? I think not!"

Both my daughter and I had a little laugh.

My daughter commented that she would not recommend my buying myself any hair shirt underwear, and she had no intention of putting such a thing on any Christmas lists in the future.

I enjoy our talks. We talk about dumb things, strange things, and crazy nonsensical things, things that make our lives a little more fun.
I hope that everyone has someone like that with whom he or she can talk.


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