Sensible limits to mortifications


[1 of 6] Boehme, Jacob (1575-1624, Germany): primary subject "Asceticism" (search under Inner Life/Practices)": source "Mysterium Magnum, vol.2": detail "Chapter 48 para.31"
Therefore a man ought not to be so foolish as to torment his whole life in his repentance and conversion, and to offer it up in the fire of death, without God’s command; but he must sacrifice only the sin [the ram, story of Abraham and Isaac], and self-love of vanity; he must offer up only the ram, and not do any violence or mischief to nature; not, strike, whip and beat it; or creep into a corner, and suffer the body to starve for hunger. No, he must not, out of his own purpose, give the image of God to death; but the ram he must. He merits not anything by plaguing, martyring and torturing himself; for God hath bestowed his heart to that end, to redeem us from pain and torment.

[2 of 6] St. Peter of Damaskos (12th century, Syria): primary subject "Asceticism" (search under Inner Life/Practices)": detail "From ‘Treasury of Divine Knowledge’"
Ascetic practice is a good thing, but only when done with the right goal in mind. We ought to think of it not as the real task, but as a preparation for the real task; not as the fruit, but as the earth that can, with time, labor and the help of God, bear trees from which the fruit will come.

[3 of 6] Suso, Heinrich (1295-1365, Switzerland): primary subject "Asceticism" (search under Inner Life/Practices)": source "Life of the Blessed Henry Suso": detail "From ch. 37"
Besides this, our natures are not all alike, and what is suitable to one, suits not another. Therefore it must not be thought that, if perchance a man has not practiced such great austerities, he will be thereby hindered from arriving at perfection. At the same time, those who are soft and delicate should not despise austerities in others, or judge them harshly. Let each look to himself, and see what God wants of him, and attend to this, leaving all else alone. Speaking generally, it is much better to be moderate rather than immoderate in the practice of austerities. But as the mean is hard to find, it is wiser to keep a little under it than to venture too high above it; for it often happens that, if a man mortifies his bodily frame to excess, he will have afterwards to indulge it to excess; though certainly many great Saints have forgotten themselves in this point through the fervor of their devotion. Such austerity of life, and the examples which have been mentioned, may be of use to those who are too tender with themselves, and to their own injury give too much rein to their rebellious bodies.

[4 of 6] Tauler, Johann (c. 1300-1361, Germany): primary subject "Asceticism" (search under Inner Life/Practices)": detail "From the ‘Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity’"
“Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood.” [Ephesians 6:12] Let all men who practice severe bodily mortifications, but fail to mortify the kinship to the demon that lurks in the bottom of our souls, lay these words to heart. What evil thing has their poor flesh done? These men would break through a stone wall by casting themselves against it head first. Kill your vices and not your body.

[5 of 6] William of Saint-Thierry (c. 1075-1148, Belgium): primary subject "Asceticism" (search under Inner Life/Practices)"
Such corporal exercises as vigils and fasts, … if undertaken without discernment to the point that they exhaust the spirit or make the body sick, become spiritual obstacles. Whoever does this robs his body of the effect of good works, his spirit of its affectus [love, affection], his neighbor of an example, and God of honor. Such a person is sacrilegious and is accountable to God for all these sins.

[6 of 6] William of Saint-Thierry (c. 1075-1148, Belgium): primary subject "Asceticism" (search under Inner Life/Practices)": detail "From 'Epistola ad Fratres de Monte Dei'"
Fasting and doing without sleep do not hinder spiritual actions but assist them, so long as they are done with discretion; without that, they are vices.