Corporal mortification,


I created another thread a few days ago and in it i mentioned that i was looking into converting to the catholic faith. I have another question which i would like an answer to. sure i can go to a father but for now i much more prefer to hear the many answer my question not just one person. it has to do with corporal mortification, is there any scriptural basis for this practice? i read the following and it did bring up a good point. it is a somewhat long read, but very interesting, at least for me. thanks in advance for any answers!

I believe that the Catholic mystics were sincere men and women who loved the Lord. However, I also believe that they were deceived. It can be seen in the connection which they made between suffering and intimacy with God. They give a distorted picture of the nature and character of God.

Catherine of Sienna said that Jesus Christ was her novice master. But, supposedly under the direction of Jesus, she regularly whipped herself until the blood ran down her back.

Teresa of Avila recounted an incident when she was sick and suffering and feeling miserable, and Jesus told her that is how he treats His friends. Teresa replied that it was no wonder that Jesus had so few friends.

John of the Cross said that the “dark night of the soul” (intense spiritual and emotional suffering) is necessary for intimacy with God.

Francis of Assisi said that it was “perfect joy” to be cold and hungry and rejected and verbally abused. He glorified pain and suffering and poverty. At the end of his life, Francis had the stigmata. These are visible, bleeding, painful wounds which occur in the same locations as the wounds which Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. They are wounds in the hands and feet and side. They can also include wounds in the back (from whipping) and head (from the crown of thorns). Francis’ disciples considered the stigmata to be a sign of God’s great love for Francis.

Other people have also had the stigmata. One modern example is Padre Pio, who regularly whipped himself.

2 Thessalonians 2:9 says that the devil is able to work signs and lying wonders. He would be capable of causing the stigmata, especially if people want it because they think that it is a sign of God’s favor. The stigmata are supernatural and they imitate the wounds of the crucifixion. However, that does not mean that they come from God. They could come from the devil.

Compare the experiences of Catherine, Teresa, John and Francis with the experiences of men in the Bible who had extraordinary intimacy with God, and an extraordinary level of communication with Him. Compare this with Moses, and Joshua, and the prophets, and John the Baptist, and the Apostles. Did any of them whip himself? Did they do penances to mortify their flesh? Did any of them have the stigmata?"

sure catholic are not bound to believe in private revelation, but if these mystics were lying to their teeth, who can we trust?


How about Saint Paul? See the following: “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps when I have preached to others I myself should be castaway” (I Cor. 9:27); “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is the Church.” (Col 1:24). Also, I think that John the Baptist wore a shirt made from camel hair. Camel hair is, from what I’ve been told, a very rough, coarse material. A shirt made from such a material could be used as a cilice. I won’t address anything specific in the “article” you posted it. It seems to be have been written by someone who had little knowledge of the practice of corporal mortification.


Do you think it was wrong for St. Peter to decline being crucified an “easier” way–to decide to die upside down rather than upright, because he was not worthy to die as his Lord did?

…sure catholic are not bound to believe in private revelation, but if these mystics were lying to their teeth, who can we trust?

You bring up a very interesting issue–and a very Catholic one. The mystery of suffering is the mystery of the imperfect world made by the perfect God.

Catholics keep the crucifix up on the walls of their houses because by His suffering we are saved–and He calls us to join Him on the Cross. “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

For the brute animals, pain cannot be meaningful–the saddest thing about animal pain. And, when people don’t understand their pain can be meaningful, when they wastefully suffer in vain–that is the profoundly sad thing about much human pain.

By rationally joining our pain and suffering to the all-sufficient sufferings of Christ on the Cross, we join Him in His sacrifice for ourselves and for the whole world–and we rise with Him on the Last Day as well.

It is a small step from joining to His pains the pains which fall upon us, to joining to His pains any pains we may volunteer for.

Usually, we people do well to suffer well what ills we encounter–for those more eager souls who wish to do more, who wish to live as other Christs here and now, who may push harder for their own perfection, there are small mortifications–giving up this or that, fasting for an hour or a day or a week, and larger ones.

I also think that in a moment of temptation, rather than give in to some urge, it is honorable to distract the body by reminding it of its humble place in the scheme of things. St. Francis, when tempted to long for wife and family, ran out into the snow barefoot and made a snow woman and some snow children–by the time he was finished, the crucial moment was over–plus he had managed to keep his sense of humor, at the cost of a little pain to himself…


You will be hard pressed to find support for corporal mortification among Catholic spiritual directors today. Except for the expectation of fasting, with its clear scriptural warrant from our Lord, Himself ("When you fast . . .) corporal mortification is viewed as an extraordinary practice, and ALWAYS to be undertaken ONLY under the direction of a competent spiritual advisor.

I am a vowed member of the Confraternity of Penitents. Among our membership the subject of physical penance sometimes arises as a matter of consideration. This is always deferred to the person’s spiritual director. (We are all REQUIRED to be under personal spiritual direction.) You might want to read this article. Physical penance is definitely not something to be undertaken without sound counsel, nor is it a one-size-fits-all proposition.


Hi, Cuban. I just wanted to link the article you quoted. (I find the books the webmaster is offering to be of special interest.)

Corporal mortification is controversial at best. It is not for everyone. It should never be done without the permission of a spiritual director. It is not to be done to excess.

The author of your article seems to be responding directly to this post from Opus Dei. Please note: "Those who achieve great sanctity are constantly moved to be like [Christ] in His suffering. But because of the danger of self-deceit in assuming great mortifications, they are advised to submit all penances to the approval of a wise director.”

The mystical saints your article mentions agree with these precepts. St. John of the Cross (a comtemporary of St. Teresa of Avila) had removed a novice master for harsh discipline:

…John went for a brief period to Pastrana to handle a dangerous development in the novitiate caused by an intemperate young novice master who imposed humiliating and physically harmful penances on the novices. Along with the public disgrace this brought to the Reform; these practices threatened to drive the novices out of the

Order and to discourage future prospects from entering. An austere and penitential person himself, John also understood the discretion [temperance and moderation] counseled by the ancient Carmelite Rule and succeeded in establishing this principle at Pastrana.l This experience undoubtedly influenced John’s ideas about the role of penance in the spiritual life and a decade later, when writing the Dark Night, he condemned excessive bodily penance as a form of “spiritual gluttony,” a “penance of beasts” which promotes vice rather than virtue.2

And from* St. Teresa of Avila: The Way of Peferection: A Study Edition *by Michael Dodd, in the notes for chapter thirteen we read, "In the chapter heading Teresa uses the term mortification in place of the word detachment. Throughout the history of Christian spirituality, authors, adding their own nuances, used a number of terms to refer to detachment: abnegation, renunciation, mortification, self denudation, self-forgetfulness, self sacririce, and humility. Terms frequently used today are spiritual freedom and availability for apostolic work. For Teresa the reality behind these expressions is freedom from enslavement, from all that would hinder anyone in doing God’s will (150).

And, in fact, in her fifth letter to her brother Alonzo, Teresa recommends a gentle use of mortifications: “I cannot allow you to use it oftener, for it will, when thus limited to a certain degree, be a greater penance for you after you have begun to use it, because it will teach you to subdue your will. Let me know, after you have worn it, whether you find it does you any harm.”

In her letters, Teresa counsels a healthy discipline, adequate sleep, and nutritious diet – far from the meant-to-be-humouous quote taken out of context which you cited.

So if you do a little research on corporal mortification, you will see it’s not nearly as “extreme” as the “former nun” writes.


When St. Paul said he chastized his body, couldn’t that be interprated as fasting, abstaing from “pleasurable foods”, physical exorsize/discipline? As far as “filling up on the sufferings of Christ”, he was beaten by the Jews for his faith, mistreated by the Romans, Greeks…not that he beat the snot out of himself! :eek:


Historically, the practice of severe corporal penance arose just at the time Christianity was declared legally tolerated as a religion by Constantine. With the opportunity of blood martyrdom no longer available, pious men and women sought other forms of martyrdom (witness) in union with the sufferings of Christ.


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