An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


The discipline of strict self control at all levels of body, feeling, thought, and imagination. Ascetic practices are not ends in themselves. Asceticism is best practiced as a way to overcome obstacles to the soul's love of God rather than self-denial for its own sake. Asceticism is intended to foster love and charity. The term is from the Greek for “exercise” or “training.” In 1 Cor 9:25, St. Paul notes that Christians, like athletes, “exercise self-control in all things.” Although it is sometimes confused with masochism or with false doctrine, asceticism is favored by some philosophies (stoicism) and most religions. It is reflected in the purity rules of Leviticus, in the Qumran writings, and in the NT statements that some demons are vanquished through “fasting and prayer” (Mk 9:29) and that there are eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:12). Christians have practiced fasting and abstinence from meat on certain days. The monastic tradition identifies asceticism with patient bearing with one another, simplicity of life, and celibacy. A moderate asceticism is included in the rules of all religious communities. The vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience subordinate asceticism to a life-long search for the kingdom. In the church at large asceticism is associated with the observance of Lent.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.