Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment! Today, we’re revisiting a slightly re-edited post that was first published back on September 23rd, 2015.
During the Middle Ages, the idea that extreme forms of asceticism aka self-mortification led to higher levels of sanctity and holiness grew in popularity within Roman Catholicism. In monasteries and convents throughout Europe, monks and nuns attempted to quell the desires of the flesh and offer penance for their sins through self-inflicted pain and suffering. Practitioners slept on cold stone floors, wore hair shirts, heavy chains, coarse ropes, or cilices,* a metal-wire device secured around the thigh that inflicts pain with inward-pointing spikes (see photo above). Self-scourging (flagellation) also became quite popular. Some famous “saints” went to an early grave as a result of voluntary starvation such as Catherine of Siena.
Some would argue these extreme forms of asceticism were confined to a less-enlightened, bygone era, but forms of self-mortification are still practiced right up into the present day by traditionalist-minded Catholic clergy and laity. Reports surfaced in 2010 that “saint” Karol “pope John Paul II” Wojtyla (d. 2005), had whipped himself daily with a belt. Defending Wojtyla’s self-scourging, cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins remarked, “It does seem like something from another age, but it is not. It is an instrument of perfection, not just in religious life, but in human life. It is not acting against oneself, but striving to perfect oneself.” Another modern Catholic, “saint” Anjeze “mother Teresa” Bojaxhiu wore a cilice strapped to her thigh every day. I’ve read that wearing the cilice is so painful that the wearers often restrict the time they endure it to a limited number of hours.
I wonder if the current pope, Jorge “pope Francis” Bergoglio also inflicts pain upon himself as part of a “spiritual” discipline?
Yes, accepting Jesus as Savior and following Him as Lord may mean physical persecution. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Bible does talk about self-denial and fasting, but nowhere does the Scripture teach Christians should intentionally inflict pain upon themselves. In contrast, the Bible identifies such practices with pagan idolatry:
“At noon Elijah began to taunt (the worshipers of Baal). “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” – 1 Kings 18:27-28
Catholics believe in salvation by sacramental grace and merit and mistakenly believe that by inflicting pain and suffering upon themselves they can effect spiritual perfection leading to their salvation.
I am so grateful the Lord freed me from the chains of Roman Catholicism and saved me by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
*The word, “cilice,” is derived from Latin cilicium, “a covering,” and originally referred to heavy shirts made from the coarse hair of goats of the Cilice region located in present-day Turkey, but eventually came to also reference the spiked garters worn by self-mortifiers.