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The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, atheletic training.
The early Christians adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue.
It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment oftrue perfection. Jerome, is an effort to attain true perfection, penance being only an auxiliary virtue thereto.
Such were the virtues practised by the mass of the people of God under the Old Law, and this may be considered as the first step in true asceticism.
For apart from the many instances of exalted holiness among the ancient Hebrews, the lives of the faithful followers of the Law, that is the main body of the ordinary people must have been such as the Law enjoined and although their moral elevation might not be designated as asceticism in the present restricted and distorted meaning of the term, yet it probably appeared to the pagan world of those times very much as exalted virtue does to the world today.
At present it is not infrequently employed in an opprobrious sense, to designate the religious practices of oriental fanatics as well as those of the Christian saint, both of whom are by some placed same category.
It is not uncommonly confounded with austerity, even by Catholics, but incorrectly.
For he has entered upon a struggle with his animal nature ; and if he is to achieve any measure of success, his efforts must be continuous and protracted. Indeed he will frequently inflict upon himself both bodily and mental pain.
He will not even remain within the bounds of strict necessity.
Finally, it fails to recognize that perfection consists in the acquisition of something more than natural virtue.
It is prompted by the desire to do the will of God, any personal element of self-satisfaction which enters the motive vitiating it more or less.
They develop meekness, gentleness, self-control, patience, continence, chastity, justice, honesty, brotherly love, which are positive in their character, magnanimity, liberality, etc.; while the first three which are positive in their character, "thou shall adore thy God ", etc., bring into vigorous and constant exercise the virtues of faith, hope, charity, religion, reverence and prayer.