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"self-discipline in all its forms, particularly those voluntarily undertaken out
of love of God and desire for spiritual improvement; its meaning is sometimes
improperly limited to corporal austerity. It may be internal discipline applied
to the mind, heart and will by purely internal effort, and at least a little of
this is imposed on every Christian as a condition of salvation; or external,
whether by the renunciations implied by the vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience (these are imposed on none but undertaken by many) or by the various
forms of bodily mortification and austerity directed to making and keeping the
appetites conformed to right reason and God's law. Asceticism is an integral
part of Christian life, having its sanction in our Lord's life (which displayed
virginity, poverty, fasting, obedience) and teaching. It is not an end in
itself, discomfort of mind or body for its own sake, but a means towards
personal sanctification, freedom of soul, and approach to God; its higher forms
are entirely voluntary and based on the distinction between precepts and
counsels: it seeks first the Kingdom of God and so attains to fullness of life.
Austerity for its own sake, renouncement for the sake of renouncing, is at best
an over-zealous exaggeration, at worst an error of Gnosticism and paganism."
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