suspicion. St. Jerome, \\hose proneness to austerity makes him an especially valuable authority on this point, thus writes to Celantia: "Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means, though a fitting one, for the attainment of true per- fection. " Thus asceticism, according to the definition of St. Jerome, is an effort to attain true perfection, penance being only an auxiliary virtue thereto. It should be noted also that the expression "fasting and abstinence" is commonly used in Scripture and by ascetic writers as a generic term for all sorts of pen- ance. Neither shoukl asceticism be identified with mysticism. For although genuine mysticism cannot exist without asceticism, the reverse is not true. One can be an ascetic without being a mystic. As- ceticism is ethical; mysticism, largely intellectual. Asceticism has to do with the moral virtues; mysti- cism is a state of unusual prayer or contemplation. They are distinct from each other, though mutually co-operative. Moreover, although asceticism is gen- erally associated with the objectionable features of religion, and is regarded by some as one of them, it may be and is practised by those who affect to be swayed by no religious motives whatever.
Natural A.sceticism. — If for personal satisfac- tion, or self-interest, or any other merely human reason, a man aims at the acquisition of the natural virtues, for instance, temperance, patience, chastity, meekness, etc., he is, by the very fact, exercising him- self in a certain degree of asceticism. For he has entered upon a struggle with liis animal nature; and if he is to achieve any measure of success, his efTorts must be continuous and protracted. Nor can he exclude the practice of penance. Indeed he will frequently inflict upon himself both bodily and mental pain. He will not even remain within the bounds of strict necessity. He will punish himself severely, either to atone for failures, or to harden his powers of endurance, or to strengthen himself against future failures. He will be commonly de- scribed as an ascetic, as in fact he is. For he is endeavouring to subject the material part of his na- ture to the spiritual, or in other words, he is striving for natural perfection. The defect of this kind of asceticism is that, besides being prone to error in the acts it performs and the means it adopts, its motive is imperfect, or bad. It may be prompted by selfish reasons of utility, pleasure, sestheticism, ostentation, or pride. It is not to be relied upon for serious efforts and may easily give way under the strain of weariness or temptation. Finally, it fails to recognize that perfection consists in the acquisi- tion of something more than natural virtue.
Christian Asceticism 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. Its object is the subordination of the lower appetites to the dictates of right reason and the law of God, with (lie continued and necessary cultivation of the virtues which tlie Creator intended man to possess, .\bsolutcly si)eaking, the will of God in this matter is discoverable by human reason, but it is exphcitly laid down for us in the Ten Com- mandments, or Decalogue, which furnishes a com- plete code of ethical conduct. Some of these com- mandments are positive; others, negative. The negative precepts, "thou shalt not kill", "thou Bhalt not commit adultery", etc., imply the repres- sion of the lower appetites, and consequently call for penance and mortification; but they mtcnd al.so, and effect, the cultivation of the virtues which are opposed to the things forbidden. They develop meekness, gentleness, self-control, patience, conti- nence, chastity, justice, honesty, brotherly love.
magnanimity, liberahty, etc.; while the first three which are positive in their character, " thou shall adore thy God", etc., bring into vigorous and con- stant exerci.se the virtues of faith, hope, charity, rehgion, rcvcence, and prayer. Finally, the fourth insists on obedience, respect for authority, observance of law, filial piety, and the hke. 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 verj' much as exalted virtue does to the world to-day. Even the works of penance to which they were sub- jected in the many fasts and abstinences, as well as the requirements of their ceremonial observances, were much more severe than those imposed upon the Christians who succeeded them.
In the New Dispensation the binding force of the Commandments continued, but the practice of virtue took on another aspect, inasmuch as the dominant motive presented to man for the service of God was not fear, but love; though fear was by no means eUminated. God was to be the Lord indeed, but He was at the same time the Father, and men were His children. Again, because of this sonship the love of one's neighbour ascended to v. higher plane. The "neighbour" of the Jew was one of the chosen people, and even of him rigorous justice was to be exacted; it was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In the Christian dispen-sation the neighbour is not only one of the true faith, but the schismatic, the outcast, and the pagan. Love is extended even to one's enemies, and we are bidden to pray for, and to do good to, them who revile and persecute us and do all manner of evil against us. This supernatural love for even the vilest and most repellent representatives of humanity constitutes one of the distinctive marks of Christian asceticism. Moreover, the more extended and luminous revela- tion of Divine things, coupled with the greater abund- ance of spiritual assistance conferred chiefly through the instrumentality of the sacraments, make the practice of virtue easier and more attractive and at the same time more elevated, generous, intense, and enduring, while the universality of Christianity lifts the practice of asceticism out of the narrow limitations of being the exclusive privilege of a single race into a common possession of all the nations of the earth. The .\cts of the Apostles show the transformation immediately effected among the devout Jews who formed the first comnumities of Christians. That new and elevated form of virtue has remained in the Church ever since.
Wherever the Church has been allowed to exert her influence we find virtue of the highest order among her people. Even among those whom the world regards as simple and ignorant there are most amazing perceptions of spiritual truths, inten.se love of (iod and of all that relates to Him, sometimes remarkable habits of prayer, purity of life both in individuals and in families, heroic patience in sub- mitting to poverty, bodily suffering, and porsccntioiis; magnanimity in forgiving injury, teiulcr .solicitude for the poor and afflicted, though they thcm.selves may be almost in the same condition; and wliat is most characteristic of all, a complete absence of envy of the rich and powerful and a generally undisturbed contentment and happiness in their own lot; while similar results are achieved among the wealtliy and great, though not to the same extent. In a word.