Collection: Instruments of penance and flogging : cilice, discipline and others

Discipline and the Cilice: Instruments of Penance

In the past, within contemplative communities, various practices of mortification, such as flagellation, bodily penances, and the use of instruments of penance, were prescribed at specific times of the year. Among these rituals, we found in particular the sessions of discipline, consisting of floggings carried out with a sort of rope flogger, called discipline. These practices were observed in the Carmels, where discipline was administered every Friday evening during miserere, on Wednesdays during Lent, and during three misereres from Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday, sometimes resulting in bleeding.

Obtaining Permission for Penance

Religious Hierarchy and Prior Authorization

In contemplative communities, the adoption of instruments of penance, such as discipline (rope flogger) or the cilice (horsehair belt or chain bristling with hooks), as well as the implementation of other forms of bodily mortification , were subject to a rigorous approval process. Members of these communities had to obtain prior authorization from their religious superior before engaging in such practices.

Relationship Between Penance and Faults Committed

Obtaining permission for penance was often linked to the faults committed by the religious during the week. Breaches of silence, poverty, or other rules specific to monastic life could be considered as reasons justifying the application of penance. Thus, the request for authorization for the use of instruments of mortification was often motivated by the desire for reparation and purification after having violated the principles of the community.

Discipline and Responsibility within the Community

This practice of seeking permission for penance highlights the role of the religious hierarchy in regulating ascetic practices within the community. Religious superiors played a crucial role in assessing the legitimacy and relevance of the requested penance. They also ensured that such practices were not excessive, dangerous or contrary to the teachings of the religious community.

Reflection and Personal Responsibility

Obtaining permission for penance also involved personal reflection on the part of the monk or nun. Requesting permission was an act of responsibility to the community and to oneself, highlighting the need for a balanced and thoughtful approach to bodily mortification.

The Cilice: A Means of Body Mortification

The Cilice, in particular, was an accessory designed to deliberately cause pain and discomfort to the wearer. Its use was widespread in various Christian communities, aimed at practicing bodily mortification to combat temptations and to identify with Jesus Christ in his sufferings during the Passion.

Discipline: Instrument of Penance in the Mortification of the Flesh

Discipline, on the other hand, was a small whip used as an instrument of penance as part of the mortification of the flesh, a spiritual discipline observed by some Christian denominations, notably Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics.

Ancient Roots in Spiritual Traditions

The origin of flagellation among some religious people dates back to ancient times, rooted in spiritual and ascetic traditions that aimed to achieve high levels of purification and connection with the divine. These practices often date back to early forms of monasticism and asceticism, where bodily mortification was seen as a way to transcend earthly aspects and approach more spiritually.

Flogging as a Form of Extreme Discipline

Flogging, as a practice, was seen as extreme bodily discipline. Individuals who practiced it deliberately sought to inflict physical pain on their own flesh, viewing this suffering as a means of purification. The underlying idea was that mortification of the body could lead to spiritual elevation and increased closeness to divinity.

Penance and Atonement for Sins

This form of religious flagellation was often associated with penance and atonement for sins. Believers believed that voluntary physical suffering was a way of showing repentance and making amends for sins committed. They aspired to follow Christ's example by enduring trials similar to those of the Passion.

Strengthening the Spiritual Bond and Controversies

Some strongly believed that scourging strengthened their spiritual connection with God. By physically feeling the pain, they thought they could share, in some way, the suffering endured by Christ. However, despite this deep conviction among certain religious groups, the practice of flagellation has often been a source of controversy within religious communities themselves.

The Cilice


instruments de penitence