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May 19, 2006

The Cilice and the Discipline

Apparently some obscure text called The Da Vinci Code accuses, through a character named Silas, a group within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei, of various kinds of nastiness. One of those nastinesses is masochism. I caught up via another obscure text: an article in the New Yorker:


It is through Silas that Brown introduces his readers to the practice of corporal mortification--self-inflicted pain as an avenue to deeper spirituality--and the devices employed to achieve it, a barbed belt worn around the thigh (called a cilice) and a knotted rope (the discipline). In one scene in the book, Silas, preparing for a night of doing God's dirty work, strips naked and cinches his cilice until it cuts deeper into his flesh, then repeatedly whips himself until, "finally, he felt the blood begin to flow." ...

Any truth to this? Peter Boyer in the New Yorker again:

A sizable proportion of Opus Dei members, under the guidance of a spiritual director, voluntarily take up the practice of corporal mortification, wearing the cilice for two hours most days and using the discipline. (Both items are produced in monasteries.) Father William Stetson, who runs the Catholic Information Center, in Washington, D.C., and who joined Opus Dei in the mid-nineteen-fifties, when he was at Harvard Law School, says that he learned the larger meaning of corporal mortification the first week he joined. "I understood that what was being demanded of me was an ascetical practice," he says. "Not just the cilice and the disciplines but an austerity of life, living in the middle of the world." Stetson and others frequently point out that corporal mortification, which may seem a throwback to medieval mysticism, was not uncommon even among recent exemplars of spiritual piety. Mother Teresa of Calcutta wore a cilice and used the discipline, telling her Sisters, ''If I am sick, I take five strokes. I must feel its need in order to share in the Passion of Christ and the sufferings of our poor."

Kinky? Serious? Life denying? Humbling. Let an obscure anti-Christian philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, have the last word:

"Suffering itself becomes contagious.... In Christianity...the body is despised.... Hatred of the senses, of the joy of the senses, of joy in general is Christian."

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at May 19, 2006 9:52 PM


This is beyond kinky and seriously sick in my view. I was raised Catholic and when I started in college, my ultra-Catholic mother tried to talk me into staying at an Opus Dei residence just outside the campus. "Think how convenient it'll be!" Later on there were news stories about bizarre practices and brainwashing at the same residence.

I often wonder how much this sort of masochism is connected with rejection of sex and/or inordinate squeamishness about sex. It seems to me that if you suppress your sexual urges, they spill over into other outlets, often in unhealthy ways.

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at May 20, 2006 8:32 PM

This is the funniest--and most ill-informed--blog I've read in a long time.

Nietsche was certainly right on this one--arrogance breeds faithlessness...(Einstein had a word or two on the subject, as well, as did Pastuer...) Which just goes to show--not all those who get an education actually use it to reason!

Thanks for the laugh, boys. ;o)

Posted by: Miki Tracy at May 21, 2006 8:25 PM

Nietzsche had more to say about asceticism, which he admired as a paragon of "self-overcoming." Comfort may be commonsensical to us.
Fasts and some mild austerities (like abstention from sex, or washing not for comfort but only cleanliness, on Yom Kippur) aside, ascetic practices have AFAIK disappeared from Judaism. You do read, e.g. in I.B. Singer stories, about Jewish penitents in der heimishe Welt putting stones in their shoes and bolting their food so they wouldn't savor it, but that's gone with the Welt.
A naturalistic tack might be useful here: do ascetics get a kick from endorphins the painful practices elicit?

Posted by: Dabodius at May 21, 2006 11:40 PM

It is so sick that people are still using their bodies to mutilate it in the name of Jesus... a cilice and punishemnt are sick acts that only the devil or any other force can tell or guide a human being into doing... I am so sick of all the catholic/political religion misguidance, of their economical power, of their sick political power and above all of their boasting behavior "of we know all and we are the best" more movies like The Da Vinci code should come out so all of us in the world notice and learn what they are all about... sick

Posted by: Adelina Leon at May 24, 2006 1:36 PM

I cannot speak for Atheists but I can speak for the ill informed; we are arrogantly happy to give Miki Tracey a good laugh (we aren't all boys). You evidently don't get out much.

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 24, 2006 3:32 PM

I would just like to thank you for giving a very informative post about the ever so secretive opus dei. This cleared up a lot of misconceptions that I had about the organization and the self-masochism that goes along with it.

Posted by: renee madelin at June 4, 2006 10:33 PM

Oh please. Any of you who believe this stuff need to go to the Opus Dei website. If you saw the real cilice and Discipline, you would just laugh. The Da Vince Code exaggerates, as is expected for a movie. Try educating yourselves before making judgements.

Posted by: Anonymous at December 12, 2006 3:07 PM

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