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Three Types of Ascesis

The Temptation of St. Anthony

In an accordance with the hierarchy spiritus, anima, corpus (spirit, soul, body), we distinguish three types of ascesis, three types of self-control: ascesis of spirit, ascesis of soul, ascesis of body. Spiritual ascesis or mental ascesis is an ascesis of thoughts, a mental self-control. Ascesis of a soul represents control over character. [1] Bodily ascesis means control of action, conduct, and behaviour.

The key to a successful practice of ascesis is to practice in an accordance with the given hierarchy: Every impulse attacks first one’s mind in form of a thought. A bad thought leads to a character disharmony, e.g., desire. Yet the desire causes wrong acting (and not the other way). This is why the beginning of every successful ascesis is to suppress a wrong thought, a bad mental impulse. [2]

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