Thursday, September 02, 2004

Warnings such as Aquinas's against excess and obsession were also invoked by church fathers not only in regard to the rogue monk tempted to eat more than his share but also in reference to the opposite case - that is, nuns (for they were almost always nuns) who succumbed to the equally disturbing and disruptive temptation to indulge in excessive fasting. These women, whom the historian Rudolph M. Bell has termed "holy anorexics," punished their bodies by starving themselves and indulging in all manner of inventive and frequently disgusting self-mortifications. Though a number of them - Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Claire of Assisi, Saint Veronica - were eventually canonized, in their lifetimes they troubled the ecclesiastical authorities, who cautioned them to be on guard against the sin of pride: the self-satisfaction they might derive from the pain and the heroic discomfort they managed to endure.

Francine Prose, Gluttony (40)

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