NOTE: The following article is taken from the 4th Chapter of History of Flagellation Among Different Nations. New York: Medical Publishing Co., 1930: pp. 47-53. Though the Abbots and Abbesses don’t inflict flagellation in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, each one has their own form of punishment to humble and correct insubordinates. Geronda Ephraim has stated that Elder Joseph the Hesychast use to hit him and his other monastics; both with his cane as well as with slaps across the face and head, as a form of disciplinary action..
It must be confessed, however, that though self-flagellation made no part of the rules or statutes in those early stages of Christianity, the same cannot be said of that method of correction, when imposed by force upon such monks as had been guilty of offences, either against the discipline of the order, or against piety: an extensive power of inflicting such salutary corrections, having, from the earliest times, been lodged in the hands of abbots and the superiors of convents.
Nay more, we find that bishops during the very first times of Christianity, assumed the paternal power we mention, even with regard to persons who were bound to them by no vow whatever, when they happened to have been guilty either of breaches of piety or of heresy. Of this, a remarkable proof may be deduced from the 59th Epistle of St. Augustin, which he wrote to the Tribune Marcellinus, concerning the Donatists. St. Augustin expresses himself in the following words: “Do not recede from that parental diligence you have manifested in your researches after offenders; in which you have succeeded to procure confessions of such great crimes, not by using racks, red-hot blades of iron, or flames, but only by the application of rods. This is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by teachers of the fine arts upon their pupils, by parents upon their children, and often also by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences.”
Another proof of this power of flagellation, assumed by bishops in very early times, may be derived from the account which Cyprianus has given of Cesarius, Bishop of Arles; who says, that that bishop endeavoured as much as possible, in the exercise of his power, to keep within the bounds of moderation prescribed by the Law of Moses. The following are Cyprianus’s words: “This holy man took constant care that those who were subjected to his authority, whether they were of a free or servile condition, when they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, should not receive more than thirty-nine stripes. If any of them, however, had been guilty of a previous fault, then indeed he permitted them to be again lashed a few days afterwards, though with a smaller number of stripes.”
From the two passages above, we are informed that the power of whipping, possessed by bishops, extended to persons of every vocation, indiscriminately; and with much more reason may we think that those persons who made profession of the ecclesiastical life, were subjected to it. In fact we see that even the different dignities which they might possess in the church, did not exempt them from having a flagellation inflicted upon them by their bishops, when they had been guilty of offences of rather a serious kind; and Pope St. Gregory the Great, moreover, recommended to the bishops of his time, to make a proper use of their authority. In his sixty-sixth Epistle, he himself prescribes to Bishop Paschasius, the manner in which he ought to chastise Deacon Hilary who had calumniated Deacon John. “Whereas,” he says, “guilt ought not to pass without adequate satisfaction, we recommend to Bishop Paschasius to deprive the same Deacon Hilary of his office, and after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”
This power of inflicting the brotherly correction of whipping was also possessed by the abbots and priors in all the ancient monasteries; though, at the same time, it was expressly provided by the rules of the different orders, that the same should be assumed by no other persons. “Let no man, except the abbot or him to whom he has intrusted his authority, presume to excommunicate, or flog a brother.”
When the faults committed by monks were of a grievous kind, the abbot was not only charged to correct them by means of his discretionary power of flagellation, but he was moreover expressly directed to exert that power with rigour. In the rule framed by St. Fructuosus, Bishop of Braga, it is ordained with respect to a monk who is convicted of being a liar, a thief, or a striker, “That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.” The above rule of St. Fructosus is mentioned by Ecbert, in his Collection of Canons, which together with his Councils of England, has been published by Spelman.
St. Ferreol, Bishop of Usez, framed a rule for monks, which like that above, makes severe provisions against such monks as are addicted to the practice of thieving. “With regard to the monk who stands convicted of theft, if we may still call him a monk, he shall be treated like him who is guilty of adultery for the second time; let him therefore be chastised with the whip, and with great rigour too. The same punishment ought to be inflicted upon him as upon a fornicator, since it may be justly suspected that his lewdness has induced him to commit theft.”
Committing indecencies with other monks, or with boys, were offences which the Statutes of Convents likewise directed to be punished by severe flagellations; and the above St. Fructuosus, Bishop of Braga, ordered that the punishment should, in the above case, be inflicted publicly. “If a monk,” it is said in his rule, “is used to tease boys and young men, or is caught in attempting to give them kisses, or in any other indecent action, and the fact be proved by competent witnesses, let him be publicly whipped.”
Refusing to make proper satisfaction to the abbot for offences committed, or in general persevering in denying them, were also grievous faults in the eye of the first founders, or reformers, of monastic orders. In the rule framed fifty years after that of St. Benedict, in order to improve it, the following direction was contained: “If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.” Nor is the rule of the above-mentioned Bishop of Braga less severe against those monks whose pride prevents them from making a proper confession of the offences they may have committed. “To him,” it is said in that rule, “who, through pride and inclination to argue, continues to deny his fault, let an additional and severer flagellation be imparted.”
The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe flagellations; and St. Pacom ordered in his rule, which it was said had been dictated to him by an angel, that such as had been guilty of the above faults, and had been thrice admonished, should be publicly lashed before the gate of the convent.
Attempts to escape from monasteries, were, even in very early times, punished by flagellation. We read in Sozomenius, that St. Macarius of Alexandria, Abbot of Nitri in Thebaid, who had five thousand monks under his direction, ordered that chastisement to be inflicted upon those who should attempt to climb over the walls of the monasteries. “If anyone continues in his wickedness, and says, I can no longer bear to stay here, but I will pack up my things and go where God will direct me; let any one of the brothers inform the prior, and the prior the abbot, of the fact; let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”
The holy founders of religious orders have also been very severe in their provisions against such monks as seek for familiarities with the other sex. In the rule of the Monastery of Agaunus, it was ordained, that, “If any monk had contracted the bad habit of looking on women with concupiscence, the abbot ought to be informed of the fact, and bestow upon the monk a corrective discipline; and that, if he did not mend his manners in consequence thereof, he ought to be expelled from the society as a scabby sheep, lest he should ruin others by his example.” The above monastery had been built by Sigismond, King of Burgundy, to the honour of one hundred and twenty Martyrs of the Theban Legion, of which St. Maurice was the commander, under the reign of the Emperor Maximinus.
The above-quoted rule of St. Fructuosus, is no less severe against those monks who seek for the company of women. In the fifteenth chapter, which treats of the lewd and quarrelsome, it is ordered, that, “If after having received proper reprehensions they persist in their wicked courses, they shall be corrected by repeated lashings.” And St. Columbanus, who is the first who instituted the monastic life in France, and has written a rule as a supplement to that of St. Benedict, also expresses himself with great severity against such monks as are convicted of having barely conversed with a woman in the absence of witnesses; for though there are faults for which he orders only six lashes to be given, yet, in the case here mentioned he prescribes two hundred. “Let the man who has been alone with a woman, and talked familiarly to her, either be kept on bread and water for two days, or receive two hundred lashes.”