Can you recommend a good "history" of Corporal Mortification in the Catholic Church?

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I have an Evangelical friend (a cradle Catholic and now a meta-Catholic – that is he is “Catholic” when and how the Church agrees with him, or whoops I mean the Bible / Jesus / Paul / NT ) who would like to know the “full history” of corporal mortification as practiced by various members of the Catholic Church throughout its history – at the individual level and also the institutional level, e.g. in a religious communitry as provided by its constitution.

The concepts, theology and spirituality associated with corporal mortification (e.g. understanding them as aids-only in combating luke-warmness, and/or in making reparation for venial sins) as presented using modern Catholic “terminology” don’t escape this young man. And he’s aware of the normative necessity of spiritual guidance in such matters. But still he is concerned that corporal mortification as described by many of the saints and even in balanced presentations of Opus Dei surely will lead one away from the “Halelujah” and true joy that a Christian should seek, practice and possess.

In other words, my friend would ask, “It is one thing for a Christian to endure and even ‘offer up’ the sufferings that befall him, but why would a Christian ever inflict such sufferings upon himself? Shouldn’t a mature Christian be able to ‘enter into the Spirit’ without such aids that seem ordered more to fear than love?”

By the way, my friend does have an appreciation for (and does himself practice) fasting from food, but understands such a practice to be “biblical” whereas, for example, the cilice of Opus Dei seems to him not so. I’ve suggested that various persons throughout the OT donned hair shirts and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and my friend is looking into it and how a follower of Christ should understand such OT practices.

Can you help me out? Are there any books, or printed or electronic articles that provide a balanced and accurate history of corporal mortification going back to the first centuries of Christianity among the “orthodox” Catholics?

Thanks for your help and may God bless you and your Internet apostolate.

In the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Corporal mortification is such a specialized topic that there may not be a book on the history of it. I suggest referring your friend to a research librarian at a city or university library (particularly a Catholic university) and ask for help in finding materials on corporal mortification and its history. It’s important to use the word “materials” because this opens up the possibility of finding journal articles, studies, and other treatments of the topic in whatever forms are available.

Another resource might be checking with religious orders that still practice corporal mortification in one form or another. To find such orders, your friend can also check on that with a research librarian.
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