Fasting Quotes: Early Church Fathers (4/7)

(Updated 02/17/2015

Fasting Quotes: Early Church Fathers

  1. Pope Clement I  (died 99 or 101)
  2. Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) (c. 70-140)
  3. Saint Polycarp  (80 – 167)
  4. The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 90-140)
  5. Justin Martyr.(c. 100 – 165)
  6. Saint Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202)
  7. Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220))
  8. The Desert Fathers (c. 250-300)
  9. Macarius of Egypt (c. 300 – 391)
  10. Saint Basil the Great, (330–379)
  11. Saint Ambrose (c. 340-397)
  12. Saint Jerome (c. 347–420)
  13. Saint John Chrysostom (c. 349–407)
  14. Saint Augustine (354–430)
  15. Saint John Cassian (c. 360–435)
  16. Hesychios the Priest (c. 400–475?)
  17. Pope Saint Leo the Great (ca. 400–461)
  18. Saint John Climacus (c. 525-606)


Pope Clement I  (died 99 or 101)

Let them, therefore, with fasting and with prayer make their adjurations, and not with the elegant and well-arranged and fitly-ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing from God, confidently, to the glory of God. By your fastings and prayers and perpetual watching, together with your other good works, mortify the works of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit [Pope Clement I, Two Epistles on Virginity, Ch. XII]


Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) (c. 70-140)

Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand. Your fasts must not be identical with those of the hypocrites.  [Didache].


Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (80 – 167)

Wherefore let us forsake the vain doing of the many and their false
teachings, and turn unto the word which was delivered unto us from
the beginning, being sober unto prayer and constant in fastings,
entreating the all-seeing God with supplications that He bring us
not into temptation, according as the Lord said, The Spirit is
indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. [Polycarp 7:2].


The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 90-140)

This fasting … is very good, provided the commandments of the Lord be observed … First of all, be on your guard against every evil word, and every evil desire, and purify your heart from all the vanities of this world. If you guard against these things, your fasting will be perfect. And you will do also as follows. Having fulfilled what is written, in the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord.

If you observe fasting, as I have commanded you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written down; and the service thus performed is noble, and sacred, and acceptable to the Lord.”[The Pastor of Hermas, Bk. III, The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, A. Roberts and J. Donaldson].

When you are going to fast, observe it in this way: first, avoid any evil and desire, and purify your heart of all the vain things in the world. Your fast will be perfect if you do this. [The Shepherd of Hermas,  Fifth Similitude].


Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165)

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. [Justin Martyr. The First Apology, Ch. LXI


Saint Irenaeus (c.130 – c. 202)

For the controversy is not merely as regards the day, but also as regards the form itself of the fast. For some consider themselves hound to fast one day, others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty: the diurnal and the nocturnal hours they measure out together as their [fasting] day. And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors, some of whom probably, being not very accurate in their observance of it, handed down to posterity the custom as it had, through simplicity or private fancy, been [introduced among them]. And yet nevertheless all these lived in peace one with another, and we also keep peace together. Thus, in fact, the difference [in observing] the fast establishes the harmony of [our common] faith.[ISaint Irenaeus of Lyons, III].


Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD))

Fasting possesses great power. If practiced with the right intention, it makes one a friend of God. [Tertullian, On Fasting].

“Let us fast, brethren and sisters, lest tomorrow perchance we die.” Openly let us vindicate our disciplines. Sure we are that “they who are in the flesh cannot please God;” not, of course, those who are in the substance of the flesh, but in the care, the affection, the work, the will, of it. Emaciation displeases not us; for it is not by weight that God bestows flesh, any more than He does “the Spirit by measure.” [Tertullian, On Fasting].

And thus we have already proceeded to examples, in order that, by its profitable efficacy, we may unfold the powers of this duty [fasting] which reconciles God, even when angered, to man.  [Tertullian, On Fasting].


The Desert Fathers (c. 250-300)

An old man was asked, “How can I find God?” He said, “In fasting, in watching, in labours, in devotion, and, above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility” [Apophthegmata Patrum].

Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself” [The Desert Fathers].


Macarius of Egypt (ca. 300 – 391)

This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteous deeds he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.” [St. Macarius the Great].


Saint Basil the Great, (330–379)

Do you think that I am resting the origin of fasting on the Law? Why, fasting is even older than the Law. If you wait a little, you will discover the truth of what I have said. Do not suppose that fasting originated with the Day of Atonement, appointed for Israel on the tenth day of the seventh month.8 No, go back through history and inquire into the ancient origins of fasting. It is not a recent invention; it is an heirloom handed down by our fathers. Everything distinguished by antiquity is venerable. Have respect for the antiquity of fasting. It is as old as humanity itself; it was prescribed in Paradise. [St. Basil, Homily on Fasting, 4].

Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness. It sanctifies the Nazirite21 and perfects the Priest. For it is not possible to dare to perform sacred actions without fasting, not only in the mystical and true worship of the present era, but also in the symbolic worship offered according to the Law. [St. Basil, Homily on Fasting, 6].

Do not, however, define the benefit that comes from fasting solely in terms of abstinence from foods. For true fasting consists in estrangement from vices. “Loose every burden of iniquity.”61 Forgive your neighbor the distress he causes you; forgive him his debts. “Fast not for quarrels and strifes.”62 You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but do not restrain yourself from insulting others. You wait until evening to eat, but waste your day in law courts.Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting.  [St. Basil, Homily on Fasting, 10].

Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.  [St. Basil the Great, On Fasting, 6].

Will you not conceive a desire for the table in the Kingdom of Heaven, for which fasting here on earth is assuredly a preparation? Do you not know that by immoderate satiety you fatten for yourself the worm that torments? For who amid lavish feasting and perpetual delectation has become the partaker of any spiritual gift? [St. Basil, Homily on Fasting, 9].


 Saint Ambrose (c. 340-397)

If what the Apostle has said is not enough, let them hear the Prophet saying, I chastened myself with fasting. He thereforeore who fasts not is uncovered and naked and exposed to wounds. And if Adam had clothed himself with fasting he would not have been found to be naked. Nineveh delivered itself from death by fasting. And the Lord Himself says, This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. [St. Ambrose, Letters #42.11].


Saint Jerome (c. 347–420)

Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It [fasting] is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection [ St. Jerome].


Saint John Chrysostom (c. 349–407)

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast, but ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” it says. [St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homilies on the Statutes, Homily III, 8,11]

I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honour fasting; for the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works! [St. Chrysostom: Homily III].

Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on. And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things. [St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises].

Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. [St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting].

As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul. Imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things, and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life. [St. John Chrysostom].


Saint Augustine (354–430)

Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting,” Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].

Fasting must not seem to you of little importance or superfluous. Those who fast, in accordance with the Church’s customs, should not think to themselves: What is the point of fasting? You shorten your life, you bring about something negative. Can God want you to torment yourself? It would be cruel if he took pleasure in your suffering…. But you should respond to the tempter in this way: I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness…” [St Augustine, Sermo 400 De utilitate ieiuni].

But now the necessity of habit is sweet to me, and against this sweetness must I fight, lest I be enthralled by it. Thus I carry on a daily war by fasting, constantly bringing my body into subjection… And while health is the reason for our eating and drinking, yet a perilous delight joins itself to them as a handmaid; and indeed, she tries to take precedence in order that I may want to do for her sake what I say I want to do for health’s sake…. These temptations I daily endeavor to resist and I summon thy right hand to my help and cast my perplexities onto thee. [Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Ch. XXXI].


Saint John Cassian (ca. 360–435)

In the same way, fasting, vigils, scriptural meditation, nakedness and total deprivation do not constitute perfection but are the means to perfection. They are not in themselves the end point of a discipline, but an end is attained to through them [St. John Cassian, Conference One].

In order to preserve the mind and body in a perfect condition, abstinence from food is not alone sufficient: unless the other virtues of the mind as well are joined to it . . . And so humility must first be learned … anger should be controlled … vainglory should be despised, the disdainfulness of pride trampled under foot, and the shifting and wandering thoughts of the mind restrained by continual recollection of God.  [John Cassian, The Training of a Monk and the Eight Deadly Sins, Of the Spirit of Gluttony. (The Book of Fasts and Abstinence) Chapter X]


Hesychios the Priest (ca. 400–475?)

Humility, fasting, prayer, watchfulness. These are the tools which advance men and women toward holiness, and they are the fruits, too, of that advancement. Humility brings us to a more realistic and understanding view of ourselves, and thus of the grace of God. Fasting trains the body, so long left to unrestrained gluttony, and through its training brings clarity to the mind and soul. Prayer lifts our whole being into the embrace of God and propels us to divine union. Finally, watchfulness brings our whole mind and soul to rest in the heart, there to know the love and grace of God. It is the tool by which we are guided by Christ to know good from evil, to maintain the former in our person and repel the latter before it has the opportunity to work harm in our lives. The combined use of these tools brings us closer to Christ, who has promised that whoever knocks, to him the door shall be opened. [Hesychios the Priest].


Pope Saint Leo the Great (ca. 400–461)

But there are three things which most belong to religious actions, namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in the exercising of which while every time is accepted, yet that ought to be more zealously observed, which we have received as hallowed by tradition from the apostles: even as this tenth month brings round again to us the opportunity when according to the ancient practice we may give more diligent heed to those three things of which I have spoken.

For by prayer we seek to propitiate God, by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh, by alms we redeem our sins: and at the same time God’s image is throughout renewed in us, if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighbour. This threefold round of duty, dearly beloved, brings all other virtues into action: it attains to God’s image and likeness and unites us inseparably with the Holy Spirit. Because in prayer faith remains steadfast, in fastings life remains innocent, in almsgiving the mind remains kind. [St. Leo, the Great].

The right practice of abstinence is needful not only to the mortification of the flesh but also to the purification of the mind. For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood. [St. Leo the Great].

As then we must with the whole heart obey the Divine commands and sound doctrine, so we must use all foresight in abstaining from wicked imaginations. For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood, which our crafty and wily foe plies us with more treacherously now, when by the very return of the venerable Festival, the whole church generally is admonished to understand the mysteries of its salvation. [St. Leo the Great, Sermon 46].


Saint John Climacus (c. 525-606)

Attend and you will hear Him who says: ‘Spacious and broad is the way of gluttony that leads to the perdition of fornication, and many there are who go in by it; because narrow is the gate and hard is the way of fasting that leads to the life of purity, and few there are who go in by it [Matthew vii, 13—14].” [St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 14.29].

Fasting is the coercion of nature and the cutting out of everything that delights the palate, the prevention of lust, the uprooting of bad thoughts, deliverance from dreams, purity of prayer, the light of the soul, the guarding of the mind, deliverance from blindness, the door of compunction, humble sighing, glad contrition, a lull in chatter, a means to silence, a guard of obedience, lightening of sleep, health of body, agent of dispassion, remission of sins, the gate of Paradise and its delight.  [St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 14.33]. 


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