1640s, "practicing rigorous self-denial as a religious exercise," from Latinized form of Greek asketikos "rigorously self-disciplined, laborious," from asketēs "monk, hermit," earlier "skilled worker, one who practices an art or trade," especially "athlete, one in training for the arena," from askein "to exercise, train," especially "to train for athletic competition, practice gymnastics, exercise," perhaps originally "to fashion material, embellish or refine material."
The Greek word was applied by the stoics to the controlling of the appetites and passions as the path to virtue and was picked up from them by the early Christians. The figurative sense of "unduly strict or austere" also is from 1640s. Related: Ascetical (1610s).
1650s, "one rigorous in self-denial," especially as an act of religious devotion; 1670s, Ascetic, "one of the early Christians who retired to the desert to live solitary lives of meditation, self-denial, and prayer," from ascetic (adj.).
There is, perhaps, no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper or more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic. A hideous, sordid, and emaciated maniac, without knowledge, without patriotism, without natural affection, passing his life in a long routine of useless and atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his delirious brain, had become the ideal of the nations which had known the writings of Plato and Cicero, and the lives of Socrates and Cato. [W.E.H. Lecky, "History of European Morals," 1869]
updated on September 26, 2022