A set of heretics that appeared in France and Spain about the end of the third century. They are supposed to have borrowed part of their opinions from the Gnostics and Manichaeans, because they opposed marriage, condemned the use of flesh meat, and placed the Holy Ghost in the class of created beings.


  1. One who abstains; a faster. [First attested around 1350 to 1470.]
  2. (usually capitalized, religion, historical) One of a sect who appeared in France and Spain in the 3rd century, and believed in abstinence towards meat and sex.


These nouns refer to the habitual refusal to indulge a desire, especially a sensual one. Abstinence implies the willfulavoidance of pleasures, especially of food and drink, thought to be harmful or self-indulgent: “I vainly reminded him ofhis protracted abstinence from food” (Emily Brontë).
Self-denial suggests resisting one’s own desires for the achievement of a higher goal: “For too many people, the resultof sedentary living is a perennial, losing battle against the bulge: bursts of self-denial interspersed with guilt when self-denial inevitably leads to self-indulgence” (Jane Brody).
Temperance refers to moderation and self-restraint and sobriety to gravity in bearing, manner, or treatment; bothnouns denote moderation in or abstinence from consuming alcohol: Teetotalers preach temperance for everyone. “[T]hose moments which would come between the subsidence of actual sobriety and the commencement ofintoxication” (Anthony Trollope).
Continence specifically refers to abstaining from sexual activity: The nun took a vow of continence.



Those who supported reform sought a return to the ideals of the early years of the Order and focused especially on its original vegetarianism. The Rule of St. Benedict, the fundamental document of the Cistercian Order, permits meat only to the sick, but by the 16th and 17th centuries the prohibition was rarely observed. The reformers – the “Abstinents” – regarded this meat eating as a symbol of all decadence, utterly rejected it, and (with papal approval) formed themselves into a congregation known as the Congregation of St. Bernard of the Strict Observance. However, they were not unopposed, and those who disagreed with them saw meat eating simply as an accommodation to changing times and regarded the Strict Observance as a collection of deluded enthusiasts.

The schism was so acrimonious that Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) was called to intervene, and in 1664 he invited representatives of both parties to Rome to put their cases to a commission of cardinals. Two years later Alexander promulgated the bull In suprema> which recognized two Cistercian observances, common and strict, the main difference between them being that the former would eat meat three times a week (except during Lent and Advent) and the latter would not.

Meanwhile, Ranee, who had been in Rome in 1664 defending the Abstinents, had established his own rule at La Trappe: a rule more severe than that either of the early Cistercians or of the Abstinents. His monks were forbidden not only meat but also fish, eggs, cheese, and butter. The austerity of the house – the seclusion, the silence, the fasts, the intensity of the opus Dei, and the hard manual labor – became a matter of such wide renown that Strict Observance” and “Trappist” came to be used (incorrectly) as synonyms.