In the Christian church flagellation was originally a punishment, and was practised not only by parents and schoolmasters, but also by bishops, who thus corrected offending priests and monks (St Augustine, Ep. 1 59 ad Marcell.; cf.
A zealot for monastic and clerical reform, he introduced a more severe discipline, including the practice of flagellation, into the house, which, under his rule, quickly attained celebrity, and became a model for other foundations.
Voluntary flagellation, as a form of exalted devotion, occurs in almost all religions.
Ritual flagellation existed among the Jews, and, according to Buxtorf (Synagoga judaica, Basel, 1603), was one of the ceremonies of the day of the Great Pardon.
Gradually, however, voluntary flagellation appeared in the libri poenitentiales as a very efficacious means of penance.