CHAPTER LXIX. That no one presume to defend another in the Monastery

27 Apr. 27 Aug. 27 Dec.

Care must be taken that on no occasion one monk presume to defend another in the Monastery, or to take his part, even although they be connected by some near tie of kinship. Let not the monks dare to do this in any way whatsoever; because therefrom may arise the most grievous occasion of scandals. If any one transgress this rule, let him be very severely punished.

We begin today a series of four chapters (69, 70, 71, 72), all of which treat of charity and unity in the monastery. Of these four chapters, two are framed in negative terms—That no one presume to defend another (Chapter 69), and That no one presume to strike another (Chapter 70)—and two are framed in positive terms—That the brethren be obedient to one another (Chapter 71) and Of the good zeal which monks ought to have (Chapter 72). The first two chapters resonate with Saint Paul’s admonitions to the Galatians:

The whole of the law is summed up in one phrase, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; if you are always backbiting and worrying each other, it is to be feared you will wear each other out in the end. Let me say this; learn to live and move in the spirit; then there is no danger of your giving way to the impulses of corrupt nature. The impulses of nature and the impulses of the spirit are at war with one another; either is clean contrary to the other, and that is why you cannot do all that your will approves. It is by letting the spirit lead you that you free yourselves from the yoke of the law. It is easy to see what effects proceed from corrupt nature; they are such things as adultery, impurity, incontinence, luxury, idolatry, witchcraft, feuds, quarrels, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, dissensions, factions, spite, murder, drunkenness, and debauchery. I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who live in such a way will not inherit God’s kingdom. (Galatians 5:14–21)

Saint Benedict warns against forming unwholesome alliances and factions within the monastery. Such alliances and factions may be based on common ethnic or familial origins and loyalties. In every closed social environment there is a risk of persons being divided into the protectors and the protected, the bullies and the bullied; one hears of such things in schools and in prisons. In monasteries where there happen to be uncles and nephews, brothers, and cousins, there may be a risk of the ties of kinship becoming a threat to the unity of the whole monastic family in which “the younger brethren reverence their elders, and the elder love the younger” (Chapter 63).

Whereas the spirit yields a harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness, purity. No law can touch lives such as these; those who belong to Christ have crucified nature, with all its passions, all its impulses. Since we live by the spirit, let the spirit be our rule of life; we must not indulge vain ambitions, envying one another and provoking one another to envy. (Galatians 5:22–26)

The monastic family will find in the conclusion of Chapter 5 of the Epistle to the Galatians a description of the virtues that foster charity and unity in the monastic family.

The teaching of Saint John the Evangelist that we heard this morning at the Second Nocturn of Matins remains, in every monastery and for all time, the fundamental and indispensable law of life together:

The Blessed Evangelist John lived at Ephesus down to an extreme old age, and, at length, when he was with difficulty carried to the Church, and was not able to exhort the congregation at length, he was used simply to say at each meeting, My little children, love one another. At last the disciples and brethren were weary with hearing these words continually, and asked him, Master, wherefore ever sayest thou this only? Whereto he replied to them, worthy of John, It is the commandment of the Lord, and if this only be done, it is enough.

We are, by Our Lord’s grace, blessed with charity and unity, but never think that the charity and unity of our monastic family will not come under attack. The devil is, at every moment, looking for ways to divide fathers from sons, sons from fathers, and brothers from brothers. Being a skilled psychologist and astute observer of human foibles, the devil knows how to magnify the smallest offence in the mind of one who has been wronged. From this, he proceeds to stir up feelings of unforgiveness and a desire for vengeance. The devil also incites brothers to say and do things that irritate and vex one another. He sets the stage for conflict and, then, sits back to watch his machinations played out among us. With good reason does Saint Benedict lay down in Chapter 13 that the Lord’s Prayer is to be said aloud by the superior at the conclusion of Lauds and Vespers “so that all may hear it, on account of the thorns of scandal which are wont to arise.”

There is one thing only that always triumphs over the machinations of the devil, the sworn enemy of all charity and unity, and that one thing is humility. The smallest act of humility is enough to undo the worst diabolical strategy. It is enough for a brother to humble himself for the devil’s best laid plans to be thwarted. Whenever charity and unity are threatened, humility is the remedy. Whenever charity and unity are damaged, humility is the remedy. Charity and unity flourish in a monastery where the brethren vie with one another in taking the lowest place; where one asks for pardon and gives pardon without delay.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.