Et inclinato capite (VII:12)

9 Feb. 10 June. 10 Oct.
The twelfth degree of humility is, that the monk, not only in his heart, but also in his very exterior, always shew his humility to all who see him: that is, in the work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing, with head always bowed, and eyes fixed on the earth, that he ever think of the guilt of his sins, and imagine himself already present before the terrible judgment-seat of God: always saying in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: “Lord, I a sinner am not worthy to raise mine eyes to heaven.” And again, with the prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled on every side.”

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear: whereby he shall begin to keep, without labour, and as it were naturally and by custom, all those precepts which he had hitherto observed through fear: no longer through dread of hell, but for the love of Christ, and of a good habit and a delight in virtue which God will vouchsafe to manifest by the Holy Spirit in his labourer, now cleansed from vice and sin.

At the beginning of my last reflection on the Prologue of the Holy Rule, I said that the best commentary on the text was written not by a Benedictine, but by a Dominican, a Friar Preacher. I must say the same thing regarding the 12th degree of humility in Chapter VII. If you would see the 12th degree of humility, contemplate Beato Angelico’s crucified Jesus at San Marco in Florence. More can be learned about the 12th degree of humility by gazing at Fra Angelico’s crucified Jesus than in reading volumes of written commentary.

For Saint Benedict, the summit of humility is configuration to the crucified Jesus, to the Christus passus, to Jesus in the very act of acquiescing with filial abandoment to the will of the Father. Saint Benedict lifts a very telling phrase from Saint John’s account of the death of the Lord to describe the interior transformation of the monk: Et inclinato capite tradidit spiritum, “And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). This phrase is the key to understanding all of Chapter VII, and he who understands Chapter VII, has, I think, understood all of the Holy Rule.

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