The fool lifteth up his voice in laughter (VII:10)

7 Feb. 8 June. 8 Oct.

The tenth degree of humility is, that he be not easily moved and prompt to laughter; because it is written: “The fool lifteth up his voice in laughter.”

Let it be said clearly once and for all: our father Saint Benedict is not opposed to joy. Saint Benedict would have his sons show a gladsome countenance and, in all things, give evidence of good cheer.

In Chapter V (On Obedience), he says that obedience “ought to be given by disciples with a good will, because “God loveth a cheerful giver”. In Chapter XLIX (On the Observance of Lent) he says that, “every one of his own will may offer to God, with joy of the Holy Spirit, something beyond the measure appointed him: withholding from his body somewhat of his food, drink and sleep, refraining from talking and mirth, and awaiting Holy Pascha with the joy of spiritual longing“. In the same chapter, Saint Benedict says that the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character; what characterizes the Benedictine Lent is joy. A monk ought, therefore, at all times give evidence of the fruit of the Holy Ghost that is joy.

Mirth is at home in a Benedictine monastery. Saint Thomas (IIa IIae, q. 168), who would have observed the monks of Monte Cassino on a daily basis, says that the man without mirth is burdensome to others. The virtue of eutrapelia infuses the daily monastic round of prayer, work, and reading with an element of godly playfulness. Mirth, however, is not buffoonery. What Saint Benedict opposes is buffoonery.

A monk should never play the buffoon. The buffoon puts on a happy face and keeps up an incessant stream of entertaining witticisms because he cannot bear facing himself and because he fears being exposed for what he is, naked before God. “In thy wrath we have fainted away: and are troubled in thy indignation. Thou hast set our iniquities before thy eyes: our life in the light of thy countenance” (Ps 89:7–8).

The buffoon also wants to be the centre of attention. He is happy only when all eyes are on him. He will do anything to draw attention to himself. So long as he succeeds in eliciting gales of laughter from his entourage, he feels secure, but as soon as the laughter ceases and silence falls, the buffoon sinks into the very sadness that he so tries to keep at bay.

The excessive laughter of buffoonery is, more often than not, an attempt to hide one’s pain. The monk who opens his heart in simplicity and truth to the father of the monastery will find, as he grows in humility, that he is capable of getting through life without putting on, day after day, the tedious mask of a clown.

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