The tenth degree of humility

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.”

Saint Benedict does not forbid cheerfulness; quite the contrary. He tells us in Chapter V that “God loveth a cheerful giver”. In Chapter XLIX, Saint Benedict says that the Lenten offerings are to be made “with joy of the Holy Spirit”, and that the monks are to await Holy Pascha “with the joy of spiritual longing”. Given that Saint Benedict teaches in the same Chapter XLIX that “the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character”, it follows that, at all times, joy ought to be characteristic of Benedictine life.

Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of praise. (Isaias 51:3)

The sacred liturgy, moreover, makes us ask for joy in any number of orations and hymns inspired by the Holy Ghost. Joy, then, is something desirable. It is a gift from above, ubi vera sunt gaudia, “where true joys are to be found”. Joy causes a monastic family to thrive. A joyful community is winsome and attractive. A gloomy community is unappealing; one can read its death sentence on the faces of its members. Gladness was one of the characteristics of the primitive apostolic community:

And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart. (Acts 2:46)

Monks are, at all times and in all places, summoned to joy:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Saint Benedict forbids neither the smile that is the gracious alms of the poor, offered one to another, nor the laughter that expresses a wholesome humour or delight. The laughter of the saints is modest, gentle, and pure. What Saint Benedict does forbid is the cruel laughter of a sneering sarcasm, the laughter that belittles another and makes him appear ridiculous. He bans laughter that is lascivious. Finally, there is the laughter of the immature man; it masks his inability to shoulder responsibilities, and an unwillingness to take seriously things that, by their nature, require grave consideration.