Habitatores tabernaculi eius (Prologue 6)

6 Jan. 7 May. 6 Sept.
Since then, brethren, we have asked of the Lord who is to inhabit His temple, we have heard His commands to those who are to dwell there and if we fulfil those duties, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Our hearts, therefore, and our bodies must be made ready to fight under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God to supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us. And if we would arrive at eternal life, escaping the pains of hell, then – while there is yet time, while we are still in the flesh, and are able to fulfil all these things by the light which is given us – we must hasten to do now what will profit us for all eternity.

For Saint Benedict, we monks are those who inhabit the temple of the Lord. Abbot Hunter–Blair, in his quaint translation, gives the temple of the Lord, but the Latin says the tabernacle of the Lord, that is, the tent wherein He makes His abode in the midst of men. Habitatores tabernaculi eius. We think immediately of John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”, but also of the prophet’s cry, “Sing praise, and rejoice, O daughter of Sion: for behold I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee: saith the Lord” (Zacharias 2:10).

We are admitted to the tabernacle of the Lord, not as mere passing guests to whom God extends His hospitality, but as habitatores, that is, as dwellers abiding in the house of the Lord. Our stability is in the tabernacle of “the Lord Christ, our true King” (Prologue). We live in His presence. Semper in templo, laudantes et benedicentes Deum (Luke 24:53). This goes to the heart of what it means to be monks of perpetual adoration. We are, at all times, under held in the gaze of Christ.

Thy eyes did see my imperfect being, and in thy book all shall be written: days shall be formed, and no one in them. (Psalm 138:16)

Nothing of our life is hidden from the eyes of God. Saint Benedict tells us that God welcomes us into His presence with the most reassuring promises:

My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.”

We hear in these promises of the Lord an echo of the words that God addressed to Solomon at the dedication of the temple:

My eyes also shall be open, and my ears attentive to the prayer of him that shall pray in this place. For I have chosen, and have sanctified this place, that my name may be there for ever, and my eyes and my heart may remain there perpetually. (2 Paralipomenon 7:15–16)

Saint Benedict reminds us that those who dwell in the tabernacle of the Lord are bound to keep His commandments. This is an allusion to Psalm 14, which Saint Benedict cites earlier in the Prologue, but it also sends us to Our Lord’s own words in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered:

If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him. (John 14:23)

Service in the temple of the Lord demands purity — not the fastidious legal purity of the Old Law — but the cleanness of heart and hands by which a man comes to see God, according to Our Lord’s own word, “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). No sooner had Isaias caught sight of the glory of the Lord in the temple, than he became aware of his own uncleanness. God Himself purifies Isaias by sending to him one of the seraphim (the burning ones) from heaven’s altar:

And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. (Isaias 6:5–7)

One does not stay outside the temple, waiting to be made clean before entering. One enters the temple and, there, one is purified in the light of the Our Lord’s countenance. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thy eyes: our life in the light of thy countenance” (Psalm 89:8). Nothing is ever gained by staying outside on the pretext that one is not ready to enter the presence of God. I say this to any brother who hesitates before going into adoration: “Cast aside all your doubts, your calculations, your self–scrutiny, and your fears. Follow the word of Saint Benedict in Chapter LII: Simpliciter intret et oret, “Go in quietly and pray”. The purification of one’s heart takes place within the temple, in the sight of God, and it is an altogether divine operation. Saint Benedict knows this when, in Chapter XLIII, he treats of the brothers who arrive late for the Work of God:

If they were to remain outside the Oratory, some one perchance would return to his place and go to sleep, or at all events would sit down outside, and give himself to idle talk, and thus an occasion would be given to the evil one. Let him therefore enter, that he may not lose the whole, and may amend for the future.

In speaking of life in the temple, Saint Benedict never forgets that the monk is, at the same time, engaged in spiritual combat on the battlefield of his thoughts (λογίσμοι).

Our hearts, therefore, and our bodies must be made ready to fight under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God to supply by the help of His grace what by nature is not possible to us.

In the fray of spiritual combat, a monk has but one recourse: prayer. The brother who says, “I cannot pray rightly” or “I cannot pray at all” because he is under attack from all sides, makes the fatal mistake of thinking that, before he is fit to pray, he must somehow prove himself to God by emerging victorious from his temptations. Pray ceaselessly for the help of divine grace and God, by His grace, will work in you the things that, by yourself and of yourself, you cannot do. Saint Benedict is imbued with the Pauline doctrine of grace. It rests upon the ipsissima verba of Jesus Himself:

And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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