Stultus in risu (VII: The 10th degree)

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.”

Decimus humilitatis gradus est si non sit facilis ac promptus in risu, quia scriptum est: Stultus in risu exaltat vocem suam.

A superficial reading of the tenth degree of humility suggests that Saint Benedict is opposed to all laughter. But is this what the text says? Facilis ac promptus in risu describes a man who is silly, shallow, and not in possession of himself. Stultus in risu exaltat vocem suam. The stultus — the foolish, simple, silly, fatuous, or doltish man reacts to all of a life as to a joke. Saint Benedict says that he is loud: in risu exaltat vocem suam. All of this stands in contrast the virtue of gravitas, one of the four distinctively Roman social virtues, the others being pietas (devotion to duty), dignitas (a good reputation), and virtus (strength of character). We see all of these virtues in Saint Gregory’s portrait of Saint Benedict in the Second Book of the Dialogues. These four virtues are related to what Blessed Schuster considers the distinctively Benedictine virtue that he calls signorilità, or gentlemanliness. It includes graciousness of manner, tact, courtesy, distinction, and humility.

The man who has gravitas has a certain depth of personality. He does not live on the surface of things. He responds to challenges, joys, disappointments, and opportunities with equanimity, that is to say, without losing his interior peace. This does not exclude a healthy mirth, nor does it oblige such a man to set aside the virtue of eutrapelia, or playfulness. Gravitas is not gloominess; it does not cast a melancholic shadow over life. Gravitas admits of good cheer; the man who has gravitas knows how to express delight and happiness spontaneously and appropriately.

Saint Benedict excludes the kind of coarse, raucous guffaw that often masks a deep malaise. He excludes the kind of inane tittering that one hears at cocktail parties and in bars. He excludes the loud, abrasive laughter of the man who, upon entering a social context, seeks to call all attention to himself.  Saint Benedict does not exclude the spontaneous and appropriate laughter of the gentleman. A healthy sense of humour is not only compatible with humility; it is also an ally of humility.

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