Let those who dwell there bless God (XL)

CHAPTER XL. Of the Measure of Drink
19 Mar. 19 July. 18 Nov.

Every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner, another after that. And, therefore, it is with some misgiving that we appoint the measure of other men’s living. Yet, considering the infirmity of the weak, we think that one pint of wine a day is sufficient for each but let those to whom God gives the endurance of abstinence know that they shall have their proper reward. If, however, the situation of the place, the work, or the heat of summer require more, let it be in the power of the Superior to grant it; taking care in everything that surfeit or drunkenness creep not in. And although we read that wine ought by no means to be the drink of monks, yet since in our times monks cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree not to drink to satiety, but sparingly; because “wine maketh even the wise to fall away.” But where the necessity of the place alloweth not even the aforesaid measure, but much less, or none at all, let those who dwell there bless God and not murmur. This above all we admonish, that there be no murmuring among them.

I have pointed out before that in not a few chapters of the Holy Rule, the  first sentence joined to the last merits special attention. Such is the case today. In the first sentence, Saint Benedict, quoting the Apostle (1 Corinthians 7:7) says, “Every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner, another after that.” In the last sentence, Saint Benedict says, “This above all we admonish, that there be no murmuring among them.”

The abbot is charged with recognising the diversity of gifts among the brethren, and with fostering the harmonious development of them for the glory of God and the strengthening of unity in the monastery. Saint Paul says, “Extinguish not the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Brothers are not to be held back from developing their gifts, but the abbot may impose restraint if he sees that the excessive development of one gift threatens the growth and unity of the whole. The abbot must not be afraid of setting boundaries. He is charged with keeping all things in their right measure while, at the same time, fostering the development of ” all that rings true, all that commands reverence, and all that makes for right; all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is gracious in the telling” (Philippians 4:8).

Saint Benedict concludes this chapter by saying, “This above all we admonish, that there be no murmuring among them.” A much bigger question than the risk involved in serving wine at table is the vice of murmuring. Habitual murmuring is akin to drunkenness, in that it clouds one’s reason, gives rise to unwise judgments, and disposes one to a host of other vices: pride, disobedience, arrogance, rash judgment, hostility, coldness, and sadness, to name but a few. Murmuring need not be articulated or muttered. There is a non-verbal murmuring that is, in every way, as pernicious as verbal murmuring. The vice of murmuring, if it is allowed to go unchecked, can drag down an entire community.

Murmuring is often related to the rumination of old hurts, that is, to what we call “holding a grudge.” Holding a grudge is among the most common and, at the same time, most damaging vices. A grudge arises when a man is offended by someone, and when the offense causes anger, sadness and even outrage. If the grudge is allowed to grow it will spawn a toxic resentment, the desire for vengeance, bitterness, and a permanent attitude of hostility. A grudge may become so powerful that it clouds a man’s reason and keeps him from living peacefully in the presence of God and in his relations with others.

There are five principal effects of holding a grudge. One who cannot let go of past hurts may:

  • Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and experience;
  • Become so focused on what went wrong in the past that he cannot see hope in the present;
  • Fall into a pervasive sadness and chronic anxiety;
  • Feel at odds with God;
  • Lose life-giving and enriching connectedness with others.

The virtue opposed to the vice of murmuring is thankfulness. The single most effective way of combatting murmuring is to cultivate thanksgiving. All of this may seem to have little to do with the subject of this chapter, the measure of drink, but it relates at a deeper level to the joy of living and to the misery of dejection, the cup of gladness and the cup of poison. Let us ask Our Father Saint Benedict to help us drink wisely of the former, and to smash the latter by the power of the Holy Cross and by the prayer of thanksgiving.