CHAPTER XXV. Of Graver Faults
2 Mar. 2 July. 1 Nov.
Let that brother who is found guilty of a more grievous offence be excluded both from the table and from the Oratory, and let none of the brethren consort with him or speak to him. Let him be alone at the work enjoined him, and continue in penance and sorrow, remembering that dreadful sentence of the Apostle, “That such a one is delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Let him take his portion of food alone, in the measure and at the time that the Abbot shall think best for him. Let none of those who pass by bless him, nor the food that is given him.
Saint Benedict speaks of graver offences. What constitutes the gravity of an offence? There is, most obviously, the objective gravity of the offence. Certain things are always and everywhere gravely wrong and reprehensible. One would hope that offences of this sort are not perpetrated in a monastery, but human weakness accompanies a man everywhere and there is no place where a man is entirely free of temptation. Saint John Cassian’s inventory of the eight capital vices indicates the roots of sins that are objectively grave: gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia, vainglory and pride. A monk may never indulge a presumptuous sense of security, allowing himself to think that he is incapable of such sins or, in someway, protected from committing them. The Instruments of Good Works forbid murder, adultery, theft, covetousness, lying, and perjury.
Offences committed against God or against the things of God are sacrileges. Do not think that such sins are never committed by monks. Sins of this sort begin with a weakening of the virtue of religion; a man allows the servitutis pensum (bounden service of the Divine Majesty) to become routine. He falls into habitual carelessness about holy things. He becomes callous and irreverent. The Divine Majesty no longer fills him with awe. The flame of adoration is extinguished. All of these things constitute grave offences on the part of a monk who, by vocation, is set apart for the worship of God alone or, as Dante says so elegantly, disposto a sola latria.
Acts of disobedience, insubordination, and defiance of one’s superiors are grave in that they also constitute sins against the virtue of religion. Monastic obedience is a religious act, that is to say that it unites (religare, to reconnect) the monk to Christ. In this sense religo, religare is close in meaning to jugo, jugare. The disobedient monk casts off the yoke that binds him to Christ, who says, Tollite jugum meum super vos, “Take my yoke upon yourselves” (Matthew 11:29). An abbot holds the place of Christ in the monastery; he grieves over the disobedience of a monk because it impinges directly on that monk’s relationship to Christ.
There are other offences whose gravity derives from the scandal they cause and from their deleterious effect on the charity, unity, and peace of the monastery. These are sins of wrath, violence, and obdurate unforgiveness. These are also sins against the virtue of religion because the monastic community, made up of many members, is a portion of the Body of Christ, and because the monastery is the house of God. Saint Benedict says, Ut nemo perturbetur neque contristetur in domo Dei, “that no one may be troubled nor grieved in the house of God” (Chapter XXXI). There are also sins that trouble the brethren and plant the seeds of disordered and disordering affections. Such sins must be cut off and their roots destroyed lest something worse grow out of them.
In general, sins of human weakness are just that; they are more often than not the result of a lack of vigilance, or of a movement of passion, or of ignorance, or of a momentary lapse of judgment. They may also be the manifestation of deeply ingrained habits, especially where proclivities of an addictive nature are concerned. Such sins, if they are not identified, hated, renounced, and confessed can become grave over time and, at length, metastasize into monumental vices.
The abbot is bound to correct grave offences energetically and swiftly. There is a false mercy that is no mercy at all by which an abbot tolerates attitudes, words, and deeds that endanger a monk’s relationship to Christ and, necessarily, to the whole monastic community. One of the hardest things an abbot must do is to make severe corrections. These must always be proportionate to the offence and salutary for the offender. The abbot, while always preferring mercy to justice, must not use mercy as an excuse for the dereliction of his duty to chastise and correct those of his monks who are in need of a stern intervention. Return to Chapter II:
And such as are negligent and haughty we charge him to reprove and correct. Let him not shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they appear, let him strive with all his might to root them out, remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo.