Are not these human thoughts? (LXIX)

CHAPTER LXIX. That no one presume to defend another in the Monastery
27 Apr. 27 Aug. 27 Dec.

Care must be taken that on no occasion one monk presume to defend another in the Monastery, or to take his part, even although they be connected by some near tie of kinship. Let not the monks dare to do this in any way whatsoever; because therefrom may arise the most grievous occasion of scandals. If any one transgress this rule, let him be very severely punished.

It sometimes happens that men newly come to the monastery hear this chapter of the Holy Rule and are disconcerted by it? Is it not a good thing to defend one’s brother? Are we not bound always to take the side of the weak, identify with the brother who is wronged, and speak in defence of the one who cannot defend himself? It is not in the sense of these questions, legitimate enough in themselves, that we are to understand Chapter LXIX. Saint Benedict’s concern in this chapter has to do rather with the renunciation of one’s desire to control the people, things, circumstances, and events of daily life.

Monks, by virtue of their profession of obedience and conversatio morum, “have neither body nor will in their own power” (Chapter XXXIII). It follows, then, that monks renounce the inclination to exercise control over others. This is a subtle temptation, because it may present itself under the guise of correcting a misjudgment on the part of the abbot, or of vindicating a brother who has been wronged, or of setting the record straight on a particularly thorny issue. The monk who falls into this temptation may think of himself as a crusader in the cause of justice and right, or as the promoter of strict observance, or as the wise man who sees more clearly and knows better than the abbot and everyone else.

It has been suggested that Saint Benedict wrote this chapter in response to certain unhappy experiences in his own monastery. Perhaps there were monks who thought themselves justified in acting on their own authority. Or perhaps there were factions based on blood relationships, or regional loyalties, or affective attachments. We know that this chapter does not appear in the Rule of the Master; it is, then, peculiar to Saint Benedict.

When a brother makes himself the protector, the advocate, and the vindicator of another, he is stepping out of obedience and taking on a role and a task that is not his. This is the sort of behaviour that undermines the authority of the abbot and sows division among the brethren. This chapter brings to mind the situation among the Corinthians that the Apostle excoriated:

Do not these rivalries, these dissensions among you shew that nature is still alive, that you are guided by human standards? When one of you says, I am for Paul, and another, I am for Apollo, are not these human thoughts? Why, what is Apollo, what is Paul? (I Corinthians 3:3-4)

There is another issue here: it has to do with the secret affection for a particular vice that may cause a brother to ally himself with another in whom he senses that he will find sympathy. For example, Brother Fructuosus has reason to believe that Brother Repletus has the same péché mignon or weakness. As soon as Brother Fructuosus senses that Brother Repletus is being corrected or admonished, he flies to his defence, fearing that he will be threatened by the same correction or admonition, and so be obliged to give up the vice to which he is attached. At bottom, Brother Fructuosus is driven by self-love to defend Brother Repletus as a means to looking after himself.

Similar things may happen at work or in choir. Every inclination to set oneself up as the arbiter of all that is right, and true, and good, proceeds from a disordered self-love and from pride. It may happen that a brother fears that certain matters are escaping his control; he may, then, in reaction to this fear of a loss of control, assert himself in defending the brother who, in his mind, has come to represent the thing that he most fears losing, or the thing dear to him that he judges to be in jeopardy.

In all such instances, the best course of action is to open oneself to the abbot with humility and simplicity, saying, “This is my secret fear. This is the thing that I feel driven to protect, or to assert, or to defend. I know that my motives may not be entirely free of self-love, of pride, and of disordered attachments. I set this matter before you and will give it no more thought.”

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