CHAPTER LXIII. Of the Order of the Community
18 Apr. 18 Aug. 18 Dec.
Let everyone keep that place in the Monastery, which the time of his entering religion, the merit of his life, or the appointment of the Abbot shall determine. And let not the Abbot disquiet the flock committed to him, nor by an undue use of his authority ordain anything unjustly; but let him ever bear in mind that he will have to give an account to God of all his judgments and all his deeds. Therefore in that order which they hold, or which he shall have appointed, let the brethren receive the kiss of peace, approach to Communion, intone the Psalms, and stand in choir. And in no place whatsoever let age decide the order, or be prejudicial to it; for Samuel and Daniel, when but children, judged the elders. Excepting, therefore, those whom (as we have said) the Abbot hath promoted with some special object, or for distinct reasons hath degraded, let all the rest stand in the order of their coming to religion; so that, for example, he who entered the Monastery at the second hour of the day must know that he is lower than he who came at the first hour, whatever may be his age or dignity. The children are to be kept under discipline at all times and by every one.
There is a continuity between yesterday’s Chapter LXII “Of the Priests of the Monastery” and today’s Chapter LXIII, “Of the Order of the Community.” Concerning the priests of the monastery, Saint Benedict says, “And let him that is ordained beware of arrogance and pride.” It is because the priesthood raises a man to the unsurpassable dignity of ascending to the altar to offer God in sacrifice to God that it carries with it the risk of the priest becoming arrogant and proud. It is a terrible thing when a priest, who has the most intimate daily contact with the humility of God, begins, as Our Lord says in today’s Gospel, to “trust in himself as just, and despise others.”
Arrogance and pride are hateful vices in any Christian. In a monk they are a contradiction of Chapter VII, the heart of the Holy Rule. In a priest monk, arrogance and pride are so disfiguring that they cause the angels to look away and to weep.The angels shudder at everything that recalls the terrible Non serviam of one of their own, and of these not the least.
A man may not always articulate the prayer of the Pharisee, ” I thank thee, God, that I am not like the rest of men,” but he may think it or, at some unconscious level, believe it to be true. For this reason, it is not enough to embrace humiliations, to own up to one’s failings, and to prefer the last place. No man can purify himself completely from pride. Pride is so encrusted in the deepest parts of a man’s that a man can be cleansed of it only by a divine operation. God purifies a soul of pride either by acting on the soul from without, by permitting searing humiliations, chronic infirmities, and persistent failures, or by acting on the soul from within, by allowing the soul to suffer darkness, desolation, and the sentiment of being out of His hearing and far from His sight. It would be presumptuous to ask for such passive purifications; at the same time, it is useless to fight against them. The Apostle says:
And when we were all fallen down on the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew tongue: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the goad. (Acts 26:14)
The order of the community that Saint Benedict sets forth in Chapter LXIII is an expression of charity grounded in humility. The angels are perfectly ordered in a splendid hierarchy; they are perpetually brought low in adoration of the Divine Majesty. They configure themselves to every movement of the Charity that is God: L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle. What Dante says in the last line of the Paradiso describes, I think, the order of charity and humility that is so beautiful in the angels:
But by now my desire and will were turned,
Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,
By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars. (Paradiso XXXIII)