CHAPTER LXX. That no one presume to strike another
28 Apr. 28 Aug. 28 Dec.
Let every occasion of presumption be banished from the Monastery. We ordain, therefore, that no one be allowed to excommunicate or strike any of his brethren, unless authority to do so shall have been given him by the Abbot. Let such as offend herein be rebuked in the presence of all, that the rest may be struck with fear. With regard to the children, however, let them be kept by all under diligent and watchful discipline, until their fifteenth year: yet this, too, with measure and discretion. For if any one presume, without leave of the Abbot, to chastise such as are above that age, or shew undue severity even to the children, he shall be subjected to the discipline of the Rule, because it is written: “What thou wouldest not have done to thyself, do not thou to another.”
The monastery is the domus pacis; even more it is a visio pacis, an image of the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, wherein all things are ordered in tranquility and beauty. I am reminded of the magnificent antiphon for the Dedication of Church, Pax aeterna:
Pax aeterna ab aeterno Patre huic domui; pax perennis Verbum Patris sit pax huic domui; pacem pius Consolator huic praestet domui.
May eternal peace descend from the Eternal Father upon this house; O Word of the Father, may lasting peace descend upon this house, O loving Consoler, do Thou grant peace to this house.
There is nothing more contrary to the pax benedictina than the violence that may be stewing below the surface of our fraternal relations. It takes a good amount of energy to contain one’s inner movements to violence. This may account for the chronic stress and fatigue of the brother who, because he is not at peace inwardly, exhausts himself in holding his rage in check. One must not wait for the proverbial soup plate to go sailing across the refectory, or for the shocking bang of the slammed door, or worse . . . before addressing the movements towards violence that may lead to regrettable and sometimes unforgettable outbursts. Saint Benedict gives us the means of avoiding such incidents. In Chapter IV, he says:
22. Not to give way to anger.
23. Not to harbour a desire of revenge.
24. Not to foster guile in one’s heart.
25. Not to make a feigned peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, lest perchance one forswear oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to render evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone yea, to bear patiently wrong done to oneself.
31. To love one’s enemies.
32. Not to render cursing for cursing, but rather blessing.
33. To bear persecution for justice’s sake.
And at the end of the same chapter, Saint Benedict says:
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.
Contained anger, that is, anger that is held in but also held onto, is a pernicious threat to the peace of the cloister. It may affect the mental and physical health of the brother who harbours it. It most certainly endangers the spiritual health of the whole monastic family because it is like a deadly tumour that, at any moment, may burst, sending its poison in every direction.
Saint Benedict would unmask the brother who, through clenched teeth and closed fists, professes to be free of the vice of anger because he has not yet struck anyone. Such a brother is already violent, even if outwardly he appears to be in control of himself. Contained violence is a sin that often goes unconfessed. In nearly every case, it springs from wounded pride, from a perceived humiliation, or from a rebuff that one judges unjust or unmerited. Listen, then, to the teaching of Saint Francis de Sales
The holy Chrism, used by the Church according to apostolic tradition, is made of olive oil mingled with balm, which, among other things, are emblematic of two virtues very specially conspicuous in our Dear Lord Himself, and which He has specially commended to us, as though they, above all things, drew us to Him and taught us to imitate Him: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
Humility makes our lives acceptable to God, meekness makes us acceptable to men. Balm, as I said before, sinking to the bottom of all liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it does to the top, is a figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all things, and excelling all things, the very flower of Love, which, so says S. Bernard, comes to perfection when it is not merely patient, but gentle and cheerful.
Give heed, then . . . that you keep this mystic chrism of gentleness and humility in your heart, for it is a favourite device of the Enemy to make people content with a fair outside semblance of these graces, not examining their inner hearts, and so fancying themselves to be gentle and humble while they are far otherwise. And this is easily perceived, because, in spite of their ostentatious gentleness and humility, they are stirred up with pride and anger by the smallest wrong or contradiction.
There is a popular belief that those who take the antidote commonly called “Saint Paul’s Unguent,” do not suffer from the viper’s bite, provided, that is, that the remedy be pure; and even so true gentleness and humility will avert the burning and swelling which contradiction is apt to excite in our hearts. If, when stung by slander or ill-nature, we wax proud and swell with anger, it is a proof that our gentleness and humility are unreal, and mere artificial show. When the Patriarch Joseph sent his brethren back from Egypt to his father’s house, he only gave them one counsel, “See that ye fall not out by the way.”
And so, my child, say I to you. This miserable life is but the road to a blessed life; do not let us fall out by the way one with another; let us go on with the company of our brethren gently, peacefully, and kindly. Most emphatically I say it, If possible, fall out with no one, and on no pretext whatever suffer your heart to admit anger and passion. Saint James says, plainly and unreservedly, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”