CHAPTER IV. What are the Instruments of Good Works
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In the first place, to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength.
2. Then one’s neighbour as oneself.
3. Then not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To honour all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself, in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to seek after delicate living.
13. To love fasting.
14. To relieve the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help in affliction.
19. To console the sorrowing.
20. To keep aloof from worldly actions.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
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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.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not given to wine.
36. Not a glutton.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not slothful.
39. Not a murmurer.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one’s hope in God.
42. To attribute any good that one sees in oneself to God, and not to oneself.
43. But to recognise and always impute to oneself the evil that one doth.
The Instruments of Good Works begin with the Commandments and, first of all, with the Two Great Commandments. Before everything, Saint Benedict places the love of God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, with all one’s strength. This is the love of God that, in the 12th Degree of Humility, will triumph over all else. “Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear” (Chapter VII). What makes a man a monk (from the Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, meaning alone) is this great all-consuming, single-hearted, single-minded love for God alone. It is this that drives a man to the monastery and it is this, and only this, that will keep him there until death.
Read Psalm 72: it is the prayer of of a man who, looking around him, sees the delusion of loving the world and all those passing things that the world offers. What does Saint John say? “Do not bestow your love on the world, and what the world has to offer; the lover of this world has no love of the Father in him” (1 John 2: 15). Psalm 72 is the prayer of a man who questions the ways of God. Why does God permit the good fortunes, the success, and the apparently carefree life of those who love the world, while allowing the man who would love Him alone and keep himself for Him alone to exist in what looks like a state of abjection, emptiness, and failure? The monastic life is a terrible risk. What if, having left everything for a single great love, there is nothing in the end? What if the pleasure-loving worldlings who drink deeply of the cup of passing satisfactions are the ones who got life right? What if the monk who has staked everything on One Thing is the deluded one? What if the monk, after having given all his heart, all his soul, and all his strength to a Love that he neither sees, nor hears, nor holds in an embrace, finds himself with nothing in this life and with nothing in the next. These are the questions that torment the psalmist. Without being a monk, the man (the hasid) who wrote Psalm 72, experienced ahead of time the classic monastic temptations in all their bitterness and terror.
Psalm 72 does more than ask the questions. It also gives the answer, the one answer, the only answer. The psalmist says what every monk is compelled to say if he is to persevere in the cloister: Donec intrem in sanctuarium Dei et intelligam . . . . “Until I betook myself to God’s sanctuary and came to understand” (Psalm 72:17). The answer is found in the sanctuary of God and nowhere else: not in the lecture halls of prestigious universities, nor in libraries, nor in the best-equipped scientific laboratories, nor on the analyst’s couch, nor in the intimate fleshly embrace of a loved one. No, the answer is found nowhere save in sanctuarium Dei (in the sanctuary of God).
You may think I am making a great leap over space, and time, and cultures, and indeed over the literal meaning of the text, when I say that in sanctuarium Dei sends a monk nowhere if not to the altar, to the tabernacle, nowhere if not to the invisible radiance of the Host, to the silence of the Host, and to the Deus absconditus (hidden God) of the Host. What can a man say in the presence of the Host? How can he give voice to the fears that haunt him, to the emptiness that threatens him to the dread that opens like a chasm under his feet? The psalmist says it:
Quia inflammatum est cor meum, et renes mei commutati sunt; et ego ad nihilum redactus sum, et nescivi.
For my heart hath been inflamed, and my reins have been changed: and I am brought to nothing, and I knew not. (Psalm 72: 21-22)
Et nescivi (and I knew not): is this not the most poignant phrase of this most poignant of psalms? Et nescivi. One must not be afraid of being brought to this point, of finding oneself in a state of not knowing. There are hours in a monk’s life when, “going into the sanctuary of God,” he can do no more than ask, “Art Thou here? If Thou art here, why art Thou here? And if Thou art here, why am I here?” Never be afraid of asking questions such as these. And never be afraid of saying to Our Lord what the psalmist said:
Ut jumentum factus sum apud te, et ego semper tecum.
I am become as a beast of burden before thee: and I am always with thee. (Psalm 72:23)
What does a beast of burden do? Mules and donkeys have a natural attraction to their masters. They learn to trust and to obey. The mule or donkey waits for his master loyally and stands mute in his master’s presence, expecting to receive food and drink from his master’s hand. After comparing himself to the beast of burden, the psalmist adds: Et ego semper tecum. “And I am always with Thee” (Psalm 72:23). This goes to the heart of the psalmist’s prayer: “Knowing nothing, I am here for Thee because Thou art here for me.” Fidelity is the test and the measure of love. In the end, the love of God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength is reduced to a simple act of presence.Out of this humble prayer of love—we call it adoration—there comes the rest of what the psalmist prayed:
Tenuisti manum dexteram meam, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me. (Psalm 72:24)
Thou hast taken hold of my right hand; and by thy will thou hast brought me out.
The phrase, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me (and in Thy will Thou hast conducted me or brought me out) may also be rendered as “and in Thy love for me Thou has brought me to this hour, to this place, to this page of the story of my life. And then the psalmist says, Et cum gloria suscepisti me. “And with glory Thou hast taken me unto Thyself.” At the beginning of his monastic life, a monk prays, Suscipe me, Domine. “Take Thou me to Thyself, O Lord.” And at the end of his life, the monk who will have remained faithful in love will say, “With glory Thou hast taken me unto Thyself.”