CHAPTER VII. Of Humility
1 Feb. 2 June. 2 Oct.
The fourth degree of humility is, that if in this very obedience hard and contrary things, nay even injuries, are done to him, he should embrace them patiently with a quiet conscience, and not grow weary or give in, as the Scripture saith: “He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved.” And again: “Let thy heart be comforted, and wait for the Lord.” And shewing how the faithful man ought to bear all things, however contrary, for the Lord, it saith in the person of the afflicted: “For Thee we suffer death all the day long; we are esteemed as sheep for the slaughter.” And secure in their hope of the divine reward, they go on with joy, saying: “But in all these things we overcome, through Him Who hath loved us.” And so in another place Scripture saith: “Thou hast proved us, O God; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried by fire; Thou hast led us into the snare, and hast laid tribulation on our backs.” And in order to shew that we ought to be under a superior, it goes on to say: “Thou hast placed men over our heads.” Moreover, fulfilling the precept of the Lord by patience in adversities and injuries, they who are struck on one cheek offer the other: to him who taketh away their coat they leave also their cloak; and being forced to walk one mile, they go two. With Paul the Apostle, they bear with false brethren, and bless those that curse them.
2 Feb. 3 June. 3 Oct.
The fifth degree of humility is, not to hide from one’s Abbot any of the evil thoughts that beset one’s heart, or the sins committed in secret, but humbly to confess them. Concerning which the Scripture exhorteth us, saying: “Make known thy way unto the Lord, and hope in Him.” And again: “Confess to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth for ever.” So also the prophet saith: “I have made known to Thee mine offence, and mine iniquities I have not hidden. I will confess against myself my iniquities to the Lord: and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my heart.”
The obedience to which Saint Benedict summons a monk in the third degree of humility—submission in all obedience to his superior, for the love of God, and in imitation of the Lord, obedient unto death—this obedience may well entail hard and contrary things.
My son, if thy mind is to enter the Lord’s service, wait there in his presence, with honesty of purpose and with awe, and prepare thyself to be put to the test. Submissive be thy heart, and ready to bear all; to wise advice lend a ready ear, and be never hasty when ill times befall thee. Wait for God, cling to God and wait for him; at the end of it, thy life shall blossom anew. Accept all that comes to thee, patient in sorrow, humiliation long enduring; for gold and silver the crucible, it is in the furnace of humiliation men shew themselves worthy of his acceptance.(Ecclesiasticus 2:1-5)
There are some men who, at the first sign of hardship, or of an obedience costly to himself, or of something that may bring him suffering, shrink back in fear. Such men listen more to the objections that fill their heads than to the word of God: Qui perseveraverit usque in finem, hic salvus erit, “He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13), and Confortetur cor tuum et sustine Dominum, “Let thy heart be comforted, and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 26:14). A son of Saint Benedict, then, does not stiffen himself in the face of a costly obedience. He does not withdraw into his head to indulge in ratiocinations, projections, and criticisms. He betakes himself swiftly to prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament, trusting in the Lord to comfort his heart and waiting upon the Lord to visit him with a strengthening grace. This is the monk’s participation in the prayer of Jesus in GethsemanI, something that no monk can escape.
And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast; and kneeling down, he prayed, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)
The opening of one’s heart to Our Lord in prayer corresponds to the fourth degree of humility. The opening of one’s heart to the Father of the monastery, to the one who holds the place of Christ, corresponds to the fifth degree of humility. Woe to the monk who reasons, “I can manage my own affairs. I can figure things out for myself and by myself.” Such a monk is not far from thinking, “The abbot has his own imitations, prejudices, and inadequacies. I know myself better than he knows me, and I know better than he what is good for myself.” This sort of thinking leads to a lethal pride. I say lethal because this kind of pride spreads its poison into every area of a monk’s life: his work, his prayer, his reading, and his relations with his fathers and brothers.
In the fifth degree of humility, Saint Benedict places the accent on hope. Revela ad Dominum viam tuam et spera in eum. “Uncover thy way to the Lord, and hope in Him” (Psalm 36:5). If the devil cannot bring a monk down by means of overt and conscious pride, he will try to bring him down by temptations to despair. The devil characteristically alternates temptations to pride and temptations to despair. A monk counters these with humility and hope, not by alternating acts of humility and hope, but by hoping humbly. At the bottom of despair there is always pride. Where there are humility and hope, there is always joy.