Humility alone triumphs over demons (VII:8)

5 Feb. 6 June. 6 Oct.
The eighth degree of humility is, for a monk to do nothing except what is authorised by the common rule of the monastery, or the example of his seniors.

Saint Bernard, in his marvelous little book, The Twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride (a book that every novice and monk ought to read not only once, but several times over) treats of the eighth degree of humility, and describes astutely the monk who has not yet begun to practice it.

A man who prides himself on being better than his fellow-men thinks it a disgrace if he does not do something more than they do, whereby his superiority may be apparent. Therefore the general rule of the monastery and the example of its senior members are not enough for him. Yet his anxiety is not to be, but to be seen to be better than they. His effort is not to lead a better life but visibly to surpass others, so that he may be able to say, I am not as the rest of men. . . . One little private prayer of his own seems to him more commendable than the recitation of all the Psalms set for an entire night.

The prideful man is critical of the practices and observance of his seniors. He flirts with novelties and seeks to put his personal mark on everything he does. He is quick to propose a better way of doing things. He is convinced that he knows more or knows better than those who have gone before him. The prideful man also objects when his superiors find it necessary to adjust a detail of the observance, or to make certain changes in the ceremonial. In eyes of the prideful man, the superior is nearly always wrong in his decisions or deficient in his teaching. The prideful man thinks, “I would not have said it that way” and, “I would have done this thing differently.” The prideful man rarely gets through the day without interiorly correcting, judging, and murmuring against his superiors and seniors. He may even be so foolish as to issue corrections of his superiors

A hermit said to a brother, ‘Do not measure yourself against your brother, saying that you are more serious or more chaste or more understanding than he is. But be obedient to the grace of God, in the spirit of poverty, and in love unfeigned. The efforts of a man swollen with vanity are futile. It is written, “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12); “let your speech be seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6) and so you will be dependent upon Christ.’

The humble man is docile. He follows the practices and observances that he finds in place. He does not run after novelties. He is happy to be one brother among many, without seeking to assert himself, or to change what has been handed on to him. He is realistic about the shortcomings and infirmities of his seniors, but he loves them all the more when their weaknesses are evident. The humble man is not on the look–out for mistakes and inaccuracies. With regard to rubrics and ceremonies, he follows the instructions of the Master of Ceremonies and the principles set forth by the abbot. With regard to the chant, he is obedient to the indications of the choir master and accepts his corrections with modesty and good cheer.

Amma Theodora said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. There was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, ‘What makes you go away?’ ‘Is it fasting?’ They replied, ‘We do not eat or drink.’ ‘Is it vigils?’ They replied, ‘We do not sleep.’ ‘Is it separation from the world?’ ‘We live in the deserts.’ ‘What power sends you away then?’ They said, ‘Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.’ ‘Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?’

The prideful man seeks to leave his mark on everything, by doing things in a way that sets him apart. He follows his own version of the common observance by inserting into it queer little peculiarities. He is nearly always repeating to himself what the Pharisee said in the temple: ” I thank thee, God, that I am not like the rest of men” (Luke 18:11). More often than not, this need to be singular and to set oneself apart from others and above them is a longstanding personality trait, one that can be traced back to pre-school or even earlier. It may originate in a fundamental insecurity that makes a child want to be noticed, to win attention, or approval, or praise. It may originate in a fear of losing control over circumstances and events. It may also originate in a fear of being lost in the crowd, of being the same as others, or not coming out on top.

The practice of the eighth degree of humility makes a monk want to study the lives of the saints and, particularly, of the Benedictine saints, in order to learn from their example and imitate their virtues. Similarly, the practice of the eighth degree of humility gives a monk a lively interest in monastic history and of the reforms and restorations of monastic life through the ages.