CHAPTER VII. Of Humility
29 Jan. 30 May. 29 Sept.
Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires, since death hath its seat close to the entrance of delight; wherefore the Scripture commandeth us, saying: ““Go not after thy concupiscences.” Since, therefore, “The eyes of the Lord behold the good and the evil,” and “The Lord is ever looking down from heaven upon the children of men, to see who hath understanding or is seeking God, and since the works of our hands are reported to Him day and night by the angels appointed to watch over us; we must be always on the watch, brethren, lest, as the prophet saith in the psalm, God should see us at any time declining to evil and become unprofitable; and lest, though He spare us now, because He is merciful and expecteth our conversion, He should say to us hereafter: “These things thou didst and I held my peace.”
Cavendum ergo ideo malum desiderium. “Let us be on our guard, then, against evil desires.” What Saint Benedict calls evil desires, Saint Paul calls “the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19). The flesh drives a man towards the gratification of corrupt nature, the gratification of the eye, and the empty pomp of living, that is, towards unchastity, greed, and pride. These things, says Saint John, “take their being from the world, not from the Father” (1 John 2:16). Saint Paul says:
I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)
Saint Thomas, citing Saint Augustine, explains that Saint Paul’s catalogue of works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit is not exhaustive. Saint Thomas says that “to one virtue many vices are contrary”. “We must not be surprised”, he says, “if the works of the flesh are more numerous than the fruits of the spirit” (See I:II, q.70). In the same place, Saint Thomas says:
Either more or fewer fruits might have been mentioned. Nevertheless, all the acts of the gifts and virtues can be reduced to these by a certain kind of fittingness, in so far as all the virtues and gifts must needs direct the mind in one of the above-mentioned ways. Wherefore the acts of wisdom and of any gifts directing to good, are reduced to charity, joy and peace. The reason why he mentions these rather than others, is that these imply either enjoyment of good things, or relief from evils, which things seem to belong to the notion of fruit. (I:II, q.70)
Saint Thomas gives a lovely explanation of the word “fruit” in this context. Before the fruit there is the flower; and before the flower, the branch; and before the branch, the tree; and before the tree, the root. The fruit comes last, and this for man’s enjoyment.
Saint Paul’s list of the works of the flesh is useful in that it provides us with indicators for detecting the degree to which a man is ruled by evil desires and giving himself over to sin. All the same, these are but indicators. Evagrius and Saint John Cassian give us the catalogue of vices under the headings of eight λογίσμοι or patterns of thought: gluttony, lust, greed, sadness, acedia, anger, vainglory, pride. Saint Gregory the Great combined sadness with acedia, and vainglory with pride, adding envy to the list. Thus he arrived at the number seven. Saint Thomas uses Saint Gregory’s list, explaining that the capital vices are those which give rise to others (See I:II, q. 84).
Why should we spend any time at all identifying evil desires, works of the flesh, and capital sins? For the same reason that a botanist identifies and catalogues poisonous plants: in order to avoid them. The identification of evil desires, works of the flesh, and capital sins is useful; the identification of the fruits of the Holy Ghost is indispensable. Wheresoever a man identifies a fruit of the Holy Ghost, he also identifies the presence and the operation of the Holy Ghost. For it is by the operation of the Holy Ghost that root, tree, branch, and flower produce fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
Saint Thomas (I:II, q. 70, article 3) gives a long response concerning the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost that I find wonderfully enlightening:
Accordingly man’s mind is well disposed in regard to itself when it has a good disposition towards good things and towards evil things. Now the first disposition of the human mind towards the good is effected by love, which is the first of our emotions and the root of them all, as stated above (I-II:27:4). Wherefore among the fruits of the Holy Ghost, we reckon “charity,” wherein the Holy Ghost is given in a special manner, as in His own likeness, since He Himself is love. Hence it is written (Romans 5:5): “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Who is given to us.”
It is charity that, giving rise to desire, moves a man towards the object of his love. This means that the Holy Ghost causes us to love God and to desire God as the fulfilment of every desire for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Deus enim solus satiat. “God alone satisfies”, says Saint Thomas. Where there is no charity, there will be endless dissatisfaction, restlessness, enmities, and quarrels.
The necessary result of the love of charity is joy: because every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved. Now charity has always actual presence in God Whom it loves, according to 1 John 4:16: “He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in Him”: wherefore the sequel of charity is “joy.”
For Saint Thomas joy is linked to enjoyment. The charity by which man is united to God and God to man produces joy. Inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuæ, et torrente voluptatis tuæ potabis eos. “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure” (Psalm 35:9). A monastery filled with charity is a monastery filled with joy.
Now the perfection of joy is peace in two respects. First, as regards freedom from outward disturbance; for it is impossible to rejoice perfectly in the beloved good, if one is disturbed in the enjoyment thereof; and again, if a man’s heart is perfectly set at peace in one object, he cannot be disquieted by any other, since he accounts all others as nothing; hence it is written (Psalm 118:165): “Much peace have they that love Thy Law, and to them there is no stumbling-block,” because, to wit, external things do not disturb them in their enjoyment of God. Secondly, as regards the calm of the restless desire: for he does not perfectly rejoice, who is not satisfied with the object of his joy. Now peace implies these two things, namely, that we be not disturbed by external things, and that our desires rest altogether in one object. Wherefore after charity and joy, “peace” is given the third place.
The fruit of peace is fostered and protected by the observance of monastic enclosure and by the vow of stability. The fruit of peace also comes through the assiduous practice of lectio divina, as the psalmist says in the verse that Saint Thomas quotes: “Much peace have they that love Thy Law” (Psalm 118:165).
Patience and Long Suffering
In evil things the mind has a good disposition, in respect of two things. First, by not being disturbed whenever evil threatens: which pertains to “patience”; secondly, by not being disturbed, whenever good things are delayed; which belongs to “long suffering,” since “to lack good is a kind of evil” (Ethic. v, 3).
In Chapter IV, Saint Benedict tells us to “put our hope in God”, and in the rite of profession a monk sings three times, “Let me not be confounded in my hope” (Psalm 118:116). Patience and long-suffering flourish where there is hope. Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi, salutare vultus mei, et Deus meus. “Hope thou in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God”(Psalm 41:12).
Goodness and Benignity
Man’s mind is well disposed as regards what is near him, viz. his neighbor, first, as to the will to do good; and to this belongs “goodness.” Secondly, as to the execution of well-doing; and to this belongs “benignity,” for the benign are those in whom the salutary flame [bonus ignis] of love has enkindled the desire to be kind to their neighbor.
Goodness and benignity are the fruits most necessary for the practice of the good zeal of Chapter LXXII. The man who enjoys the fruits of goodness and benignity welcomes his brother with benevolence and with an exquisite courtesy. He interprets his brother’s words and actions favourably and is not quick to impute wicked motives to the things he observes. He knows that the charity and affection that he shows to his brethren and to the abbot are shown to Christ.
Let no one follow what he thinketh good for himself, but rather what seemeth good for another. Let them cherish fraternal charity with chaste love, fear God, love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection, and prefer nothing whatever to Christ. (Chapter LXXII)
Thirdly, as to his suffering with equanimity the evils his neighbor inflicts on him. To this belongs “meekness,” which curbs anger.
The fruit of meekness sends us again to Chapter LXXII. A brother’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind, may be hard to bear day after day. The fruit of meekness comes into play when, instead of reacting harshly to a brother’s idiosyncracies, or failings, or demands, one responds mildly, without exacerbating the tension that these things provoke.
Let them most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind. Let them vie with one another in obedience. (Chapter LXXII)
Fourthly, in the point of our refraining from doing harm to our neighbor not only through anger, but also through fraud or deceit. To this pertains “faith,” if we take it as denoting fidelity. But if we take it for the faith whereby we believe in God, then man is directed thereby to that which is above him, so that he subject his intellect and, consequently, all that is his, to God.
With regard to men, Saint Thomas takes faith to mean truthfulness, sincerity, and trustworthiness. With regard to God, faith is the submission of the whole man to God. It touches on adoration. The fruit of faith expresses the virtue of justice by which one gives to God and to neighbour what is their due.
Modesty, Continency, and Chastity
Man is well disposed in respect of that which is below him, as regards external action, by “modesty,” whereby we observe the “mode” (modus: right measure) in all our words and deeds: as regards internal desires, by “continency” and “chastity”: whether these two differ because chastity withdraws man from unlawful desires, continency also from lawful desires: or because the continent man is subject to concupiscence, but is not led away; whereas the chaste man is neither subject to, nor led away from them.
The modest man observes the right measure in all things; he avoids excess and exaggeration, holding to virtue’s rightly ordered middle way. The continent man knows how to contain himself even in making use of things that are permitted him. The chaste man flees from unlawful desires; he finds security and peace in saying to Our Lord, Ante te est omne desiderium meum. “All my desire is before thee” (Psalm 37:10). The enjoyment of the fruit of chastity makes a man happy.
It is good, at least from time to time, to review the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. I recall something that that happened when I was very young in the monastic life. Coming out of the Conventual Mass. I noticed that the Father Master was absorbed in his thoughts. Shortly thereafter, in a conference to the noviciate, he said that he often used the time after the Conventual Mass to repeat to himself Philippians 4:6-9:
Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you.
All these years later, I find myself returning to this moment and remembering what the Father Master said. If a man, in his prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving, thinks on what is true, modest, just, holy, lovely, of good fame, virtuous, and belonging to discipline, these thoughts will begin to shape his words and his deeds. Similarly, the review of the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost, makes a man desire them, and desire sets in motion the will. When the will is directed to the enjoyment of the fruits of the Holy Ghost, it is withdrawn from evil desires. The fruits of the Holy Ghost, it must be said, do not come all at once. Each fruit comes in its season. The taste proper to each fruit delights the soul. And this is the grace that I ask for each one of us on this Vigil of Pentecost: delight in the fruits of the Holy Ghost.