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.
Before commenting on the fourth degree of humility, I should like to make clearer what I said yesterday concerning the third degree of humility. I found myself yesterday in the quandary of a teacher reviewing what he said in his lecture and asking himself if, in fact, he succeeded in putting across the point of the lesson. The point was this: Benedictine obedience is filial. It is a kind of “sacramental” participation in the obedience of Christ to the Father. It springs from all that the Fourth Gospel reveals concerning the filial relationship of Jesus to the Father.
The Johannine quality of Benedictine obedience is something into which a monk enters step by step, by one act of obedience after another. Meus cibus est ut faciam voluntatem ejus qui misit me, ut perficiam opus ejus. “My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Quia descendi de cælo, non ut faciam voluntatem meam, sed voluntatem ejus qui misit me. “It is the will of Him who sent me, not my own will, that I have come down from heaven to do” (John 6:38). Sed ut cognoscat mundus quia diligo Patrem, et sicut mandatum dedit mihi Pater, sic facio. “But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I” (John 14:31). Ego te clarificavi super terram: opus consummavi, quod dedisti mihi ut faciam. “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). From beginning to end, the Fourth Gospel reveals the mystery of Christ’s obedience to the Father. Outside of this mystery, Benedictine obedience is unintelligible.
Benedictine obedience is not determined by mere pragmatism ( a way of getting the job done), nor by the exigencies of a particular mission (an element of strategic planning). Benedictine obedience is not ordered to any extrinsic finality, even though it may well result in a certain task being carried out and in the effective functioning of the monastic family. Benedictine obedience goes from the heart of the son to the heart of the father. Et qui me misit, mecum est, et non reliquit me solum: quia ego quæ placita sunt ei, facio semper. “And He that sent me, is with me, and He hath not left me alone: for I do always the things that please Him” (John 8:29). Benedictine obedience is an expression of pietas (the dutiful affection of a son) and of self-offering. In this, it is both filial and priestly or, if you will, victimal. The abbot, who stands in the place of Christ, receives the obedience of his monk and, through Christ, offers it to the Father. Every act of obedience unites a monk to Christ and, through Christ, to the Father in the Holy Ghost.
Quicumque enim Spiritu Dei aguntur, ii sunt filii Dei. Non enim accepistis spiritum servitutis iterum in timore, sed accepistis spiritum adoptionis filiorum, in quo clamamus: Abba (Pater).
For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). (Romans 8:14-15)
With regard to the fourth degree of humility: in the beginning of one’s monastic life, it is easy to think that one will never be faced with such sufferings as the fourth degree of humility describes: hard and contrary things, nay even injuries, trial by fire, adversities, and false brethren. Would that it were always so. The annals of monastic history, the lives of Benedictine saints, and even personal experience over a lifetime reveal that no one is spared such sufferings in one form or another. What does our father Saint Benedict say of the monk in the crucible of such sufferings?
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.”
Saint Benedict’s words are very close to the passage from Ecclesiasticus that we read at the ceremony of vestition:
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. Trust in him, and he will lift thee to thy feet again; go straight on thy way, and fix in him thy hope; hold fast thy fear of him, and in that fear to old age come thou. (Ecclesiasticus 2:1-6)
I must have been seventeen or eighteen years old when I first read this passage. I still remember the effect it produced in me. Now, fifty years later, I return to the same text and I am compelled to say a heartfelt “Amen” to every line of it. None of it remains theoretical, none of it is an unlikely possibility in some distant future. All of it is actual: the testing, the ill times, the sorrow, the crucible, and the furnace of humiliation. At the same time, by attending to the fourth degree of humility, I have learned from our father Saint Benedict to say, ““But in all these things we overcome, through Him Who hath loved us” (Romans 8:37). It takes a lifetime for a monk to make his own the words that he sings on the day of his profession: Et non confundas me ab exspectatione mea. “And let me not be confounded in my cherished hope” (Psalm 118:116).