June 5th, 1996, Serial No. 00130

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Rule of Benedict Novice Class # 1 - 1990s

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We are beginning the chapter on humility, which is chapter 7 in St. Benedict's Rule. And it's given credit for being the core of the rule, the heart of St. Benedict's Rule, as well as of the rule of the Master. Remember that there are three of these principal virtues, obedience, silence of taciturnity and humility. And according to our author, de Vaudoy, and it's evident, that humility includes the other two. But if you read the steps of humility, you'll find there are steps of obedience, several of them, and there are steps of silence towards the end. So humility is a comprehensive one. And this is an enormously long chapter for St. Benedict, isn't it? Because normally he shortens here, bridges the Master, but here he's nearly taken the whole of the Master's chapter 10, except he's taken off the description of heaven at the end, as he did, remember, in the earlier chapter. So you mount the ladder, and in St. Benedict's Rule you arrive not at heaven, but you arrive


at perfect charity, which casts out fear. So he wants to keep it in this world, as it were, without offering you that other perspective. We'll spend a little more time on this than we have on the other chapters, and it's complex enough to give us scope to do that. But also I think we need to consider the whole issue with something of a critical perspective. Ask ourselves about the meaning of humility, the place of humility, and how we can look at it today. Because we're dealing with something which, from a psychological perspective, people could completely reject. They would say, well, the way that humility is described is destructive to the human person. And the importance of self-image today, the fragility of people's self-image, the degree to which people need to be able to think well of themselves, need affirmation, all those subjects are prime subjects in the psychology of today.


So how do we speak about humility today in a way which can be positive and can be helpful to a person, and also realistic, given, what would you say, the one-sided treatment that we find in our classical literature, such as the rules, where it's almost as if descent were the only thing, as if humility and obedience were the only virtues, as if the only virtues were renunciation, except at certain points where love will come out, or you see something else operating. So we'll do that after taking a look at this chapter itself, and its antecedents. Now the two antecedents which we have are firstly, and most immediately, the rule of the Master, the Master's chapter 10, and then Cassian. You have a xerox of the final chapters of that book of the Institutes, especially chapters 39 and 43, but it's 39 which is the grandfather of Saint Benedict's chapter 7.


The kind of steps in what I'd like to do would be first to look at the rule of chapter 7 and its sources, Cassian and the Master, then a further development or two, probably just Saint Bernard, those degrees of humility and of pride, which is quite a beautiful little work of Saint Bernard's. It may strike us as being too simple, of course, and one-sided today, but that's true of most of the monastic literature if we look at it in a contemporary perspective. And then finally, thirdly, the problem of spirituality and humility today. So we've got a value of a reality which can't be rejected, can't be left behind, and yet which requires some kind of a reinterpretation, or rather a thorough reinterpretation. Let's take a look first at the degrees of humility to get an idea of how they flow in Saint Benedict's chapter 7, and then we can actually read through them systematically afterwards.


Note that there are 12 degrees of humility here, and the first one is given more space than any of the others. So you've got a couple of pages devoted, more than two pages devoted to the first degree of humility, which is the fear of God, and there's an abundance of scriptural quotes given to fortify it. Then the second degree of humility is, a man loves not his own will, nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires. So what does this mean, actually? In some ways, he renounces his own will. He's ready for a turning in his life, in that sense. And then that leads directly to the third step, in which one submits his own will to a superior. One seems to lock right into the other. The fourth step is, when obedience becomes difficult, he perseveres patiently.


The fifth step is that he opens his heart to the spiritual father, who here is the abbot. And notice that here, it's not just opening the heart, but it's confessing one's sinful thoughts and wrongs. Whereas in Cassian, it's a matter of opening the heart without qualifying the thoughts that you're confessing as good or evil. That's an important change. The sixth step, we have gotten beyond the stage of obedience here, in a sense. Well, no, we haven't. Not the way that Benedict gives it to you. Because he says, A poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given... So you're still in the circle of obedience, but you're moving to something else, which you might call abasement. Something that sounds like it has to belong to the seller. But sometimes they classify these degrees of humility in three categories.


Obedience, abasement, and silence. But that doesn't seem quite to work. I think these attempts to divide it with concepts, divide the twelve degrees, are somewhat artificial. They never quite fit. Maybe it's because we have trouble remembering twelve things. That's right. Well, it would be nice to simplify it. I think we do mentally, because certainly there are categories. The category of obedience embraces nicely three or four degrees. The category of silence, or restraint of speech and laughter, nicely embraces about three degrees too. But it's hard to find, say, three or four notions, rubrics, which will nicely divide the chapter. Now, we do have trouble remembering twelve things. After a while you get the hang of how they flow. One way of remembering is simply, you get to one point and then you remember what comes next. One leads to the next. In fact, very often...


Do you ever notice, in the psalms, you sing one, and your ear knows what's coming next. You start remembering in your ear what the next thing is. Just like in the office, you come to the end of one psalm, before you turn the page you know what the end of the next one is. That's right, that's right. Because we sing the same sequence. Right? And in the old days I'm sure they memorized the whole of this chapter at least. Okay, where were we? We got to the sixth step, okay. And here's where you get especially to the points that would be questioned by contemporary psychology. First, here you're insignificant and ignorant, no better than a beast before you. And the seventh step, you're a worm. So the sixth step, you're content with the lowest treatment, and regard yourself as a


poor workman in whatever you're given. Seventh step, inferior to all and of less value. Now here you interiorize the thing in Cassian's version. That is, you not only say it, but you believe it in your heart, you feel that. Eighth step, you do only what is in the tradition. And here Benedict has concretized it very much. So it's the tradition of this monastery, the common rule of the monastery in the example, not of the elders as in Cassian, but of the superiors. The very Benedictine notion. Ninth step, restraint of the tongue. Now, this sounds very much like the mastery, that you only speak if you're asked a question. It would be the abbot who would ask the question, too. Tenth step, not given to any laughter. Eleventh step, speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and without raising his voice. There's a curious order in these steps, isn't there? They're very close together, but actually one of Cassian's has been split into two.


Split into, I believe, the ninth and the eleventh. Then the twelfth step, the manifest humility and his bearing no less than in his heart. So this is a further external expression, but the commentators will often speak of it as an interior disposition, chiefly. However, Saint Benedict has been moving in the direction of external manifestation, so we have to take it that way first. Now, people point out that the first degree and the twelfth degree are very close together, and neither of those is as such in Cassian, okay? Cassian has ten signs of humility, not degrees. And then the Master and Benedict insert the first one and the final one, and in doing that they form a kind of inclusion within the fear of God, you can see. The emphasis in the first is on the fear of God itself, and in the presence of God, the watchfulness of God, of all your actions. And the last one is the emphasis on the external expression of this fear of God.


But that places an enclosure around Cassian's ten signs. Now, the ten signs of humility in Cassian are all with respect to your neighbor. That is, humility is relational in that respect, or communal, you might say. And the first and the last sign, however, are towards yourself and towards God. So it's a more vertical framework that Cassian's ten signs have been put into, both by the Master and by Benedict. And then, after the twelfth sign, you have this lovely conclusion, which is anticipated in Cassian as well, as we'll see. After ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear. And the way that the, what would you call it, the work of the Spirit, and the movement from fear to love, and from law to grace, as it were, or law to the Spirit, or constraint to freedom,


or rule to spontaneity, as he's described, is quite beautiful. Part of the problem is, though, as Debocle himself brings out, that love is here at the end, whereas in the Gospel, of course, love appears at the beginning, doesn't it? What's the great commandment? You shall love the Lord your God. We just had it, or will have it, in the Eucharist. So, we've met that before, haven't we? That Cassian, and therefore the role of the Master and Benedict, tend to put love at the end, rather than the beginning. But in Chapter 4, remember, it's at the beginning, isn't it? In the list of the instruments of good work. So we've got a couple of things operating there. When they go back into the context of the Gospel more, they tend to put it at the beginning. When they tend to look at things like the professional monastic writers, with ladders, scales, and sequences, they tend to put it at the end. And you can see how there's a reason for both of those. If it is to be the first movement and the gift of God, and there, right at the beginning, in Pentecost, as it were,


as the initial gift, the baptismal gift, at the same time, it's the perfection of Christianity. So, it needs to be, in some way, at the end, doesn't it? It needs to be the final step. It needs to be the crown of whatever you're doing, doesn't it? So, as it were, we're responding to two necessities there. And it's legitimate, I suppose, that you would have this double treatment. Okay, let's take a look at Chapter 10 of the Rule of the Master, which you don't have there. I'm just going to outline it for you. Basically, right from the beginning, and almost all the way through, it's the same as RV7, with minor changes and additions in RV7. Even at the end, even the conclusion. Therefore, when the disciple completes the ascent of all these rungs of humility, he will, in the fear of God, successfully scale the ladder of his life.


You can see Benedict's language is a little different. And soon come to that love of the Lord, which, when perfect, casts out fear. Whereby, all that he previously observed, not without fear, he will begin to keep without any effort, as though naturally out of habit. No longer because of fear of hell, but out of very love for his good habit, and because of delight in virtue. Saint Benedict has added a word or two there. For love of Christ, he puts in, in the last part of that, Out of love for Christ, good habit, and delight in virtue. Whereas the Master has, out of very love for this good habit, and because of delight in virtue. The Lord will be pleased to make this manifest in his work, and now cleansed by the Holy Spirit from vices and sins. Virtually the same as Benedict. Benedict has changed the order of the work of the Holy Spirit there a bit. Then, the Master embarks on this description of paradise,


of the reward in heaven which Benedict has got. A soul such as this, therefore, having gone up these rungs, will, when life has ended, doubtlessly enter into the reward of the Lord, to which the Apostle refers when he says, What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory as yet unrevealed which is waiting for us. And then he goes on to describe, as he did before, Where the red roses flower without ever wilting. The lush groves retain forever the greenness of springtime. The verdant meadows ever abound with rivers of honey and song. Everything is sweet-smelling and soft. There's a kind of charm to that, but at the same time there's a literalness, which is strange, isn't it? If the monastic life is supposed to lead you to a new level of consciousness, it's surprising to find such a, what do you call it, extroverted description of the blessedness that's awaiting you. So maybe Saint Benedict's curtailing of this and cutting of this description is not only good from the point of economy and the trimness of the rule, but also from that point of view, that these descriptions are lovely in their poetry,


but somehow don't quite reach the depth of what were promised in the New Testament. Do they? Although you find a lot of that in the prophets, remember? Like, even the prophet Isaiah, remember? Second and third Isaiah. But the descriptions there are, what would you call it, are evidently and obviously in some way metaphorical or symbolic, you know? That is, the land that's flowing with milk and honey and so on. They seem to be a kind of poetry which is consciously symbolic rather than literal, it seems to me. And even Jerusalem is the woman who's to give birth, the barren woman has to give birth. Well, that's not literal, that's symbolic. And so are a lot of the other descriptions, but here you don't quite have that sense. It's a literalistic projection of the sensual life of this world. And because it's so much projected towards delight and towards pleasures of the senses, there's something missing. There's a kind of balance missing in it.


So it's probably just as well that St. Benedict cut it out. There the food causes no experiment. For just as the ears are sated with good tidings, and the nostrils with fragrance, and the eyes with visual perfection, and eating cannot result in indigestion. Because the banquet of love consists not of food and drink, but of seeing, smelling, and hearing. No, it avoids the gross, but leaves you with a kind of... I don't know what the Islamic heaven is like. Maybe it's something like that. But those things are usually meant to be a, what would you call it, an elusive symbolic poetry. Let's take a look at Cassian's Institutes, Chapter 39 here. We can compare it with the order of the Master and Benedict that we just looked at. The beginning of our salvation, and the safeguard of it, is, as I said, the fear of the Lord.


This is the talk of Abbot Penufius, who's been telling about the practices of the synovium. And here he lets himself go and describes the inner process of transformation. But he does it through external signs. Now, this beginning has turned into the first degree of humility for the Master and for Benedict. It's not a degree here. In fact, Cassian doesn't have degrees, he has signs. What the Master and Benedict have done have taken the series of signs and turned them into an ascending scale. They've made them progressive. Whereas, in Cassian, you don't have a strong sense that they're progressive. They're all signs on the same level. And the Vogel boy himself admits that we should not take the progressive nature of the ladder in Benedict and the Master too literally, too seriously. Because, actually, they all come simultaneously. Okay? And, see, they've done that largely


by bringing the image of the ladder in. Cassian doesn't have the image of the ladder. They've taken the ladder from, what is it, Genesis 28, Jacob's vision of the ladder, and brought it in here, which gives you a lovely image, and a lovely kind of... Encloses the whole thing in a nice picture. But at the same time, that progressivity is deceptive. Especially because the last signs, some of them don't seem very deep. They don't seem to go as deep as some of the earlier signs. Those external things of restraint and speech and laughter and things like that, they would seem to be at the beginning. For, through this fear of the Lord, those who are trained... Remember, scripture says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom, of being in wisdom. It also says that the fear of the Lord is the perfection of wisdom. And in another conference... Not a conference, this is not a conference. Cassian talks about the progression from one kind of fear to the other, which is from servile fear to filial fear of the Lord.


So, you cover these things up, these discrepancies, by talking about more than one kind of fear. If the first letter of John says that perfect love casts out fear, does it cast out that filial fear of the Lord or not? I don't think so. At least, that's what a lot of our commentators will assure us. There's a kind of a fear of the Lord that remains forever. And to understand that, I think we have to experience it, but also we have to allow the word fear to change its sense for us. We have to allow the word itself to expand. You might even call it delicacy. You might even call it sensitivity, or you might call it an extreme sensitivity in one's relationship with the Lord, so that it brings about a care and a caution, which I think is true in a relationship of love. You may not want to call it fear, but there's a sensitivity and a caution not to injure the relationship,


not to hurt the other person himself, which can be translated into our relationship with God. Okay, when this fear has gained an entrance into a man's heart, it produces contempt of all things. Now, this is a stage of renunciation, which... See, the first step of fear is not a step in caution, but probably happens outside the monastery. The second point here of renunciation is what brings a person to a monastery, or is the entry to the monastery. Let me put it that way. The step of renunciation is taking up the monastic life, and then the other signs take place within the monastic life for caution. But that progression, from outside the monastery to inside the monastery, is dropped by the Master and by Benedict, for whom it all takes place inside the monastery. So the second point here, stage, is contempt of all things, forgetfulness of kinsfolk, and a horror of the world itself. Now, that's the typical strong rhetoric of this tradition.


Renunciation of the world, leaving the world, and that's taking up the monastic life. Now, by contempt for the loss of all possessions, that's an interiorized renunciation, humility is gained. Humility is attested by these signs. And then he goes on with ten signs which are, by and large, identical with degrees three through eleven of the Master and of Benedict. And when this has once been genuinely secured, then at once it leads you on by a still higher step to love, which knows no fear. And through this you begin without any effort, as it were, naturally, to keep up everything that you formerly observed, not without fear... You formerly observed it, not without fear of punishment. The translation here could be deceptive. No longer now from a guard of punishment, a fear of the love of goodness itself, and delight in virtue.


Which is almost literally taken by the Master and by Benedict with the little modifications you have seen. That's one scheme. The other scheme, which is an abbreviated one, you find in chapter 43 on the second page. And this one clearly is to be memorized. And it's a wider perspective he gives you here. Here there are a few words how you can mount up to the heights of perfection without any effort or difficulty. Now, notice, here you do have progressivity, okay? Here you have a progression from rung to rung without the image of the ladder. But when he says mount, you have instinctively the image of steps or a ladder, don't you? So maybe the Master and Benedict got their clue for picking up the image of the ladder from here, rather than from the other section. Without any effort or difficulty, it sounds like one of those things you get in the mail.


The beginning of our salvation and of wisdom is according to scripture the fear of the Lord. Okay. From the fear of the Lord arises salutary compunction. Okay, but that's a step he didn't give us before, did he? He went straight from the fear of the Lord to renunciation in the earlier account. From compunction of heart springs renunciation, and then from that, which is synonymous with nakedness and contempt of possessions is begotten humility. And then the whole of humility is just one step here. So the ten signs would be included there. And then from humility, the mortification of desires, through mortification of desires, all faults are extirpated and decayed. By driving out faults, virtues shoot up and increase. By the budding of virtues, purity of heart is gained. By purity of heart, the perfection of apostolic love is acquired. Wow. So, the whole of the ladder, as it were, of Saint Benedict and the Master would seem to be swallowed in one step of humility here. But obviously that's not so.


But notice that humility is far from being the final step here. It doesn't seem to lead you all the way up. Saint Benedict and the Master imply, if they don't say it explicitly, that the mortification of desires and the growth of the virtues and purity of heart are included in humility, don't they? Are comprehended in their ladder of humility. This sounds like what we heard the other day from the Letter of Peter, doesn't it? That they'll undergird this virtue with that one, on the scale of... progressive scale of virtues. That was the text that Cassian, that Cyprian preached on. So humility has been contracted here, and it seems to play a much smaller role, whereas before it seemed to be almost everything. This, by the way, has behind it evagrius, because evagrius gives you a kind of ladder which leads to apatheia, which is passionlessness,


and at that stage you are able to experience contemplation. And I don't know if evagrius has put love in there at all. So Cassian is actually somewhat Christianizing evagrius, who has a very Greek philosophical and intellectualist doctrine. And evagrius is a Platonist. He owes a lot of his theory to Origen, it seems. Purity of heart is the evangelical virtue. It's in the Beatitudes, which, you remember, is the goal of the monastic life, according to Cassian, in the first conference of Abba Moses. So he's consistent there. Any comments on that before we go on, or go back to our rule? Since Chapter 7 is so important for us,


I think it's good to go into its background a little bit. It helps you to understand Chapter 7 of St. Benedict's Word without taking it too literally, and yet to understand, get the sense, the feel of what's going on here. De Vogelweg has two treatments of RV7. One of them is a fairly straightforward treatment, and reading St. Benedict is quite useful, and quite lengthy, too, for this book. The other one is brief, and he says he's done it twice before, and so he's not going to extend himself on it in this book. But what he does is take a critical look at Chapter 7 here. You may find that quite interesting. He tries to confront some of these problems. And when he does it, he can be quite critical of the treatment in RV7. He speaks, for instance, about the problem of love coming at the end rather than the beginning. He says, Humility was for our fathers what love is for us. The key word that sums up everything.


Of charity, they had a high, perhaps a too high idea, as even today many people have a mysticism, or they see mysticism as only for very special people crowning their long lives on ascetical labors, and so on. Humility was for our fathers what love is for us. The key word that sums up everything. Now, he's talking about the monastic fathers, right? Because the church fathers certainly would not be likely to say that. And that's something that we have to question. And we have to try to understand it. We have to try to get a feeling for it, and then be able to put it in context, both in the context of the Gospel, and in the context of today, of our own experience. A couple of critical ideas which I'd like to mention now, and I'll come back to them later. One is the whole issue, you can call it the psychological issue, of what's happening in the person, and what's good for the person,


and what will really help the person to grow, and what will tend to crush or retire, or close up the person. Okay, we have to ask that question when we read Chapter 7. Another question is what you might call the social question of solidarity. How about that? Because, at first sight, the chapter would seem to present us with an individualistic picture of the individual monk ascending or descending towards perfection, towards salvation, right? What about relationship with others? When you take a second look there, you realize that most of these grades of humility, all the ones that come from cash-in, are social in some way, aren't they? So that implicit in these is a change in your way of relating to people, okay? What we might like to see, perhaps, is an integration of this into a vision of communion. That is, that you're not doing this by yourself, you're not closed in by yourself, operating on your own system,


and trying to retool, or reorganize, or transform your own personal system, but you're actually in a context of solidarity, or of communion. And that as you move up, it should not be only a matter of an interior change, but of a different quality of relationship, and a different kind of experience and realization of communion with others, okay? That would seem important today. And maybe not only in the context of the monastery, of just the little circle in which you live, but in a larger context, maybe a world context. Chittister, when she talks about this chapter, I think has something very good to say. She says something like this, that this chapter on humility may not strike you as very relevant to us, but just think of the position, for instance, of Americans in the world, economically speaking, all right, or politically speaking, and so on. And the amount of complacent ignorance that is in our culture, okay? The way we can complacently, as it were, sit on top,


or on the top of the economic structure of the world, and consume most of its resources, maybe, and have a complacent sense of superiority, and go along in this way. So, something in the way, something like humility is needed, something like a conversion in our national consciousness is needed. And maybe this chapter has a lot to do with what it is, with what it's about. But the view of Benedict's chapter itself, it would seem, would need to be complemented and filled out with that kind of perspective, okay? Some kind of social and even global perspective today. Something that wasn't necessary or possible in those days. But very often, the monastic literature is talking about poverty, and it's talking about humility, and things like that, as if you were isolated in a kind of container. The container of the monastery, or even the container of your own body and life. And that the whole thing was going on in there. But really, it had very much to do, I think, with entering into the common level of humanity, and the common condition of humanity, which is the condition of the poor.


So, the poverty and the humility of the monks had very much to do with human solidarity. But the literature doesn't say that. The bishops will say that when they're preaching. They'll say, Well, whatever you have that you don't need, it was taken from the poor, it belongs to them. But the monastic writers don't talk about that. And yet, what they're talking about is actually very much about that, it seems to me. But they're talking about the poverty and the humility, and a good number of the other virtues. So there are a lot of social implications which are simply not brought out. But they're very, what would you call it, very gospel-centered in that way. Humility When Jesus talks about humility, we have to consider it. He who, the one who exalts himself will be humbled, the one who humbles himself would be exalted. That's put at the beginning of our chapter on humility here. And Dvorak points out it's in three different places in the Gospels, where there's a somewhat different sense each time. One place is the parable of the banquet, remember?


When you give a banquet, or when you're invited to a banquet, don't sit at the top, but put yourself in the bottom place, and then let the master, and they come along and say, Frank, come up higher. Another time was after the parable of the... It's another parable. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee. Then again, you hear it, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, who humbles himself will be exalted. I forget what the third one is, it's in Matthew. I don't recollect what the third one is. Humility there has to do sometimes most strongly with, directly with God, as it tells you, the Pharisee and the publican. But not only. Remember what the publican, the Pharisee said? I thank you, Lord, that I'm not like this other folk.


So, even there, it had the horizontal aspect to it, horizontal dimension, the social dimension. Could we say, rather than saying humility is... Excuse me? Could we say that, rather than saying humility is putting yourself under others, at least not putting yourself over others? Yes, that's right. That might be a first step of humility. But actually that's very difficult, not to put oneself over others. It's difficult, it's different in different contexts, okay? But especially when you're with people that you might instinctively consider inferior in some way. Even with poor people, something like that. Not to put oneself above others is extremely difficult, to put oneself on the same level. And there's a drive in us, in our ego in that sense, which is continually distinguishing us and demanding that we rise above others.


It's difficult to define humility. And often I think it's better to allow maybe a number of definitions, a number of attempts at definition, and to see how the definitions relate to the reality which we're instinctively aware of in some way. Because we know our egoism, we know our tendency towards self-centeredness and so on, our tendency towards exaltation. And in some way I think we have an instinct for what humility is about. But whenever we try to express it precisely, articulate it precisely, what we say doesn't quite seem to fulfill it. Even like all these signs. It's almost like these signs of humility are attempts to draw a circle around the reality of humility without anybody's being able to say exactly what it is. It's something simple and complex at once, and something very deep in us, it seems. And it's a transformation of the core of the human person, or something near the core. I don't want to say transformation of the core,


because it's almost like a transformation of the shell of the human person, which is the ego, so that it becomes transparent. And if we ask what it becomes transparent to, you can say it becomes transparent to God, as Saint Benedict would be likely to say, or the Master, or Cassian. Or you can say it becomes transparent to our deeper self, as someone like Thomas Parton, or some of the Buddhists would say. That it becomes transparent, or Hindu, the Atman, becomes transparent to a unitive self, which no longer has that that thrust for desperate need for self-exaltation, because it has the fullness in itself, and because it's a unitive self. So that if we talk in contemporary terms about the relation between the ego and the self, for instance, the self with a big S, that unitive self, that core of the person which is somehow one with God, and in being one with God, knows itself in union with everything else, rather than opposing itself to everyone else and having to be better.


So move on in that direction. Just when you read these steps, if you could interpret them in a very negative light, by groveling all the way through. That's right, that's right. And so, that's what I was saying, rather than trying to see yourself, rather than trying to put yourself down, at least, I mean, the ideal would be to be, well, not so much equal to everybody, but, well, as I said, just not putting yourself above them. That's right, that's right. Because otherwise, we'll try to out-distance ourselves, and groveling to each other, or whatever, it just gets... Well, there's been a lot of false humility, I think, and that's one of the big dangers of a monastic life. If you put humility in the middle, then we can be trying to be humble all the time. But actually, I don't think it's something we do at all. It's something that life does to us. And it's something, perhaps, the monastic life will do to us if we let it. All we can do is be receptive, I think, when things happen.


For instance, when he talks about bearing obediences that are difficult or unjust, that kind of thing, that's the time when humility grows. But notice, it's relational. Something's happening. There's a transaction. Something's going on. It's certainly not something I can do inside myself. What can I do about it? Often it's the response to a situation, or the response to coming into the monastery and being treated in that way, which I'm not accustomed to, rather than as I was perhaps treated better in the world, that kind of thing. And then to have the ideal, as it were, the biblical image there of humility and of the humility of Jesus, and things like the Pharisee and the Publican, having those things in mind, to be able to change my natural response, my instinctive response, in the light of that truth, which is in, for instance, the scriptural text, and in this chapter of the book. So a gradual transformation of my responses, and a gradual, somehow, deepening and realization of the truth of this thing.


Those two things going on at once. I remember you said when we were talking about obedience, prior to talking about humility, that it only comes into existence when it's tested. When you can't just say there's an obedient person, they have to be subjected to a test, which will bring out the obedience of one. It's the same, maybe, with the power of humility. Well, we weren't talking about it in the context of humility the other time. So maybe humility is something that can be seen for what it's been in a relation. I think it's true. And that's how it grows, too. It's both manifest, and even manifest to yourself, because I can have very humble thoughts while I'm by myself, and nothing's bothering me, but it's my responses that indicate to me where I am with regard to humility, and also to others. But at the same time, it's those impacts, those confrontations, which are the occasions of growth, I think, in humility. It's in seeing that I'm not there,


and making the effort to move there when that revelation comes to me, that there would seem to be growth, and the possibility of growth. But there's another issue here, is that will we ever know when we're humble? Is it possible to know oneself as being humble, something like that? Maybe not. You may be able to see that certain illusions and false self-images and drives that were there before are no longer there. But it's probably self-forgetfulness, largely, and a holy indifference even to the quality of one's own humility at a certain point. Whereas I think, in the beginning, we're totally preoccupied with acquiring a certain stage of virtue, a certain perfect humility, or something like that. Those are the goods that are promised to us, we're in a hurry to get them. So one thing is that movement between the ego and the self,


putting it in contemporary terms. Or in Merton's terms, from the false self to the true self, okay? Because Merton really dichotomizes there. He tends to look at the ego very often as being something that has to be entirely transcended or gone away with. Usually he says false self. Occasionally I think he'll put the word ego there, but usually he's more realistic about it, and uses ego also in a positive sense. And then another thing is, we have these different levels that are open to us. And say the ego level is our central level in some way, but we can fall below that to something like a subhuman level. Or we can go beyond it to something like a superhuman level. I think that's not... That's poor language, because to be superhuman is truly to be human. To move to the stage of the self, as it were, or the stage of true humility, or the stage of true love, is to be truly human, not superhuman. But at least you can have those...


And often, in attempting to go, even through humility, to go to a supernatural level, we will fall to a subnatural level. And some of the practices of humility recommended in RB7, of course, if misunderstood or wrongly applied or too literally taken, can make us rather subhuman than superhuman, rather subnatural than supernatural. So, a lot of things that seem like progress can really be regression. And this is perhaps especially in this area, in this chapter of humility. So we'll come back to that later. I was a little shocked when you said, Jesus is presently our model and our teacher. It seems to me I'm the model and the teacher of this very humility that seems to be part of the tradition. I find it very difficult to find in the scriptures, in the Gospels in particular anyway, a good fit between the way Jesus behaves and acts,


and what he... You know when he says, come to me, friend, meek and humble of heart? Yes. Hardly in this tradition. You know what I mean? Yeah. No, there's a... He treats his enemies improperly. He treats his friends badly. I mean, he doesn't keep his eyes down and his mouth shut. Well, he may have kept his eyes down. He may have kept custody of the others. I think what they do usually... Where do they take their New Testament basis? From the teaching of Jesus, okay? When he says, take the last place, and so on. And there's a lot of teaching of that inversion, that descent. Especially, take the middle of Mark's Gospel, because it's present in my mind. Chapters 8 to 10, you know, where all the time that doctrine that the one who wishes to be exalted must humble himself. That's in his teaching. There's no doubt about that. But what about his wife? The passages they usually take deal with the passion of Jesus, okay?


So they take his passion and his obedience to the Father's will, and then his submission. Not completely without protest, is it? Once or twice he speaks out. He says, why do you strike me? And so on, you know. And he certainly does not just say, yes, yes, to the high priest, and so on. But after a certain point, he's silent, you know. So they take those passages, and the suffering servant passages of Isaiah, and they build a doctrine of humility upon them. I think part of the problem is that humility and obedience have been too absolutized in our Western tradition. And I forget who it is that, in writing about the Rose of Benedictus, is Evert Marming. He says how beautiful it is that the monarchical structure and the whole, as it were, what do you call it? Structural tone of the rule of Saint Benedict, and of Benedictine monasticism, is a microcosm of the structure and tone of Roman Catholicism,


of the Roman Catholic Church, in a sense, okay? And there's a tendency there, because of our strong institutional element, dimension, force, to put humility and obedience right in the center, because it works so well in that kind of vision, and in that kind of church institution, okay? So we've got to look critically at that. Added to that, the teaching of the monastic fathers, and of a good deal of patristic literature, I think, that the way is the way of abasement, the way is the way of submission, and so on. You put those two on top of one another, you get something very strong. So that's pretty close to the core of the question we have to ask about this doctrine of humility today. But at the same time, it does touch directly on the point. The point being that movement from an ego-centered personality to a deeper center,


which we can call the self, or we can call Christ, God within us, or the Holy Spirit, or whatever. That's really there. So the question is, how do we interpret Chapter 7 of the Rule in those terms, it seems to me? That's a contemporary statement of it, moving from the ego-centered point to the self. But I think it's valid. It's hard to find a better one today. There is that conversion, that transformation in the human personality, by which it becomes turned inside out, or whatever. And no longer has that self-drive, but is transparent. And I don't have another word that handles it right, but transparent to that greater thing, to God and to the deep self of ourself. I think the most helpful thing that I've ever encountered in this whole humanity issue is the etymology of the word.


It means going down to earth. Yes, that's right. It's given us the ground that humanity at its best really means just being down to earth, being honest. Part of it, I think, is being able to relativize our own consciousness, relativize our own vision, okay? In other words, I see things this way at this moment. I see them very strongly in this way, but I can't be wrong. That can't be an absolute, a final view. Because I know I'm going somewhere and I'm on the path, whatever I think of things right now is tentative, okay? I think that's part of it. And life just does it to us as we go on, I think. Because when we're young, I think we can have a great sense of omnipotence, depending on where we're coming from, depending on what our experience is. We can have an enormous sense of omnipotence, an enormous blindness to things as they really are, an enormous insensitivity to other people.


All of that is exactly what humility, I think, is aiming at, the steps of humility. But the mechanism that seems to be set up here may seem a very crude mechanism for dealing with that. And so it requires interpretation. However, when we talk about this, we have an instinct for the reality of what's being talked about. And we have what we need in order to reinterpret this, I think, from our own knowledge of ourselves, and of our relationships, and so on. And our own knowledge of people. And if we keep our eyes open, I think we learn more as we go along, about where the real thing is. And once in a while, when we see somebody, I think that will give us a new step of revelation about what that may mean. Perhaps that's where the idea of being in progress is useful, because when you're young, you may need to have definite ideas in order to establish yourself in this world. As you get older, you can admit to yourself more and more that your own perspective is very limited and very relative.


Yeah. I think you could almost say that in the first half of our life, the ordinary person's life, you have to establish a particular structure in the world. There's going to be something out in your business, your home, your family, all of that. And a structure of ideas which is strong and immovable. It's your castle of thought, your consciousness. And it has, in a sense, to be infallible, because it has to resist, and to defend itself, and so on. And it has to be a working thing that doesn't just collapse when somebody contradicts it. But the second half, you can say very crudely, is letting that thing die, and somehow becoming oneself transparent to the larger reality, to something which comes up out of the ground. So we turn to the ground at that point. Humility, humus, and so on. We turn to the ground. And the ground is not just the, what would you call it, abstract earth of humility, of that virtue. But it's the common ground, which is the common ground of humanity, for one thing. So we rejoin the human race. We don't have to get on top of it anymore, in our cut-outs. And at the same time, it's the cosmic reality,


so that out of nature, the truth comes up, and we don't have to force it any longer. We don't have to force our ideas, because the truth is just sprouting up, just coming up out of the ground everywhere. When the rule of the Master and Benedict say that now, naturally, you do these things, which before you did by constraint, that movement from heteronomy to, what would you call it, theonomy, I suppose. I think that's what's happening now. And you can call it the stage of wisdom also, where you're lifting and separating yourself from nature, rising above it by the strength of your ego, which is a pretty masculine thing, too. So you let yourself down, or you die back into the common ground of reality, so that now reality can speak, and we can both listen to it and be transparent to it, or let it be communicated through us. But without having to force it. It's just there. I think a tradition like Zen, which comes from a very different perspective, okay, but is interested in the same thing and help us here,


because it takes, to read some of that, you say, ah, there's the reality, but without the heaviness of this masonry of the superstructure, which we seem to have here, especially within the Benedictine framework. And thinking of enlightenment, and the kind of just collapse of the self-defending consciousness that happens when enlightenment comes. Okay, maybe we should quit for today. Next time, let's go through these steps, and then I'll read a couple of things and suggest a couple of things to you that could help us to grow in that perspective. I'm glad we got into these critical questions earlier today. Stephen will be back next week. Yeah, he comes in on Tuesdays only. Yeah. He's glad to come back. Good. He's tired. I'll bet. It's a very difficult place to live. It's like an efficiency apartment. It's crowded from a full house of furniture.


Literally, there's only space for one person. This person, it's not meant for two people. He's probably done a lot of walking outside. Yeah, he is outside. Good. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Thank you.