May 22nd, 1996, Serial No. 00129

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Rule of Benedict Novice Class # 1 - 1990s




The task is to study RB chapter 5 on obedience. Next time we'll go on with the chapter on silence, and since that's not very long, also begin the chapter, longer chapter, on humility. Together with the rule of St. Benedict, chapter 5, goes RM 7, of course, which is immensely longer. Why don't we just jump in and read this chapter, we can do it with our round-robin method and then come back and talk about it at some length. De obedientia. The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. The Latin is that quinihil sibia Christo carias, more dear, more precious, aliquid existimon.


Because of the holy service they have professed, or because of dread of hell and for the glory of everlasting life, they carry out the superior's order as promptly as if the command came from God himself. The Lord says of men like this, no sooner did he hear than he obeyed me. Again he tells teachers, whoever listens to you, listens to me. Do you want to pick that up, Mark, and continue it at verse 7? Such people as these immediately put aside their own concerns, abandon their own will, and lay down whatever they have in hand, leaving it unfinished. With the ready step of obedience, they follow the voice of authority in their actions. Almost at the same moment, then, as the Master gives the instruction, the disciple quickly puts it into practice, in the fear of God, and both actions together are swiftly completed


as one. Good, thank you. Up to there, it's practically straight from the rule of the Master, and it's all one piece, continually, of the rule of the Master. Here it breaks, and he leaves out a great long part of the Master's chapter, and then returns to it, roughly, in the next paragraph. Do you want to pick that one up? Let's take it at verse 10. It is love that impels them to pursue everlasting life. Therefore, they are eager to take the narrow road of which the Lord says, narrow is the road that leads to life. They no longer live by their own judgments, giving in to their whims and appetites. Rather, they walk according to another's decisions and directions, choosing to live in monasteries and to have an abbot over them. Men of this resolve unquestionably conform to the saying of the Lord, I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.


Okay. There's a long section of the rule of the Master on the two ways, the two roads, the way of the perfect and the way of the imperfect, but the Master allows for both. So some people, the people who are perfect are going to obey instantly, as he's said above, and the other ones are going to be more sluggish and slower, but there's room for them too. It's a curious treatment. He often does that with different categories of people. He goes on and on and on about the two roads, which was a very favorite theme in ancient times. You'll find it also in the New Testament, in the early literature and so forth. It's a very Jewish thing, I think, two ways. Okay, Reniero, do you want to pick it up from there at 14? This very obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliant with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness. For the obedience shown to superiors is given to God, as he himself said, whoever listens


to you listens to me. Furthermore, the disciple's obedience must be given gladly, for God loved the cheerful giver. If a disciple obeys grudgingly and grumbles, not only about but also in his heart, then even though he carries out the order, his action will not be acceptable, except it was stated by God, to see that he is grumbling in his heart. He will have no reward for service of this kind. On the contrary, he will incur punishment for grumbling, unless he changes for the better and makes amends. Thank you. Talking about it, we're going to talk about this again, aren't we, when we discuss the vow of obedience, and that won't be far off. So what we're doing now is getting some understanding of this chapter of the Rule and its background, particularly in the Rule of the Master, and then a little further back in Cassian and so on. This is a delicate subject, isn't it? It's right at the center of the Rule. It's right at the center of our Benedictine monasticism, and it's something which the modern point of view, the contemporary point of view, the Western view, has a lot of trouble


in secular psychology and mentality. And it's something which we need to talk about even critically, and yet something which, as I say, is very delicate, and also is meant to be a total commitment. So in speaking critically about something which involves a total commitment, you can see the delicacy and the care that's needed. So we have to speak of it with respect, honoring the totality that it calls for, and yet being able to look at it from all perspectives. It's very difficult to keep together the particularity and the duality and looking at the light and the dark and questioning and seeing how it fits together, together with the totality of the total commitment which a person wants to make in a monastic life particularly. So we may err on the side either of naivety or of being overcritical at one point or another, but we'll try to come back to the midpoint. Let me read something. We're always reading from de Beauvoir here.


It's like being born five minutes after St. Thomas Aquinas, and then you refer to the sum up for everything you do. Here we find ample expositions on the three virtues peculiar to the Senevite. Obedience, stillness, he calls it, and humility. You find a lot of different words used for chapter six. Taciturnity, in fact in the Latin it's taciturnitatis, taciturnitatis, or silence or stillness, and each of them has a different modality in English because one will indicate a reserve in speech and another might suggest a total silence. We'll get to that when we come to it. And humility. Remember how those fit together. The trio originated with Cassian, whose description of humility begins with expressions of obedience and ends with practices related to silence. So Cassian has had an enormous influence. When we get to the chapter seven of the Steps of Humility in Benedict's Rule, we'll see


the same thing. Humility involves obedience and it involves silence. Curiously, the silence is at the far end in the last expressions of humility. This portrait of the humble monk forms the basis for our Rule's great chapter on humility, represented by a ladder on which obedience occurs towards the beginning and stillness towards the end. The three virtues are thus intimately related. One of them includes the other two, and we're going to examine the connection between them, of course. That is, humility includes obedience and silence. But humility is the more interior virtue. The other two are quite exterior, the way the Rule expresses them. The Master's chapter on obedience is five and a half times longer than Benedict's. So Benedict cuts out a lot, and it's very central for the Master. And something doesn't have to be absolutely central for him to go on and on about it, but obedience is. He begins with the outward forms of obedience, which can be fairly speedy. He then develops at length the...


That's his treatment, I guess. He then develops at length the contrast between the wide road of the Sarabites, who do not obey and do what they want to do, and the narrow road of cenobitic obedience, which goes so far as to imitate martyrdom. Finally, he turns to the interior aspect. The monk must obey joyfully. The monk must obey joyfully. Each of these three parts provides Benedict with some of his material. His text, like that of his forerunner, begins with the outward spectacle of the obedient monk, verses one through nine. Then the narrow way is conjured up, but with hardly nothing at the length of treatment that the Master gives. And finally, the interface of obedience, verses 14 and 15. Right away, you notice a contradiction in the first verse here. We don't have to be ace critical scholars to pick this up. The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience. He says here, if you look at chapter 7, the first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes.


That's chapter 7, verse 10. So, it looks like two different people were doing this, but there's a fairly rational explanation in a footnote from the argue 1980, you'll notice, which is that now the latter humility of chapter 10 is going to come from Cassian, and Cassian, as I remember, has the first degree of humility as obedience, doesn't he? So then, when the Master picks it up, before Benedict, he decides, when he gets to that chapter, to put in a couple more degrees of humility before you get to obedience. Okay, so he does that. But he doesn't go back and change what he said before, as if he didn't think of it. That's a fairly reasonable explanation for a very strange contradiction, which, after all, doesn't matter much, does it? Because, you realize that this expression, the first step, is a rhetorical expression, isn't it? In other words, it's not a scientific treatise on humility, or the way that it's put together.


So, it puts us on our guard about the whole question of the structure of chapter 7, a humility chapter. We're not to take it too over-seriously, the way one thing follows another. What's important is the element. So, the Rule of the Master has two grades of monks. To hold nothing dearer than Christ, which echoes one of the maxims found in the previous chapter. And this is already the Master. He is, according to the Master, a trait peculiar to the small number of perfect brothers who obey with no delay whatever. As for the greater number, the Master allowed less speedy obedience, and asked the Abbot to be kind enough to reiterate his commands. Benedict does away with this distinction. He has no patience with these things, and puts before all the ideal of immediate obedience.


Then there are these motivations. The fear of hell, the hope of heaven, and the service of the commitment one has undertaken. That sounds a little bit like, you know, the chapter 7 humility, the first step, is the fear of God, the fear for, you know... That's right. That's right. And that, of course, comes... There's a little of it in the New Testament, in the first letter of John, love casts out fear, and... Where else do you find that? Do you find it somewhere else? Moving from fear to love in the New Testament. That's the only place I remember it. It's one John. It's amazing, in verse 2 it says, you know, it comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all, which sounds wonderful, and then he moves into, like, but the motive is fear of hell. That's right. He gives you a little spread, a little array of motives, possible motives there, doesn't


Which would relate to the different grades. People who have advanced more or less. What does the phrase, the Holy Service, mean? Servitium Sanctum Quo Professi Sunn. Remember the idea of the scola, the school, and the school also means something like a court school or a military school in the rule of the masters, so it's the vow, the commitment, I believe, and therefore the whole monastic life, the whole monastic conversatio, you might say. But it's in the language of those institutions, I think. So it's in the language of the commitment. Yes, the commitment. It doesn't mean anything more particular than that. So you really, you really do have a broad spread of possible motives there.


And sometimes, remember, this is, we found this before, that sometimes love is at the beginning, right, as in the chapter, I think it was the Good Works chapter four, and sometimes love is at the end and fear is at the beginning, right? There's a tension, a conflict between those two structures in the rule of Benedict, one of which is more natural to Saint Augustine, remember, and the other one is more natural to Cassian, who likes ladders. But the New Testament doesn't like ladders. It tends to smash them. So it'll start out with the end. It starts out with the totality of grace, the totality of the Holy Spirit, and so on. And then the progression somehow is within that, but it's difficult to put one thing after another. It's always difficult to make structures and ladders and schemes in the New Testament, because it has a very strong centering and unitive drive, which brings everything down


to one thing, to one central point, which is very refreshing. It's like Buddhism in that sense. Okay, there's a whole scriptural background to this, which is a little complex and needs a little examination, because, see, there are a lot of, what do you call it, inferences being made here, several of them, which do not necessarily follow, so we have to see what's going on. For instance, if it's asserted that obedience is the way to go to God, well, does the New Testament carry it out in the same way that it's being asserted here? And is it the same thing to obey a religious superior and to obey God? And that's the delicate link, actually, which the Master forges. According to de Beauvoir, he's almost unique in the way that he does forge that link, and Saint Benedict just carries it on after him. Now, there are two phrases in the New Testament which especially make the Christ link here.


One of them is, whoever listens to you listens to me. And the other one is, I've come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. So, the first one establishes obedience to Christ in the New Testament. The second one, the obedience of Christ. And those are the two links, as it were, or you could say the two faces of obedience. And our rules alternate between the two. However, the first is stronger in our rules, because that notion of Christ as Lord is stronger. Now, contemporary exegetes, of course, would have very many things to say about that. For instance, about the expression, whoever listens to you listens to me. They would say, well, to whom is Jesus saying that? And is the statement in any way circumscribed, or does it pertain to a particular kind of listening? Does it pertain to the first hearing of the Gospel, for instance, and conversion? Or does it pertain to order within the Church, order within the community?


What does it govern? Or can it be absolutized? So, the monastic right is taken very broadly. According to the first of these statements, Christ is the one who commands. According to the second, the one who obeys. Monastic obedience derives its incomparable value from this twofold root. It is both obedience to Christ and obedience in the image of Christ. And that's fine, because the unitive perspective, especially in monasticism, joins those two. And we are in Christ, we are part of Christ, and yet in some way we relate to Christ as disciples, as servants. The foundations in the Rule of the Master, or behind the Rule of the Master, are quite complex. Now, de Vogel, I'll try to simplify this. De Vogel picks out two series of, two great foundations.


The first one is the series of Gospel texts in which you've got first the commentary on the Our Father and Thy Will Be Done. And then de Vogel, or the Master, I'm confusing him with de Vogel. And then the Master goes on and comments on that at length, opposing self-will to the will of God. So you're getting a structure in which self-will is being seen as clean contrary, absolutely opposed to the will of God. So to pray that thy will be done is to pray that my self-will will not be done. And that is coming from the flesh. That is, the human will is seen as fallen, and the self-will coming from the flesh. It's delicate territory there, because he's not saying that the human will in itself is evil, but he comes mighty close to it. And he's not saying that the body is evil, but he's coming mighty close to that.


So it's very, very delicate territory. And contemporaries would have a lot of trouble, of course, with the way that the Master says it. But it's a completely vertical scheme in which the will of the flesh... Remember in Galatians, the spirit and the flesh are opposed to one another, and the flesh cannot be subject to God and cannot please God. Now what does he mean by the flesh? What does Paul mean by the flesh? Well, the exegete says he means not the body as such, but the whole person under the influence of evil, or under the influence of selfishness, or under, therefore, the influence of its baser instincts, and therefore the center of gravity somehow, lower rather than higher. The center of gravity not being the spirit, not being God, not being the better instincts, but the baser instincts. But the expressions are not just impurity, but also anger, avarice, and all other kinds of things. Remember, he stresses especially dissension and hatred. So the Master is taking all of that, kind of picking it up with a great sweep, and welding


it all together. Let me see if he lists in one place those texts. Okay, here we are. The first foundation of the doctrine of obedience of the Master is therefore constituted by three texts, a series of texts of the New Testament. The prayer taught by Christ. Matthew 6, The Our Father, Thy Will Be Done. The example he gave, that's Matthew 26, 39-42, which is Jesus in Gethsemane, remember? Father, let this cup pass away, but not my will, but thy will be done. And John 6, 38, I've come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And then the teaching of Paul, in which, that's Galatians 5, 16-17, in which the spirit is opposed to the flesh. Okay. And then the second foundation is the transition from obedience to God to obedience to the abbot, obedience to a human person. And that's a very tricky one, that's a big leap. Remember where the apostles say to the priests and so on, well, is it better for us to obey


God or to obey men? So the New Testament doesn't easily, unequivocally, let you keep in place a transition from the will of God to the will of man. You've got to be careful with it. There's another prophetic word that says, look out. That can be a betrayal. Any questions about that complex business? There are several places, several other places in the Rule of the Master where these things are put together. For instance, in the Ars Sancta there in Chapter 3, not to fulfill the desires of the flesh, to hate one's own will, to be obedient to the admonitions of the abbot. You see the same structure there, but not in as firm a way. And then in the first three degrees of humility. Do you think maybe some of this is sort of a rhetorical exaggeration, or like, in order to drive a point home rather than to be taken... Yes, I do. Although it's hard to tell, because if we had a film, a video of life in the monastery,


we could see what they were up to. But yes, I do think so, just as in a homily. And in monastic homilies forever, the homilies of abbots forever, you'll have a principle absolutized. You'll have one principle taken, like obedience preached as if it were a divine, unquestionable and absolute virtue in which all salvation and all monastic perfection were contained. That's been done forever. It's not done so much nowadays. Somehow things have to be put into perspective. And people don't easily accept that kind of thing. There'll be a lot of murmuring and discontent after that kind of a presentation. Yes, there's some of that. And also we have to remember the context in which they are. Just what was going on in those days. But this is something that we have to think about, in a sense, we'll return to again and again throughout our lives. Because it's the center pin of the role of Saint Benedict, really.


This issue of obedience. He talks at some length about how this is central to the role of the master. Obedience is necessarily at the heart of a monastic institution which defines itself as Scola Dominici Servizi, School of the Lord's Service. The importance of obedience in the master's eyes derives also from the relations of this virtue with the fundamental theme of hearing, according to an etymology of which our author was quite conscious, and which Brother David has revived in our own time. Ob-audere, to obey, is connected with audere, to hear. But to hear is surely the key word of the master's entire spiritual doctrine. See, he's coming, he's centering again to Bogo. He is on that notion of school, as he does very often. He sees that as being the key word to the whole of the role of the master.


In the direct line of biblical tradition, he represents God as a person who speaks to man and says that man must listen if he wants to be saved. Not by chance do our two rules begin with an invitation to listen. Ob-audere. Is it ob-audere or audere? I don't remember. It must be audere, in the prologue. To listen in the full sense of the word. Ascolta. It's ascolta. To listen in the full sense of the word means not only to hear and to understand, but also to acquiesce and to obey. Obedience to superiors, which is the proper object of the chapter on obedience and connected passages, derives its importance from being a privileged, irreplaceable mode of listening to the word which saves. And obedience seems to be the most important for the master of these three virtues that he puts together. Obedience, silence, and humility. In fact, the Bogoi sees the uniqueness of the rule of the master largely in this central


issue. The master's theory, therefore, remains unique. He's just been comparing it with Cashin. Cashin has some of these separate ideas about humility, but he doesn't put them together with the same ironclad coherence. Although the scriptural material he uses is found scattered in various authors and almost complete in Basel, the construction remains his alone. It is the fruit of an exercise in reflection and organization of which the literature of ancient monasticism offers no other example. Now, this is true also of Benedict's. Benedict accepts this basic structure. So this vertical structure, as it were, is at the heart of both worlds. So it's at the heart of our own tradition. Now, de Bogoi contrasts two lines, this vertical line of Cashin and the rule of the master and the rule of Saint Benedict, in which obedience is a matter, a vertical, direct matter between the individual monk of obeying the will of God by denying one's self-will.


He contrasts that with the line of Augustine and others, in which the fundamental issue is not this individual relationship with God, but communion, that is, in which the community is the fundamental reality, and obedience is in function of living somehow a Christian life within the context of that community. Let me read briefly how he does that. In the eyes of the master, obedience is a matter of salvation for each disciple. How to do the will of God and not at all one's own will according to the example of Christ, this is the primordial problem, and its solution lies in obedience to the teachers. The only purpose of the monastery school is to make it possible.


Therefore, it is spoken of at the outset. And this runs through our whole tradition. The interpreters, the Benedictine writers, the Cistercian writers, will take this line through Saint Bernard and right up to today. For Augustine, on the contrary, the duty of obeying seems to result from the fact that the monks are gathered in a fraternal community. This community requires a leader who holds the place of a father. Here, the primary element is the society. The society does not exist to secure the direction of a teacher. It is valid by itself and for itself as a communion of hearts and a community of goods and charity. You see, Saint Augustine is very strong on the primacy of love, isn't he? And of communion in the community. He's much more, what would you say, theological in the sense of understanding the biblical revelation, the New Testament revelation. The superior is only an organ, necessary indeed and willed by God, but is a necessity of means rather than salvation, secondary, not primary. Obedience is seen by the master in a thoroughly individual perspective,


even if it has its obligatory framework of a monastery school, a quasi-church. Augustine's perspective is more deeply communitarian. It ignores the theme of the imitation of Christ and renunciation of self-will to do the will of God and considers obedience from the point of view of the common life. That's interesting because we often think of Saint Augustine in terms of in the light of his doctrine of original sin, in which you would expect exactly that, wouldn't you? You'd expect the human will to be seen as deeply flawed and needing the corrective rule of a superior. But that's not the way he takes it here. The communion predominates. And that's something that we really need to bring back in contact, I think, with our own Benedictine tradition. It's ironic, isn't it? I mean, I think it's generally associated with semi-theologianism at least. And they have taken up something that you'd expect Augustine


with his predestination. That's right, that's right. It's interesting. It's ironic. There are a lot of ironies and a lot of twists. For instance, Saint Benedict has a very strong sense of monastic communion, I believe, and monastic community, but he doesn't make it explicit. He doesn't write any theology of it. If he were the master and had that vision, he would have theologized it forever and beautifully too, but he doesn't at all. It's just in his practical counsels and directions that it comes out. And the primacy that he gives to love, and the primacy that he gives to the quality of community life, that nobody should be saddened in the house of God with respect for the needy and so on. The primacy of that. There are a lot of twists. So we have to be careful of too easy-making theological judgment. I think, for instance, Matthew Fox tends to do that. He'll put somebody in one basket, and he stays there like Augustine. But it's not as simple as that.


For instance, especially Augustine, because he's much bigger than that. He'll have an insight over here which corrects something, he says, over there. But most of us don't absorb enough of that to be able to follow the synthesis or to make the synthesis that he doesn't make explicitly. Okay, I wanted to read something from Thomas Merton's article in Contemplation of the World of Action called The Place of Obedience, because what he's trying to do in the 1960s, in the time of Vatican II, is to broaden and deepen the concept of obedience in a way which brings in this value, let us say, of Augustine. He's talking about obedience as... And sometimes it was really murderous in large monastic communities, for instance, where you would think either that obedience was intended to rub you into the ground and to extinguish you in some way that some lily might grow up on your grave, I suppose,


or obedience was to make you a useful tool for the glory of the monastery, or for the good functioning of the monastery. And unfortunately, whatever the supernatural value of the obedience, often I think that's the way it was, okay, that somebody was like a soldier or like an employee or something like that, and then obedience would absolutize the thing and give it a supernatural, a divine sanction. And Merton is fighting that. In the Trappist life, there could be some of both of that, both of those in the old days, because he had a big Trappist monastery which was very efficient and so on, on a practical level, and maybe had a farm and had industries and things, and to keep it smoothly running, people needed to stay in their places. And there was this unquestioning obedience. But then at the same time, you had an ascetical doctrine of the sort of extinction of the personality of the human will. So the two of them together were pretty powerful and oppressive.


I'll read a page or so about this, in which you can see the transition he's kind of trying to make. His criticism of obedience as it was practiced, say, before, up through the 1950s, is largely in terms of alienation. That a person, people outside were alienated because they were living, say, working in factories all day and had no meaning for them. That everything they were doing was totally detached from their own life, had meaning for somebody else, a profit meaning for somebody else, no meaning to them, no interior meaning. And the whole of life can be that way in some modern context. So Merton is complaining, well, look, people come from the world to the monastery to get away from that, and here we've reinstituted it in the monastery. We have devised an equal machine of alienation for them, and it largely operates by means of obedience. So that's what he's angry about. And I imagine that in the Trappist life of those days, there was quite a bit of that.


Certainly it was never maliciously done. But those two motives, the ascetical motive, and then the ideology of the absoluteness of the habit. The habit is the only, what would you say, the only way to salvation, and obedience is the only way to salvation. It's too narrow, too narrow a conception. That plus the utilitarian thing. And remember that Americans tend to be pretty practical, so an American Trappist monastery can be a fiercely pragmatic monastery about putting material things in a very central place. So what he's doing is he's looking at the evolution of Eucharistic theology and comparing the development of a vision of obedience to that. First I'll read a little bit of his complaining here. The summons to offer himself as a victim of holocaust on the altar of religious perfection


without even a reasonable hope that the sacrifice will make sense, or be of real use to human persons but only to the impersonal institute, leaves him in a state of serious doubt about the worth of the religious life itself. Now often when somebody expressed doubts, they'd say, well you don't have a vocation, you don't belong here, or that's a lack of faith, or a lack of generosity. To diagnose this as cowardice or lack of generosity is more often than not equivocation. The same religious, in a situation that they are better able to comprehend, can give themselves most generously. Cliches about blind obedience make the modern religious feel, and not without reason, that his objections are simply being waved aside without even being considered. Theology has up until recently viewed the monastic religious life almost exclusively in terms of sacrifice and immolation. An outlook that corresponded to the medieval liturgical forms in which the host was primarily a victim, immolated in the distant and invisible sanctuary, in the midst of mysterious words and rites,


which the faithful observed in devout, uninitiated silence. He's laying it on pretty heavy, of course, but there was a good deal of that mystique, which is completely vertical, ignores community, you might say, ignores the church, in a sense, the whole sense of the body of Christ, and is also a mystique of meaninglessness, in a sense of blind obedience, blind sacrifice, nothing growing inside, which makes the reality present to you in this life. Nothing changing, nothing developing, no interior transformation or illumination by which you might be able to perceive more and more meaning, or deeper and deeper meaning as you go on. Now, that's one side. The other side is that I think people often did, because they were illuminated inside. So there may be a fault with the structure, there may be a fault with the mentality,


with the doctrine, with the spirituality, but at the same time, God works in the individuals. So sanctification and illumination was happening, but often in spite of the system rather than because of it. Certainly the religious life is a sacrifice, and so is the Mass. But just as theology now stresses the Eucharist as a sign of fraternal unity, and demands active and intelligent participation in a common act of worship, so the old theology of the religious life needs to be completed and filled out with a new perspective in which the obedience of love rooted in faith becomes at once a sign and a principle of living unity in Christ, and a way of returning to the Father in and with the loving obedience of Christ. This Eucharistic concept of obedience is aimed not at an abstract, impersonal, common good, but at a concrete, personal, indeed mystical, unity of love in Christ. Indeed, of a common good that remains external to the religious and affects his life only superficially. Instead of that, the fruit of obedience is the living and life-giving Spirit, who is at once God's gift to each


in the unifying bond of all. Here, instead of the religious being forced back into the isolation of his individual will, which he exerts in order to obtain for himself an abstract and juridical reward... Can you think of abstract and juridical beatitude now? I imagine. He is drawn into the living dynamism of fervor and love, which gives meaning to his own life by enabling him to contribute personally to the meaningful life of his brothers in Christ. Obedience then becomes an expression of the new life and the new creation, which restores the simplicity and peace of paradise, paradisus claustralis, the monastic paradise, to a communal life in which each is the servant of all, and each finds fulfillment in a meaningful service of love that is inspired and vivified by the presence of Christ and his Spirit. The end of Christian obedience is then not merely order and organization, not the abstract common good, but God himself, the epiphany of God in his church, and in the microcosm of the new creation,


which is the monastic community. Okay, that's beautiful, but I think he's cheating a little bit, too, in the sense that he's idealizing. And we have to talk also... He knows how badly that structure functioned, because he was in a big monastery where people even sometimes would lose their mind, because of the inhumanity of the whole spirituality. And yet, there was a personal relationship with God through obedience, which he's not talking about here. He's talking about the structure, he's talking about the general system. He's not talking about what goes on inside the heart of the monk, who, in good faith, obeys, and in that way, has an immediate relationship, or obeys in the context of an immediate relationship with God and with Christ. It's not as if that relationship isn't there, even when the authority is being badly used, or the obedience, in some way, is being misdirected and abused. But he's talking about what is a dysfunctional or neurotic kind of setup,


in which a lot of sickness will be bred, will be caused by the lack of humanity, and the lack of real spirit, the lack of real wisdom in the operation. That absolute and irresponsible use of obedience and use of authority. Because sometimes, sometimes abbots in the old days, I think, we don't see much of this anymore, but abbots would be a little bit like army generals, or a little bit like cocky military officers, you know, who had that sense of absolute power, and that they didn't have to respond to anybody. A little of that bravado. And it was promoted by the mystique of the abbot, which was unchallengeable, unquestionable. You don't see much of it anymore. The other thing is that he is replacing one vision of obedience by another, isn't he? He's replacing the vertical one by the horizontal one, largely.


From obedience as direct relationship with God, with Christ, mediated through the superior, to obedience as service, and therefore in function of communion. And not in the sense of order, but in the sense of, what would you say, smoothness. Not in the sense of keeping the good order of a community, but in the sense of the peace and tranquility, and joy and love in the spirit, which would be the, what would you call it, the fabric or the atmosphere of such a community. Of such a Christian community. So, I think what he's doing is he's setting aside one model and presenting another model. But we know that no model is adequate to these things, to these mysteries, to the true realities of the spirit or of Christianity. And therefore, one won't do. It's very much like setting aside the institutional model of the church. Remember Avery Dulles' models of the church.


Institution, communion, sacrament, herald, preacher, servant. It's very much like setting aside the institutional model and replacing it with, you might say, a Eucharistic model, but it's not quite the sacrament model, but the model of mystery of communion of the church, which I think is much more satisfactory than the institutional model. But needs, at some point, requires the institutional model. But it's not quite that either, because that vertical notion of obedience is not just institutional. It operates through an institutional medium, but it's not only institutional. Any comments or questions about all this? Well, I've just been thinking about different images to describe this, and it seems that the vertical way of looking at things is more like a concentration camp, whereas what we're really trying to make of it is something like a diffusion camp. Where the love should diffuse everywhere, at all levels. I think that's true.


I'll go over to the other side and defend the other side a little bit. The vertical is there in the New Testament font. It's almost as if there are two pulses. As there are two pulses to respiration, that is, inhaling and exhaling, and two pulses, two movements to the human heart. It's as if there are two movements of the Spirit. There's a movement of contraction and a movement of expansion. The movement of expansion, I think, is the movement of communion. We can image it that way, just for a moment. That's the movement of love, where love abounds and where things are done with simplicity, with generosity, and with ease. Because the Spirit is there and because we experience it. Because we're in a context of love. On the other hand, the movement of contraction The image is not perfect. The movement of contraction is a little like the winter of the soul, where it's like wartime instead of peacetime. There's a time, actually, when our will does run into a little wall. The time when we find ourselves in crisis


or find ourselves in contradiction. And we find ourselves, in some way, wrestling with God, as Jacob was. And you can call it the night time or something like that. There are those times. And I think that's when this question of... That's when we meet the cross, as the spirituality would say, the tradition would say. And at those times, this vertical obedience is very much in question. It's very deeply, also, in the Scriptures, not only of the New Testament, but the Old Testament. Abraham and Isaac, the sacrifice of Isaac. So, the trouble is, when that's absolutized, you have an inhuman, a totally oppressive and destructive... And it can also become cynical, almost, so that the people operating, really, are sitting there, comfortable, in the control room, as it were, while everybody else is grounded to the earth. It can be like a totalitarian system, political system, you know. And when you compare it with the concentration camp,


therefore, I think the comparison is valid at that extreme. But that is an exaggeration. There is a place for this, which is very much in eclipse, it's very much in the shadow now, since Vatican II. And also they interact in other ways. For instance, in this life of communion, let us say, the fraternal life, you very often, in fact, you run into the crisis more often there than you do in the vertical direction. A collision between your will and what you perceive as the Spirit. Okay? That is, I don't like this person at all, or look what he's doing to me, look what he said to me, and I'm to respond with charity, I'm to respond with love. It's the same thing, it's just on this level, you know. But in the vertical structure, it's concentrated, as it were,


in the habit, in obedience. I think if Merton had taken more time, he also would have developed that. He would have developed that same element developing over here. The same, as it were, cross appearing here on the horizontal that appears on the vertical. But what we've done, in a way, the horizontal tends to be natural, the vertical tends to be artificial, doesn't it? In other words, the horizontal is the natural expression of Christianity, we're living in a community, which is the natural Christian way to live. Where you meet those conflicts, you meet that cross, just in the everyday course of relationships. You don't have to create anything artificial. That'll happen in the world as well, in the family as well as in the monastery. The monastery is a tighter vessel, you can say. Whereas the vertical one is the result of something artificial. You could say institutional. You can say that it's instituted by Christ, but when you're talking about it in a monastic context, you've got to make a leap there.


You can't quite equate obeying a monastic superior with obeying the bishop, or with obeying Christ. Not immediately, you know. We do when we make the monastic commitment, but everybody doesn't have to make that commitment, and everybody doesn't have to make that leap, that connection. I think I'm getting a little obscure, but... The monastic structure is an artificial structure, and we have to recognize that that element of obedience in it therefore contains an aspect of artificiality. It's a sublime sort of idea that when it gets banalized too much becomes really destructive. Yes. On the one hand... No, I can hear. No, that's from the 1950s. We may not have the same thoughts. It was more like, I'm looking for guides, spiritual teachers,


those who are confident in the way to show me, to help me, to help me to listen, which ultimately is what obedience comes down to. That's right. But when you come into this context and you say that to your superiors, they get very frightened and say, well, don't look at me. It's not me. And you find yourself wondering, where is it? We're on a different world. You'll find a few people who will tell you, that's me. Look out for those. Sometimes in the charismatic movement, but occasionally as the leader of a community I'd immediately get my bus ticket. But if you go way back to the original tradition, there's something very deep there. For instance, we idealize it a little bit, but the Desert Father tradition where you have a realized master, and the disciple comes to that master and says, Father, tell me what to do. And he perceives something in the master, and that something he perceives resonates with his own heart and opens up that deep thing in himself that begins to know its own realization, begins to know its own fulfillment there.


And then on the basis of that experience, a relationship is created, and he's led. But he's going to be led sometimes in sweet meadows, where he willingly and lovingly does what the master says, but he's going to be led through narrow places, too, where the master tells him something that goes against the grain, and his faith, his confidence in that relationship is severely tested. And so there'll be both seasons also in that obedience. But we don't find much of that today. I think to a certain extent you can find it insofar as the disciple brings faith to the relationship with any spiritual father. There's a certain degree of that. But we don't have the same simple and absolute ability to, you know, naive ability, you could say, uncritical ability, to put ourselves into that. At least not for long. I did when I came here. I had a kind of, I think, a complete despondability, but there was an enormous amount of immaturity and naivety along with it that had also to be corrected.


I couldn't just be led inside that naivety. Yeah, one of the things I found really fascinating is in that relationship with simple obedience, is that when the disciple comes to the Master, the Master says, tell me your thoughts. And he's the one who listens. All those stories, there's an excellent article by the Columbus Stewart on this. The father is the one who does the listening. And he says, tell me your thoughts. He doesn't give him advice. He doesn't tell him what to do. When the disciple says, give me a word, it's usually from Scripture. And it's usually very simple. That's the beauty of it. That's the thing that I guess is what I mean when I say there's a blunt nature of obedience. That it's subtle. The disciple is taught to obey by knowing that he actually does the listening. And by doing those things, teaching you something that you don't even realize is being done for you. I think there's quite a lot


of that today, though. There's a lot of listening today. The one thing that we can say is that we've learned how to listen. Right. As I said, I came here looking for one thing in common. But I'm having to completely rethink all that I've come around. And find that actually what I came looking for was here, but I didn't see it. Because of the way in which I came looking for it. Another thing about that, too, is the father gives a word of Scripture. And the disciple would have had easy access to Scriptures all along. So, in fact, he's pointing at something that the disciple had access to already. It's as if something else is happening. As if when he gives him that word, as if the spirit goes and sits on that word. In other words, there's a kind of anointing in the response of the father, which goes along with the anointing which the disciple has perceived in him, in the ideal case. So that that word, that moment begins to glow and becomes almost like something that's given to him by an angel. So it may only take one or two words


and it goes away and he does it somehow. That's his way at that time. So there's a magic at that point. There are two great things happening. One is that the abbot truly does take, the father takes the place of Christ and he takes the words of Christ and gives them to the abbot. But it's because it's that particular abbot that's doing it. So it's two things. It's not just that it's Christ's word. It's also that it is that particular man and that particular relationship that enables the spirit to breathe those words. Even though you may have heard them many times before because of that particular... So there's the wonderful general discourse of the various concrete particulars. So there you have also in some respects the roots of the institutionalizing of obedience. The specificities, particularity. But also you have this sublime connection with God and how is the abbot God's representative of Christ because he speaks the words of Christ.


And there's a great story of this. There's a father's action. Do speak Christ's word and say, do you figure those are not the Gospels? And pick a word and say who it is. Another way of looking at that is that you're saying it. What's moving within me is like when the abbot would say, tell me your thoughts. So the abbot is like the listener. And then when the disciple says, speak me a word, and he says the word of Christ, well then the disciple becomes a listener. And so it's like listening on both parts. And it's actually the angel of the anointing of God that is the real diaphanous. And I guess I'm looking at it today in terms of it does not happen a lot today in spiritual directions. Basically, a listening that empowers the other to listen so that the word of God can be realized


because it's already happening within. So it's just interesting, as you were saying that, that it's a listening, a double listening. Like one empowers the other to listen, which is obedience. And it's in that that God moves and acts and reveals and makes clear. Yeah, but listening to him, the abbot teaches his disciples to listen. And then says, here's the word. And it's not the abbot's word. It's Christ's word. So it's listening. It's always listening. It's always obedience. And the abbot is the living model of that obedience. If you think about it, as you were saying too, I thought to myself, the one person who's never in this is the other. His own ego is not involved. It's not his word. It's not his advice. And he's worth listening to. And that's the beauty, I think, of, you know, that we don't have an abbot today who does a lot of that because if you really listen,


or perhaps the abbots today, or the ones today are saying, listen to what is already happening within minutes or in the actions happening. Sometimes there's another dynamic there in that it's almost wordless. And you'll have the, remember when the disciple will just come and sit and look at the master and then go away? Doesn't even ask him for a word. One of the Desert Fathers, why don't you ever ask him anything? You come here all the time. Father, it's enough to see you. And there can be a kind of transmission of the spirit, which I think is the essential thing, you know, which is without words or maybe with a touch, with a gesture, things that have been lost in our tradition. The other thing is that this whole change, we don't call it a patristic age for no reason. That's a paternal age, okay? And it's a patriarchal age. And the anointing sat upon the father. The anointing sat upon the elder, the paternal figure. That's no longer true. So we have to ask, where does the anointing sit nowadays? And part of it is learning our own potential in some way so the abbot or whoever it is


has to really catch us onto our own creativity, to that spark of the ability to become a full being from within ourselves. And I think the anointing very often sits not on one or the other but in the encounter, in the moment, okay? The anointing will appear at that magic moment when it catches on and perhaps the one who's listening sees something and then responds and everything happens, you know. But it's not nearly as easy to hold as it was in the old age. Yeah, I think we have a greater respect for that equal level of paternal and patriarchal. You know, I find my greatest moments of insight talking to an unequal brother or a sister but not someone I have to look to as a father. Although I come from a culture that's still patriarchal and I know what that means. The respect that surrounds the father


or the eldest in the whole tribe. Today we're learning another lesson. It's a very hard lesson for this monastic tradition to hear it too. It's very difficult to put those things together but we've got to, with respect for the tradition but listening to the spirit in our hearts. Okay, thanks for the discussion. I thought it was quite good. So next time we'll go on with the Chatham Psalms. I think we should talk for three hours about the Chatham Psalms.