The Rule of St Benedict on Humility
Posted by Dim Bulb on January 27, 2017
The Sacred Scripture crieth out to us’ brethren, “Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted;”* hereby teaching us, that all self-exaltation is of the nature of pride. This vice the Prophet took care to avoid, as he tells us in the following words: “Lord, my heart is not exalted, nor are my eyes lofty; neither have I walked in great matters, nor in wonderful things above me.”† And immediately after, he assigns the reason, saying, “If I was not humbly minded, but exalted my soul, as a child that is weaned is towards his mother, so reward in my soul.”‡ Wherefore, brethren, if we desire to gain the summit of humility, and speedily attain to that heavenly exaltation, which is destined only for the humble, let us, abasing ourselves more and more, raise aloft that mystic ladder which Jacob saw in vision, and upon which he beheld Angels descending and ascending. By this descent and ascent, what else are we to understand but that we descend by exalting ourselves, and ascend by humbling ourselves?
The ladder itself, raised on high, is our life here below, which the Lord, having regard to our lowliness, raiseth up even unto heaven; the sides of the ladder are our soul and body, wherein God hath fixed divers rounds of humility and discipline, which, in calling us to His Holy Service, He invites us to ascend.
The first grade of humility, then, is to have always the fear of God, and never to lose sight, either of His judgments, or of anything He has commanded; to meditate likewise continually on the punishments which await the sinner, in the life to come, as also, on the rewards which God has prepared for those that fear Him; and by watching, at all times, over all one’s thoughts, words, and actions—one’s every movement, whether interior or exterior, to preserve oneself from all sin and vice, and to mortify the desires of the flesh.
Man should reflect, that the eyes of God are ever upon him; and that all his actions lie open to His view, and are continually presented before Him by the Angels. Of this truth we are informed by the prophet, who, in the following words, represents the Almighty, as intimately present to our most secret thoughts: “The Searcher of hearts and reins is God.”* And again, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are vain.”† And furthermore, the prophet saith: “Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off,”‡ and, “For the thought of man shall give praise to Thee.”§ Accordingly, let the humble brother, that he may the more speedily and effectually resist his evil thoughts, always say in his heart, “I shall be spotless with Him; and shall keep myself from my iniquity.”|| As regards our own will, we are expressly forbid to follow it, in those words of Scripture: “Leave thy own will and desire.”¶ Likewise we beseech the Lord in the prayer which He Himself hath vouchsafed to teach us, that His will may be done in us. The foregoing prohibition we shall acknowledge to be well grounded, if we only consider those direful consequences, which the Sacred Scripture represents as flowing from the indulgence of self-will: “There is a way that seemeth to a man right, and the ends thereof lead to death.”* And again: “They (the self-willed) are corrupted and become abominable in iniquities.”†
We should likewise be impressed with the conviction, that our carnal desires are known to God; for the prophet saith to the Lord, “Before Thee is all my desire.”‡ Let us, then, take heed of evil desires; for death is nigh to the entrance of delight: hence, the scripture commands us, saying: “Go not after thy lusts.”§ If, therefore, the eyes of the Lord are upon the good and the bad—if the Lord looketh down from heaven continually on the children of men, to see if there be any that hath understanding and seeketh God—if our guardian angels give Him continually, both by day and night, a strict account of all our actions, we ought, brethren, to be always on our guard, lest, as the prophet saith in the psalms, God should, at any time, behold us turned unto evil and become unprofitable, and though sparing us for the present, (because He is merciful and awaits our conversion to good,) should nevertheless, address us hereafter in those dreadful words: “These things hast thou done, and I was silent.”*
The second degree of humility is, if a person be so divested of self-will, that instead of seeking the gratification of his own desires, he shapes all his actions according to those words of our Lord: “I came not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me;”† remembering that maxim recorded in the lives of the ancient fathers, “Voluntas habet pœnam, et necessitas parit coronam.”
The third degree of humility is, for a monk, to submit himself, with all obedience, to his superior, for the love of God; after the example of Jesus Christ, of whom the apostle saith, “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death.”‡
The fourth grade of humility is, to keep patience in the exercise of obedience, and not to loose it or yield to despondency, either because of the difficulty of the thing commanded, or the injuries to which one may be subjected, agreeably to what is said in Scripture: “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved;”* and again: “Let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord.”† The Scripture, furthermore, to teach us that the faithful servant ought to suffer all things, however repugnant to his will and inclinations, for the love of his Lord, saith, in the person of those who thus suffer: “For Thee we suffer death all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.”‡ And animated with the assured hope of the rewards God has promised them, they go on rejoicing and saying, “But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us;”§ and again, “Thou, O God, hast proved us, Thou hast tried us by fire, as silver is tried; Thou hast brought us into a net; Thou hast laid afflictions on our back:”* and again, to show that we are to be subject to an Abbot, it saith: “Thou hast set men over our heads.”† Yea, so patient are they under trials and injuries, that, if any man strike them on the right cheek, they turn to him the other; if any man take away their coat, they let him take their cloak also; if forced to go one mile, they go other two;‡ fulfilling herein the counsel of our Lord. With Paul, the Apostle, they suffer from false brethren, and are persecuted; and bless those who revile them.§
The fifth grade of humility is, for a monk to manifest to his Abbot, by humble confession, his evil thoughts and the sins he has committed in secret. To this the Scripture exhorts us in these words: “Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in Him;”|| and again: “Give glory to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.”¶ And the prophet saith furthermore: “I have acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said, I will confess against myself, my injustice to the Lord; and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my Sin.”*
The sixth grade of humility is, for a monk to be content with all that is most vile and abject, and to look upon himself as a wicked and unworthy servant, whatever obedience may assign him; saying with the prophet, “I am brought to nothing, and I knew not; I am become as a beast before Thee; and I am always with Thee.”†
The Seventh grade of humility is, openly to speak of oneself as inferior to, and more vile than all men, and further, to believe this in one’s innermost heart, humbling oneself and saying with the prophet, “I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people;”‡ “Being exalted, I have been humbled and troubled;”§ and again, “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me; that I may learn thy justifications.”||
The eighth grade of humility is, to do nothing, but what the common rule and the example of the seniors direct.
The ninth grade of humility is, to keep silence till one is questioned, according to that of the Scripture: “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin:”* and, “A man full of tongue, shall not be established in the earth.”†
The tenth grade of humility is, for a person not to be over ready for, or much given to laughter; for it is written; “A fool lifteth up his voice in laughter.”‡
The eleventh grade of humility is, if, when a monk speaks, he do so without laughter, gently, humbly, and gravely, in few words, and these full of reason, and with a subdued voice: as it is written: “a wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”§
The twelfth grade of humility is, for a monk, not only to have humility in his heart, but to manifest it, moreover, at all times, in his outward behaviour, that is, that whether he be engaged in manual labour, or at prayer; whether he be in the Monastery, in the garden, on a journey, in the fields; or, that, wherever he may be, whether sitting, standing, or walking, he keep his head bowed down, and his eyes fixed on the ground; and that, ever filled with confusion at the view of his sins he imagine himself, every moment, as about to be presented before the awful tribunal of God, whilst, with the publican in the Gospel, who would not so much as lift his eyes towards Heaven, he says continually in his heart, “O God be merciful to me a sinner;”* and also with the prophet, “I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly.”†
When, therefore, a monk shall have ascended these various grades of humility, he shall presently attain to that perfect love of God which casteth out fear; whereby all the difficulties which he so dreaded at the outset of his religious career, shall be smoothed away; so that he shall now begin to do by habit, and as it were naturally, what before seemed hard and painful, not through fear of hell, but for the love of Christ, and because of the delight that attends the practice of virtue.
All these favours the Lord will vouchsafe to grant to His servant, when, prevented by the grace of the Holy Ghost, he shall have been cleansed from all sin and vice.