Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 4, 2009

February 3, June 4, October 4
Chapter 7: On Humility
The sixth degree of humility
is that a monk be content
with the poorest and worst of everything,
and that in every occupation assigned him
he consider himself a bad and worthless workman,
saying with the Prophet,
"I am brought to nothing and I am without understanding;
I have become as a beast of burden before You,
and I am always with You" (Ps:22-23).

Some thoughts

Well, now, doesn't this just sit wrong with us moderns? We know it's bad for us think bad things of ourselves. Just yesterday we read about the 5th degree of humility. Benedict wrote in a way that would win praise from any modern psychologist. Then we turn the page and here's today's reading which would bother the modern psychologists. So what is actually going on here? As is my habit anytime I run into a conundrum with the RB, I turn to Terence Kardong's Commentary.

1st, let me share with you the way he translates this passage:

"The 6th step occurs when a monk is content with low and dishonorable treatment. And regarding all that is commanded of him, he regards himself as a bad and worthless worker, saying with the Prophet "I was reduced to impotence and ignorance; I was like a brute beast before you, and I am also with you." "

Ah, this is a time when I wish I had the command of Latin that Br Terence has. He says some interesting (at least to me) things about vilitas. It was once a word used of slaves, reminding me that at the time of St. Benedict, slavery was alive and flourishing at the time the RB was written. The buying and selling of human beings as chattel was practiced well into the 19th century in Europe and the USA.

So perhaps if we read this passage from this POV, it makes more sense to us. The monk is to regard himself as a slave, owned by another, at the mercy of another. In once sense this is still very true for Christians of 21st century. We don't hear about it much, but Paul enjoins us to be slaves for Christ. But what does that mean to us post-moderns?

Now this bit of the RB is not to be considered a justification for slavery. Rather, it would seem Benedict is using slavery as a metaphor. Nor does it sanction arbitrary and cavalier treatment of the monks because there are a number of places in the RB where it is stipulated that the needs of the monks are to be carefully attended to by monastic superiors. For instance chapters 31, 34, 36.

The 1st 5 steps of humility talked more about obedience. I guess learning obedience is a prerequisite for learning humility. Or humility comes through obedience. I find it difficult to separate obedience from humility as the concepts spill over into each other and are often described the same way.

Seems to me the contemporary application off this step has nothing to do with self-esteem. But it does speak to pride. Competent monks need not think themselves incompetent, but neither are they to think that their performance confers any sort of exalted place in the community, but just one piece of the puzzle that is a healthy community.

I have a view of the Body of Christ. Every single Christian has a role to play in the Body of Christ. Every single Christian has a vocation. All vocations are equal in importance, equally valuable, equally necessary to the Body. There was a time and maybe some still think this way, that said that those called to the religious life had a higher vocation than someone called to be a teacher or an accountant, sanitation worker or lawyer. I say this is hogwash. The beauty of the vocations in the Body of Christ is that someone else does for me what I am unable to do for myself and vice versa.

If my reasoning makes sense to you, this is what I think Benedict means in this selection. What do you think?



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