Monday, November 07, 2016

Humility in the ninth degree

The ninth degree of humility is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence, not speaking until he is questioned. For the Scripture shows that in much speaking there is no escape from sin and that the talkative man is not stable on the earth.
It would seem that St Benedict is so severe here, yet the question raises itself: if everyone keeps silence, then how can anyone ask a question of another? Is St Benedict be entirely serious here, or is he employing the same literary device as His master who said, "if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out"? St Benedict has the words of St James ringing in his ears:
...the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things . Behold , how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed , and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame ; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
However, surely talking is a basic means of communicating with each other. How can we offer the words "I love you" to our neighbour, or to God for that matter, without uttering those immortal words? Actually, this is the challenge that Humility throws down at us. Rather than pay-lip service, should we not actually live out our "I love you"s with sincerity and authenticity. St Benedict challenges us to guard our very words, preferring even silence to good words, because the words of true love are ultimately inexpressible.

The first Word, the Divine Logos is only uttered by God Himself in an act of pure love. This is the Eternal Begetting of the Son in which both Father and Son precisely gain their identities as Father and Son. This is wholly inexpressible in Human terms. We must pass over in silence and stand in fear and trembling before God.

The thing to note is that the magnificent presence of God is stupefying and stultifying: thought and intellect are lost, Reason loses its power, Understanding its grasp; what is left can only be Faith, Hope and Love. This is where the Christian is to live and the challenge that Humility gives us. We must prefer our actions to speak louder than our words. There is no room for disingenuous lip-service with God, nor even with our brothers. The language of True Love must be learned in silence.

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