Benedict on Humility in Christ  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

For today's feast of St Benedict we turn to the monk-scholar Terrence Kardong, a member of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota.  In The Benedictines (Michael Glazier, 1988), he provides a good overview of Benedict and his monastic heritage.  The twelve steps of humility outlined in Chapter 7 of the Rule are crucial to Benedictine spirituality yet are too easily misunderstood in contemporary society.  Kardong ties in what Benedict has to say about humility with the important concept of kenosis, Jesus' self-emptying in assuming human nature.

The excerpt is found on pp 86-88.

We have not even mentioned the name of Jesus in our discussion thus far, but he is not absent from Benedict's treatise on humility.  Far from it; steps three and four are concerned precisely with Christ's own humility...

The reference is to the kenosis of Jesus, his willingness to enter fully into the human condition, even to the point of voluntary death as a consequence of serving the kingdom of his heavenly Father.  The monk is asked to enter into Jesus' pattern of self-gift, with the promise that the ultimate reward will be spiritual fulfillment, indeed, communion with God.

Whether Benedict meant the example of Christ to serve as the center of his chapter on humility is debatable...Nevertheless, it seems vitally important that the humility of Jesus be maintained as the heart of monastic humility.

Too often monastic self-discipline is presented without adequate reference to its New Testament basis.  Even the great theorists of ascetical theology, such as Evagrius of Pontus, have a tendency to put too much stress on the human element, and not enough on divine grace and its embodiment in Jesus.  In doing this, they seem to verify what the Protestant Reformers suspected all along:  that Catholicism, and especially monasticism, is really a religion of works and not of faith.

It can also be shown historically that apart from the person of Christ and his salvific cross, suffering is easily distorted in the Christian scheme of things.  The example of the early martyrs is instructive; they instinctively attached themselves to the sufferings of Christ and were able to endure with patience in the knowledge that the Lord was intimately united to them in their hour of affliction.  Apart from this Christ-connection, martyrdom could lapse into mere stubbornness, defiance, masochism, and even suicide.

Likewise, Christian, monastic humility that is rooted in anything other than Christian self-gift often turns into self-pity and even worse.  It is all too easy for certain personalities to wallow in self-contempt, thinking all the while that they are truly humble.  Such people often turn out to be anything but selfless once they are confronted with difficulties that are not of their own fabrication.  The cross we fashion for ourselves has nothing to do with true humility...

To turn again to the figure of Christ, we should note the true context of his suffering and death:  it was not the purpose of the heavenly Father that his Son die on the cross, nor did the Son live in order to die at the hands of murderers...The purpose and goal of  Christ's whole life was to make present and operative the Father's love for the world.  Suffering and death came because the forces of evil could not let this happen unchallenged.  Christian faith says hatred did not overcome love:  instead, Jesus' resurrection transformed the cross into a tree of glory.

The Benedictine monk, like any other follower of Jesus, is called to tread this path.  The path is not primarily the way of the cross but the way of love.  That seems to be a much less demanding way, but in fact it turns out to be the very same; once we set out earnestly  to love as Jesus loved, we discover quickly why he was crucified.  The difference is that his enemies are by and large within.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 11, 2011 at Monday, July 11, 2011 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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