Ladder of Humility – Part 3

When Benedict first wrote his seventh chapter on “Humility” in his landmark “Rule of Life” he was inviting and urging his brothers into a distinctly Christian lifestyle. Humility wasn’t to be an optional extra, an add-on to the Rule, or something for their consideration. Instead, what Benedict was expecting was a full-fledged desire to enter into community with an earnest longing to love and serve others as Jesus would have done in their place. By integrating humility into every aspect of their life together, this would ultimately lead them into a transformed life with love as the foundation of all.

We pick up here with the final four of the twelve rungs of the ladder of humility, the ascent toward love.

The ninth degree of humility is silence, the radical restraint of speech or unnecessary noise. By withholding one’s tongue from speaking, and keeping silence until spoken to by another, the monk was to beware of a multitude of words. Silence was a gift offered to one another so that the deeper listening to God could occur in one another’s presence. The welcoming of silence is a sure sign of humility, especially when one isn’t tempted to become the center of attention by the use of words or noise.

The tenth degree of humility is when a monk is not easily moved toward or quick for laughter. An avoidance of foolish amusement or frivolity was a form of respect toward God and all who crossed their path as individuals on pursuit of a deeper knowledge and experience of God. Although not diminishing joy, quick laughter was considered lighthearted jesting and unnecessary for the godly, wise, and humble.

The eleventh degree is like the tenth, with an emphasis on the gravity of speech with the formation of a listening heart. Here Benedict urged his monks to speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and not with loudness of voice. Here the wise man was known by the fewness of his words, not through the plethora of voiced and often unnecessary syllables.

Finally, the twelfth degree of humility is total humility in all that’s said and done. This is the highest step on the ladder of humility, where both integration and transformation occur. Here humility of heart appears also in ones whole exterior to all who see him, whether at work for God, in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever one may be sitting, walking, or standing. The posture of the truly humble was to have ones head bowed down, eyes fixed on the ground, aware of ones sinfulness, considering oneself already standing before the judgment seat of God, and always saying to oneself in ones heart what the publican said in the Gospel, “Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven.” Exceeding in humility is the final rung, second only to being perfected in heaven.

The goal of the ascent toward humility, therefore, is perfect love. As one ascends toward humility there is movement from fear of God toward perfect love for God. This is what total abandonment to God and contentment in God is to look like, with a life that’s integrated and transformed by love and humility. Such humility takes a lifetime to achieve, and not by human effort but solely under the fresh empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit.

“Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God, which being perfect, casteth out fear. In virtue of this love all things which at first he observed not without fear, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by His Holy Spirit in His laborer now cleansed from vice and sin.” With humility as its centerpiece, Benedict’s Rule of Life is worth our prayerful consideration, particularly as we craft our own personal rule of life.

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