Benedict’s Ladder of Humility is the centerpiece of his Rule of Life. The band of brothers who followed him into the movement now known by his name, made their commitment out of an earnest desire to pursue God together. Their life was to be one that blended community with contemplation. Each of the chapters of the Rule focused on one such matter. The 7th chapter on humility defined how they were to handle oneself within the context of life together. We will pick up here with the next four rungs of the ladder of ascent toward humility.
The fifth step is self-revelation. In this regard, the monk was not to conceal from his abbot any evil thoughts that entered his heart, or any evils secretly committed by him. instead, he was to confess them humbly and freely. Acknowledging one’s sinfulness and denouncing unrighteousness led one into freedom from disguise and into a posture of mercy. Confession is liberating for the soul and leads to forgiveness and grace.
The sixth step is contentment with the least of everything. Becoming content with all that is of lesser esteem and willing to embrace the least of everything puts one into a posture of total abandonment and detachment. To make the choice of the less significant or important is to decide to follow Christ even to the place of utter sacrifice and release of all things associated with pride of place, possession, or power.
The seventh step is a sharp awareness of one’s own liabilities. In this place, the monk was to believe with the deepest feeling and proclaim with his tongue that he is inferior to all and more worthless than another. In this way, he says with the prophet, “I am a worm not a human being, one scorned and despised by people.” This was considered good for those who sought to follow God’s commandments toward fuller submission and obedience.
The eighth rung is the avoidance of individualist and attention-seeking behavior. Here the monk was to do nothing except what is recommended by the common rule of the monastery and the example of the elders. Pride is exhibited when one makes decisions that point back to oneself, making choices that serve one’s needs, aspirations, and wants that are exclusive of the community.
In these middle four steps of the ladder of humility, one is brought to a place of deep remorse, confession and into a life of contentment with lesser things, a lesser attitude of oneself, and an avoidance of all things that smack of self-service. Each progressive rung gets harder to follow with regularity, thus the significance of the truth that these steps take a lifetime to learn and embody.
As you consider your own propensity toward self-absorption and pride, what do these steps say about your willingness to openly confess your sins to another, to choose contentment with lesser things, to willingly own up to your own limitations, and to choose community over self? Pause, pray, and ponder each of these four rungs and wait upon the Lord for inspiration and instruction. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart and illumine the pathway forward. Trust Him to lead you by the hand down the road toward deeper love and humility.