Last week I posted the full chapter from Benedict’s Rule on Humility, then commented at the end of the week on the first four stages.
Here are some thoughts on stages five through eight.
The fifth degree of humility is that he hide from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts that enter his heart or the sins committed in secret, but that he humbly confess them.
What would it be like if we regularly made a truly humble and complete confession and we did not hide or prevaricate or lessen our sins in order to save face and not be embarrassed?
We would not only learn a deep lesson in humility, but we would also receive the strength to overcome those sins since so many of the secret sins are actually rooted in self love, which is a form of pride. Humility is the proper love of self and proper and full love always drives out fear, and pride–when you stop to analyze it–is only an expression of fear. I am afraid of being small and being nothing, so pride gives me the sense of importance and immortality that I crave.
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.
To learn humility learn to sit back and let others go first. Learn to take the last piece of cake, the smallest portion and be quiet and listen until all others have spoken. This is one of the ways to train the soul in humility.
Humility, therefore, is like all great things. It is a mixture of a gift and hard work and discipline. You are given the gift of humility, but you also need to work at it. The truly humble person is like a truly gifted musician. The musician might play all the rights notes through discipline and application, but only the gifted musician can play music–not just the right notes in the right order.
So it is with the truly humble person. They practice humility, but the gift makes it great.
The seventh degree of humility is that he consider himself lower and of less account than anyone else, and this not only in verbal protestation but also with the most heartfelt inner conviction.
The truly humble person, therefore does not simply act humble. He is humble. He does not just go through the outward actions because he must. He does the outward actions because he wants to.
The humble man knows his gifts and he knows his faults. He acknowledges that the gifts are not to his credit while the faults are all his own. He does not say this out of a sense of false modesty, but because he genuinely believes and knows that this is so.
The eighth degree of humility is that a monk do nothing except what is commended by the common Rule of the monastery and the example of the elders.
Here Benedict links complete obedience with humility. The humble person is obedient not simply to given commands or specific expectations, but to the spirit of the rule and the spirit of following Christ in his church.
This kind of obedience is a virtue when it is difficult or seems absurd. It is a virtue especially when it seems absurd. When one’s superiors seem wicked, irrational, selfish and seem to be stopping you from serving God. When your superiors seem heretical and corrupt and they suspect you and downgrade you and all that you love–can you still be obedient?