Practical Aspects of Monastic Purification

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PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF MONASTIC PURIFICATION

 

In the previous essay, stage one of monastic purification we looked at the inward zeal for holiness that characterizes the heart of devotion found in the sincere monastic. Now we look at some practical aspects of purification.

 

Shown below is chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict. This chapter is titled “The Instruments of Good Works”. Notice that this is merely a listing of various Bible verses, and that the real power of the monastic system, as opposed to normal church systems, is that the participants in the system were being asked to take obedience to God seriously. They were accountable to each other, and to the monastic government, to display these virtues to each other in their daily life.

 

THE INSTRUMENTS OF GOOD WORKS:

“1. First of all, to love the Lord God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength;              

2. Then our neighbor as ourself.                                                                 7

3. Then not to kill.                                                         

4. Not to commit adultery.                                                       

5. Not to steal.

6. Not to covet

7. Not to bear false witness.

8. To honor all men.

9. Not to do to another what we would not have done to ourselves..

10. To deny ourselves, in order to follow Christ.

11. To chastise the body.

12. Not seek after delights.

13. To love fasting.

14. To relieve the poor.

15. To clothe the naked.

16. To visit the sick.

17. To bury the dead.

18. To help those that are in tribulation

19. To comfort the sad.

20. To withdraw ourselves from worldly ways.

21. To prefer nothing more than the love of Christ.

22. Not to give way to anger.

23. Not to harbor revenge in our mind.

24. Not to foster guile or deceit in our heart.

25. Not to make a feigned peace.

26. Not to forsake charity.

27. Not to swear at all, lest we forswear ourselves.

28. To speak the truth with heart and mouth.

29. Not to render evil for evil.

30. Strive to injure no one; yet patiently to bear an injury done to you.

31. To love our enemies.

32. Not to speak ill of such as speak ill of us, but rather to speak well of them.

 33. To suffer persecution for justice sake.

34. Not to be proud.

35. Not given to wine.

36. Not a great eater.

 37. Not drowsy.

38. Not slothful.

39. Not a murmurer.

40. Not a detractor.

41. To put our trust in God.

42. When we see any good in ourselves let us attribute it to God and not to ourselves.

43. But let us always know that evil is done by ourselves, therefore let us attribute it to ourselves.

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.

45. To be afraid of hell.

46. To desire life everlasting with spiritual thirst.

47. To have death always before our eyes.

48. To observe at every hour the actions of our life.

49. To know for certain that God beholds us in every place

50. To dash at once against Christ the evil thoughts that rise in the mind.

51. To reveal all such to our spiritual Father

52. To keep our mouth from evil and wicked words.

53. Not to love much talking.

54. Not to speak vain words, nor such as move to laughter.

55. Not to love frequent and boisterous laughter.

56. Willingly to hear holy readings.

57. To pray often devoutly;

58. with tears and sighs, daily to confess our past evils to God in prayer and to amend them for the time to come.

59. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh, and to hate self-will.

60. To obey in all things the legitimate commands of the Abbot, though he himself (which God forbid) should do otherwise, being mindful of that precept of our Lord: “What they say, do ye; but what they do, do ye not.”

61. Not to desire to be called holy, before we be so, and first to be holy, that we may truly be called so.

 62. Daily to fulfill in deeds the commandments of God.

 63. To love chastity.

 64. To hate no man.

65. To flee envy and emulation.

66. Not to love contention.

67. To flee Haughtiness.

68. To reverence the Elders.

69. To love inferiors.

70. For Christ’s sake to pray for our enemies.

71. To make peace with adversaries before the setting of the sun.

72. Never to despair of God’s mercy.

 

 Behold these are the tools or instruments of our spiritual profession: if we constantly employ them day and night, and have them signed with approval in the day of judgment, that reward shall be given us by our Lord as a recompense ‘Which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for those that love Him.’  The workshop where all these things are to be done is the cloister of the monastery, and steadfast abiding in the Congregation.”

 

There are three factors that make this system actually work. First, there is the voluntary nature of membership: people chose to join the monastery, so their heart was already moved to devotion. Second, they were committed to deep and honest prayer with Jesus about their progress and their failures. Third, there was governmental oversight over the members, which allowed for correction and for conflict resolution.

 

As with the prolog to the Rule of Benedict (see Stage one of monastic purification), chapter 4 of the Rule contains concepts that can be misinterpreted by Protestant evangelical readers. For example, it appears that Benedict is saying that by merely applying their will to obey rules (obey the Law of God) people will be able to please God and earn the reward of eternity. Actually, Benedict, like other great Catholic figures, teaches that the early stages of purification involve primarily the effort and choices of the individual, but that later stages involve primarily the work of the Holy Spirit within the believer. These later stages are more intense, more difficult, and produce much greater transformation than do the early stages. As we will see in stage two of monastic purification, an interior work of God, based on a release of power inherent in the atonement and the resurrection of Christ, comprises the main way that purification leads to illumination and union. A similar division between “active and passive” is discussed by John of the Cross in his writings (see the dark night) and by Teresa of Avila in her great book “The Interior Castle”.

 

Furthermore, even in the early stages of monastic purification, when the active use of the will predominates, it is clearly understood that grace enables the monk to obey. For example: “If we wish to dwell in God’s tent, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds. But let us ask with the prophet: ‘Who will dwell in your tent, O God; who will find rest upon your holy mountain?’(Ps. 15:1). After this question, then, let us listen well to what God says in reply, for we are shown the way to God’s tent. ‘Those who walk without blemish and are just in all dealings; who speak truth from the heart and have not practiced deceit; who have not wronged another in any way, not listened to slanders against a neighbor’. (Ps. 15:2-3). They have foiled the evil one at every turn, flinging both the devil and these wicked promptings far from sight. While these temptations were still ‘young, the just caught hold of them and dashed them against Christ.’ (Ps 15:4, 137:9). These people reverence God and do not become elated over their good deeds; they judge it is God’s strength, not their own, that brings about the good in them. ‘They praise’ (Ps. 15:4) the Holy one working in them, and say with the prophet: ‘Not to us, O God, not to us give the glory, but to your name alone” (Ps.115:1).”

“In just this way Paul the apostle refused to take credit for the power of his preaching. He declared: ‘By God’s grace I am what I am’ (1 Cor. 15:10). And again Paul said: ‘They who boast should make their boast in God’ (2 Cor. 10:17). That is why it is said in the Gospel: ‘Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise person who built a house upon rock; the floods came and the winds blew and beat against the house, but it did not fall: it was founded on rock’ (Matt. 7:24-25).”

 

Thus the monastic system of purification, even in the early stages of purification, and even more so in the later stages, depends on grace.

 

As stated earlier, in the essay entitled stage one of monastic purification, the monastic system works because the applicants are sincerely devoted, because they are willing to exercise their wills (depending on grace) to obey God at the cost of their comfort, and because the community provides an system of accountability and mutual reinforcement of purpose. This includes both the peer example of other monks and the authority of monastic government.

 

Next is stage two of monastic purification