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LETTER II (A.D. 1126)
To the Monk Adam33 The MS. in the Royal Library is inscribed: De Discretione Obedientiæ. Of Discernment in Obedience. This Letter was written after the death of Abbot Arnold, which took place in Belgium in the year 1126.
1. If you remain yet in that spirit of charity which I either knew or believed to be with you formerly, you would certainly feel the condemnation with which charity must regard the scandal which you have given to the weak. For charity would not offend charity, nor scorn when it feels itself offended. For it cannot deny itself, nor be divided against itself. Its function is rather to draw together things divided; and it is far from dividing those that are joined. Now, if that remained in you, as I have said, it would not keep silent, it would not rest unconcerned, nor pretend indifference, but it would without doubt whisper, with groans and uneasiness at the bottom of your pious heart, that saying, Who is offended, and I burn not (2 Cor. xi. 29). If, then, it is kind, it loves peace, and rejoices in unity; it produces them, cements them, strengthens them, and wherever it reigns it makes the bond of peace. As, then, you are in opposition to that true 4 mother of peace and concord, on what ground, I ask you, do you presume that your sacrifice, whatever it may be, will be accepted by God, when without it even martyrdom profiteth nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 3)? Or, on what ground do you trust that you are not the enemy of charity when breaking unity, rending the bond of peace, you lacerate her bowels, treating with such cruelty their dear pledges, which you neither have borne nor do bear? You must lay down, then, the offering, whatever it may be, which you are preparing to lay on the altar, and hasten to go and reconcile yourself not with one of your brethren only, but with the entire body. The whole body of the fraternity, grievously wounded by your withdrawal, as by the stroke of a sword, utters its complaints against you and the few with you, saying: The sons of my mother have fought against me (Cant. i. 5). And rightly; for who is not with her, is against her. Can you think that a mother, as tender as charity, can hear without emotion the complaint, so just, of a community which is to her as a daughter? Therefore, joining her tears with ours, she says, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me (Isa. i. 2). Charity is God Himself. Christ is our peace, who hath made both one (Eph. ii. 14). Unity is the mystery even of the Holy Trinity. What place, then, in the kingdom of Christ and of God has he who is an enemy of charity, peace, and unity?
2. My abbot, perhaps you will say, has obliged me to follow him—ought I then to have been disobedient? But you cannot have forgotten the conclusion to which we came one day after a long 5discussion together upon that scandalous project which even then you were meditating. If you had remained in that conclusion, now it might have been not unfitly said of you, Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly (Ps. i. 1). But let it be so. Sons ought, no doubt, to obey a father; scholars a teacher. An abbot may lead his monks where he shall please, and teach them what he thinks proper; but this is only as long as he lives. Now that he is dead, whom you were bound to hear as a teacher and to follow as a guide, why are you still delaying to make amends for the grave scandal that you have occasioned? What hinders you now to give ear, I do not say to me when I recall you, but to our God, when He mercifully does so by the mouth of Jeremiah, Shall they fall and not arise? Shall he turn away and not return? (Jer. viii. 4.) Or has your abbot, when dying, forbidden you ever to rise again after your fall, or ever to speak of your return? Is it necessary for you to obey him even when dead—to obey him against charity and at the peril of your soul? You would allow, I suppose, that the bond between an abbot and his monks is by no means so strong or tenacious as that of married persons, whom God Himself and not man has bound with an inviolable sacrament—as the Saviour says: What God hath joined together let no man but asunder (S. Matt. xix. 6). But the Apostle asserts that when the husband is dead the wife is freed from the law of her husband (Rom. vii. 2), and do you consider yourself bound by the law of your dead abbot, and this against a law which is more binding still, that of charity?6
3. These things I say, yet I do not think that you ought to have yielded to him in this even when living, or that thus to have yielded ought to be called obedience. For it is of that kind of obedience that it is said in general: The Lord shall lead forth with the workers of iniquity those who deviate in their obedience (Ps. cxxv. 5, Vulg.). And that no one may contend that obedience to an abbot, even in things evil, is free from that penalty, there are words elsewhere still more precise: The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, and the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son (Ezek. xviii. 20). From these, then, it appears clearly that those who command things evil are not to be obeyed, especially when in yielding to wrong commands, in which you appear to obey man, you show yourself plainly disobedient to God, who has forbidden everything that is evil. For it is altogether unreasonable to profess yourself obedient when you know that you are violating obedience due to the superior on account of the inferior, that is, to the Divine on account of the human. What then! God forbids what man orders; and shall I be deaf to the voice of God and listen to that of man? The Apostles did not understand the matter thus when they said, We must obey God rather than men (Acts v. 29). Does not the Lord in the Gospel blame the Pharisees: Ye transgress the commandment of God on account of your traditions (S. Matt. xv. 3). And by Isaiah: In vain they worship Me, he says, teaching the commands and doctrines of men (Is. xxix. 13). And also to our first father.44 Protoplastus, the first formed. Tertullian, Exhort. ad Castit., cap. 2 and Adv. Jud., c. 13, calls Adam and Eve Protoplasti.—[E.] 7 hast obeyed thy wife rather than Me, the earth shall be rebellious to thy work (Gen. iii. 17). Therefore to do evil, whosoever it be that bids, is shown not to be obedience, but disobedience.
4. To make this principle clear, we must note that some actions are wholly good; others wholly evil: and in these no obedience is to be rendered to men. For the former are not to be omitted by us, even if they are prohibited [by men]: nor the latter done, even though they are commanded. But, besides these, there are actions between the two, and which may be good or evil according to circumstances of place, time, manner, or person, and in these obedience has its place, as it was in the matter of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was in the midst of Paradise. When. these are in question, it is not right to prefer our own judgment to that of our superiors, so as to take no heed of what they order or forbid. Let us see whether it be not such a case that I have condemned in you, and whether you ought not to be condemned. For clearness, I will subjoin examples of the distinction which I have just made. Faith, hope, charity, and others of that class are wholly good; it cannot be wrong to command, or to practice them, nor right to forbid them, or to neglect the practice of them. Theft, sacrilege, adultery, and all other such vices are wholly evil; it can never be right to practice or to order them, nor wrong to forbid or avoid them. The law is not made for things of this kind, for the prohibition of no person has the power to render null the commandments given, nor the command of any to render lawful the things prohibited. There 8are, finally, things of a middle kind which are not in themselves good or evil; they may be indifferently either prescribed or forbidden, and in these things an inferior never sins in obeying. Such are, for example, fasting, watching, reading, and such like. But some things which are of this middle kind often pass the bounds of indifferency, and become the one or the other. Thus, marriage is neither prescribed nor forbidden, but when it is made may not be dissolved. That, therefore, which before the nuptials was a thing of the middle kind obtains the force of a thing wholly good in regard to the married pair. Also, it is a thing indifferent for a man in secular life to possess or not to possess property of his own; but to a monk, who is not allowed to possess anything, it is wholly evil.
5. Do you see now, brother, to which branch of my division your action belongs? If it is to be put among things wholly good it is praiseworthy: if among those wholly evil it is greatly to be blamed: but if it is to be placed among those of the middle kind you may, perhaps, find in your obedience an excuse for your first departure, but your delay in returning is not at all excusable, since that was not from obedience. For when your abbot was dead, if he had previously ordered anything which was not fitting, the former discussion has shown you that you were no longer bound to obey him. And although the matter is now sufficiently clear by itself, yet because of some who seek for occasion to object when reason does not support them, I will put the matter clearly again, so that every shade of doubt may disappear, and I will show you that your 9obedience and your leaving your monastery, were neither wholly good nor partly good, but plainly wholly evil. Concerning him who is dead, I am silent; he has now God alone for his judge, and to his own Lord he either stands or falls; that God may not say with righteous anger, “Men have taken away from me even the right to judge.” However, for the instruction of the living I discuss, not even what he has done, but what he has ordered; whether, that is to say, his order ought to have been obligatory, inasmuch as a widespreading scandal has followed upon it. And I say this first; that if there are any who followed him when he wrongly left his cloister, but who followed in simplicity, and without suspecting any evil, supposing that he had license to go forth from the Bishop of Langres and the Abbot of Cîteaux (for to each of these was he responsible); and it is not incredible that some of those who were of his company may so have believed; this, my censure, does not touch them, provided that when they knew the truth, they returned without delay.
6. Therefore my discourse is against those only, or rather for those, who knowingly and purposely put their hands into the fire; who being conscious of his presumption, yet followed him who presumed, without caring for the prohibition of the Apostle, and his precept, to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly (2 Thess. iii. 6). Despising also the voice of the Lord himself, He who gathereth not with me scattereth (S. Matt. xii. 30). To you, brethren, belongs clearly and specially that reproach spoken by Jeremiah, which I recall with grief: This is a nation that 10obeyeth not the voice of the Lord their God (Jer. vii. 28). For clearly that is the Voice of God pointing out His enemy from the work that he does, and, as it were, showing him with a stretched finger to ward off simple souls from his ungodly example: He who is not with Me, He says, scatters; ought you to have followed a disperser? And when God invites you to unite with Him, ought you rather to follow a man who wishes to disperse you? He scorned his superiors, he exposed his inferiors to danger, he deeply troubled his brethren, and yet ye seeing a thief joined yourself with him! I had determined to be silent concerning him who is dead, but I am obliged, I confess, to proceed still a little further, since I cannot blame your obedience, if his command is not shown to be altogether improper. Since the orders and the actions of the man were similar to each other, it seems impossible to praise or to blame the one without the other. Now it is very clear that orders of that kind ought not to have been obeyed, since they were contrary to the law of God. For who can suppose that the institutions of our Fathers are not to be preferred to those of lesser persons, or that the general rules of the Order must not prevail over the commands of private persons? For we have this in the Rule of S. Benedict.55 Reg. Cap. 71.
7. I should be able, indeed, to bring forward the Abbot of Cîteaux as a witness, who, as being superior to your abbot as a father to a son, as a master to a disciple, and, in a word, as an abbot to a monk committed to his charge, rightly complains that you have held him in contempt because of the other. I might 11speak also of the Bishop, whose consent was not waited for, a contempt which was inexcusable, since the Lord says of such and to such: He who despises you despises Me (S. Luke x. 16). But as to both these might be opposed and preferred the authority of the Roman Pontiff as more weighty; by whose license it is said that you have taken care to secure yourselves (the question of that license shall be discussed in its proper place), [see below, No. 9], I rather bring forward such an one as you dare not set yourself against. Most surely He is the Supreme Pontiff, who by His own blood entered in once and alone into the Holy Place to obtain eternal redemption (Heb. ix. 12), and denounces with a terrible voice, in the Gospel, that none should dare to give scandal to even the least of His little ones (S. Matt. xviii. 6). I should say nothing if the evil had not proceeded farther. An easy forgiveness would follow a fault which has no grave consequences. But at present there is no doubt that you have preferred the commands of a man to that of God, and have thus scandalized very many. What man of any sense would say that such an audacious act was good, or could become good, by the direction of any man, whatever his dignity? And if it is not good, nor can become good, without doubt it is wholly evil. Whence it follows that since your withdrawal was to the scandal of many, and by this contrary to the law of God, since it is neither wholly good nor even of a middle kind, it is, therefore, wholly and altogether evil; because that which is wholly is always such, and that of a middle kind can become so.
8. How then can either the permission of your 12abbot avail to make that permissible which is (as we have already shown beyond question) wholly evil, since (as we have said above) things of this kind, that is things purely evil, can never be rightly ordered nor permissibly done? Do you see how futile is the excuse you draw from obedience to a man when you are convicted of a transgression against God? I hardly suppose that you would resort to that reply of the Lord respecting the scandal given to the Pharisees, Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind (S. Matt. xv. 14), and that as He attached no value to their objections, so you attach no value to ours; for you know that there is no comparison in this respect between Him and you. But if you make comparison of persons, you find that on one side it is the proud Pharisees who are scandalized, on the other the poor of Jesus Christ; and as to the cause of the scandal, in the one case it is presumption, in the other truth. Again, as I have shown above, you have not only preferred a human to a Divine command, but that of a private person to a public rule, and this alone would suffice for proof; but the custom and Rule, not only of our Order, but of all monasteries, seems to cry out against your unexampled innovation and unparalleled presumption.
9. You had then just reason to fear, and were rightly distrustful of the goodness of your cause when, in order to still the pangs of your consciences, you tried to have recourse to the Holy See. O, vain remedy! which is nothing else than to seek girdles, like our first parents, for your ulcerated consciences, that is, to hide the ill instead of curing it. We have asked and obtained (they say) the permission of the 13Pope. Would that you had asked not his permission, but his advice; that is to say, not that he would permit you to do it, but whether it was a thing permitted to you to do! Why, then, did you solicit his permission? Was it to render lawful that which was not so? Then you wished to do what was not lawful; but what was not lawful was evil. The intention, therefore, was evil, which tended towards evil. Perhaps, you would say that the wrong thing which you demanded permission to do ceased to be such if it was done by virtue of a permission. But that has been already excluded above by an irrefragable reason. For when God said, Do not despise one of these little ones who believe in Me, He did not add also, Unless with permission; nor when He said, Take care not to give scandal to one of these little ones (S. Matt. xviii. 6–10), did He limit it by adding, Without licence. It is then certain that except when the necessary interests of the truth require, it is not permitted to any one to give any scandal, neither to order it, nor to consent to it. Yet you think that permission is to be obtained to do so. But to what purpose? Was it that you might sin with more liberty and fewer scruples, and, therefore, with just so much the more danger? Wonderful precaution, marvellous prudence! They had already devised evil in their heart, but they were cautious not to carry it out in action except with permission. They conceived in sorrow, but they did not bring forth iniquity until the Pope had afforded his consent to that unrighteous birth. With what advantage? or, at least, with what lessening of the evil? Is it likely that either an evil will cease to be or even be rendered 14less because the Pope has consented to it? But who will deny it to be a bad thing to give consent to evil? Which, notwithstanding, I do not in any way believe that the Pope would have done, unless he had been either deceived by falsehood or overcome by importunity. In fact, unless it had been so, would he weakly have given you permission to sow scandal, to raise up schisms, to distress friends, to trouble the peace of brethren, to throw into confusion their unity, and, above all, to despise your own Bishop? And under what necessity he should have acted thus I have no need to say, since the issue of the matter sufficiently shows. For I see with grief that you have gone forth, but I do not see that you have profited in doing so.
10. Thus, in your opinion, to give assent to so great and weighty evils is to show obedience, to render assistance, to behave with moderation and gentleness. Do you, then, endeavour to whitewash the most detestable vices under the name of virtues? Or do you think that you can injure virtues without doing injury to the Lord of virtues? You hide the vainest presumption, the most shameful levity, the cruellest division under the names of obedience, moderation, gentleness, and you soil those sacred names with the vices hidden under them. May I never emulate this obedience: such moderation can never be pleasing to me, or rather seems to resemble molestation; may gentleness of this kind ever be far from me. Such obedience is worse than any revolt: such moderation passes all bounds. Shall I say that it goes beyond them or does not come up to them? Perhaps it would be more 15adequate to say that it is altogether without measure or bound. Of what kind is that gentleness which irritates the ears of all the hearers? And yet I beg you to show some sign of it now on my behalf. Since you are so patient that you do not contend with anybody, even with one who tries to drag you away to forbidden ground, permit me, too, I beg of you, to treat with you now somewhat more unrestrainedly. Otherwise I have merited much evil from you if you think that you must resent from me alone what you are accustomed to resent from no one else.
11. Well, then, I call your own conscience to witness. Was it willingly or unwillingly that you went forth? If willingly, then it was not from obedience. If unwillingly, you seem to have had some suspicion of the order which you carried out with reluctance. But when there is suspicion, there consideration is necessary. But you, either to display your patience or to exercise it, obeyed without discussion, and suffered yourself to be taken away, not only without your own volition, but even against your conscience. O, patience worthy of all impatience! I cannot, I confess, help being angry with this most questionable patience. You saw that he was a scatterer and yet you followed him; you heard him directing what was scandalous and yet you obeyed him! True patience consists in doing or in suffering what is displeasing to us, not what is forbidden to us. A strange thing! You listened to that man softly murmuring, but not to God openly protesting in such words as these, like a clap of thunder from 16heaven, Woe to him through whom scandal cometh (S. Matt. xviii. 7). And to be the better heard, not only does the Lord Himself cry aloud, but His Blood cries with a terrible voice to make even the deaf hear. Its pouring forth is its cry. Since it was poured forth for the children of God who were scattered abroad that it might gather them together into one, it justly murmurs against the scatterers. He whose constant duty it is to collect souls together hates without doubt those who scatter them. Loud is His voice and piercing which calls bodies from their graves and souls from Hades. That trumpet blast calls together heaven and earth and the things that are with them, giving them peace. Its sound has gone out unto the whole world, arid yet it has not been able to burst through your deafness! What a voice of power and magnificence when the words are spoken: Let the Lord arise and let His enemies be scattered (Ps. lxviii. 2). And again: Disperse them by Thy power, O Lord, my protector, and put them down (Ps. lix. 12). It is the blood of Christ, brother Adam, which raises its voice as a sounding trumpet on behalf of pious assemblies against wicked scatterers; it has been poured forth to bring together those who were dispersed, and it threatens to disperse those who scatter. If you do not hear His voice, then listen to that which rolls from His side. For how could He not hear His own blood who heard the blood of Abel?
12. But what is this to me? you say. It concerns one whom it was not right for me to contradict. The disciple is not above his master; and it was to be taught, not to teach, that I attached myself 17to him. As a hearer, it became me to follow, not to go before, my preceptor. O, simple one, the Paulus of these times! If only he had shown himself another Antony,66 Antony, who was called by S. Athanasius “the founder of asceticism,” and “a model for monks,” is called “Abbas,” though he was more properly a hermit, and always refused to take oversight of a monastery. He was born at Coma, in Upper Egypt, about A.D. 250. The Paulus here mentioned was a disciple of Antony. He was remarkable for his childlike docility, on account of which he was surnamed Simplex, and notwithstanding a certain dulness of intellect seems to have shown sometimes remarkable discernment of character.—[E.] so that you had no occasion to discuss the least word that fell from his lips, but only to obey it without hesitation! What exemplary obedience! The least word, an iota, which drops from the lips of his superiors finds him obedient! He does not examine what is enjoined, he is content because it is enjoined!77 This clause is wanting in some MSS. And this is obedience without delay. If this is a right view of duty, then without cause do we read in the Church: Prove all things, hold fast that which is good (2 Thess. v. 21). If this is a right view, let us blot out of the book of the Gospel Be ye wise as serpents, for the words following would suffice, and harmless as doves (S. Matt. x. 26). I do not say that inferiors are to make themselves judges of the orders of those set over them; in which it may be taken for granted that nothing is ordered contrary to the Divine laws, but I assert that prudence also is necessary to notice if anything does so contradict, and freedom firmly to pronounce against these. But you reply, I have nothing to do with examining what he orders; it is his duty to do that before ordering. Tell me, I pray you, if a sword were put into your hand and he bade you turn it 18against his throat, would you obey? Or if he ordered you to fling yourself headlong into the fire, or into the water, would you do it? If you did not even hinder him from such acts as these to the best of your ability, would not you be held guilty of the crime of homicide? Come, then, see that you have done nothing but co-operate in his crime under the pretext of obedience. Do you not know that it has been said by a certain person (for you would not, perhaps, give credence to me) that it would be better to be sunk in the depths of the sea than to give scandals (S. Matt. xviii. 6). Why has He said this unless that He wished to signify that in comparison to the terrible punishments that are reserved for the scandalous, temporal death would seem scarcely a punishment but an advantage? Why, then, did you help him to make a scandal? For you did so in following and obeying him. Would it not have been better, according to the declaration of the Truth I have quoted, to hang a millstone from his neck and so to plunge him in the depth of the sea? What then? You that were so obedient a disciple, who could not bear that he, your father and master, should be separated from you for a single instant, for a foot breadth (as it is said), you have not hesitated to fall into the ditch behind him with your eyes wide open, like another Balaam? Did you think that you were labouring for his happiness when you showed toward him an obedience more hurtful for him than death? Truly, now, I experience how true is that saying: A man’s foes shall be they of his own household (Micah vii. 6). If you see and feel this do you not groan if you 19perceive what you have done? And if you do perceive, do you not tremble? For, indeed, your obedience (it is not my judgment, but that of the Truth Himself) has been worse for him than death.
13. If you are now convinced of this, I do not know how you can help trembling and hastening to repair your fault. Otherwise what conscience of wrong will you carry hence to that terrible tribunal where the judge will not need witness, where the Truth will scan even purposes, and penetrate in search of faults to the hidden places of the heart, where, in short, that Divine look will try the most secret recesses of minds, and at the sudden shining of that Sun of justice all the windings of human souls will be spread open and give to the light whatever, whether good or evil, they were hiding? Then, brother Adam, those who commit a sin, and those who consent to it will be punished with equal chastisement. Then thieves and the associates of thieves will listen to a similar sentence; the seducers and the seduced will undergo an equal judgment. Cease, then, to say again, What is it to me? Let him see to it. Can you touch pitch and say I am not defiled? Can you hide fire in your bosom and not be burned? Can you have your portion with adulterers without resembling them in some respect? Isaiah did not think so, for he reproached himself not only because he was himself unclean, but also because he was the companion of the unclean: Because, he says, I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Isaiah vi. 5). For he blames himself not because he dwelt among sinners, but because he has not condemned their 20sins. For, so he says: Woe is me because I have been silent (Isaiah vi. 5, Vulg.). But when did he consent to the doing of evil, that he blames himself not to have condemned it in others? And did not David also feel that he was defiled by the contact of sin when he said: With men that work iniquity, and I will not communicate with their chosen friends (Ps. cxl. 4, Vulg.). Or when he made this prayer: Cleanse me O Lord from my secret sins, and spare Thy servant from the offences of others (Ps. xix. 12–13, Vulg.). Wherefore he strove to avoid the society of sinners in order not to share in their faults. For he says farther: I have not sat in the council of vanity, and I will not enter into the company of those who do unjustly (Ps. xxv. 4–5, Vulg.). And then he adds: I have hated the congregation of evil doers, and will not sit with the wicked (ibid.). Finally, hear the counsel of the wise man: My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not (Prov. i. 10).
14. Have you, then, against these and innumerable other and similar testimonies of the truth, thought that you ought to obey anybody? O, odious perversity! The virtue of obedience which always wars on behalf of truth, is arrayed against truth. Happy the disobedience of brother Henry, who soon repenting of his error and retracing his steps, has the happiness of not persisting longer in such an obedience. The fruits of disobedience are sweeter and to be preferred [to this]; and now he tastes them with a good conscience in the peaceable and constant practice of the duties of his profession in the midst of his brethren, and in the bosom of the Order to which he has devoted himself; while some of his former companions are breaking the hearts of their 21ancient brethren by the scandals they are making! Whose disobedience of slackness and omission, if the choice were given me, I would even prefer, with his sense of penitence, than the punctilious obedience of such as these, with scandal. For I consider that he does better for the keeping unity in the bond of peace who obeys charity, though disobedient to his abbot, than those who so defer to a single man as to prefer one to the whole body. I might boldly add even this, that it is preferable to risk disobedience to one person than to endanger the vows of our own profession and all the other advantages of religion.
15. Since, not to speak of other obligations, there are two principal ones to be observed by all dwellers in a monastery, obedience to the abbot and stability or constancy. But one of these ought not to be fulfilled to the prejudice of the other, so that you should thus show yourself constant in your place as not to be above being subject to the superior, and so obey the superior as not to lose constancy. Thus if you would disapprove of a monk, however constant in his cloister, who was too proud to obey the orders of his superior, can you wonder that we blame an obedience which served you as the cause or occasion for deserting your place, especially when in making a religious profession constancy is vowed in such a way as not to be at all subordinated to the will of the abbot under whom a monk may be placed.
16. But perhaps you may turn what I say against me, asking what I have done with the constancy which ought to have kept me at Cîteaux, whereas I now dwell elsewhere. To which I reply, I am, indeed, a Cistercian monk professed in that place, 22and was sent forth by my abbot to where I now dwell, but sent forth in peace without scandal, without disorder, according to our usages and constitutions. As long, therefore, as I persevere in the same peace and concord in which I was sent forth, as long as I stand fast in unity, I do not prefer my private interests to those of the community. I remain peaceful and obedient in the place where I have been posted. I say that my conscience is at peace, because I observe faithfully the stability I have promised. How do I compromise my vow of stability when I do not break the bond of concord, nor desert the firm ground of peace? If obedience keeps my body far distant from Cîteaux, the offering of the same devotions and a manner of life in every way similar hold my spirit always present there. But the day on which I shall begin to live, according to other laws (which may God avert), to practise other customs, to perform different observances, to introduce novelties and customs from without, I shall be a transgressor of my vows, and I shall no longer think that I am observing the constancy that I promised. I say, then, that an abbot ought to be obeyed in all things, but saving the oath of the Order. But you having made profession, according to the Rule of S. Benedict, where you promised obedience, you promised also constancy. And if you have, indeed, obeyed, but have not been constant by offending in one point, you are made an offender in all, and if in all, then in obedience itself.
17. Do you see, then, the proper scope of your obedience? How can it excuse your want of constancy, which is not even of weight to justify itself? 23Every one knows that a person makes his profession solemnly and regularly in the presence of the abbot. That profession is made, therefore, in his presence only, not at his discretion also. The abbot is employed as the witness, and not the arbiter of the profession; the helper of its fulfilment, not an assistant to the breach of it; to punish and not to authorise bad faith. What, then? Do I place in the hand of the abbot the vows that I have taken, without exception ratified by my mouth and signed by my hand in presence of God and His Saints? Do I not hear out of the Rule (Rule of S. Benedict, C. 58) that if I ever do otherwise I shall be condemned by God, whom I have mocked? If my abbot or even an angel from heaven should order me to do something contrary to my vow, I would boldly refuse an obedience of this kind, which would make me a transgressor of my own oath and make me swear falsely by the name of my God, for I know, according to the truth of Scripture, that out of my own mouth I must either be condemned or justified (S. Luke xix. 22), and because The mouth which lies slays the soul (Wisd. i. 11), and that we chant with truth before God, Thou wilt destroy all those who speak falsehood (Ps. v. 6), and because every one shall bear his own burden (Gal. vi. 5), and every one shall give account of himself to God (Rom. xiv. 12). If it were otherwise with me, with what front could I dare to lie in the presence of God and His angels, when singing that verse from the Psalm: I will render unto Thee my vows, which my lips have uttered (Ps. lvi. 13, 14).
In fact, the abbot himself ought to consider the 24advice which the Rule gives, addressing itself to him in particular, “that he should maintain the present Rule in all respects,” and also, which is universally directed, and no exception made, “that all should follow the Rule as guide and mistress, nor is it to be rashly deviated from by any" (Rule of S. Bened. capp. lxiv. 3). Thus I have determined to follow him as master always and everywhere, but on the condition never to deviate from the authority of the Rule, which, as he himself is witness, I have sworn and determined to keep.
18. Let me, briefly, treat another objection which may possibly be made to me, and I will bring to a close an epistle which is already too long. It seems that I may be reproached with acting otherwise than I speak. For I may be asked, if I condemn those who have deserted their monastery, not only with the consent of their abbot, but at his command, on what principle do I receive and retain those who from other monasteries, who, breaking their vow of constancy and condemning the authority of their superiors, come to our Order? To which my reply will be brief, but dangerous; for I fear that what I shall say will displease certain persons. But I fear still more lest by concealing the truth I should sing untruly in the Church those words of the Psalmist: I have not hid my righteousness within my heart: my talk hath been of Thy truth and of Thy salvation (Ps. xl. 12). I receive them, then, for this reason, because I do not consider that they are wrong to quit the monastery, in which they were able, indeed, to make vows to God, but by no means to perform them, to enter into another house where they may better serve 25God, Who is everywhere, and who repair the wrong done by the breach of their vow of constancy by the perfect performance of all other duties of the religious life. If this displeasse any one, and he murmurs against a man thus seeking his own salvation, the Author of salvation Himself shall reply for him: Is thine eye evil because he is good? (S. Matt. xx. 15). Whosoever thou art who enviest the salvation of another, care rather for thine own. Dost thou not know that by the envy of the devil death entered into the world? (Wisd. ii. 24). Take heed, therefore, to thyself. For if there is envy there is death; surely, thou canst not both be envious and live. Why seek a quarrel with thy brother, since he seeks only the best means of fulfilling the vows which he has made? If the man seeks in what place or in what manner he may best discharge what he has promised to God, what wrong has he done to you? Perhaps, if you held him your debtor for a sum of money, however small, you would oblige him to compass sea and dry land until he rendered you the whole debt, even to the last farthing. What, then, has your God deserved from you that you are not willing for Him, too, to receive what is due? But in envying one you render two hostile; since you are trying both to defraud the lord of the service due from his servant, and to deprive the servant of the favour of his lord. Wherefore do you not imitate him, and yourself discharge what is due from you? Do you think that your debt, too, will not be required of you? Or do you not rather fear to irritate God against you the more by wickedly saying in your heart, He will not require it?26
19. What, you say to me, do you then condemn all who do not do likewise? No; but hear what I do think about them, and do not make futile accusations. Why do you wish to make me odious to many thousands of holy men, who, under the same profession as I, though not living in the same manner, either live holily or have died blessed deaths? I do not fail to remember that God has left to Himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee before Baal (1 Kings xix. 18). Listen to me, then, man envious and calumnious. I have said that I think men coming to us from other monasteries ought to be received. Have I blamed those who do not come? The one class I excuse, but I do not accuse the other. It is only the envious whom I cannot excuse, nor, indeed, am I willing to do so. These being excepted, I think that if any others wish to pass to a stricter Rule, but fear to do so because of scandal, or are hindered by some bodily weakness, do not sin, provided that they study to live a holy, pious, and regulated life in the place where they are. For if by the custom of their monastery relaxations of the Rule have been introduced, either that very charity, in which they hesitate to remove to a better on account of causing scandal, may, perhaps, be an excuse for this; according to that saying Charity covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter iv. 8), or the humility in which one conscious of his infirmity regards himself as imperfect, for it is said God gives grace unto the humble (S. James iv. 6).
20. Many things I have written, dear brother, and, perhaps, it was not needful to use so many words, for an intelligence such as yours, quick in understanding 27what is said, and a will well-disposed to follow good counsel. But although I have written specially to you, yet so many words need not have been written on your account, but for those for whom they may be needful. But I warn you, as my own former and intimate friend, in few words and with all confidence, not to keep longer in suspense, at the great peril of your own soul, the souls of those who are desiring and awaiting your return. You hold now in your hands (if I do not mistake) both your own eternal life and death, and theirs who are with you; for I judge that whatever you decide or do they will do also. Otherwise, announce to them the grave judgment which has been rightly passed with respect to them by all the Abbots of our Order. Those who return shall live, those who resist shall die.
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