A Warning Against Hypocrisy

Yesterday I alluded to the portrait of the abbot as Christian leader in the first part of chapter 2 of the Rule of St Benedict and the different ways in which four abbots of Cluny exemplified its ideals. This morning I’d like to turn to verses 11 to 15 and their warning against hypocrisy.

Benedict tells us that the abbot must teach more by example than by words, especially when confronted with those of harder heart and duller understanding (people like me, in other words), and then goes on to insist that what he teaches, he must himself observe. So, there can be no two standards of observance in the monastery, one for the abbot and another for the other monks; no two interpretations of lockdown restrictions, one for government ministers and another for the rest of us; no two expectations of moral behaviour, one for men and boys, another for women and girls. Above all, there must be no preaching one thing and doing another.

It’s quite easy to become hypocritical without really meaning to. The origins of the word in Greek theatre provide the clue. We can play a part, pretend. Often our pretending is a sign of our wanting to be better, more interesting than we think we are. ‘Assume a virtue if you have it not’, whatever that might be. Sometimes, however, we are led to making judgements of others that have more to do with our not wanting them to be as good as they are rather than any just appreciation of their merits or defects. There is so much opinion floating around these days that we are frequently lazy about checking facts. We make assumptions, allow our ignorance to go unchallenged, do harm by not thinking things through.

What St Benedict wrote fifteen hundred years ago to guide the leader of a small community of men seeking to follow Christ is still relevant today. We have to guard against hypocrisy, but in ourselves rather than in others. Something to think about, I suggest, when tempted to call out the sins and shortcomings of others in social media and the like.

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6 thoughts on “A Warning Against Hypocrisy”

  1. It has been rare in my time as a Christian not to soon see any sin in myself that I think I see in others, which is God’s grace at work in my soul for sure. I’m very grateful for the reminder of my own sinfulness each time this has happened.

  2. Thank you. It seems God can accept most parts of us, good or bad, as long as we are honest with Him and our hearts sing in time with our actions. Hiding from God is where the hypocrisy comes from, because I know what is bad or wrong but I can never get clean away from it all far enough to be part of the observation rather than seeing it from the Dock.

  3. First sister, I have neither thought of you as hard hearted?! To the contrary, its me who has a great tendency to be! During these strange times.. I have continued to work out in the community attending to the sick and lonely. We have been lucky in New Zealand, as we have a low convid 19 infection rate.
    The ones I see have other medical problems and it has been doublly hard for them, as many of their operations etc have been cancelled. But, and it’s a big BUT! I couldn’t do it without your help in the wonderful encouraging posts and e.mails that have keep me in a somewhat normal routine. The light in shining bright on medical staff at the moment, far too bright for me as it’s also showing me all my misdeeds and hypocrisies.
    I love St Benedict’s rule! Blessings Ruth

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