The Example of Christ: the Second Step of Humility

With his second step of humility, RB 7. 31–33, St Benedict pulls together two ideas he has already explored and gives them a further resonance. He speaks of regulating our voluntas, our drive towards power and control — getting our own way like any peevish toddler, if you like — and checking our desideria, the pull of our appetites — what older writers used to call lusts. But he situates this control in context: we are to follow the example of Christ, who came ‘not to do his own will but the will of him who sent him.’ If you know the sources of this passage (mainly Cassian and the Rule of the Master), you will see at once that Benedict has transformed the orginal, rather Stoic notion of super-abundant control of the will and appetites into the warmer and more personal notion of discipleship because he is clear why humility matters. It brings us closer to Christ. Asceticism is a necessary part of the Christian life, but it is not an end in itself.

I think that St Jerome, whose feastday this is, and who often gets a bad press from those who haven’t bothered to read him, understood this very well. He struggled all his life with anger and sarcasm, but that struggle made him a better man. It opened him up to grace in a way that a quieter heart and tongue wouldn’t have. Above all, it gave him a vivid sense of his dependence upon God. When we struggle with humility it is because we have forgotten that and tried to do it all by our own efforts. There is no such thing as D.I.Y. salvation. That is why we must keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him.

Note: I have often blogged about St Jerome. If you are interested, please use the search sidebar to find out more.

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