The Holy Scripture crieth to us, Brethren, saying: “Everyone who exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”118 By these words it declares to us, that all exaltation is a kind of pride, which the Prophet showeth must carefully be avoided when he says: “Lord, my heart is nor exalted, neither are my eyes lifted up: neither have I walked in great things, nor in wonders above myself.” But why? “If I did not think humbly, by exalted my soul: as a child weaned from his mother, so wilt Thou reward my soul.”119
Wherefore, Brethren, if we would attain to the highest summit of humility, and speedily reach that heavenly exaltation, which is won through the lowliness of this present life; by our ascending actions a ladder must be set up, such as appeared in sleep to Jacob, whereon he saw Angels descending and ascending.
That descent and ascent signifieth nothing else, but that we descend by exalting, and ascend by humbling ourselves.
The latter thus erected, is our life here in this world, which through humility of heart is lifted up by our Lord to heaven. The sides of this ladder we understand to be our body and soul, in which the Divine Vocation hath placed divers degree of humility and discipline, which we must ascend.
The first degree, then, of humility is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, and altogether fly forgetfulness. Moreover to be mindful of all that God hath commanded, and remember that such as contemn God fall into hell for their sins, and that everlasting life is prepared for such as fear Him. And keeping himself every moment from all sin and vice, of thought, word, eyes, hands, feet, and self will, let him thus hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.
Let him think that he is always beheld from Heaven by God; that all his actions, wheresoever he may be, lie open to the eye of God, and are at every hour presented before Him by His Angels. The Prophet declareth this, when, in these words, he saith that God is always present to out thoughts: “God searcheth the heart and reins.”120 And again: “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are vain.”121 He alto saith: “Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off,”122 and: “The thought of man shall confess to Thee.”123In order therefore that the humble Brother may be careful to avoid evil thoughts, let him always say in his heart: “Then shall I be without spot before Him, if I shall keep me from my iniquity.”124
With good reason, therefore, are we taught to beware of doing our own will, when we keep in mind that which the Scripture saith: “There are ways which to men seem right, and end whereof plungeth even into the deep pit of hell.”127 And again when we fear that which is said of the negligent: “They are corrupted, and made abominable in their pleasures.”128 But in the desires of the flesh, we ought to believe God to be always present with us, according to that saying of the Prophet, speaking to the Lord: “O Lord, all my desire is before Thee.”129
Let us then take heed of evil desires, because death sitteth close to the entrance of delight. Wherefore the Scripture commandeth us: “Follow not thy concupiscences.”130 If then the eyes of the Lord behold both good and bad; if He ever looketh down from heaven upon the sons of men to see who is understanding or seeking God: if our works are told to Him day and night by our Angels; we must always take heed, Brethren, lest, as the Prophet saith in the Psalm, “God behold us some time declining to evil, and become unprofitable;”131 and though He spare us for the present, because He is merciful, and expecteth our conversion, He may yet say to us hereafter: “These things thou hast done, and I have held My peace.”132
The second degree of humility is, if anyone, not wedded to his own will, seeks not to satisfy his desires, but carries out that saying of our Lord: “I came not to do My own Will, but the Will of Him Who sent Me.”133 The scripture likewise saith: “Self-will engendereth punishment, and necessity purchaseth a crown.”
The third degree of humility is, that a man submit himself for the love of God, with all obedience to his superior, imitating thereby our Lord, of Whom the Apostle saith: “He was made obedient even unto death.”134
The fourth degree of humility is, that if, in obedience, things that are hard, contrary, and even unjust be done to him, he embrace them with a quiet conscience, and in suffering them, grow not weary, nor give over, since the Scripture saith: “He only that persevereth to the end shall be saved.”135 And again, “Let thy heart be comforted, and expect the Lord.”136 And showing that the faithful man ought to bear all things for our Lord, be they never so contrary, it saith in the person of the sufferers: “For Thee we suffer death all the day long; we are esteemed as sheep for the slaughter.”137 And being assured by hope of a reward from God’s Hands they go on rejoicing and saying: “But in all things we overcome by the help of Him Who hath loved us.”138 Likewise in another place the Scripture saith: “Thou hast proved us, O Lord, Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried, with fire. Thou hast brought us into the snare; Thou hast laid tribulation upon our backs.”139 And to shew that we ought to be under a Prior it goes on to say: “Thou hast placed men over our heads.”140 Moreover, in order to fulfil the precepts of the Lord by patience in adversities and injuries: “When struck on one cheek, they offer the other; to him who taketh away their coat, they leave their cloak also; and being constrained to carry a burthen one mile, they go two.”141 With Paul the Apostle they suffer false Brethren and persecutions, and bless those who speak ill of them.142
The fifth degree of humility is to manifest to the Abbot, by humble confession, all the evil thoughts of his heart, and the secret faults committed by him. The Scripture exhorteth us thereunto, saying: “Reveal thy way to the Lord, and hope in Him.”143 And again: “Confess thy way to the Lord because He is good, because His mercy endureth for ever.”144 Furthermore the Prophet saith: “I have made known unto Thee mine offence, and mine injustices I have not hidden. I have said, I will declare openly against myself mine injustices to the Lord; and Thou hast pardoned the wickedness of my heart.”145
The sixth degree of humility is, if a Monk be content with all that is meanest and poorest, and in everything enjoined him, think himself an evil and worthless servant, saying with the Prophet: “I have been brought to nothing, and knew it not. I have become as a beast before Thee, and I am always with Thee.”146
The seventh degree of humility is, not only to pronounce with his tongue, but also in his very heart to believe himself to be the most abject, and inferior to all; and humbling himself, to say with the Prophet: “I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.147 I have been exalted, humbled, and confounded.”148 And again: “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn thy commandments.”149
The eighth degree of humility is, that a Monk do nothing but what the common rule of the Monastery, or the examples of his seniors, exhort him to do.
The ninth degree of humility is, for a Monk to refrain his tongue from speaking, and be silent till a question be asked him, remembering the saying of the Scripture: “In many words thou shalt not avoid sin,”150 and “a talkative man shall not be directed upon the earth.”151
The tenth degree of humility is, not to be easily moved and prompt to laugh, for it is written: “The fool exalteth his voice to laughter.”152
The eleventh degree of humility is that when a Monk speaketh, he do so, gently and without laughter; humbly, with gravity or few words, and discreetly; and be not clamorous in his voice; for it is written: “A wise man is known by few words.”153
The twelfth degree of humility is, that a Monk not only have humility in his heart, but show it also in his exterior, to all the behold him; so that whether he be at the work of God, in the Oratory, the monastery, the garden, on the way, in the field or wherever he may be, whether he sit, walk, or stand, let him always, with head bent down, and eyes fixed upon the earth, think of himself guilty for his sins, and about to be presented before the dreadful judgment of God, ever saying to himself with the Publican in the Gospel: “Lord, I a sinner am not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven.”154 And again with the Prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled on every side.”155
Thus, when all these degrees of humility have been ascended, the Monk will presently come to that love of God which is perfect and casteth our fear; to that love, whereby everything, which at the beginning he observed through fear, he shall now begin to do by custom, without any labour, and as it were naturally; not now through fear of hell, but for the love of Christ, our of a good custom, and a delight in virtue. All this our Lord will vouchsafe to work by the Holy Ghost in His servant, now that he is cleansed from defects and sins.