January 13, May 14, September 13
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
In her teaching
the Abbess should always follow the Apostle's formula:
"Reprove, entreat, rebuke" (2 Tim. 4:2);
threatening at one time and coaxing at another
as the occasion may require,
showing now the stern countenance of a mistress,
now the loving affection of a mother.
That is to say,
it is the undisciplined and restless
whom she must reprove rather sharply;
it is the obedient, meek and patient
whom she must entreat to advance in virtue;
while as for the negligent and disdainful,
these we charge her to rebuke and correct.
And let her not shut her eyes to the faults of offenders;
but, since she has the authority,
let her cut out those faults by the roots
as soon as they begin to appear,
remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo (1 Kings 2-4).
The well-disposed and those of good understanding
let her correct with verbal admonition the first and second time.
But bold, hard, proud and disobedient characters
she should curb at the very beginning of their ill-doing
by stripes and other bodily punishments,
knowing that it is written,
"the fool is not corrected with words" (Prov. 18:2; 29:19),
"Beat your son with the rod,
and you will deliver his soul from death"(Prov. 23:13-14).
I'll bet that all of us has, at one time or another, had to deal with
someone whose initial response to virtually everyone was a sharp,
full-force rebuke. That tends to stun people with its severity, a
severity which is out of line, or we wouldn't be surprised at all! I
clearly recall nurses I worked with over 20 years who took that
tactic. What I find interesting is that, in most cases, while I
remember their faces in that unlovely, acerbic scorn of unmerited
rebuke, I have completely forgotten their names. Sad, isn't it? But
There are three provisions here: "reprove, entreat, rebuke." They
have the weight of Scripture as well as that of the Holy Rule. All
three are necessary and, except for the most truly extraordinary
cases, all three are necessary in that order.
I think most monastic people who have been listening to God and truly
examining themselves tend to be gentle. That's fine, but stopping
permanently at either of the gentle points can win one the disgust of
a community in a big hurry. We tend to pity impotence for a while,
then we come to loathe it. The Truth we look at, look for and strive
to learn absolutely demands that when needed, our authority will have
teeth, no matter how unpleasant that may be to us.
To exercise that rebuke factor all the time, or because one really
gets off on it, is sick in the extreme. To fail it out of reticence
or distaste is a terrible failure in self-control, self-denial and
ascesis. We need all three modes in our tool kits. Were that not the
case, the Holy Spirit would have never bothered to aid both Sts. Paul
and Benedict in putting them there!
Love and prayers,