Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CHAPTER 18: In What Order the Psalms Should Be Said

     First, say the verse, “God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me”(Ps 69:2), then “Glory be…” followed by the hymn for each Hour. At Prime on Sunday, say four sections of the 118th psalm…However, if this distribution of the psalms doesn’t work, use a different arrangement, provided that the whole Psalter—all one hundred and fifty psalms—is said every week, and that it always starts over again at Sunday Matins.  After all, we read that our holy forefathers eagerly accomplished in a single day what we lukewarm monks should, please God, perform in a week at the very least.

    Saint Benedict is uncompromising when it comes to the essentials.  Monks must pray.  They must pray frequently, earnestly, and attentively.  They must pray the psalms—all of them.  At the same time, however, Saint Benedict is a realist.  He has the humility to recognize that his particular style might not be best for everyone.  And so he gives his successors permission to adapt the Rule as circumstances dictate.
    Herein lies a paradox at the heart of the monastic life: flexibility on the one hand, and uncompromising certainty on the other.  Finding this balance is very difficult, and it takes a great deal of practice, wisdom, and humility.   The trick is to know which of your convictions are essential and which really ought to be more flexible.  As Saint Augustine said, “unity in essentials, freedom in non-essentials, charity in all things.”  But it’s hard sometimes to know what’s essential and what isn’t, which is why monks have an abbot and everyone has a bishop.  That way, we can be flexible and open-minded without having to worry about compromising our integrity.  Put briefly, obedience is where we draw the line.
Origen of Alexandria: "Check out this cool skull I found!"
     I had a professor at Oxford who tutored me in Patristics.  (That’s the study of the early Church and its theologians.)  Patristic history can be divided pretty neatly according to which heresy was most powerful at any given time: from Arianism to Pelagianism to Nestorianism to Monophysitism, and so on.  Each heresy had its own special theologian, and there was always someone on the Catholic side who argued with him.  So Arius argued with Athanasius, Pelagius argued with Augustine, Nestorius argued with Cyril, Apollinaris argued with Basil…  As you can imagine, all these names got pretty confusing after a while, so whenever a new name would come up, I’d ask, “Is this a good guy or a bad guy?”  I’d circle the bad guys’ names with a red pen and the good guys’ names with a green pen.  But then I came across a guy named Origen.   He said lots of good things and lots of bad things too.  So I asked my professor, “Which pen do I use?”  He smiled and said, “Neither.  They’re all good guys…until they disobey.  Until they actually insist on their own opinion against the dogma of the Church—until they actually disobey—they’re just wrong.  Being wrong doesn’t make you a bad guy.  Being stubbornly wrong does.”