Sunday, 8 July 2012

Life and Wisdom of St Benedict/7 - Not to bear false witness


Luca Signorelli, c15th

Continuing my Year of Grace series, the seventh of the tools of good works listed in Chapter 4 of St Benedict's rule is 'non falsum testimonium dicere', or not to bear false witness.

It is of course one of the commandments, but is also echoed in New Testament summaries of the commandments, for example in St Matthew 19:18 and Romans 13:9.

Lies and false claims

The problem of those who bear false witness against others, either in order to attempt to 'save' themselves from punishment now, to destroy someone or something they hate, or for some other gain, is, alas all too prevalent amongst us.

Anyone who stands up for the good is liable to such attacks, as the lives of the saints repeatedly show us.  Conversely, some seem oblivious of the damage they do to all through their lies.

Those who deny that they knew of abuse and covered it up for example, are surely doing the Church and all in it enormous harm.  But equally, some have taken advantage of the abuse scandal to make false claims against priests, muddying the waters of those genuine cases and hurting good priests.

Praying for our enemies

St Benedict, however, provides a model of how to respond to such attacks, reminding us firstly that those think they have gotten away with it are deluded: if earthly justice fails, they will nonetheless face a reckoning at God's hands.  And remembering this, he also reminds us to pray especially for our enemies. 

Last week I set out St Gregory the Great's the story of the priest Florentius, who out of jealousy attempted to poison the saint, subvert his monks, and divert visitors away from his monastery by telling lies about St Benedict's way of life.   This eventually prompted St Benedict to leave Subiaco for Monte Cassino.

No sooner had he set out though, than Fr Florentius suddenly died:

"And thus the man of God, on humility, gave place to the other's malice; but yet almighty God of justice severely punished the priest's wickedness. For when the aforesaid Priest, being in his chamber, understood of the departure of holy Benedict, and was very glad of that news, behold (the whole house besides continuing safe and sound) that chamber alone in which he was, fell down, and so killed him.

Once the holy man's disciple, Maurus, heard of this strange accident, he immediately sent St Benedict word, he being as yet scarce ten miles off, desiring him to return again, because the Priest that persecuted him was slain.  But when Benedict heard this, he was deeply sorrowful, and lamented much: both because his enemy died in such sort, and also for that one of his monks rejoiced at it.  And he therefore he gave Maurus penance, for by sending such news, he presumed to rejoice at his enemy's death."  

You can find the next part in this series here.

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