Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Life and Wisdom of St Benedict/4 - Not to commit adultery

The Temptation of St Benedict
Allori, c1597
Continuing my series on the Tools of Good Work from Chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict, the fourth of the tools of good work in Chapter Four of the Rule of St. Benedict is: non adulterare (Not to commit adultery).

Adultery and monks?

Like the previous tool of good work (not to commit murder), this one seems at first glance an odd inclusion in a rule for monks.

Early commenter on the Rule, Smaragdus, however, notes that adultery can be committed in many ways both in body and mind.

It can include those who abandon the love of heavenly wisdom, and desert their calling as priests or monks.

It can mean those who abandon God's truth for heresy and dissent.
But of course it is above all about the virtue of chastity, so little valued today.

St Benedict and sins of the flesh

St. Benedict, St. Gregory relates in Chapter Two of the Life, suffered terrible temptations in this regard, and takes Our Lord's advice that if necessary drastic solutions should be applied:

"On a certain day being alone, the tempter was at hand: for a little black bird, commonly called a merle or an ousel, began to fly about his face, and that so near as the holy man, if he would, might have taken it with his hand: but after he had blessed himself with the sign of the cross, the bird flew away: and forthwith the holy man was assaulted with such a terrible temptation of the flesh, as he never felt the like in all his life.

A certain woman there was which some time he had seen, the memory of which the wicked spirit put into his mind, and by the representation of her so mightily inflamed with concupiscence the soul of God's servant, which so increased that, almost overcome with pleasure, he was of mind to have forsaken the wilderness. But, suddenly assisted with God's grace, he came to himself; and seeing many thick briers and nettle bushes to grow hard by, off he cast his apparel, and threw himself into the midst of them, and there wallowed so long that, when he rose up, all his flesh was pitifully torn. So, by the wounds of his body, he cured the wounds of his soul, in that he turned pleasure into pain, and by the outward burning of extreme smart, quenched that fire which, being nourished before with the fuel of carnal cogitations, inwardly burned in his soul: and by this means he overcame the sin, because he made a change of the fire.

From which time forward, as himself afterward reported to his disciples, he found all temptation of pleasure so subdued, that he never felt any such thing..."

You can find the next part in this series here.

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