St. Benedict’s Twelve Degrees of Humility: The Tenth Degree

St. Benedict of Nursia

St. Benedict of Nursia

Only three more rungs to the top of the ladder of humility.  The tenth degree tells us,

The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh, for it is written, “The fool lifts up his voice in laughter” (Eccles. 21:23).

This degree is a bit tricky and can be confusing.  Basically St. Benedict is calling us to the same level to which he calls us in the previous degree of humility, in the silence of the tongue.  He reminds us throughout his rule to strive for moderation in all things.

Laughter, too, is to remain moderate.  Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latrourrette gives examples of when laughter becomes out of place in the humble man’s life in his book, A Rhythm of Life the Monastice Way.  A sarcastic laughter can denote a prideful spirit. A frivolous laughter can be a mockery of everything.  A loud laughter certainly can be considered contradictory to a quiet, recollected spirit.

It must be recognized, however, that St. Benedict was not against laughter completely.  One Cistercian commentator of the Rule said, “Laughter is a need of nature, which depends a great deal on the diversity of temperaments more or less sensitive to the causes which excite it.  It would be absurd to want to prohibit it entirely.  Such is not the condition intended for humanity, nor the mind of our Father St. Benedict” (Dom L’Huillier).

The problem arises when laughter becomes neither charitable nor seemly.  When we laugh at another, placing ourselves above them in some way, or at their faults or mistakes, we are drifting quickly from the humility in which St. Benedict is leading.

And of course, laughter at crude and unbecoming jokes and stories seen on television shows and big screen movies causes us to step away from Christ and the person He is calling us to become.  Canon Simon reminds us in his Commentary for Benedictine Oblates of the first degree of humility, God’s continual presence.  With this awareness we must also remember “that our soul is the price of His Son’s blood,” (p. 155).  We must guard the precious gift of our souls.  We must be worth guarding if the Son of God was willing to die for us.  So we must guard our souls by refraining from that which does not lead us forward toward Him.

St. Benedict wants to help us realize that in living a Christian life we will have great joy.  But real joy is found in the relationship with Him, not in vain laughter at the expense of others or in shameless subject matter that takes us completely away from the reality of God’s presence.  Consider just what it is at which you are laughing.  A French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, sums it all up saying, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

Copyright 2014, Diane Schwind


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