The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.
– RB 5.1,2
Life in the eastern half of the church in the first several centuries was decidedly biblical in character. Here Christians understood very well that faith was learned in direct proportion to the banding together of those who genuinely love God in conventicles where they shared a common affection for Christ as much as they shared all their material goods. The primary inspiration of these first communities was the Jerusalem church found in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35 with its genuinely caring relations and shared property.
The willingness to so live comes from nothing other than the humility found in people who love and therefore obey Christ without hesitation; the unwillingness to live this way exhibits a reserve of character that does not fully love and thereby insists that it replace God with its own judgement, at least in part.
It is hard for us to realize today that this pattern was the only pattern for faith in the church from Upper Egypt, north into Syria, east through Asia Minor, and all the way to the eastern shore of India where St. Thomas spread the news of Christ. Even a cursory examination of early church history to the casual reader debunks any modern fantasy that any church structure in the West today can be considered even remotely ‘biblical,’ where now independence, not dependence, rules.
This discrepancy is why RB 5 makes an immediate impression on the majority of modern readers. It is extremely problematic to their thought; it calls for unquestioning and immediate submission. Thoughtful, educated people are aware of the negative impact that self-will has had on social problems, both historically and today. Likewise when it comes to our life in Christ there can be no doubt that unless we are freed from the insatiable demands of our egos that we will never attain the love that God has for people or that people can have for God even though our egos will fool us into thinking that we have. Obedience leading to humility is the only cure. Christians are positively likened to sheep for a reason; to lack obedience, humility, love is to be predacious, to exert our ego is to be a wolf.
There are dangers to irrational obedience of course…unquestioning compliance painfully imposed. The abuse of authority. Even the Benedictine tradition itself is not exempt from depredation. Authorities full of their own ego. But it is important to recognize that RB 5 exists in the context of a chosen, private, and voluntary spiritual direction that has been infused by the humble love of Christ. Both the Rule and the abbot are likewise judged by humility, obedience, and the love of Christ. This is not stoicism in the face of adverse circumstances. The real referent is Christ himself who became obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8). It is a spirituality of mimicry…actions of imitation. Obedience is the rule; the Rule is obedience. Do not kid yourself. No doubt this is the ground level of the authentic Christian life. How can it not be so in the common (Cenobitic) life?
Abba Poeman used to say that if a person pursues their own desires and seeks to fulfill what pleases themselves and accustoms themselves to doing so, these will cast them down.
– The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Budge (trans.)