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[Ms P, fol. 168rPaulus Diaconus]

Ch. 68

Translated by: Andrew Irving

Congruum ordinem tenuit in hoc loco B. Benedictus, quia, postquam dixit de fratribus in viam directis [cf. Regula Benedicti, c. 67], [et] nunc subjunxit: tsi fratri impossibilia injungantur, eo quod forte in ipsa via contingit, ut aut gravia sint aut certe impossibilia; ac per hoc intelligitur, ut non solum si contingat, ut in via gravia aut impossibilia fuerint, debeat monachus suscipere, sed etiam in omnibus imperiis, quae imperantur a priore.   

Bl. Benedict maintains a fitting order in this passage, since, after speaking about brothers sent on a journey [cf. Regula Benedicti, c. 67], he now adds (a chapter entitled) tIf impossible things should be assigned to a brother. For on precisely such a journey it happens perhaps that there are things that are either burdensome or actually impossible. And by this we perceive that not only if it should happen that there be burdensome or impossible things on a journey the monk should bear them, but also that he should bear them in every order commanded by his superior.   

Ait enim: 1Si cui fratri aliqua forte gravia aut impossibilia injungantur, suscipiat quidem jubentis imperium cum omni mansuetudine et obedientia. Gravia enim attinet ad dura, h. e. difficilia, quae vix possunt fieri, h. e. nisi cum grandi labore. Impossibilia vero attinent ad illa, quae nunquam possunt fieri.

For he says: 1If perhaps burdensome or impossible things should be assigned to any brother, let him however receive the command of the one ordering him with all meekness and obedience. Now [the phrase] burdensome things relates to hard things, i.e., to difficult things that can hardly be accomplished, that is, without tremendous effort. Impossible things on the other hand relate to those things which can never be accomplished.

Inter impossibile et difficile Beda discernit in evangelii Marci1 expositione, hoc modo dicens: Quod enim impossibile est, fieri omnino non potest; quod vero difficile, cum labore potest; potest enim fieri, sed cum maximo labore juvante Dei gratia. [Bede, Expositio in Marci Evangelium III, c. 10]

Bede distinguishes between impossible and difficult in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, articulating [the distinction] in the following manner, saying: Now that which is impossible cannot be accomplished at all; that which is difficult, on the other hand, can be accomplished with effort; for it can be accomplished, but [only] with the utmost effort by the assisting grace of God. [Bede, Expositio in Marci Evangelium III, c. 10]

Et bene dixit cum omni mansuetudine, i. e. non solum ore dicere debet,2 se nolle aut non posse suscipere, sed etiam in vultu non debet se significare resistere, ut sicut in corpore ostendit mansuetudinem, ita etiam in mente. [page 615]

And rightly did (Bl. Benedict) say with all meekness: in other words, not only should (the monk) not say with his mouth that he is unwilling or is unable to bear (these things), but also he should not indicate his resistance even in his face, so that just as he shows meekness in his body, so also he may in his mind. [page 615]

Sequitur: 2Quod si omnino virium suarum mensuram viderit pondus operis excedere, impossibilitatis suae causas ei, qui sibi praeest, patienter et opportune suggerat 3non superbiendo aut resistendo vel contradicendo.   

He continues: 2But if he should see that the weight of the burden utterly exceeds the measure of his strength, let him patiently and opportunely raise the reasons why it is impossible with his superior, 3without being haughty, without resisting, and without contradicting.   

Quasi diceret: si viderit, nullo modo posse illa facere, tunc debet suggerere patienter et opportune. Notandum est enim: pro illis gravibus si vult suggerere, suggerat; si vero non vult, non suggerat, quia servorum Dei est; etiam pro alia obedientia non debent rogare priorem, ut non faciant ipsam obedientiam, eo quod intelligunt, se pro tali postulatione peccare, scientes, esse scriptum de Domino: factus obediens usque ad mortem. [Phil. 2:8]

It is as if (Bl. Benedict) were saying: if he should see that in no way can he do these things, then he should patiently and opportunely raise (the matter). It ought to be noted: if he wants to raise the matter on account of these burdensome things, let him raise it; if, however, he is (simply) unwilling, let him not, for he is (one) of the servants of God. Indeed, (God’s servants) ought not ask their superior for another obedience so they do not have to do to this obedience, because they understand that they would be sinning in making such a request. They know that it is written concerning the Lord he was made obedient unto death. [Phil. 2:8]

Nam de illis quae sibi impossibilia sunt, i. e. quae nullo modo potest implere, suggerere debet, quia forte talia sunt, quae necessaria sunt, ut fiant, ut, si ille non potest, adimpleat alius.

Now he ought to raise (with his superior) those things which are impossible to him – i.e., which he can in no way fulfill –, for perhaps they are the kind of things that are necessary to accomplish: so that, if he is unable, someone else may complete [the task].

Opportune enim attinet ad locum; patienter, i. e. cum humilitate. Opportune enim dicis, si suo loco dicis, h. e. in secreto.

Now [the word] opportunely relates to the place; patiently, that is, humbly. For you speak opportunely if you speak in his own place, that is, in secret.

Quod autem dicit non superbiendo aut resistendo vel contradicendo - superbiendo attinet ad inflationem, resistendo autem attinet ad nil facere, contradicendo vero potest attinere, ut partem velis, partem illius obedientiae nolis facere. Sed tamen superbiendo et resistendo vel contradicendo ad unum finem vadunt.

Now as for when he says without being haughty, without resisting, and without contradicting – being haughty relates to a puffed up pride, resisting relates to not doing anything, but contradicting can relate to when you want to do part of what an obedience requires but do not want to do (another) part. Nevertheless, being haughty and resisting or contradicting (all) lead to the same end.

Sequitur: 4Quod si post suggestionem suam in sua sententia prioris imperium perduraverit, sciat junior, ita sibi expedire, 5et ex caritate confidens de adjutorio Dei obediat - ac si diceret: Jam si cum humilitate suggesserit, et prior illi noluerit consentire, confidat de Dei adjutorio, faciat et non praetermittat, sed quantum potest facere faciat. Notandum est, quia pro impossibilitatis suae causis dicit S. Benedictus suggerere, de gravibus vero tacuit. Ista gravia ita consideranda sunt: si potest ille monachus illa peragere, perficere debet; quod si non potest, tunc efficitur illi impossibile; ei quia impossibile illi est, tunc debet pro illis suggerere, ne damnum monasterii illi veniat. Istud enim capitulum ita tradidit in capitulo nostri monasterii:3 [page 616]      

He continues: 4If, after raising the matter, the superior’s command should remain the same, let the junior know that so it is best for him, 5and let him obey out of love, trusting in God’s help. It is as if he were to say: If he has already humbly raised (the matter), and his superior is unwilling to grant his consent, let him trust in God’s help, carry out (the obedience) and not leave it undone, but as far as he is able, let him carry it out. It should be noted that St Benedict says to raise (the matter) on account of the reasons why it is impossible: he is silent, however, about burdensome things. Those burdensome tasks ought to be considered as follows: if this monk is able to complete these things, he should. But if he is unable, then it is proven to be impossible for him. Since[?]1 it is impossible for him, he ought then to raise (the matter) for their2 sake, lest the punishment of the monastery befall him. For so is this chapter handed down in our monastery’s chapter. [page 616]        

Superius enim B. Benedictus laudaverat bonum obedientiae cum humilitate, et illud bonum dixit esse primum gradum ascensionis ad coelum [cf. Regula Benedicti, c. 5.1]. Sed quia futurum erat, ut diceret aliquis: 'Grave est imperium abbatis, non possum implere, quod jubeor', ideo ex hoc capitulum istud facere studuit, quatenus sapiens consilium magis ac magis animus uniuscujusque monachi erga obedientiam versetur.1

Above, Bl. Benedict praised the good of obedience with humility, and he said that that good was the first step of one’s ascent into heaven [cf. Regula Benedicti, c. 5.1]. But because it was going come about that someone would say 'This command of the abbot is burdensome; I cannot fulfill what I am ordered' for this reason he took pains to write this chapter, inasmuch as, knowing this advice, the soul of each and every monk may more and more be turned toward obedience.

Sed quis hoc capitulum valet implere, nisi mortuus? i. e. nisi ille, de quo Dominus dicit ad Moysen: Nemo me videbit et vivet? [Exod. 33:20] Ille implet, qui honorari non concupiscit, nec alicujus aestimationis haberi desiderat. Sed cum dicit suggerere, jubet opportune et non superbiendo et rel.

But who is strong enough to fulfill this chapter - except a dead man - except, that is, the man concerning whom the Lord said to Moses No one shall see me and live? [Exod. 33:20] He fulfills [it] who does not long to be honored, and who does not desire to be held in someone’s high esteem. But when he says raise the matter, he commands opportunely and without being haughty etc.

Quid est opportune, nisi congruo tempore? i. e. eo tempore, quo possit animus prioris tuam suggestionem ita suscipere, sicut tibi et sibi expedit. Quod si tempore congruo non suggesseris, sed incongruo, et te et illum offendis; te, quia forte non aget tibi, sicut vis, illum eo, quod eum forte excitasti in iram.

What does opportunely mean, if not at the fitting time – that is, that the time at which the mind of his superior might be able to receive raising of the matter in such a way that it is beneficial both to you and to him. For if you do not raise the matter at a fitting time – but at an unfitting moment, you displease both yourself and him; yourself, because perhaps he will not act towards you as you wish, and him because you may have provoked him to anger.

Quid est: non superbiendo? superbiendo dicis, quando dicis: ‘Hoc non facio’, aut: ‘Hoc non possum facere, quia ultra vires meas est negotium’.

What does without being haughty mean? You speak haughtily when you say ‘I’m not doing this’ or ‘I can’t do this because this job is beyond my strength.’

Et bene dicit sciat sibi expedire, i. e. convenire vel congruere - quasi diceret: nam pro hoc non dimittat obedientiam, quia, si in illis difficillimis rebus obedierit, hoc suae saluti convenit, eo quod suae saluti convenit, ut non solum in levibus obedientiis obediat, sed etiam in impossibilibus; et maxime ibi salus invenitur in adversa perferendo et agendo.

Furthermore, rightly does [Bl. Benedict] say, let him know that it is best for him, i.e., that it is fitting or suitable. It is as if he were to say: let him not on account of this, abandon the obedience, since, if he obeys in these difficult matters, this is good for him. For it is good for him that he obey not only in easy obediences, but even in impossible ones; indeed goodness is found most of all in bearing and carrying things out in adverse circumstances.

Sed dicendum est, quid agere debet monachus, si pro hoc, quia non potuit facere, quod jussus fuit, forte injuriat eum abbas dicendo: ‘Quia potuisti et non fecisti’, et causatur ei. Debet etiam ille monachus in hoc tacite sufferre, et sit testis suae conscientiae secundum hoc, quod Job dicit: Testis meus in coelis est. [cf. Job 16:20]4 Nam si patienter sustulerit, impletur in illo, quod Dominus dicit: Beati qui persecutionem patiuntur propter justitiam. [Matt. 5:10] Quod enim propter justitiam pateris, cum pro impotentia condemnaberis, in (illo) loco meritis coronaberis.

But mention must be made of what the monk should do if it should happen that, on account of the fact that he was unable to do the obedience that he was commanded to do, his abbot mistreats him, saying ‘You were able, and yet you did not do it,’ and he holds this against him. This monk ought to bear even this in silence: let the witness of his good conscience be in accordance with what Job says: My witness is in the heavens. [cf. Job 16:20] For if he bears patiently, that which the Lord says will be fulfilled in him Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the justice’s sake. [Matt. 5:10]'3 Because you suffer for justice’s sake when you are blamed for your incapacity, in its place you will be crowned with benefits.

Hic oritur quaestio, quare hic dixit: si impossibilia injungantur, cum superius dicat S. Benedictus: secundum uniuscujusque [page 617] qualitatem vel intelligentiam ita se omnibus conformet et aptet [Regula Benedicti, c. 2.32] et rel. et iterum: prout viderit unicuique expedire, sicut jam diximus [Regula Benedicti, c. 64.14]5 et reliq. Jam si impossibilia injungit, non secundum qualitatem uniuscujusque agit, aut prout expedit.

Here a question arises: why S. Benedict speaks here (of what to do) if impossible things should be assigned, when above he says let [the abbot] [page 617] so shape and conform himself to all according to the nature and intelligence of each individual, [Regula Benedicti, c. 2.32] etc., and again [he should act] as he thinks is best for each individual as we have already said, etc. [Regula Benedicti, c. 64.14] Surely if he assigns something impossible, he is not acting according to the nature of each individual nor as is best for him.

Haec ratio ita solvitur: Forte ideo videntur esse gravia, [forte] quia solet contingere, quod priori possibile, juniori est impossibile; sive forte non intelligunt6 vires subditi, ideo jubet impossibilia facere discipulo. Altero modo ita solvitur in eo, quod dixit secundum uniuscujusque qualitatem vel intelligentiam et rel.

This concern is resolved in the following way. Perhaps things seem burdensome for the reason that, [perhaps] – as is wont to happen – what is possible for the superior monk is impossible to the junior. Or perhaps [the superior] does not comprehend4 the strength of his subordinate, and for that reason orders his disciple to do impossible things. (The concern) is resolved in another way inasmuch as Bl. Benedict said according to the nature and intelligence of each individual etc.

Contingit priorem, ut aliter injungat auditori, quod facere ipse non possit, et imperat, quod ipse discipulus [noluerit vel] non potuerit custodire, et ideo prius debet discipulus ipsa impossibilia, quae sibi videntur esse, suscipere et, in quantum potest, etiam agere, et tunc postea debet priori suggerere. Sive etiam alio modo solvitur: ut prior talis sit, cui dicit Dominus - peccatori autem dixit Dominus: - Quare tu enarras justitias meas? [Ps. 49:16 LXX] et rel., et sic secundum libitum suum ea, quae impossibilia sunt, discipulo suo injungat et imperet.

It falls to the superior to assign to a disciple what he himself is unable to do differently from the way in which he commands what the disciple himself is unwilling or unable to heed. For first the disciple ought to undertake these things that seem impossible to him, and even do them as much as he is able, and then afterwards he ought to raise the matter with his superior. Or again the concern is resolved in another way: that the superior is the kind of person to whom the Lord said (now the Lord was speaking to a sinner) – Why dost thou declare my justices? [Ps. 49:16 LXX]5 etc., - (the kind of person) who thus assigns to his disciple and commands things that are impossible after his own whims.

1. cap. X. v. 27. (Mittermüller).
2. non debet. (Mittermüller).
3. Haec annotavit notarius. (Mittermüller).
4. Iob 16, 20: “ecce enim in caelo testis meus et conscius meus in excelsis.”
5. Hildemar’s citation is slightly different from the received text: ut videret cuique expedire, sicut iam diximus.
6. intelligit(?). (Mittermüller).

1. The text reads ei quia. Should it read eo quod?
2. I am not sure who the illi are here. Mittermüller observes that Haec annotavit notarius.
3. Transl. Douai Reims.
4. Latin text reads intelligunt; a footnote in the edition suggests the emendation intelligit which I have translated here. It seems to make most sense given the use of singular verbs in the following clause.
5. transl. Douai Reims.

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