May 29, 2011

The Two Guardians of the Mountain of Humility

humility sisters anselm canterbury lesson mountain god religion modesty
Finally settled in and more or less unpacked up at my new home in Kingston, New york, I am now resuming my entries in Orexis Dianoētikē, a bit more tardily than I had hoped (to my chagrin), but at least getting on with it. The translation below is from the second part of chapter 1 of the Dicta Anselmi, and with it, I am taking back up the latest project of my Sunday posts: discussing the virtue of humility and depictions of gradations or levels of humility in Christian monastic literature.

The last post in this series, More on Anselm  and Humility -- I'm almost embarrassed to admit -- dates back almost one month.  Today, in order to get things moving again, I'm just providing long-overdue translation, sans commentary on this extremely interesting set of metaphors.  Next week I'll go into the twists and turns of these passages and discuss them in detail.  So, here they are:  those two previously promised sisters, the guardians of the mountain of humility.

Two very beautiful sisters are the guardians of this mountain: namely, modesty that is before God, and modesty that is among [apud] human beings. Now when someone is striving, if he firmly brings these guardians before his mind’s eye, he will not be easily overcome. For he ought to speak to his own self in this way: “If I should commit this or that sin, how will I be able to raise my eyes before God and His holy angels, who see me? How will I be able to show myself before the eyes of men when this should become known? What will I say, when every creature of God, good and evil, shall see my guilt, and angels and devils shall accuse me, cry out against me, condemn me? By no means will I sin, for indeed, “on your account, O Lord, I suffer death the whole day,” “let me guard my ways, so that I do not fail.” Let each person thus propose this to himself, thus reflect upon this, thus dig himself out from the attacking beasts of the vices.

But we ought to keep in mind that the modesty that is before God is always a free and faithful guardian. But the one which is among men is sometimes deceitful and the worst kind of thief. For it is wont to happen that sometimes the shaggy beast of lust or any other best of the vices tries to creep into someone’s mind, in which this mountain has been established. When the modesty that is before men ought to ward it off, lest it make its way in, during that time it says, poorly counseling itself: “There will be great confusion, if I allow entrance to this temptation of lust, but no one among men shall see, and I will hide it well [so that] there will be no wider knowledge. Now I will consent a bit to the pleasure, and when I shall choose, I will correct myself so that by suffering enough, I will make myself better than I am right now. For many rise up higher after ruin, and afterwards they were better people.” So clearly the modesty that is among men, sometimes errs by its bad judgement, and allows the evil beast of vice to sneak into the mountain, which it should watch over. [This beast] enters easily when the guardian allows it, but it is not easily expelled.

Now if he who, who does something wicked, sometimes decides to confess, the same [line of] thought that earlier promised that he would amend himself as soon as he should wish, after the fault is committed says: “In what way then should I confess? Before whom should I unveil my guilty state? I will not have any further honor, if I reveal myself, but though I am [now] valued to some degree, afterwards for the rest of time I will be worthless. So, what then should I do? I have had enough of living seeking pleasure [voluptuose], though I am not yet up to sticking to the path of justice.”

Behold how the poor man is deceived, how quickly he is conquered, how cunningly he is overcome! For indeed, the man progressing bit by bit built the mountain of humility, he himself established the guardians of that same mountain, and then failed his very own self by poor guarding. For it is within me whether with God’s grace I make progress, and within me whether I fail. Another person does not cause [facit] my capacity [vim] for making progress, nor does someone else compel me to come to failure.

So much God suggests, reason suggests, virtue suggests that I live rightly, and [that] within me is the material with which I can do that, if I will; and the Devil suggests to the contrary, [carnal] appetite and vice suggests, that I live seeking pleasure, and that I have the possibility of doing this if I will-not to contradict it. For whenever I should be in agreement with God’s will, I will guard well the access of my mind [to the mountain], but if I should set myself in disagreement with God’s will, I will open the entrance of my mind to the overthrow of the mountain of my rest by the vices. So that they might have this entrance more easily, the “mercy of God” which “is great” is depicted to a considerable extent –may they more easily be brought into agreement with God, from whom it is deemed that same mercy will be present more quickly for the repentant.

But one ought to know that in the time of temptation before the perpetration of the fault, one ought never too think about God’s mercy, but rather his justice and judgement, his wrath and his indignation. This ought to be weighed in the mind, this ought to be brought before the eyes of the mind, this ought to frequently be considered with great dread. When someone is tempted, he should not say: “the mercy” of God “is great”, but rather to say: “it is dreadful to fall into the hand of the living God.” When the appetite of lust affects one, let him not think about [the fact that] whatsoever day a sinner bewails all his sins they are brought to oblivion, but rather let him often consider, thinking over and over, that everyone who sins in hope is damned.

And this too: “Woe to a sinful race, a people of great wickedness, sons of iniquity, worthless seed.”But if there is an admission of sin through indifference, then indeed let God’s mercy be pondered all the more readily, lest indulgence of despair arise. In the time of temptation, in every way each person ought to strive lest he or she be overcome, since though God has promised indulgence to the sinner, nevertheless He has not pledged that He will give the sinning person the will to repent. And since it is certain that God’s grace is promised to whoever turns away from evil and does good, and the anger and indignation of God falls upon all who cause sin, then one ought to take great care not to commit vices, since it is unknown whether after committing sin one will be able to be called back to a right will.

Thus, while the modesty that is among human beings sometimes errs, and in many ways makes an access for the vices within us, the modesty that is before God which cannot err, when it is recalled to mind and to its place [therein], which one ought to have preserved, when the [other sister] has erred and it discovers the person overcome by the vices (as if torn apart by gnawing of hogs) , the person vehemently bewails, is grieved and troubled, and often is worn out by pouring out their tears.

And then she [the modesty that is before God] not infrequently examines in detail in what manners the beast got entrance, what the cause was, what its beginning was, and what the entrance was. And then she blames her sister strongly, is grieved and weeps, but the erring sister erroneously [tries to] console her in this way: “why are you so grieved and afflicted with tears and sighs? He more seriously than you – and he [is the one who] sinned, and still he obtained indulgence. Don’t you remember the prophet who said: ‘I have said, I confessed my sins against myself to the Lord, and you have put away the wickedness of my heart’? To sin is human, and sin is not of such weight as you assess it to be. “

In such a way she tempts [her sister] to attenuate her grief, but the faithful guardian, who dreads lest she be accused before God, just as she cannot err, despises accepting this bad counsel. Now having done this, she grieves and wails, and while wailing she unswervingly seeks pardon from her author and from that time on more studiously guards her place.
[the image above is one of Our Lady of Akita, but I found it an apt one for also depicting the tears of the better sister in Anselm's wonderfully-woven narrative]