Let the Abbot always bear in mind that he must give an account in the
dread judgment of God of both his own teaching and of the obedience of
his disciples. And let the Abbot know that whatever lack of profit the
master of the house shall find in the sheep, will be laid to the blame
of the shepherd. On the other hand he will be blameless, if he gave all
a shepherd's care to his restless and unruly flock, and took all pains
to correct their corrupt manners; so that their shepherd, acquitted at
the Lord's judgment seat, may say to the Lord with the Prophet: "I have
not hid Thy justice within my heart. I have declared Thy truth and Thy
salvation" (Ps 39:11). "But they contemning have despised me" (Is
1:2; Ezek 20:27). Then at length eternal death will be the crushing
doom of the rebellious sheep under his charge.
When, therefore, anyone taketh the name of Abbot he should govern his
disciples by a twofold teaching; namely, he should show them all that
is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words; explain the
commandments of God to intelligent disciples by words, but show the
divine precepts to the dull and simple by his works. And let him show
by his actions, that whatever he teacheth his disciples as being
contrary to the law of God must not be done, "lest perhaps when he hath
preached to others, he himself should become a castaway" (1 Cor 9:27),
and he himself committing sin, God one day say to him: "Why dost thou
declare My justices, and take My covenant in thy mouth? But thou hast
hated discipline, and hast cast My words behind thee" (Ps
49:16-17). And: "Thou who sawest the mote in thy brother's eye,
hast not seen the beam in thine own" (Mt 7:3).
Let him make no distinction of persons in the monastery. Let him not
love one more than another, unless it be one whom he findeth more
exemplary in good works and obedience. Let not a free-born be preferred
to a freedman, unless there be some other reasonable cause. But if from
a just reason the Abbot deemeth it proper to make such a distinction,
he may do so in regard to the rank of anyone whomsoever; otherwise let
everyone keep his own place; for whether bond or free, we are all one
in Christ (cf Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8), and we all bear an equal burden of
servitude under one Lord, "for there is no respect of persons with God"
(Rom 2:11). We are distinguished with Him in this respect alone, if we
are found to excel others in good works and in humility. Therefore, let
him have equal charity for all, and impose a uniform discipline for all
according to merit.
For in his teaching the Abbot should always observe that principle of
the Apostle in which he saith: "Reprove, entreat, rebuke" (2 Tm 4:2),
that is, mingling gentleness with severity, as the occasion may call
for, let him show the severity of the master and the loving affection
of a father. He must sternly rebuke the undisciplined and restless; but
he must exhort the obedient, meek, and patient to advance in virtue.
But we charge him to rebuke and punish the negligent and haughty. Let
him not shut his eyes to the sins of evil-doers; but on their first
appearance let him do his utmost to cut them out from the root at once,
mindful of the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo (cf 1 Sam 2:11-4:18).
The well-disposed and those of good understanding, let him correct at
the first and second admonition only with words; but let him chastise
the wicked and the hard of heart, and the proud and disobedient at the
very first offense with stripes and other bodily punishments, knowing
that it is written: "The fool is not corrected with words" (Prov
29:19). And again: "Strike thy son with the rod, and thou shalt deliver
his soul from death" (Prov 23:14).
The Abbot ought always to remember what he is and what he is called,
and to know that to whom much hath been entrusted, from him much will
be required; and let him understand what a difficult and arduous task
he assumeth in governing souls and accommodating himself to a variety
of characters. Let him so adjust and adapt himself to everyone -- to
one gentleness of speech, to another by reproofs, and to still another
by entreaties, to each one according to his bent and understanding --
that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the
increase of a worthy fold.
Above all things, that the Abbot may not neglect or undervalue the
welfare of the souls entrusted to him, let him not have too great a
concern about fleeting, earthly, perishable things; but let him always
consider that he hath undertaken the government of souls, of which he
must give an account. And that he may not perhaps complain of the want
of earthly means, let him remember what is written: "Seek ye first the
kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added
unto you" (Mt 6:33). And again: "There is no want to them that fear
Him" (Ps 33:10). And let him know that he who undertaketh the
government of souls must prepare himself to give an account for them;
and whatever the number of brethren he hath under his charge, let him
be sure that on judgment day he will, without doubt, have to give an
account to the Lord for all these souls, in addition to that of his
own. And thus, whilst he is in constant fear of the Shepherd's future
examination about the sheep entrusted to him, and is watchful of his
account for others, he is made solicitous also on his own account; and
whilst by his admonitions he had administered correction to others, he
is freed from his own failings.
Could Christ be my abbot?
Could the Holy Spirit be my abbot?