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Custody of the Tongue


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"Silence" is often discussed as a core monastic practice, but St. Benedict's prescription for custody of the tongue focuses not only on refraining from speech but even more on how we care for community, for the other, and for ourselves when we do speak. This presentation, one in the series on Hard Sayings of St. Benedict, includes a careful study of the idea of custody. Given to the Oblates of St. Scholastica Monastery in 2017.

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Custody of the Tongue

  1. 1. Custody of the Tongue: Hard Sayings of St. Benedict #4 Sister Edith Bogue Duluth Benedictine Oblate Meeting January 15, 2017
  2. 2. 2 CUSTODY OF THE TONGUE CUSTODY /ˈkəstədē/ Noun. • The protective care or guardianship of someone or something. "The property was placed in the custody of a trustee." • Imprisonment. "My father was taken into custody." • [LAW] parental responsibility, especially as allocated to one of two divorcing parents. "He was trying to get custody of their child." • Synonyms: care, guardianship, charge, keeping, safekeeping, wardship, responsibility, protection, tutelage. Definitionfrom: ome&ie=UTF-8Imagefrom
  3. 3. 3 Custody  In modern times, we instantly think of divorce or jail.  From Latin custos • a guard, guardian, tutor, protector, jailer, keeper or custodian • Possibly from Proto-Indo-European (s)kewd, meaning "to cover, wrap, encase"  Our modern term "custodian" still carries this historical meaning. LatindefinitionandetymologyfromWiktionary Button: Parentcustody:
  4. 4. 4 Latin custodio, a verb  To guard, to keep watch  This is the verb St. Jerome used to where modern translations say "keep" as in  faciens misericordiam in millia his qui diligunt me, et custodiunt praecepta mea, SHOWING STEADFAST LOVE TO THOUSANDS OF THOSE WHO LOVE ME AND KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS  CUSTIDIO has many and deep meanings across Scripture, worthy of its own study.
  5. 5. 5 The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 4 In Ch 4.51-54, Tools for Good Works: "to keep custody of one’s mouth against depraved speech, not to love excessive speaking. Not to speak words that are vain or apt to provoke laughter (cf. 2 Tim 2:16), not to love frequent or raucous laughter (cf. Sir 21:23;)." These words have been given a variety of meanings, often leading to difficulty. ThisExclusiveClipFrom‘TheInterview’FeaturesJamesFrancoAsADepravedTalkShowHost
  6. 6. 6 Reading the Bible with St. Benedict  Monastics learned scripture by heart.  In St. Benedict's era: The OT had some divisions. The NT may have had divisions but not our modern chapters  There were no verses or verse numbers.  Memory was entirely according to meaning.  SO: Quoting a phrase would bring to mind the entire passage related to it.  Sister Irene Nowell taught an entire course on "Reading the Bible with Benedict" from which some of these ideas were drawn.
  7. 7. 7 Medieval Scripture
  8. 8. 8 Scripture at the time of BenedictCodexClaromontanus: Codex Claromontanus V, 4th or 5th century Latin manuscript of the New Testament. The text, written on vellum.
  9. 9. 9 2 Timothy 2:16 in contextFromtheNewAmericanBibleviatheBibleGateway: 14Remind people of these things and charge them before God to stop disputing about words. This serves no useful purpose since it harms those who listen. 15 Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation. 16 Avoid profane, idle talk, for such people will become more and more godless,17 and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have deviated from the truth by saying that [the] resurrection has already taken place and are upsetting the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands, bearing this inscription, “The Lord knows those who are his”; and, “Let everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord avoid evil.”
  10. 10. 10 The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 6 In Ch 6.1 (cf Psalm 39): "Let us do as the prophet says: I said, I will keep custody over my ways so I do not sin with my tongue: I have kept custody over my mouth. I became speechless, and was humbled, and kept silent concerning good things (Ps 39:1-3)." ThisExclusiveClipFrom‘TheInterview’FeaturesJamesFrancoAsADepravedTalkShowHost Other translations: • I will guard my mouth… • I will keep my mouth with a bridle… • I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle… • I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle… • I decided to hold my tongue…
  11. 11. 11 Reading Ps. 39:1-3  Psalm 38 is the lament of an afflicted sinner, ending with "Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my salvation."  Psalm 39 begins as quoted, but the context is given later: • Mute and silent before the wicked, I refrain from good things. • Let me know my end, the number of my days… • I am silent…because you are the one who did this • Turn your gaze from me, that I may smile before I depart to be no more. Image:
  12. 12. 12 Custody of the Tongue  …is not the same as keeping silence  …is related to "custody of my ways"  …may occur in the face of "the wicked" and of calamities  …has to do with hope and trust in God  …is an integral part of being acceptable to God, carrying out God's work acceptably AbandonedWorship: worship#.WHs2mlMrJeM
  13. 13. 13 Rule of the Master  Presumed to come after St. Benedict • Longer: 95 chapters vs 73 • Much narrative and long speeches  In the mid-20th century, scholars proposed the reverse order. • This is now the commonly accepted view • Allows us to see Benedict's mind by viewing what he retained, what he chose to leave out, what he changed, and what he added.  Chapters on 4 kinds of Monks, Silence
  14. 14. 14 Imprisonment: Too much silence  Trappistines (OCSO) from around the world, making a foundation in Tautra, Norway.  Kept the strict silence they had at home.  After 5 years, they were could say, "Lord, smite my enemies" but not "turn on the light."  Told to talk more for good of community.
  15. 15. 15 What is missing?  St. Benedict never refers explicitly to the Letter of James, despite its eloquent discourse on the tongue (cf James 3).  His teaching on murmuring and complaint is a direct application of what James says ("How small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire…")
  16. 16. 16 Custody as Danger Control  The Letter of James focuses on the harm the tongue can do. It is a warning.  St. Benedict forbids the ill use of the tongue, but is not afraid of the organ.
  17. 17. 17 Custody as safekeeping  Custody indicates value • Valued possessions • Children, our future • Even prisoners, we keep safe to guard the dignity of all humans. • God's commandments, our guide and hope.
  18. 18. 18 Custody as Encouragement  Benedict tells us how to use our tongues: for praise, for prayer, to edify others by our reading, for blessing.  Scripts: At start of prayer, on meeting another monastic, for start of service.
  19. 19. 19 Ch 4.48-50: Custody of Our Souls "To keep custody at every hour over the actions of one’s life, to know with certainty that God sees one in every place. To instantly hurl the evil thoughts of one’s heart against Christ (Ps. 136:9) and to lay them open to one’s spiritual father. "
  20. 20. 20 Custody as Training for Proper Use  Custody of a person involves all needs, not only physical. True even in prisons.  Adequate custody allows the person to develop and flourish.  Many of the joys of life are possible only if we tame passions and learn procedures.  Custody is a two-way relationship.  Obedience can be seen as custody relationship. PartnershipTraining:
  21. 21. 21 Toward God  Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you."  Desiring God (John Piper)  Michael Casey, Toward God  Chapter 58, On Receiving Members. Full understanding and full gift.  "Even her body is not her own."
  22. 22. 22 The tongue and self  Our truest joy comes is found in becoming and doing that for which we are made.  A test for children: The Other Christmas Gift  As custodians, we are charged with the day-to-day nurturing of ourselves to seek God. TheOtherChristmasGift:
  24. 24. 24 DISCUSSION