Chapter 6: Restraint of Speech

1 Let us follow the Prophet’s counsel: I said, I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue. I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words (Ps 38[39]:2-3). 2 Here the Prophet indicates that there are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence. For all the more reason, then, should evil speech be curbed so that punishment for sin may be avoided. 3 Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk, 4 because it is written: In a flood of words you will not avoid sin (Prov 10:19); 5 and elsewhere, The tongue holds the key to life and death (Prov 18:21). 6 Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.

7 Therefore, any requests to a superior should be made with all humility and respectful submission. 8 We absolutely condemn in all places any vulgarity and gossip and talk leading to laughter, and we do not permit a disciple to engage in words of that kind.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

This Chapter of the Rule is most important today when so much of culture thinks that everything must be put into words and shared. One of the great “Wisdom lessons” of the early monks was that sometimes even good and holy thoughts should be left unsaid. Today, they can be published and everyone can read them!

One of the practices that all of us should undertake from time to time is actual physical silence. We need to practice NOT saying even the good thoughts that we have, NOT communicating them to anyone. Part of this practice will show us the places and the people that stimulate us to communicate. Another part of this practice will show the strength of our desire to communicate and the strength of our own will to resist that desire.

We need to become persons who are aware of the power of words. Words shape us and form us. Words direct our attention and our energies. Words can build up and they can tear down. Even a word of truth can be destructive when it is not uttered in charity and true love.

Saint Benedict is terribly strong in condeming gossip and murmuring in the monastery. We need to be deeply aware of the why he condemns gossip and murmuring: they kill and destroy. Not only do they kill and destroy another person, they attack the very heart of community: charity for one another.

We need to be aware that there are two strains of thought about laughter in the Rule. Benedict is never very favorable to laughter or jest, but the Chapter on Lent indicates that he was aware that laughter and jesting were part of normal life. Laughter and jest are realities that also can build up or destroy. When a person destroys with laughter and jest, perhaps there is worse blame because that which should be joyful is being used for destruction.

Let us resolve to use our words to build up one another. May our silence be a joyful communion with the Lord so that we may love others more faithfully.