Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
Crosfigell

Ruled for Trial

We must be ready.

The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (12)

When faced with innumerable battles against many vices, against the devil, or against the body, it is essential that you be resolute.

  - Rule of Comghall
(6th century)

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

  - 1 Corinthians 10.13

We have been considering aspects of the various rules of discipline adopted and practiced by Irish monastics during the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD). These rules helped the monks organize their time and work so that they could be most fruitful in all their undertakings.

As we’ve seen, these disciplines – far from being a yoke to limit the freedom of the monks, or a legalistic burden they had grudgingly to bear – guided their steps in the way of love, holiness, productive work, mutual service, and meaningful community life. None of these virtues comes naturally. If we are to realize steady progress in any of these areas, we must be intentional; and living according to a rule of disciplines is one way of defining and pursuing such intentions.

These monks also recognized that some disciplines would only be needed at certain times, as when they were facing temptation or undergoing some trial. It was essential that a monk know how to use these provisional disciplines, lest he suffer insurmountable setbacks in his walk with and work for the Lord.

The term provisional is used here in a very specific sense. It refers to disciplines that may come into use only occasionally, given a particular set of circumstances, and that may be employed differently from one situation to another.

Provisional disciplines were brought to bear against obstacles or hindrances to sanctification. When trials and temptations arose, or when a monk strayed from the path of righteousness, temporary measures were invoked to restore him on his journey and secure continuing growth in the Lord.

Our Father Himself employs such disciplines when His children stand in need of correction (Heb. 12.3-11). He doesn’t use these at all times, but He knows how to use them when He must. Some provisional disciplines may be on the order of routine – such as when we must confront a temptation and grow through it – while others may be more occasional and even painful, extended, and difficult to bear.

Celtic Christians understood the importance of practicing provisional disciplines to help the brethren remain resolute in their pursuit of the Lord and His Kingdom.

Some provisional disciplines were preventive; that is, they were undertaken in advance, to anticipate and head off problems. Fasting was one such discipline, as was the ability to recognize temptation – by careful reading and study of God’s Law – and to resist the devil as part of daily prayer. Also included in this category was the practice of the self-watch, an exercise of self-examination undertaken from time to time, either in prayer or with a soul friend.

Other provisional disciplines were more restorative, such as confessing sin, repenting, and undergoing some form of penance as needed. In the practice of penance, routines and exercises were prescribed and practiced to correct some behavior that had begun to be chronic or troublesome. Thus, one who was convicted of having a critical or carping tongue might take up the singing of certain psalms at different periods of the day, under the oversight of an assigned counselor. The discipline would continue until the counselor was persuaded the corrective had accomplished its goal.

Other provisional disciplines were of a mutual nature, such as confronting one in his sin, weeping with those who wept, hearing the confessions of others, and joining in a fast or self-watch for a season.

These provisional disciplines would only come into play as needed, but monks were expected to understand, improve, and practice them as regular parts of their lives in fellowship together. To the extent such disciplines can help us in realizing more of the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom, we should make sure they are included in our repertoire of spiritual practices.

For Reflection
1. What are some examples of “provisional” disciplines you have used recently?

2. Why is it so important to have these at the ready?

Psalm 6.1-7 (Lancashire: Lead On, O King Eternal)
O Lord, do not rebuke me, nor chasten me in wrath;
let graciousness and love be companions on my path.
I long to be restored, Lord; repentance is my song.
Receive my fainting word, Lord: How long, O Lord, how long?

My broken spirit rescue, O Lord, restore my soul!
No hope have I unless You return and make me whole.
O Lord, let lovingkindness prevail, or I shall die!
In death who shall Your Name bless? Who shall Your praises cry?

I weep, and weary sighing, by night pour forth my tears.
I cease not from my crying and tremble in my fears. 
My foes array before You; they bring my soul to grief.
My wasting eyes implore You, Lord bring my soul relief!

Help me, Lord, to take up all the disciplines that can improve my walk with and work for You. Show me where I need to grow, and help me to…

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Thank you
Thanks so much to those of you who faithfully support the work of The Fellowship of Ailbe. God uses your gifts and prayers to reach thousands of people every day in over 160 countries. We praise the Lord for His having moved and enabled you to share with us in this ministry.

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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