A Beautiful, Edifying Episode from the Life of St. Simeon Stylite January 26, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, episcopate, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, history, Interior Life, mortification, reading, Saints, sanctity, the struggle for the Church, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.
The man who stood upon ever-taller stone columns for decades, St. Simeon Stylite is probably better known among Eastern Christians than those in the West. Fortunately, St. Francis de Sales included the following episode from the life of St. Simeon Stylite in some of his letters, letters which were compiled into a book called Finding God’s Will For You. There are serious lessons regarding obedience in this tale, too, but obedience is an issue so fraught with peril in today’s Church, where so much of the leadership has gone amok. How to deal with authority that is demanding acceptance of grave sin and destructive error under threat of severe persecution? There are writings from the Tradition that help guide us, but they are not terribly voluminous or comprehensive.
This situation we are going through is not entirely unique. In the protestant revolt, whole bishops and princes tried to take dioceses and countries into error. Did souls go along, under obedience or more prurient motives? Most did. But in almost every locale, some remained faithful. Many of those are called Saints or Blesseds today.
I think the lesson, as it develops below, also serves as a guide to us. Worthy shepherds will give broad latitude to subordinates who show a willingness to be obedient. But those seeking to impose their will, and heterodox beliefs, on the Church, will always seek to impose their will in virtually every regard, and won’t grant such latitude. Whenever it comes down to promotion of error, subordinates are freed from their duty of obedience. Unfortunately, those seeking to impose a different religion often know how to mask their efforts to at least some degree, making the process of discernment a most difficult one. Pray that God may enlighten you as to which matters require your obedience.
Anyway, from Finding God’s Will For You, pp. 61-2:
While the incomparable Simeon Stylites was still a novice at Telada (a monastery in Syria), he refused to respond to the advice of his superiors who wished to keep him from practicing the many strange forms of austerity he observed with inordinate severity. For this reason he was expelled from the monastery as a man not very susceptible to mortification of heart and much given to that of the body. Afterward he came to his senses, became more devout and wiser in the spiritual life, and behaved quite differently, as is proved by the following event.
When the hermits who were scattered about the desert regions near Antioch learned of the extraordinary life he led on his pillar, where he seemed to be either an angel on earth or a man from Heaven, they sent him a representative whom they instructed to speak for them in the following fashion: “Simeon, why have you left the great path of the devout life, trodden by so many great and holy predecessors, and followed another path unknown to men and far distant from everything seen or heard of up to the present? Simeon, get down from that pillar, and join the others in the way of life and method of serving God used by those good fathers who were our predecessors.”
In the event that Simeon agreed with their advice and showed himself ready and willing to descend from his pillar so as to condescend to their will, the hermits had instructed their messenger to leave him free to persevere in the kind of life he had begun. Bu such obedience, those good fathers said, they could easily recognize that he had entered this kind of life under divine inspiration. On the contrary, if he resisted, despised their exhortation, and wished to follow his own will, then they resolved that it would be necessary to take him down by force and make him give up his pillar. [These were most wise shepherds with the love of Christ in their hearts. They are happy to give wide space for novel forms of devotion, even when they do not fully understand them, provided sufficient submission to Christ and His Church is evident]
When the deputy had arrived at the pillar, he had no sooner announced his mission than the great Simeon without delay, without reservation, and without any reply, started to descend with obedience and humility worthy of his rare sanctity. When the delegate saw this, he said, “Simeon, stop and stay there, persevere with constancy, and have good courage. Follow valiantly your enterprise. Your sojourn on that pillar is from God.”
….I implore you to observe carefully how those holy anchorites of old in general meeting found no surer mark of heavenly inspiration in a matter so extraordinary as the life of St. Stylites than to see that he was simple, gentle, and tractable under the laws of most holy obedience. God blessed the submission of that great man and gave him the grace to persevere for thirty whole years upon a column more than fifty feet high….Thus this bird of paradise, living in air and not touching earth, was a spectacle of love for angels and of admiration for men. In obedience, everything is safe, apart from obedience, all is subject to suspicion……..
……..A man who ways that he is inspired and then refuses to obey his superiors and follow their advice is an impostor. All prophets and preachers inspired by God have always loved the Church, always adhered to Her Doctrine, and always had Her approval……… [When the superiors give evidence of being impostors by not adhering to Doctrine, the entire machine breaks down. Especially when even the highest authority gives such evidence. The great trouble is, after 50 years of successively advancing inculcation of error in souls, there are very few who don’t hold erroneous beliefs, who don’t support some form of abuse. If it were not for her supernatural element, I daresay, the machine stops.]
I get in “trouble,” sometimes, as I am viewed as not being sufficiently supportive, or critical, of groups like the SSPX. But in this time of mass confusion and untold calamity, I have a difficult time telling someone “you err” in their differing responses to the crisis. I do have some limits – I think sede vacantists go too far, and those who reject the Church altogether and leave for some other sect/church – but overall I have a hard time blaming someone, in this unending mass of confusion and conflict, from arriving at a little bit different conclusion than my own. I think the key remains: “Love God, and do what you will.” I pray He will be merciful and understanding with us all who are groping about in the dark in this time of so little light.