Having shown us the danger of pride, St. John wishes to lead us step by step to the virtue of humility (Step 25). Before we consider humility, however, he insists that we must seek meekness. What is meekness? St. John answers: "Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor; meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be; meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved; meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger."
A meek person 1) is not quick to defend or justify himself in the presence and thoughts of others. He is not easily unsettled by the words and opinions of others, 2) guards his heart carefully against the intrusion of thoughts of "frenzy (against any thoughts which disturb his internal peace), 3) is calm in the midst of disturbing events; he is not easily excited or provoked, 4) watches over his words, carefully choosing to utter only those which bring peace, 5) does not project himself into conversations or situations in which his presence is not desired, 6) does not jump in to correct everyone and everything, 7) is willing to wait for God to act and does not believe that his action is necessary to God, 8) knows how to pray and to be quiet, 9) has no personal agenda and is concerned only for God's will - recognizing that God's will unfolds itself in ways that are unusual and unexpected. Thus, even in his concern for God's will, he is willing to calmly wait for God to accomplish His purpose. When he must act, he does so out of calm faith rather than panicky unbelief.
It is interesting that St. John connects meekness with simplicity and guilelessness: "A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creature of evil." "Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul." He use three images as illustrations: childhood, Adam in the Garden and St. Paul the simple.
During childhood, he tells us, there is an absence of concern to "fit in". Those who have struggled for simplicity live much the same. Fitting in with the crowd, and compromising one's integrity to do so, are not a part of their lifestyle. They are free from the necessity to change themselves (becoming social/spiritual chameleons) to "fit in" and to meet the expectations of others.
From Adam in the Garden we learn that simplicity is the absence of self-awareness. St. John writes: "As long as Adam has simplicity, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh." Adam was free from the desire to "look in the mirror" and the necessity of "standing on the scale." Does not a lot of vanity spring from an unhealthy desire to look good in the eyes of other people or to find out how we look to others? Here we see why St. John keeps mentioning hypocrisy as he discusses simplicity. Our outside appearance often becomes the equivalent of a mask, designed to keep people from seeing us as we really are. Our outside appearance becomes divorced from our inner self. The inherent, simple connection between our inner soul and outer body becomes distorted. This distortion wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives.
From St. Paul the Simple, we learn that simplicity is linked to obedience and firm faith. St. Paul was a disciple of Antony the Great. St. Antony thought him too old to be a monk, but Paul submitted to the severest disciplines with such unquestioning obedience that in a relatively short time he acquired holiness and spiritual powers even greater than his master's. After relating this story, St. John draws this conclusion: "Fight to escape your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ. . . "
If we follow the simple path - distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best we can yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart is a very weak tool - - then a Godly life will begin to be formed in us.
Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor. Meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be. Meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved. Meekness is the bulwark of patience, the door, indeed the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment. For it is said: "The Lord will teach His ways to the meek" (Ps. 24:9) And it is meekness that earns pardon for our sins, gives confidence to our prayers and makes a place for the Holy Spirit. "To whom shall I look if not the meek and the peaceful?" (Is. 66:2).
Meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger. It is a minister of joy, an imitation of Christ, the possession of angels, a shackle for demons, a shield against bitterness. The Lord finds rest in the hearts of the meek, while the turbulent spirit is the home of the devil. "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), indeed, rule over it; and the bad-tempered shall be carried off as booty from their land.
A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creator of evil.
A gentle soul will make a place for wise words, since the "Lord will guide the meek in judgment" (Ps. 24:9), or rather, in discretion.
Hypocrisy is soul and body in a state of opposition to each other, intertwined with every kind of invention.
Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul.
Honesty is innocent thought, a genuine character, speech that is neither artificial nor premeditated.
Malice is honesty perverted, a deluded thought, a lying disposition, perjury, and ambiguous words. Malice is a false heart, an abyss of cunning, deceit that has become habitual, pride that is second nature. It is the foe of humility, a fake penitence, mourning depleted, a refusal to confess, an insistence on getting one's own way. It is the agent of lapses, a hindrance to resurrection, a tolerance of wrongdoing, false-grief, false reverence. It is life gone diabolical.
Let us run from the precipice of hypocrisy, from the pit of duplicity.
Unadorned simplicity is the first characteristic of childhood. As long as Adam had it, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh.
If you wish to draw the Lord to you, approach Him as disciples to a master, in all simplicity, openly, honestly, without duplicity, without idle curiosity. He is simple and uncompounded. And he wants the souls that come to Him to be simple and pure. Indeed you will never see simplicity separated from humility.
The evil man is a false prophet. He imagines that from words he can catch thoughts, from appearance the truth of the heart.
Paul the Simple, that thrice-blessed man, was a shining example to us. He was the measure and type of blessed simplicity, and no one has ever seen or heard or could see so much progress in so short a time.
A simple monk is like a dumb but rational and obedient animal. He lays his burden on his spiritual director. And like the animal who never answers back to the master who yokes him, the upright soul does not talk back to his superior. Instead, he follows where he is directed to go and will raise no protest even if sent to his death.
A lapse often saves the clever man, bringing him salvation and innocence in spite of himself.
Fight to escape from your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If you have the strength to take this step, do not lose heart. For now you are imitating Christ your Master and you have been saved.