silencing judgment

Monastics require silence whenever they see another commit a fault and are tempted to reprimand him or her. Because judging another makes me blind to my own faults, I should remain silent. In remaining silent, I can the better discover my own faults in the failing of another… Even when you think you know the fault of a person precisely and can grasp it with your hands, do not judge. One does not do justice to the other person, but all too easily is deceived; one is fooled by projecting one’s own faults into others. If we keep silence, we escape the danger of being deceived by our projections.

For monastics, silence is essentially aimed at foregoing passing judgment on others. This applies not only to the spoken word, but equally to their interior dialogue.

“He also said, ‘A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable.’ ” (Apophthegmata Patrum)

We are constantly occupied with comparing ourselves to others. In order that we may fare well in this comparison, we downgrade the other. We detect false motives in his actions, self-seeking designs. Thus without realising it we are constantly passing judgment on the people we meet. Our judging intellect speaks constantly within us. If we would refrain from classifying others, judging or even condemning them, we would find interior peace.

“Whenever his thoughts urged him, (Agathon) to pass judgment on something which he saw, he would say to himself, ‘Agathon, it is not your business to do that.’ Thus his spirit was always recollected.” (Apophthegmata Patrum)

Passing judgment on others not only disquiets us, but also binds us to our own faults. Silence with a view to others give us a clearer self-knowledge; it allows us to look through the mechanism of projection through which we shift or own faults into others and therefore become incapable of seeing them in ourselves…

In projecting guilt, our eyes are directed only to the faults of others; our own are behind us and thus invisible to us. In silence we hold our own sins before our eyes and turn to our own situation:

“Abba Paphnutius said, ‘When I was walking along the road, I happened to lose my way and found myself near a village and I saw some people who were talking about evil things. So I stood still, praying for my sins. Then behold an angel came, holding a sword and said to me, “Paphnutius, all those who judge their brothers perish by his sword, but because you have not judged but have humbled yourself before God, saying that you have sinned, your name is written in the book of the living!” ’ ” (Apophthegmata Patrum)

The sins of others are an incentive for us to think about our own. In refraining from passing judgment and remaining silent I become capable of seeing myself in my own sinfulness.

A patriarch gives this advice:

“When you see someone committing sin, pray to the Lord and say, ‘Forgive me, for I have sinned.’ ”

In silence I look not at others but at myself and confront myself with the things I discover within me. Because I do not know the reasons why another acts as he or she does I forbid myself any kind of judgment, and instead, let his or her conduct interpret my own. The fault of the other becomes a mirror in which I see my own in a clearer way… Silence here becomes an expression of love, in which I accept the other, because in silence I have encountered my own weakness.

anselm grun, the challenge of silence


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