On Habits


Montaigne's Essays

Essay XXII--Of Custom
Michel de Montaigne

MY opinion is that hee conceived aright of the force of custome that first invented this tale; how a country woman having enured herselfe to cherish and beare a young calfe in her armes, which continuing, shee got such a custome, that when he grew to be a great oxe, shee carried him still in her armes. For truly Custome is a violent and deceiving schoole-mistris. She by little and little, and as it were by stealth, establisheth the foot of her authoritie in us; by which mild and gentle beginning, if once by the aid of time it have setled and planted the same in us, it will soone discover a furious and tyrannicall countenance unto us; against which we have no more the libertie to lift so much as our eies; wee may plainly see her upon every occasion to force the rules of Nature: Vsus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister: (PLIN. Epist. xx) Use is the most effectuall master of all things.

In more recent, albeit still antiquated but lovely, language:

HE seems to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom, who first invented the story of a countrywoman who, having accustomed herself to play with and carry, a young calf in her arms, and daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, when grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it. For, in truth, custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes. We see her, at every turn, forcing and violating the rules of nature: "Usus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister."

(More here.)

However it may be said, the endpoint is the same. What we practice we come to be. What we do, we become. We do not so much form habits as our habits form us.

It is from the forms of crucifixion that we impose upon ourselves that Jesus suffered the one crucifixion that makes all things right.

Our habits make us and Jesus frees us from them. Our habits are lovely and soft and kind until it comes time to abandon them; then they are ravening harpies that pluck and shriek and call us back to that sweet slumber that marked our wakeless lives, our lives of aimless drifting.

Through Jesus all of these things are transformed and we are awakened--as frightening and as difficult as it may sound, it is the freedom we are promised--free to be the watchkeepers in a world slumbering to its doom. But first we must allow Him to break the bonds of habit.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 19, 2006 3:12 PM.

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