The Eight Beatitudes

First Beatitude:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This poverty of spirit, this humility, this recognition of one’s absolute nothingness before God, is a virtue Our Lord says should characterize all members of His Kingdom.

Second Beatitude: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

They who humbly and meekly bend themselves down before God and man, shall "inherit the land" and posses their inheritance in peace. This is a phrase taken from Ps. xxxvi (Hebr., xxxvii), 11, where it refers to the Promised Land of Israel, but here in the words of Christ, it is of course but a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven, the spiritual realm of the Messiah. Not a few interpreters, however, understand "the earth". But they overlook the original meaning of Ps. xxxvi, 11, and unless, by a far-fetched expedient, they take the earth also to be a symbol of the Messianic kingdom, it will be hard to explain the possession of the earth in a satisfactory way.

Third Beatitude: Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

The "mourning" in the Third Beatitude is in Luke (vi, 25) opposed to laughter and similar frivolous worldly joy. Motives of mourning are not to be drawn from the miseries of a life of poverty, abjection, and subjection, which are the very blessings of verse 3, but rather from those miseries from which the pious man is suffering in himself and in others, and most of all the tremendous might of evil throughout the world. To such mourners the Lord Jesus carries the comfort of the heavenly kingdom, "the consolation of Israel" (Luke, ii, 25) foretold by the prophets, and especially by the Book of Consolation of Isaiah (xi-lxvi).

Fourth Beatitude:  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The others, however, demand a more active behavior. First of all, "hunger and thirst" after justice: a strong and continuous desire of progress in religious and moral perfection, the reward of which will be the very fulfillment of the desire, the continuous growth in holiness.

Fifth Beatitude:  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

From this interior desire a further step should be taken to acting to the works of "mercy", corporal and spiritual. Through these the merciful will obtain the Divine mercy of the Messianic kingdom, in this life and in the final judgment. The wonderful fertility of the Church in works and institutions of corporal and spiritual mercy of every kind shows the prophetical sense, not to say the creative power, of this simple word of the Divine Teacher.

Sixth Beatitude:  Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

According to biblical terminology, "cleanness of heart" (verse 8) cannot exclusively be found in interior chastity, nor even, as many scholars propose, in a general purity of conscience, as opposed to the Levitical, or legal, purity required by the Scribes and Pharisees. At least the proper place of such a blessing does not seem to be between mercy (verse 7) and peacemaking (verse 9), nor after the apparently more far-reaching virtue of hunger and thirst after justice. But frequently in the Old and New Testaments the "pure heart" is the simple and sincere good intention, the "single eye" of Matt., vi, 22. This "single eye" or "pure heart" is most of all required in the works of mercy (verse 7) and zeal (verse 9) in behalf of one's neighbor. And it stands to reason that the blessing, promised to this continuous looking for God's glory, should consist of the supernatural "seeing" of God Himself, the last aim and end of the heavenly kingdom in its completion.

Seventh Beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

The "peacemakers" (verse 9) are those who not only live in peace with others but moreover do their best to preserve peace and friendship among mankind and between God and man, and to restore it when it has been disturbed. It is on account of this godly work, "an imitating of God's love of man" as St. Gregory of Nyssa styles it, that they shall be called the sons of god, "children of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt., v, 45).

Eighth Beatitude:  Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When after all this the pious disciples of Christ are repaid with ingratitude and even "persecution" (verse 10) it will be but a new blessing, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

So, by an inclusion, not uncommon in biblical poetry, the last blessing goes back to the first and the second. The pious, whose sentiments and desires whose works and sufferings are held up before us, shall be blessed and happy by their share in the Messianic kingdom, here and hereafter. And viewed in the intermediate verses seem to express, in partial images of the one endless beatitude, the same possession of the Messianic salvation. The eight conditions required constitute the fundamental law of the kingdom, the very pith and marrow of Christian perfection. For its depth and breadth of thought, and its practical bearing on Christian life, the passage may be put on a level with the Decalogue in the Old, and the Lord's Prayer in the New Testament, and it surpassed both in its poetical beauty of structure.

COMMENTARY: I struggled many years to understand the Beatitudes and to explain them to others. I finally found two ways that help. First, I learned to appreciate them as extensions of the Ten Commandments, a way in which Jesus challenges to go beyond the "You Shall Not" of offending God and neighbor to the eight challenges of loving God and neighbor. Secondly, I learned to see Jesus as the personification of perfect observance of each of the Beatitudes and a challenge for us to follow his example. Jesus tells us that we will be blessed if we imitate his (1) humility, (2) meekness, (3) mourning evil in the world, (4) desire for religious and moral perfection, (5) mercy--spiritual and corporal, (6) purity of heart, (7) peacemaking efforts between us and between us and God, (8) suffering and dying in love of the Father and of all of us.