Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Beatitudes, Part One

The Beatitudes are among the most lofty—and often perplexing—teachings given to us by Christ, and one book I’ve been reading is an excellent study from a social perspective; The Divine Pity: A Study in the Social Implications of the Beatitudes, by Rev. Gerald Vann, O.P., and over the next several days I’ll be posting some quotes from it as well as from the Douay Rheims with Haydock Commentary and The Navarre Bible, Matthew.

We’ll begin with the first:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Rev. Haydock says of this verse:

“Ver. 3. The poor in spirit;[1] which, according to the common exposition, signifies the humble of mind and heart. Yet some understand it of such as are truly in poverty and want, and who bear their indigent condition with patience and resignation. (Witham) --- That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. (Challoner) --- It is not without reason that the beatitudes are disposed of in this order. Each preceding one prepares the way for what immediately follows, furnishing us in particular with spiritual arms of such graces as are necessary for obtaining the virtue of the subsequent beatitude. Thus the poor in spirit, i.e. the truly humble, will mourn for their transgressions, and whoever is filled with sorrow and confusion for his own sins, cannot but be just, and behave to others with meekness and clemency; when possessed of these virtues, he then becomes pure and clean of heart. Peace of conscience reigns in this assemblage of virtues, and cannot be expelled the soul by any tribulations, persecutions, or injustices of men. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xv.) What is this poverty of spirit, but humility and contrition? This virtue of humility is placed in the first place, because it is the parent of every other virtue, as pride is the mother of every vice. Pride deprived our first parents of their original innocence, and nothing but humility can restore us to our former purity. We may pray and fast, we may be possessed of mercy, chastity, or any virtues, if humility do not accompany them, they will be like the virtue of the Pharisee, without foundation, without fruit. (Hom. xv.)”

The Navarre Bible says of this verse:

“3. This text outlines the connection between poverty and the soul. This religious concept of poverty was deeply rooted in the Old Testament. It was more to do with a religious attitude of neediness and of humility towards God than with material poverty; that person is poor who has recourse to God without relying on his own merits and who trusts in God’s mercy to be saved. This religious attitude of poverty is closely related to what is called “spiritual childhood”. A Christian sees himself as a little child in the presence of God, a child who owns nothing; everything he has comes from God and belongs to God. Certainly, spiritual poverty, that is, Christian poverty, means one must be detached from material things and practice austerity in using them. God asks certain people—religious—to be legally detached from ownership and thereby bear witness to others of the transitoriness of earthly things.”

Rev. Vann says of this verse:

“To be poor in spirit is to be large-headed and open-handed, to be not too much exercised about legitimate worldly purposes, to be, on the contrary, care-free about success or failure, because whichever it is comes from God. To be poor in spirit is to have a childlike trust in Providence, and so to be freed from fear.

“This freedom from fear is indeed the characteristic of those who have learnt to care and not to care. To be grasping and possessive is to live always in anxiety and fear of loss; to live in the eternal present is to live in the love that drives out fear.” (p. 39)