AskDefine | Define beatitude

Dictionary Definition



1 a state of supreme happiness [syn: blessedness, beatification]
2 one of the eight sayings of Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount; in Latin each saying begins with `beatus' (blessed); "her favorite Beatitude is `Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth'"

User Contributed Dictionary



, beatus


  1. Supreme, utmost bliss and happiness.
  2. Any one of the Biblical blessings given by Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12, each beginning as "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth"(Matthew 5:5), ect...

Extensive Definition

The Beatitudes (from Latin "beatus", meaning "blessed") in other words a blessing, is the beginning portion of the Sermon on the Mount of the Gospel of Matthew . Some are also recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In the section, Jesus describes the qualities of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of heaven and indicates how each is or will be blessed. The Beatitudes do not describe many separate individuals, but rather all the specific characteristics each must have to experience heaven. Biblical scholar and author Andrej Kodjak has stated that this opening of the sermon was designed to shock the audience as a deliberate inversion of standard values, but this shock value has been lost today due to the commonness of the text.
The blessed nature that these characteristics endow is not meant to be considered from a worldly perspective, but from a psychological perspective. The word traditionally translated into English as "blessed" or "happy" is in the Greek original μακαριος (makarios). A more literal translation into contemporary English may be "possessing an inward contentedness and joy that is not affected by the physical circumstances". The Beatitudes imply that people not normally considered blessed on Earth are in fact blessed by God and will experience the Kingdom of Heaven.
These verses are quoted early in the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom as part of the sequence called the Third Antiphon, or the Third Typical Antiphon, it is common in the Russian and Monsatic Use of the Liturgy, which continues to be the liturgy most often used in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Similar sayings are also recorded in a few of the Dead Sea Scrolls and in Jewish sources predating the Christian era. Four of the beatitudes are found in Luke's Sermon on the Plain as well, which many scholars feel is the same event as the Sermon on the Mount. In the biblical interpretation theory of textual criticism, these beatitudes are generally seen as originating in the Q document and, within the larger Sermon, an invention of Matthew and Luke. Luke's Sermon has four woes in addition to the four beatitudes, and Matthew uses a similar four woes elsewhere for use against the Pharisees. Biblical scholar and author Robert H. Gundry has argued that Matthew wanted to keep the eightfold structure and consequently had to create four additional sayings.


Matthew 5:3-12: While opinions vary as to exactly how many distinct statements the Beatitudes should be divided into, normally ranging from eight to ten, most scholars consider there to be only eight. These eight of Matthew follow a simple pattern of naming a group of people and the reward they would receive for being part of that group.
The beatitudes present in both Matthew and Luke are:
  • The poor (Matthew has "poor in spirit"). The text says that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Mourners (Luke has "those who are weeping"). The text says that they will be comforted (Luke has "will laugh").
  • The hungry (Matthew has "hunger and thirst after righteousness"). The text says that they will be filled (Luke has "be satisfied").
  • Those persecuted for seeking righteousness (rather than righteousness, Luke has "followers of the Son of Man"). The text says that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The beatitudes only present in Matthew are:
  • The meek. The text says that they will "inherit the earth".
  • The merciful. The text says that they will "obtain mercy".
  • The pure of heart . The text says that they will "see God".
  • The peacemakers. The text says that they will be called "the children of God".
The last of these eight is followed by what appears to be commentaries on it, with Matthew's, according to author R.T. France, integrating elements from Isaiah 51:7. Amongst textual critics, this is seen as an attempt by Matthew and Luke to re-interpret quotations from Q that do not quite fit with their theology if read literally. That the commentary discusses the persecution of Christians, who clearly would not be able to consider Jesus' crucifixion until after it had actually happened, is regarded by most scholars as indicating the timeframe for when Matthew and Luke were written, although more fundamentalist Christians believe that this commentary is an example of prophecy. Matthew refers to only verbal attacks, while Luke also refers to excommunication, which scholars feel indicates the differences in situation between the writers.
A number of scholars, most significantly, Augustine of Hippo, have been convinced that there should actually be seven Beatitudes, since seven has historically been considered the holy number. The beatitude about the contrite heart is generally believed to have originated in Psalm 24 (as a manifestation of verses 3–5), with which it is remarkably similar, and so some believe that this was the beatitude that was later added to the other seven. Augustine himself felt that it was the eighth—about persecution of the righteous—which was the addition, since it partly parallels the first. Most modern scholars do not consider that there were originally seven, but instead propose that there were originally four: those shared with Luke.

Parallels and differences

Like several scholars, Eduard Schweizer feels that a large part of Matthew's variance from Luke is down to Matthew not approving of asceticism as a way into heaven in and of itself. Hence Matthew changes what Luke has as ordinary physical degradations into spiritual ones—by changing poor into poor in spirit, and hungry into hunger . . . after righteousness. Nevertheless, Matthew's poor in spirit also occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls, apparently being seen by the Qumran community as something important, and those seeking harmony between Matthew and Luke consider that poverty is not only a physical event but a spiritual one as well, and so "poor in spirit" is interpreted by them in this sense rather than it meaning courage, religious awareness,, or the Holy Ghost. Those seeking harmony between the two sets also interpret mourner as the oppressed rather than as a mourner. The other variations are usually regarded as an attempt to make the beatitudes in question more closely parallel the Old Testament, with, for example, hungry becoming hunger and thirst to parallel Isaiah 49:10.religion
Some of the beatitudes can be found in parts of the Old Testament; for example, the beatitude concerning the poor is also found, with Luke's wording, in Psalm 37 (v. 11). Author David Hill speculates that the beatitude about the pure in heart could actually be a mistranslation of Isaiah 61:1, and thus should have read only the contrite will see God. Since the beatitude which precedes it, concerning mourners, ever so slightly parallels Isaiah 61:2, and in a number of early manuscripts of Matthew these two beatitudes appear in reverse order, Schweizer feels the current order was implemented to better reflect Isaiah 61:1–2.


Although the beatitude concerning the meek has been much praised, even by some non-Christians such as Mahatma Gandhi, some individuals have negative views of it:
According to non-pacifists, the word peacemakers does not imply pacifism, instead applying to people who cause peace where once there was conflict. As such, this beatitude formed the heart of Augustine's argument in favour of a just war, arguing that a war that brought about greater peace was justified. The first century was in the middle of the Pax Romana and actual wars were rare, so according to author Howard Clarke, this verse may have been referring to those who merely calm disputes within the community. Although traditionally the passage is regarded as stating that such peacemakers will be children of God, Sons of God is more accurate—Martin Luther and other early Protestant translators viewed the term Son of God as an actual genealogical relationship, rather than simply a description of someone as being generally spiritual, and hence felt it could only be applied to Jesus.
Some Christians have typically seen the commentary following the beatitudes as somewhat disconcerting in its soteriology, since it emphasises how good deeds can result in eternal rewards, and barely mentions any need for faith. Some, such as Hill, attempt to resolve this by reinterpreting divine reward as good repute. An interesting feature of the commentary as far as scholars are concerned is the manner in which it compares the audience to prophets, pointing to similarities between Jesus and the Essenes, who called each other prophets, though, as suggested by Schweizer, this may simply be a reference to Jeremiah 31:34 and Isaiah 54:13, which prophecy that one day all will be equal to the prophets.
Many people mistake the significance of the beatitude concerning hunger, as while now hunger is viewed as a symptom of poverty, at the time in which the Gospels are set, fasting was commonly regarded as a sign of righteousness. The later reference to people being persecuted for their righteousness is actually used in the perfect tense, indicating that some of the people Jesus was addressing were seen as already having been persecuted. This beatitude explicitly referring to persecution has often been cited as an argument for toleration and acceptance, with Locke prominently citing it in his A Letter Concerning Toleration, but inquisitors disputed this argument, since they regarded the term righteousness not to apply to anyone who was an enemy of the Church.
One interpretation of narrative theologians is that the Beatitudes provide a corrective against an upside-down view of the power structures of the world that has been all but universally taken for granted. That is, the powers and principalities of this world - primarily referencing, but not meant to be exclusive to political, military and economic forces - appear to be the inheritors of power and dominion. In the Beatitudes, however, Jesus explains that the reality of things as seen from God's perspective is that it is the powerless who are the inheritors of the future. It is the meek, the poor, those who suffer loss, those on the bottom of the social ladder, who will rule in the rightside-up kingdom of God. Jesus is attempting to jog his listeners' assumptions regarding security and hope, showing them that the kingdom of God is for those who hope in God and not in the power structures offered by the world. Though not specifically referenced, and explained with much less poetry, these same themes are strongly espoused by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians. As for a more modern example, such an interpretation of the Beatitudes can be found in "Resident Aliens", by Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon. In their book Jesus is explained to be showing his audience that "In God's kingdom, the poor are royalty, the sick are blessed." "The Beatitudes are not a strategy for achieving a better society ... they are an indication ... of life in the kingdom of God ... to produce a shock within our imaginations ... to see life ... in a radical new way." Similary, John H. Yoder, in his "Politics of Jesus" refers to Matthew 5 as part of a "call on the disciples of Jesus to renounce participation in the interplay of egoisms". This entire work attempts to show that such politics of Jesus is the entire basis behind Christian pacifism - that the Jesus who has already conquered evil now calls us to follow him through the same heavenly humility.

The First Beatitude

The First Beatitude appears in two versions: Blessed are the poor in spirit (πτωχοι τω πνεύματι): for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) and [...] Blessed be ye poor (οι πτωχοί): for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20) The distance between Luke's the poor and Matthew's the poor in spirit seemed important to many critics. However, this difference is not at all overwhelming. Luke uses the Greek word πτωχος,ή,όν (ptohos), like Matthew. This Greek word has a history in the Septuagint, occurring in verses that are significant for our subject. We can find it, for example, in Isaiah 29:19: The meek (Hebrew anawim, Greek πτωχοί) also shall increase their joy in the , and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. Here, it translates the famous Hebrew word anaw (humble) which describes a quality much cherished by Yahweh. According to the Bible, God has a renowned and constant care for the poor. In fact, the poor are under His own special protection and their cries are heard in heaven: This poor man (Hebrew anî, Greek ‘ο πτωχος) cried and the heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. (Ps.34:6) Therefore, when Jesus blessed the poor and announced them to be owners of the kingdom of heaven, nobody argued. The First Beatitude, as expressed by Luke, raises no controversies. We could see, in Psalm 34:6 already quoted (Ps.34:7 in Hebrew Bible and 33:7 in the Septuagint) that the Greek word ptohos translated another Hebrew word, anî (poor, afflicted). The Hebrew terms anî and anaw are related, but not identical, because the first one describes a poor person, while the second - a humble one. However, in the Septuagint, the Greek ptohos translated either of them. That means that the Greek word aggregates both meanings and refers to a poor person who is also humble. The situation is not unique: for example, a similar one occurs in the case of the Greek word πενης,ητος (penes) which also means poor, needy person and which can translate the Hebrew words anaw and ebyon (a synonym of anî). But we can understand now why the distance between Luke's the poor and Matthew's the poor in spirit vanishes. The Greek word ptohos refers to the poor who are humble in spirit - these are blessed by God. The poor who are arrogant, deceitful and full of envy have no access to the kingdom of heaven. The poor must be poor in spirit, too.
However, the poor in spirit has a meaning of its own: those who know of their essential need for God, and find the true meaning of joy when they find that God is sufficient for all of their needs.

The Second Beatitude

The Second Beatitude appears in two formulations: Blessed are they that mourn [οι πενΘουντες]: for they shall be comforted [παρακληΘήσονται]. (Matthew 5:4) and [...] Blessed are ye that weep [οι κλαίοντες] now: for ye shall laugh. (Luke 6:21)
It is very interesting to note that we can find an inversion in the Vulgata (Latin Bible), where the Second Beatitude is the Third and the Third becomes the Second. The Second Beatitude is a powerful Messianic promise, for later Jews knew the Messiah as Menahhem or Paraclete, Comforter. The two formulations use different Greek terms. Luke's word, οι κλαίοντες (oi klaiontes), comes from κλαίω, to cry; while Matthew's word, οι πενθουντες (oi penthountes), comes from πενθέω, to mourn. Their meaning is similar, but they send to two different Biblical texts. The root of Luke's formulation is to be found in Psalm 126:5-6 (Ps.125:5-6 in the Septuagint): They that sow in tears shall reap in joy./ He that goeth forth and weepth [Hebrew bākâ, Greek έκλαιον, from κλαίω], bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126 speaks about the moment when Yahweh "turned again the captivity of Zion" and, therefore, this text has great Messianic connotations, reminding us that Lord always fulfils His promises and the final salvation, figured by Zion, will be surely granted to the right-worshippers, figured by the Jews.
The root of Matthew's formulation is to be found in Isaiah 61:2-3: [...] to comfort all that mourn [Hebrew nāham kōl ’ābēl, Greek παρακαλέσαι πάντας τους πενθουντας];/ To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion [Hebrew ’ābal Sîyôn, Greek πενθουσιν Σιων], to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness [...]. The Messianic meaning of Isaiah's text is very clear; like Psalm 126, it, too, points out that Lord always fulfils His promises and that salvation will be granted to those who mourn in Zion. It is easy to understand that the root of Luke's formulation has a Messianic meaning identical to that of the root of Matthew's formulation. The difference in terms may originate in Jesus Himself, Who could have phrased the same Beatitude in two ways. However, Matthew's formulation seems to be more powerful, because it goes on using the greatest Messianic promise: they shall be comforted. The verb παρακαλέω (parakaleo), to comfort, sends immediately to Paraclete, Menahhem, a name given to the Messiah. St. John Chrisostomos (Homilies on Matthew, XV) says: "And again, in this Beatitude, Christ doesn't speak of those who weep for any kind of causes, but of those who weep for their sins. Any other weep is strictly forbidden, like crying for earthly goods". We know now that the Second Beatitude speaks, symbolically, about those who mourn in Zion, i.e. those to whom salvation was promised, but are experiencing the tremendous might of evil which storms the world. It might be more than weeping for sins.

The Third Beatitude

The Third Beatitude appears in Matthew 5:5: Blessed are the meek (οι πραεις): for they shall inherit the earth (κληρονομήσουσιν την γην). It is very clear that this Beatitude rephrases Psalm 37:11 (Ps.36:11 in the Septuagint): But the meek shall inherit the earth [...] because we can immediately recognize the Greek words: οι δε πραεις κληρονομήσουσιν γην. Since we know the Hebrew original of Psalm 37:11, we can easily reconstruct the Aramaic original of the Third Beatitude. It is important to see that the Hebrew word describing the meek is ānāwim, i.e. ānāw, humble. Ānāw is a very important adjective in the Holy Writ, because it expresses a supreme quality of Yahweh's servants. We read, by example, in Numbers 12:3: "Now the man Moses was very meek (ānāw), above all the men which were upon the face of the earth". And Jesus Himself declares: "[...] I am meek (πραυς) and lowly (ταπεινος) in heart [...]" (Matthew 11:29). Ānāw is very well translated by the English meek: quiet, gentle, always ready to do what other people want without expressing an own opinion. The connotation of obedience, proper to ānāw (and meek), is mainly describing the relation between Yahweh and His servant, but Christian monks have imposed it as an interhuman attitude and have proclaimed it as a vow. The Greek word chosen by the translators of the Septuagint in Ps.37:11 is πραυς (praus), humble, gentle, as in Numbers 12:3. Πραυς has no connotation of poverty, meaning a person who is humble and gentle despite his wealth. Moses, for example, was not the poorest of all men, but was the meekest. The use of πραυς in Ps.37:11 and in the Third Beatitude seems a little bit odd, because these are promises of inheritance and one would have expected such promises to be meant mainly for the poor. We understand now that the Third Beatitude is a promise for everyone who rightfully serves Yahweh and has little to do with amounts of money or quantities of land. Everyone who rightfully serves Yahweh must be meek, despite any possible wealth. The earth promised to these meek people is the earth granted by God to their ancestors, because both Psalm 37:11 and the Third Beatitude speak about an inheritance. The meek are the true heirs of the legacy of the covenant made by Yahweh with Abraham. If we refer only to Ps.37:11, this inheritance is Eretz Israel, the land of Canaan; but if we add the Christian perspective of salvation, this is the new earth described in Revelation 21:1. As a matter of fact, Eretz Israel is the actual prefiguring of the "new earth" and their ontology is the same.

The Fourth Beatitude

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.
The Fourth Beatitude appears in two formulations: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness [οι πεινωντες και διψωτες την δικαιοσύνην]: for they shall be filled. (Matthew 5:6) and Blessed are ye that hunger now [οι πεινωντες νυν]: for ye shall be filled. (Luke 6:21) It is easy to see that both formulations are complementary and that Matthew's version highlights the moral meaning of the Beatitude. In fact, we can say that Matthew's version is a guide for well understanding Luke's version. That does not mean that Matthew tries to explain Luke, but that Jesus Himself might have explained this Beatitude by rephrasing it. The care for those who hunger and thirst is a constant requirement of God. Isaiah 55:1 is a good example: Oh, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. It is also a promise made by Yahweh to His worshippers, as we can read in Isaiah 65:13: Therefore thus saith the Lord , Behold, My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold, My servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold, My servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed. So, there is absolutely no problem in announcing that the hungry and the thirsty ones will be filled at God's will, because this was precisely God's will. The problem, as shown clearly in John 4:11-15, is that people understood such care and such promise only at a material level, i.e. they thought that it was all about food and drinks. To prevent such incomplete understanding, Jesus added, in Matthew's version, the specification after righteousness, showing that the hunger and the thirst are more than biological needs. And the care and the promise of satisfaction have, indeed, a great moral meaning. This interpretation was not new; it is very vivid, for example, in Psalms. We can read in Psalm 9:8-9 (Ps.9:9-10 in Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint): And He shall judge the world in righteousness, He shall minister judgement to the people in uprightness./ The also will be a refuge [Hebrew misgāb] for the oppressed [Hebrew dak], a refuge in times of trouble. The righteousness (tsedeq in Hebrew) is a moral attribute of Yahweh. The thirsty and the hungry are the oppressed and their desire for salvation, their yearning for misgāb, the refuge of Lord, is well described as thirst and hunger after righteousness. In order to make very clear the meaning of this Beatitude, Jesus put it twice in work, as shown in Matthew 14:13-21 and Matthew 15:29-39. Both episodes describe miracles known as multiplication of bread and fishes: He feeds, during the first event, "about five thousand men, beside women and children" with only five loaves and two fishes; and, during the second event, "four thousand men, beside women and children" with seven loaves and a few little fishes. But these were multitudes who had sought Him; and, prior to feeding them, Jesus healed their sick and the multitudes "glorified the God of Israel". So, their feeding was always associated with their quest for religious and moral perfection. And it was not a reward, but a result: the result of their hunger and thirst for the words of God.
Luke mentions a very interesting line of Mary's song: He [Lord] hath filled the hungry [πεινωντας] with good things [αγαθων]; and the rich He hath sent empty away [κενούς]. (Luke 1:53) It is a good prefiguring of the Fourth Beatitude and, looking at the Greek words, we can understand more. Αγαθός (agathos) means good, just, kind, generous, fitting and represents an excellent summary of the phrase they shall be filled; while κενός (kenos), empty, sends to kenosis, an important theological notion which describes a procedure of humbling a person by "emptying" his/her ontological status, in order to achieve lowliness. The Fourth Beatitude states that the oppressed shall be filled, while the oppressors shall be emptied.

The Fifth Beatitude

The Fifth Beatitude is to be found in Matthew 5:7: Blessed are the merciful [οι έλεήμονες]: for they shall obtain mercy. In Jesus' time on earth, Jews considered mercy as one of the acts of righteousness (together with fasting and praying), and Jesus Himself places "judgement, mercy and faith" among "the weightier matters of the Law" (Matthew 23:23). In order to understand the importance of the Fifth Beatitude, we must understand what is mercy. Dives in misericordia, an encyclical written by John Paul II in 1980, is of real help. John Paul II explains that there are two special expressions for mercy in the books of the Old Testament: First there is the term hesed, which indicates a profound attitude of "goodness". When this is established between two individuals, they do not just wish each other well; they are also faithful to each other by virtue of an interior commitment, and therefore also by virtue of a faithfulness to themselves. Since hesed also means "grace" or "love", this occurs precisely on the basis of this fidelity. [...] When in the Old Testament the word hesed is used of the Lord, this always occurs in connection with the covenant that God established with Israel. [...] The second word which in the terminology of the Old Testament serves to define mercy is rahamim. This has a different nuance from that of hesed. While hesed highlights the marks of fidelity to self and of "responsibility for one's own love" (which are in a certain sense masculine characteristics), rahamim, in its very root, denotes the love of a mother (rehem = mother's womb). From the deep and original bond - indeed the unity - that links a mother to her child there springs a particular relationship to the child, a particular love. Of this love one can say that it is completely gratuitous, not merited, and that in this aspect it constitutes an interior necessity: an exigency of the heart. So, we can say that for Old Testament Jews mercy has two main aspects: a "masculine" one, reflected in hesed and expressing the care of a master for his servant; and a "feminine" one, reflected in rahamim and expressing an offspring of the completely gratuitous love of a mother for her child. We can understand now that mercy is strongly connected to love and somehow opposed to justice. As Dives in misericordia states: "It becomes more evident that love is transformed into mercy when it is necessary to go beyond the precise norm of justice - precise and often too narrow". And, again: "Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice - this is a mark of the whole of revelation - are revealed precisely through mercy".
To put it in few words, mercy is love expressed towards a needy person. Since humans are, in this world, affected and besieged by evil, i.e. experiencing the results of distancing from God, they are all, in the eyes of God, needy persons. Therefore, as John Paul II says, mercy is "love's second name", "the specific manner in which love is revealed and effected". As Jews have noticed for long time (and John Paul II does not forget to mention), in this world mercy is the content of intimacy with the Lord, the content of the dialogue with Him.
Speaking of mercy, the Fifth Beatitude speaks, of course, about love. It also makes an important promise: that, in the case of the merciful, God's justice will be superseded by love. James, Jesus' kin, left us a fair explanation: For he shall have judgement without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgement. (James 2:13) Jesus is, from all points of view, an embodiment of mercy. However, from the events of the crucifixion, we see that humans showed Him no mercy. Therefore, we understand that the promise of obtaining mercy does not operate in this earthly life.

The Sixth Beatitude

The sixth Beatitude is written in Matthew 5:8: Blessed are the pure in heart (καθαροι τη καρδία): for they shall see God. The blessing of Jesus sends to Psalm 24:3-4: Who shall ascend into the hill of the ? or who shall stand in His holy place?/ He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. The Hebrew for pure heart is bar lēbāb, translated into Greek as καθαρος τη καρδία (katharos te kardia, as in Matthew 5:8). Bar is an adjective related to the verb bārar (to purify, to purge, to cleanse) and therefore describes an object which can be purified even if it is impure. So bar lēbāb is a heart that can be purified, as stated in 1 John 3:2-3: [...] but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is./ And every man that hath his hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure. Since John used the Greek words αγνίζω and αγνός, it is clear that he thought this purification to be the means to obtain sanctity. The Hebrew word lēbāb (or lēb) is very interesting. It means heart and understanding. In Hebrew, heart is closer to mind than to soul or spirit. The soul (nepesh) or the spirit (rûah) are semantically closer to breath or wind. Therefore, we won't find in the Bible the belief that the heart is the stand-in of the soul. But it has complex meaning. H.Wheeler Robinson (The Christian Doctrine of Man, 1911) describes five classes of meanings: 1. body organ (including the figurate sense "middle") - 29 references; 2. character, personality, inner life - 257 references; 3. psychical states of consciousness - 166 references; 4. intellectual activities - 204 references; 5. will or purpose - 195 references. Probably, the best meaning of lēb or lēbāb is the Self of an individual, from which the life (hayyim) springs. This complex meaning operates in various contexts, generating the classes of meanings enlisted by H.Wheeler Robinson. When Jesus spoke of the pure in heart, He indicated the individuals who have a pure Self. We've already seen that the pure heart can be obtained through purification. But we must add that it can also be obtained directly from God, as shown in Psalm 51:10 (in Hebrew Bible it is Ps.51:12 and in the Septuagint, Ps.50:12): Create in me a clean heart (lēb tahôr, καρδίαν καθαραν), O God; and renew a right spirit within me. The Hebrew phrase lēb tahôr indicates a heart that is pure according to the commandments of the Law, because the clean person is named in the Tôrâ ha tahôr. Therefore, it points to the Self of an individual who strictly observes the commandments of the Law. As the Greek translation is the same for bar lēbāb and lēb tahôr and is the same phrase used in Matthew 5:8, it might show that Jesus speaks here only for Jews. However, this Beatitude had a great impact on Christian mysticism, especially on the hesychasts who developed the so-called prayer of the heart. Their aim is to achieve theosis, a stage of perfection which allows humans to see God, the act of seeing being here a supernatural one. Since the first stage of Christian mysticism is called via purgativa and consists in many procedures of purification, the sixth Beatitude remains the basis of all Christian mysticism.
But Jesus meant more than the mystics; and the purity of heart has a domain that exceeds the interior chastity. It might mean, for example, a simple and sincere good intention.
As for the seeing of God, we've already met one of its meanings, the mystical one. Its best known meaning is, perhaps, eschatological and is linked either to the Second Coming of Christ, or to the Final Judgement. But the most common meaning is to be found in everyday life: whenever you are able to see God through His creation, your heart is pure.

The Seventh Beatitude

The peace - Hebrew shālôm, Greek ειρήνη,ης, eirene - is a status proper to salvation and, therefore, it appears both as divine promise and as divine investment. The servants of God greet using the word peace; Jesus Himself said Peace be unto you to His disciples, after Resurrection (John 20:19). The famous salute of Joseph addressed to his family: Shālôm la-khem, al-tyrāû (Peace be to you, fear not - Genesis 43:23) became the standard salute of God's servants and a well-known phrase of the Catholic liturgy (Pax vobiscum). Contemporary Jews salute with shālôm, highlighting again and again how important and how desirable is peace. The keyword here is "desirable", because peace is often regarded as a blessing. In fact, the last phrase of the Levitic benediction goes like this: "The lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. (Ysa Yahweh panaiv eleik w'yaseim l'k shālôm)." (Numbers 6:26). It is important to note that for Jewish mentality peace is a blessing, because we can understand now why peace is such a powerful characteristic of the Messianic age. In the Messianic age the whole Creation will be transfigured by peace, to such a degree that the laws of nature, as we know them, will be profoundly affected, and the struggle for existence, by example, will be changed in a huge brotherhood: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them./ And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox./ And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den./ They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the , as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:6-9). Peace has three major acceptations: peace with God; the inner peace; peace among people.
The peace with God is a vital requirement for the children of Israel. The Hebrew Bible describes two procedures of maintaining it: the covenant of peace (Hebrew b'rit shālôm, Greek διαθήκη ειρήνης) and the sacrifice of peace offering (Hebrew zebah sh'lamim). Jesus has embodied both, and the Apostles saw Him as the promised Prince of peace (sar shālôm, Isaiah 9:5), the great and unique peacemaker: And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth, or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:20). The inner peace is, perhaps, the strongest sign of salvation, because only souls that have departed from evil can achieve inner peace. Jesus was very careful with His disciples and acted as a major provider of inner peace: Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27). The peace among people, and especially the cessation of wars, is mostly a Messianic promise, projected "in the last days": [...] they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4). According to Biblical texts, peace issues from a divine attribute, righteousness ("And the work of righteousness shall be peace", Isaiah 32:17) and a theological virtue, faith ("Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ", Romans 5:1). It remains a major blessing and a major Messianic venture; therefore it is extremely desired, it embraces the shapes of beauty: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace [Hebrew raglei m'baseir mashmia shālôm; Greek ‘ως πόδες εύαγγελιζομένον ακοην ειρήνης]; that bringeth good tidings of good [Hebrew tôb mashmia, good news], that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isaiah 52:7). The Greek word εύαγγελιζω, to bring good news, to preach good news, used here by the translators of the Septuagint, has been chosen by the Apostles as the title of Jesus' preachings: the Evangel. This selection speaks in itself about the extraordinary importance of peace and of anyone connected with peace.
So, why has Jesus said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34)? Suddenly, everything said about peace and peacemakers seems to shatter.
But let us look first at the other term of the relation established by the Seventh Beatitude: the phrase 'sons of God'. This phrase distinguishes a unique group of people, i.e. those being a children of God. The sons of God, "b'nei ha-Elohim, named in Genesis 6:2 and 6:4 and in Job 1:6 and 2:1 are the descendants of Seth; the daughters of men are the descendants of Cain. The progeny of these mixed marriages later became known for their decadence and corruption which reached such a degree that God ultimately destroyed them.''
Now we must return to the paradoxical statement of Jesus: that He was sent to bring sword, not peace. This sends us directly to Psalm 2:9: "Thou shalt break them [the heathen and the uttermost parts of the earth] with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel". Yahweh is speaking here to the Messiah, Whom He calls His Son: "[...] the hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee". (Psalm 2:7). The same Messianic mission of vengeance and punishment is described in Isaiah 11:4. "[...] He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked". The final advent of the Messiah contains a purification by sword for the heathen and the wicked. This purification is needed in order to achieve the final peace of the Messianic age, and to this very purification pointed Jesus in His statement of war.
We can understand now that this purification through vengeance and punishment is, in fact, the final work of peacemaking. Jesus, the Messiah, is the Son of God, and through Him every disciple of His shall be called a son of God. This procedure is very well described by Paul: For as many as are led by the Spirit of God [πνεύματι Θεου], they are the sons of God [‘υιοι Θεου]./ For ye have not received the spirit of bondage [πνεύμα δουλειας] again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption [πνεύμα ‘υιοθεσίας], whereby we cry, Abba, Father./ The Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God [τέκνα Θεου]. (Romans 8:14-16). This is the new level brought by Jesus: the revelation of God as Abba, Father. It is the third level, after the revelation of God as El, Eloah, Elohim; and as Yahweh. This level is fully characterized by peacemaking, i.e. preparation of the Messianic age. Anyone who follows Jesus is a peacemaker, he belongs to the third level, the level of Abba, Father, therefore he shall be called a son of God.
This remark reminds us of a very interesting verse in Psalm 34 (verse 14, in Hebrew Bible it is verse 15 and in the Septuagint it is Psalm 33:15): Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it [Hebrew baqeish shālôm w'rād'peihû]. It is almost certain that Jesus had in mind this verse when He phrased the Seventh Beatitude, because Psalm 34:14 points to the Eighth Beatitude, too. The Hebrew verb rādap, to pursue, used here, also means "to persecute".

The Eighth Beatitude

The Eighth Beatitude appears in Matthew 5:10: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake [οι δεδιωγμένοι ένεκεν δικαιοσύνης]: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [βασιλεία των ούρανων]. In Matthew's text, the Eighth Beatitude ends with the same expression - βασιλεία των ούρανων, basileia ton uranon, kingdom of heaven - as the First one; and this rhetorical figure enhances the aesthetical value and the religious message of the Beatitudes. On one hand, it creates a textual structure of intense poetical beauty; on the other hand, it points out that the true target of the preaching is the kingdom of heaven. This special structure is a powerful argument for those who believe that the Eighth Beatitude is the last one (i.e. there is not a Ninth Beatitude). The Eighth Beatitude speaks about righteousness and persecution. The righteousness is a moral attribute of God and has two major aspects: (1) the perfect conformity between God's words, God's actions and God's will in all His works; (2) the permanent and never altered will to give everyone what is deserved and to oppress none. God's righteousness and sanctity are closely related, but not identical. God manifests His sanctity especially as creator of the moral order and its rules; while He manifests His righteousness especially as keeper and manager of such order. In this latter case, He acts as a judge with total fairness: "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34); "neither is there respect of persons with Him" (Ephesians 6:9); "there is no respect of persons" (Colossians 3:25). The persecution has never lacked in the history of the servants of God: "How many are the days of Thy servant? When wilt Thou execute judgement on them that persecute me?/ The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after Thy law./ All Thy commandments are faithful; they persecute me wrongly; help Thou me./ They have almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not Thy precepts". (Psalm 119:84-87; in the Septuagint it is Psalm 118). God allows persecution in order to purify through fire and to strengthen the soul of His servants and to make their statements of faith extremely powerful.
Numerous Old Testament texts, especially from Proverbs, point out that the righteous shall obtain salvation: As righteousness [Hebrew tsedāqâ, Greek υιος δίκαιος, hyios dikaios, son of the righteous] tendeth to life [...] (Prov. 11:19). In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death [Hebrew b'ōrah-tsedāqâ hayyim w'derek netîbâ al-māwet; Greek εν ‘οδοις δικαιοσύνης ζωή]. (Prov. 12:28). Hayyim al-māwet, life without death, this is the great promise made by God to everyone who followed the way of righteousness. These persons are called rodepei tsedeq by Isaiah ("ye that follow after righteousness" - Isaiah 51:1); and the expression means a lot. Rodepei comes from rādap, a Hebrew verb meaning both "to follow" and "to persecute". The Greek phrase of the Septuagint, οι διώκοντες τό δίκαιον, is clearly related to the Greek phrase used by Matthew, οι δεδιωγμένοι ένεκεν δικαιοσύνης. We understand now that those who "are following after righteousness" can turn any minute into those who "are persecuted for righteousness' sake". There is no essential difference between them; there is only a "difference of activation". Whenever the circumstances require, the followers of righteousness become persecuted for righteousness. In the Eighth Beatitude, Jesus not only promises everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven for the righteous, but also announces that the times of persecution have come. The next two verses from Matthew's chapter 5 (verses 11 and 12) are dedicated to such in-coming times of persecution. These verses are regarded by some as the Ninth Beatitude.

The Ninth Beatitude

Since St. John Chrisostomos (Homilies on Matthew, XV) some Christians have counted nine Beatitudes, instead of eight. The Ninth Beatitude, especially dedicated to the times of persecution, would be found in Matthew 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake [ένεκεν εμου]./ Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12) Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake./ Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23). This text proved itself extremely important for Christian mentality and life and it was quickly underlined by the Apostles. Peter, for example, says: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit and glory of God resteth upon you" (1 Peter 4:14). The importance of the text is due to its extraordinary validation: Christians became very soon targets of various and numerous persecutions, during which they were reviled, spoken of evil, cast away, judged, tortured and killed. In fact, persecution became the second nature of early Christian life, and it originated not only in Jewish or heathen hostility, but in the treacherous plots of corrupt brothers and sisters, too. St. John Chrisostomos, by example, was viciously persecuted by the Byzantine empress and her Christian minions up to the point that he died because of the beatings suffered when they sent him in exile. The daily reality of persecution maintained a high level of interest for anything that Jesus has said on the matter. Some saints decided that a special light must be appointed to verses Matthew 5:11-12, hence the proclamation of the Ninth Beatitude.
The subject of the Ninth Beatitude, persecution, is the same as the Eighth's one. In fact, we can interpret the Ninth Beatitude as an extension of the Eighth. But one important detail, the persecution for Christ's sake, singles out the text and gives it the unconfounded Christian dedication. St. John Chrisostomos, the champion of the Ninth Beatitude, wrote: Christ doesn't want that His disciples find the safety of their lives in not to be spoken of evil, but in enduring with courage when spoken of evil and in proving by their acts the falsity of their persecutors. It is a much greater thing to endure evil courageously than not to hear it at all, as it is a much greater thing not to blame the beating when you are beaten than not to be beaten at all. [...] Christ grants a great reward not only for the persecutions that are suffered, but also for the evil words. Therefore, He hasn't said When men shall persecute you and shall kill you, but When men shall revile you and shall say all manner of evil against you. Because, mainly, revilments and evil words make more pain even than hostile acts. [...] Because revilments and evil words do not seem something strange in the eyes of the world and therefore they bite the heart of the victim worse than persecution. Many killed themselves because they couldn't stand defamation and revilment. [...] That is why Christ offers a great reward to those reviled and defamed. But, because He didn't want you to ask Lord, why don't You punish here, on earth, those who revile, why don't You shut up their mouths here, but grant the reward on the other side?, the Lord pointed to the prophets to show that in their times, too, God didn't punish those who reviled and defamed them. If in Old Testament times, when acts were immediately punished or rewarded, God encourages the prophets to suffer revilments and defamations bearing in mind the promise of a future reward, all the more now, in New Testament times, when hope is more at hand and the philosophy is greater. Jesus knew how hard, how vicious, how damaging are the trials of persecution. Therefore, He repeatedly warned His disciples: And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake [το όμονα μου]: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Mark 13:13).
But all these things will they do unto you for My name's sake [το όμονα μου], because they know not Him that sent Me. (John 15:21). He insisted on the promise that the reward is granted in heaven, because the persecutions and their reward are part of the great scenario of salvation. This part of the scenario was already announced by the prophets, as we can read in Psalm 116:13: " I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the ". In fact, the final significance of the persecutions will be revealed only during the eschaton (the last days). But we can understand this final significance from a statement that Jesus has made to His Apostles: But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils [συνέδρια, synedria]; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten; and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake [ένεκεν εμου], for a testimony [μαρτύριον, martyrion] against them. (Mark 13:9). The keyword here is μαρτύριον,ου, martyrion, which means testimony, witness. The persecution of Christians is, in fact, a great testimony for the name of Lord. So profound was this conviction, that people who die for Christ are named martyrs up to this day. This is a major characteristic of the persecution, because it sends us directly to the Tôrâ (the Law given to Moses) and to the tables of the Law. In Hebrew Bible, Tôrâ is sometimes called ha-ēdût, the testimony, Greek martyrion: For He established a testimony [Hebrew ēdût; Greek μαρτύριον] in Jacob, and appointed a Law [Tôrâ] in Israel. (Psalm 78:5). Consequently, the tables of the Law are sometimes called tables of testimony (Hebrew luhot ha-ēdût; Greek πλάκες του μαρτυρίου, plakes tou martyriou - see Exodus 32:15) and the ark of covenant is called ark of testimony (Hebrew ǎrôn ha-ēdût; Greek κιβωτός του μαρτυρίου, kibotos tou martyriou - see Exodus 25:22).
Bearing testimony for the name of Lord is completely fulfilling the Tôrâ. This is the reason which completes the reference to the age of prophets: Jesus indicates that, through persecution, His martyrs fulfil the Tôrâ and will rejoice in salvation. The Ninth Beatitude relates Christians and the fulfilment of the Tôrâ, for ever.
We can now understand that the ground of the Ninth Beatitude is an older one, expressed by the king and the prophet David, Jesus's ancestor, in Psalm 119:2: Blessed are they that keep His testimonies [Hebrew ăsharey notsarey ēdotāyw; Greek μακάριοι οι έξερευνωντες τα μαρτύρια], and that seek Him with the whole heart. This is, actually, what the Beatitudes are about: to keep the testimonies of God and to seek Him with the whole heart.

Cultural references

  • A scene in the well-known play Godspell consists of the cast members running up to Jesus, each with a line beginning one of the beatitudes (eg. "Blessed are the poor in spirit!"), which Jesus finishes ("for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"). After the last beatitude, the character of John/Judas ends the scene with a dark prediction: "Blessed are you! When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely." The cast is stunned into an awkward silence by this line, and Jesus then attempts to cheer them up in the next scene and song.
  • The Sting song "All This Time" (The Soul Cages) contains the line, "Blessed are the poor; for they shall inherit the earth. Better to be poor than be a fat man in the eye of a needle."
  • There is a song entitled Beatitudes written by Paul Winter on his album Missa Gaia/Earth Mass.
  • In the documentary Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee quotes the beatitudes in the chapter entitled "Country Letter."
As one of the most famous of Beatitudes, the meek shall inherit the earth has appeared many times in works of art and popular culture:
Other than "blessed are the meek", perhaps the most famous of the Beatitudes is blessed are the peacemakers:


  • Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
  • Davids, Peter H. "Meek Shall Inherit the Earth." A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
  • Kissinger, Warren S. The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  • Lapide, Pinchas. The Sermon on the Mount, Utopia or Program for Action? translated from the German by Arlene Swidler. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986.
  • McMurray, Michael. The Beatitudes: Jesus's guide to happy living. Ballan: Connor Court Publishing, 2006.
  • Twomey, M.W. "The Beatitudes." A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
  • "Blessed are the Meek" - School Ties 1992 film Head Master quotes to antagonise the protagonist - Daniel Green (played by Brendan Fraser).
  • For analysis of the Beatitudes as the fulfillment of the natural moral law revealed to Moses see Professor William E. May's article "Christian Faith and its "fulfillment" of the Natural Moral Law" (Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D. C.)
"In his Sermon on the Mount our Lord said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them."... The Catholic theological tradition holds that the moral precepts of the Mosaic law are precepts of the natural moral law, which is engraved, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh, i.e., in the human heart."
beatitude in Min Nan: Si̍t-chāi ê hok-khì
beatitude in Catalan: Benaurances
beatitude in Cebuano: Beatitudes
beatitude in Czech: Blahoslavenství
beatitude in Danish: Saligprisningerne
beatitude in German: Seligpreisungen
beatitude in French: Béatitudes
beatitude in Korean: 팔복
beatitude in Indonesian: Ucapan bahagia
beatitude in Italian: Beatitudini
beatitude in Maori: Ngā Manaakitanga
beatitude in Burmese: Beatitudes
beatitude in Fijian: Na ka eso sa Kalougata kina na tamata
beatitude in Polish: Osiem błogosławieństw
beatitude in Russian: Евангельские заповеди о блаженствах
beatitude in Samoan: Le Amuia
beatitude in Serbian: Блаженства
beatitude in Swedish: Saligprisningarna
beatitude in Vietnamese: Các Phước Lành
beatitude in Ukrainian: Блаженства
beatitude in Chinese: 天國八福氣

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