Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity

Blessed are the pure in heart

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“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.

With this beatitude we are at the absolute summit. This is the holy of holies of the holy of holies!

I looked at close to 50 translations. The majority say “pure in heart.” Jesus did not say “pure in thoughts” as some modern translations do. The Phillips translation says, “Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!” Terrible!

But καθαροὶ also means clean. So, Young’s Translation: “Happy the clean in heart — because they shall see God.” The Worldwide English New Testament says: “God makes happy those who have clean hearts. They will see God.” Not bad.

And then there is The Message, a unique paraphrase, not a translation, put out by Eugene Peterson: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”

Obviously Peterson puts in a lot of extra words there that are not in the original Greek – but he comes close to how St. Gregory of Nyssa interpreted this verse! Gregory got dizzy thinking about this verse and could not see how any human could actually see God! So Gregory resorts to the idea that we can not see God in his essence – in his inner, unapproachable being – but we can see/experience God through his energies. But he doesn’t stop there.

Have you ever wondered about all these cooking shows that are so popular among TV viewers today? How many of these millions of viewers actually end up cooking? You’d never know from all the crowds at fast-food places! Gregory says something similar: It is not blessed to know something about God, but to have God present within you. That is why Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” And then Gregory hits the jackpot: If a person’s heart has been purified of every unruly movement, that person will see the Image of the Divine Nature in his/her own beauty. Tremendous insight!

Do you understand what Gregory of Nyssa is saying? If your heart is pure/clean, you will see God’s presence in your own beauty. Gregory is saying that you are beautiful. God has printed his own likeness, his own glory in you. God carved you and he is the model for what he carved in you! Is your heart not clean? Has the divine image been covered by all sorts of clutter? You can be clean, just like you can burnish a precious piece of silver so it shines again in all its brilliance. How do you become pure in heart? Gregory gives the only answer a Christian can give: through the whole teaching of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has everything you need to become pure in heart and thus to see God.

St. Augustine wrote something magnificent which has nothing to do with the Beatitudes but which I find particularly relevant. In the 11th book of his Confessions he writes (in the Henry Chadwick scholarly translation):

81rRdfu8C1LMy life is a distension (a Latin word meaning distraction and implying being scattered) in several directions. ‘Your right hand upheld me’ (Ps. 17:36; 62:9) in my Lord, the Son of man who is mediator between you the One and us the many, who live in a multiplicity of distractions by many things; so ‘I might apprehend him in whom also I am apprehended’ (Phil. 3:12– 14), and leaving behind the old days I might be gathered to follow the One, ‘forgetting the past’ and moving not towards those future things which are transitory but to ‘the things which are before’ me, not stretched out in distraction but extended in reach, not by being pulled apart but by concentration. So I ‘pursue the prize of the high calling’ where I ‘may hear the voice of praise’ and ‘contemplate your delight’ (Ps. 25:7; 26:4) which neither comes nor goes. But now ‘my years pass in groans’ (Ps. 30:11) and you, Lord, are my consolation. You are my eternal Father, but I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand. The storms of incoherent events tear to pieces my thoughts, the inmost entrails of my soul, until that day when, purified and molten by the fire of your love, I flow together to merge into you.

I have highlighted the most pertinent parts: These are the words of a man whose life is scattered all over the place like your life and mine are also scattered all over the place. Perhaps nothing stands against purity of heart more than the clutter and distractions of our everyday lives. Augustine does not lose hope. Though his soul is torn in so many directions until the day he dies, he looks to that day when all the clutter and dirt will be purified and melted by the fire of God’s love and he, Augustine, will become one with God. That’s the promise of the Sixth Beatitude. The promise is for you and for me. Never lose hope if you don’t see the beauty of God’s image in you. It will come. somehow, somewhen.

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