Beatitudes (in the Christian Life)

views updated


Beatitude properly, the state of blessedness achieved in the beatific vision, is the full possession of the only truly perfect good. The activities of human life that most efficaciously lead to this beatitude, and so deserve to share its name, are those in which the Holy Spirit takes over the supernatural life of the soul. Hence St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas following him, saw in the beatitudes declared by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5.310) the description of a soul living under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thus the beatitudes came to be known as the highest acts of virtue that can be performed in this life by one in whom the gifts of the Holy Spirit predominate.

The supernatural acts the Lord described in the first seven affirmations of blessedness represent the activities proper to the seven gifts. The application is confirmed by the terms Christ used. Poverty of spirit, evangelical meekness, hunger and thirst for justice, tears, compassion, detachment of heart, and making of peace are effects that only absolute dependence upon God could achieve in the soul.

The beatitudes are the crowning achievement in the Christian's life on earth. They are acts of virtue that have been perfected to the highest possible degree by one who has become habitually docile to the Holy Spirit. So, while the beatitudes are acts of virtue, their activity is also the result of a life influenced by the gifts. They are the joint achievement of virtues and gifts. In reality they are the accomplishment of the greatest Gift, the Holy Spirit, who works in the soul, indirectly by way of the virtues, directly by way of the gifts.

According to St. Thomas, each beatitude corresponds to a gift. Poverty of spirit, for example, corresponds to fear. The virtue of temperance prompts a man to use what is delightful to the senses with moderation; the gift of fear goes further and inspires him with a certain contempt for such goods. Thus, he reaches poverty of spirit and in that act he is blessed or beatified. And so it is with the others: the beatitude of meekness corresponds to the gift of piety; tears, to that of knowledge; justice, to fortitude; mercy, to counsel; cleanness of heart, to understanding; the beatitude of peacemaking, to the gift of wisdom. The eighth beatitude, which is the suffering of persecution, or the acceptance of martyrdom, is a summary and a consummation of all the others.

See Also: holy spirit, gifts of.

Bibliography: l. m. martÍnez, The Sanctifier, tr. m. aquinas (Paterson, N.J. 1957). b. froget, The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just, tr. s. a. raemers (Westminster, Md. 1950). b. jarrett, The Abiding Presence of the Holy Ghost (2d ed. London 1934). thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 6970. s. pinckaers, The Source of Christian Ethics, tr. m. t. noble (Washington, D.C. 1995)

[p. mulhern]