On the Feast of All the Saints, the Church rejoices with its fully divinized and purified members in Heaven. The joy they have of being finally free from temptation, worldly allurements and the chaos of the passions expresses only a comparatively insignificant fraction of their happiness. Their joy comes from an unobstructed vision of the Trinity, whose eternal glory has thickened their souls with love. Heaven is filled with beings whose purity and perfection are the burning reality of God’s love that has completely transformed their essence. The lives of the Saints as they were known on earth are but a depressing and sad shadow of their heavenly bliss.
As we desire to join them in heaven, let us desire to imitate their holiness already in this life – for they shall certainly come to our aid when they perceive our struggles. They too faced great struggles of weakness and temptation. They became holy because they did not face these struggles apart from God, but with heroic trust in His strength they humbly welcomed His grace and did as the Holy Spirit instructed. The journey of holiness could be summed up by any one of the beatitudes, but the beatitude of the pure of heart reveals the core: the one who is drawn to God will see Him through the filter of his own heart. Sin, passion, worldliness, worry, selfishness and pride would convince us that God is actually out to get us, that He is ruining our human happiness, that He is the enemy of love. Humility and poverty of spirit receive the grace and forgiveness we need to cleanse the murkiness of our heart and see God as He truly is. Whoever sees God as He truly is, with a heart made pure by humility, cannot help but receive the inspiration of His Love and become a saint.
From the low and humble to the high and exalted places, the Lord, ready to instruct his disciples, went up the mountain—specifically to the Mount of Olives—so that according to the very meaning of this word, he might present the gift of his divine mercy. The Lord went up the mountain that he might give the precepts of the heavenly commandments to his disciples, leaving the earthly and seeking the sublime things as though already placed on high. He went up that he might now give the divine gift of the long-promised blessing, according to what David had once declared: “For indeed he who gave the law will give blessings.”1
The church is called a mountain. It is pictured in Scripture as the “mountain of God, a mighty mountain.” Christ therefore went up the mountain to reveal there the mysteries of truth to his disciples. He showed that whoever wishes to learn the mysteries of truth ought to go up the mountain of the church—not to just any mountain, but to the mighty mountain. For there are mountains of heretics that are not mighty but swollen. On these mountains are revealed not the mysteries of truth but lies that fly in the face of the truth. That is why the Holy Spirit scolds those who go up such mountains when he says through the prophet: “Why do you look with envy, O swollen mountains?” Heretical assemblies are called swollen because their heart is swollen like fat.2
The meek are those who are gentle, humble and unassuming, simple in faith and patient in the face of every affront. Imbued with the precepts of the gospel, they imitate the meekness of the Lord, who says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Moses found the greatest favor with God because he was meek. It was written about him: “And Moses was the meekest of all people on earth.” Furthermore, we read in David’s psalm: “Be mindful, O Lord, of David and his great meekness.”3
Then he designates the prize, again by analogy with things sensible, saying, “for they shall be filled.” Thus, because it is commonly thought that the rich are made wealthy through their own greed, Jesus says in effect: “No, it is just the opposite. For it is righteousness that produces true wealth. Thus so long as you act righteously, you do not fear poverty or tremble at hunger. Rather those who extort are those who lose all, while one who is in love with righteousness possesses all other goods in safety.” If those who do not covet enjoy such great abundance, how much more will they be ready to offer to others what they have.4
The kind of compassion referred to here is not simply giving alms to the poor or orphan or widow. This kind of compassion is often found even among those who hardly know God. But that person is truly compassionate who shows compassion even to his own enemy and treats the enemy well. For it is written, “Love your enemies, and treat well those who hate you.” Remember that God too sends his rain and asks his sun to rise not only over the grateful but also over the ungrateful. So Jesus calls us to “be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Such a person is truly blessed, for if in fact he hasn’t sinned, which is difficult for us all, God’s grace helps him along in increasing his sense of justice. So he prays, “Forgive me my debts, just as I too forgive my debtors.”5
Mark well what follows. When the text says “blessed are the pure in heart,” it refers to those who have been made clean within, for they shall see God. To behold God is the end and purpose of all our loving activity. But it is the end by which we are to be perfected, not the end by which we come to nothing. Note that food is finished in a different way than a garment is finished. Food is finished when it is consumed in the eating. A garment is finished when it is completed in the weaving. Both are finished, but the former’s finish means destruction; the latter’s, perfection. Whatever we do, whatever good deeds we perform, whatever we strive to accomplish, whatever we laudably yearn for, whatever we blamelessly desire, we shall no longer be seeking any of those things when we reach the vision of God. Indeed, what would one search for when one has God before one’s eyes? Or what would satisfy one who would not be satisfied with God? Yes, we wish to see God. Who does not have this desire? We strive to see God. We are on fire with the desire of seeing God. But pay attention to the saying, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Provide yourself with this means of seeing God. Let me speak concretely: Why would you, while your eyes are bleary, desire to see a sunrise? Let the eyes be sound, and that light will be full of joy. If your eyes are blind, that light itself will be a torment. Unless your heart is pure, you will not be permitted to see what cannot be seen unless the heart be pure.6
There is in the inner person a kind of daily quarrel; a praiseworthy battle acts to keep what is better from being overcome by what is worse. The struggle is to keep desire from conquering the mind and to keep lust from conquering wisdom. This is the steadfast peace that you ought to develop in yourself, that what is better in you may be in charge of what is worse. The better part in you, moreover, is that part in which God’s image is found. This is called the mind, the intellect. There faith burns, there hope is strengthened, there charity is kindled.7
Peace is the only begotten God, of whom the apostle says, “For he himself is our peace.” So people who cherish peace are children of peace. But some may be thought to be peacemakers who make peace with their enemies but remain heedless of evils within. They are never reconciled in heart with their own internal enemies, yet they are willing to make peace with others. They are parodies of peace rather than lovers of peace. For that peace is blessed which is set in the heart, not that which is set in words. Do you want to know who is truly a peacemaker? Hear the prophet, who says, “Keep your tongue from evil, and let your lips not speak deceit. Do not let your tongue utter an evil expression.”8
Where there is no contention, there is perfect peace. And that is why the children of God are peacemakers, because nothing can finally stand against God. In this way the children possess a likeness to God the Father. And those who calm their passions and subject them to reason, to mind and spirit, and who keep their carnal lusts under control engender peace within themselves. Thereby they themselves become the kingdom of God. In this kingdom all things are so well ordered that everything in humanity that is common to us and to the beasts is spontaneously governed by that which is chief and preeminent in humanity, namely, the reasoning mind. This preeminent human faculty is itself subject to a still higher power, which is Truth itself, the only begotten Son of God.9
“For the sake of justice.” This addition clearly distinguishes the martyr from the robber. For the robber too in return for evil deeds suffers at the law’s hand and doesn’t ask for a prize or garland but instead pays the due penalty. It is not the penalty as such but the basis for the penalty that makes the martyr. Let us first choose the right reason, and then let us endure the penalty without anxiety.
There were three crosses in a single place when Christ suffered: he himself was in the middle, and at his two sides were two robbers. Look at the penalty: it is similar for all three. Yet one of the robbers found paradise on the cross. The man in the middle, judging, condemns the proud man and receives the humble man. That piece of wood served as a judgment seat for Christ. He who judges, who is able to make the judgment correctly, says to the robber who confessed: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” For the robber was humbling himself. Note what he had so simply said, “Remember me, Lord, when you come to your kingdom.” The implication: I know my evil deeds. May I continually be crucified until you come. And because everybody who lowers himself shall be lifted up, Christ immediately expressed his thought and showed his mercy.10
Weigh earthly shame against heavenly glory, and see whether what you suffer on earth is not much lighter than what you expect in heaven. But perhaps you may say, “Who can be joyful when reviled? Who can not only endure being reviled but rejoice in it with a great soul?” The answer is, only one who does not delight in empty glory. One who desires what is in heaven does not fear reproaches on earth. He does not care about what people say about him but rather how God judges him. But one who rejoices in the praise of others and how much they praise him is saddened when he receives no praise. He feels sad at others’ reproaches. But a person who is not lifted up by others’ praise is not lowered by their reproach. Wherever any one seeks his own glory, just there he also fears reproach. A person who constantly seeks glory on earth constantly fears troubles on earth. But a person who seeks glory only with God fears no disturbance except for God’s judgment. A soldier endures the danger of war so long as he hopes for the spoils of victory. So how much more should you who are waiting for the reward of the heavenly kingdom have no fear of the world’s reproaches.11
By this finite number is signified the innumerable multitude of the whole church, which is begotten from the patriarchs either by way of the offspring of flesh or by the imitation of faith. For it says, “If you are of Christ, you are the seed of Abraham.” And it pertains to the increase of perfection that this twelve is multiplied by twelve and is completed by the sum of a thousand, which is the cube of the number ten, signifying the immoveable life of the church. And for this reason rather often the church is symbolized by the number twelve, since throughout the four-squared world she subsists by faith in the holy Trinity, for three fours make ten and two. And, finally, twelve apostles were elected that they might preach the same faith to the world, signifying by way of the number the mystery of their work.12
They are clothed in white robes as a sign of the purity of their life, and the palm branches are symbolic of victory and reveal that they rejoice in the victory of Christ against every spiritual and physical foe.13
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA:
The “world” means those who live in pleasure.14
John is telling us that we know from all that has been said above that we have been taken up by God as his children. Even if that is not immediately apparent, we should not be disturbed, for it will be fully revealed when he comes again.15
HILARY OF ARLES:
We shall see him as he is because we shall be like him. This is our hope for the future, our love in the present and our faith in both the past and the present.16
There are many who say they have faith in Christ but somehow seem to forget about this pure aspect of it. It is clear that anyone who has real faith will demonstrate that fact by living a life of good works … by rejecting ungodliness and worldly desires and by imitating Christ’s sober, righteous and godly life. We are commanded to imitate the purity of God’s holiness to the extent that we are capable of doing so, just as we are taught to hope for the glory of the divine likeness according to our capacity for receiving it.17
Note that John uses the present tense when he talks about our need to purify ourselves. The practice of virtue is an ongoing thing and has its own inner dynamic. If we stop living this way or put it off until some future time, there is nothing virtuous about that at all.18
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 17.1.1–2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 77). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 9. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 78). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 17.4.1–2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 82). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 15.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 9. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 86). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 53.6. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 86–87). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 53A.12. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 88). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 9. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 88). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON ON THE MOUNT 1.2.9. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 88–89). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 53A.13. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 89). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 9. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 91). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPLANATION OF THE APOCALYPSE 7.4. Weinrich, W. C. (Ed.). (2005). Revelation (p. 105). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE APOCALYPSE 7.9–17. Weinrich, W. C. (Ed.). (2005). Revelation (p. 111). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ADUMBRATIONS. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 194). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 195). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTRODUCTORY COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 196). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTRODUCTORY COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 196). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 196). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.