Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2nd Beatitude (continued) - What is Meekness?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Continuing our commentary on the Beatitudes by saint Gregory of Nyssa:

Meekness is mostly misunderstood. Gregory begins by telling us that meekness is not about doing things slowly. Paul for example tells us to run so we can obtain it (1 Cor 9:24). Gregory reminds us that Paul was a agile fighter.

At the center of this question is the reality that we have a great tendency towards evil. It's like the law of gravity where an object dropped from a high place continues to accelerate the further it drops. The ability to restrain bad habits from such acceleration is called meekness.

Gregory says

Hence, as our nature is very quick to turn towards evil, slowness and quiet in these matters are called blessed. For calm in such things proves the presence of the upward movement.

It is not this tendency to move toward sin, also called the action of the passions, that this beatitude is calling for. It is teaching us to become self-controlled with reason. It is moderation and not complete absence of passion that is called for. Our reasoning power acts like a set of reins do for controlling a horse. Meekness is like the action of pulling back on the reins of a horse to slow it from a full gallop.

Saint Gregory uses wrath as an example.

How blessed is meekness can best be seen with regard to the passion of wrath. When some word or deed or suspicion causing annoyance has roused this disease, then the blood bolls round the heart, and the soul rises up for vengeance. As in pagan fables some drugged drink changes human nature into animal form, so a man is sometimes seen to be changed by wrath into a boar, or dog, or panther, or some other wild animal. His eyes become bloodshot; his hair stands on end and bristles; his voice becomes harsh and his words sharp. His tongue grows numb with passion and refuses to obey the desires of his mind. His lips grow stiff; and unable to articulate a word, they can no longer keep the spittle produced by passion inside the mouth, but dribble froth disgustingly when they try to speak. Hands and feet behave in a similar way, and such is the attitude of the whole body, every limb being affected by this passion.

Though a man might get into such a state–yet if he be guided by the Beatitude, he will appease the disease through reason, cultivating a calm expression and a gentle voice, like a physician who cures the unseemly behavior of a madman by his art.

Meekness is not standing up and shouting emotionally at a town hall meeting, but instead involves presenting a reasoned view based on facts and perspective. A meek person does not act with insults, exaggerations, or emotional outbursts. Meekness calls for polite and civil discussions where our passions are under the control of the reins of our reason. We can't control the emotion but we can learn to respond calmly with reason. Think about how the Apostles went to hostile towns and stood in the marketplace preaching the Gospel and were persecuted and martyred. Think about how Jesus responded to the false charge brought against him, the beating he endured, and his Crucifixion. Christ is the perfect is the model of meekness.

This virtue necessarily comes after we have developed humilty of “poor in spirt.”

Gregory wrties

For it seems that one closely follows the other, and well-established humility is, as it were, the mother of the habit of meekness. If you free a character from pride, the passion of wrath has no chance of springing up. If men are subject to anger, this disease is caused by insult and dishonor. But insult does not affect a man trained in humility. For if he has purged his mind from human deceit, he will look at the lowliness of the nature allotted to him. He will consider the beginning of his existence as well as the end to which hastens this transitory life. He will realize the filth connected with the flesh and the incompleteness of a nature that is not self-sufficient in reward to its sustenance, but whose deficiency has to be supplied by the abundance of the irrational creatures. He will, moreover, meditate on all the miseries, misfortunes, and manifold forms of disease to which human life is subject, from which no one's nature is altogether immune….

To be of this mind is precisely to be habitually profoundly humble, for if humility is well established, wrath will find no entrance into the soul. And if wrath is absent, life will be in a settled state of peace. Now this is nothing else but meekness, the end of which is beatitude and the inheritance of the heavenly country in Christ Jesus, to whom be glory and dominion forever and ever.

Next we will examine "Blessed are they that mourn."

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