Monday, September 7, 2009

4th Beatitude: Blessed Are They That Hunger and Thirst After Justice

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill.

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

In this next step, Saint Gregory begins by discussing the nature of our appetite for food. This hunger we experience is a natural one. When we lose it we face an unhealthy condition. After the previous steps outlined in the Beatitudes, our soul should have a healthy appetite much like that we have for food. Much like our desire for food, the food we desire for our soul differs from one person to another.

Gregory writes:

Everyone's desire is not for the same. Some people covet glory, or wealth, or prominence. The desire of others is incessantly occupied with the table. Others again lap up envy like some noxious food; and then there are also some who desire things whose nature is good.

But what is good that we should desire? Gregory writes,

Now what is good by nature is the same for all and at all times. It is that which is desirable not because of something else, but for its own sake. It is always the same, and satiety can never blunt its attraction. Therefore the Word calls blessed those who hunger not without qualification, but those whose desire is directed towards true justice.

So why is what is good called justice? The common view of justice is “the disposition to distribute equally to each, according to his worth.” Gregory then shows us that this view is not sufficient.

Gregory provides us with some examples of this common view.

He writes:

For example, if someone is charged with distributing money, he will be called just if he aims at equity and fits the gift to the needs of the recipients. Again, a man invested with the authority of a judge will not pass sentence according to favor or disfavor; but he will be guided by the nature of the case and punish those who deserve punishment whilst acquitting the innocent.

The problem with this view of justice is that it assumes that one person, the one who “distributes” or “judges,” is higher than another. Jesus cannot be calling blessed only those who have such superiority. The aim of Jesus is salvation which is a common good for all. Gregory points out that there something higher in the “sublime laws of God.” Again, tries to lift our minds to a concept of justice that is beyond our common worldly notions.

Gregory writes:

But as I look up to the sublime laws of God, I come to realize that one must see something higher in this justice than what has been discussed hitherto. The word of salvation is indeed given as a common good for all mankind, but not every man is concerned with the things that have just been mentioned. For only few are called to reign or govern, to give judgment or to have power of administering money or other revenues; whereas the majority of men are subjects of rulers and administrators. How then can one accept as true justice what is not meant equally for all? For if, according to the words of those outside the fold, the purpose of the just man is equality; but on the other hand pre-eminence presupposes inequality, then this definition of justice cannot be regarded as true, because it is at once completely refuted by the inequality of life.

Gregory tells us that justice spoken of in this beatitude belongs to all. It makes no different whether rich or poor, king or slave. He uses the example of Lazarus in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19–31). Poor Lazarus had no means to be just, neither power or material resources. Therefore he was unable to be just under the common notion of justice. But we know that in terms of salvation and eternal life it was Lazarus who was deemed by God to be just.

He writes:

For if justice consisted in ruling, or distributing, or administering anything, anyone without such authority would be quite outside the scope of justice. But how could a man be deemed worthy of the eternal rest who had none of those things which, in the general opinion, are the characteristics of justice?

Therefore we must search for that kind of justice the fruition of which is promised to him who desires it.

More to come…

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