Wednesday, September 9, 2009

4th Beatitude (Continued): Justice

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

We are continuing our discussion Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s commentary on the 4th Beatitude. He has previously show us that justice is about curbing our desires, overcoming temptation, and use only what is necessary. We are to desire the ultimate Good, to do God’s will. Next he raises the question justice is the only virtue that is involved in doing God’s will. How about virtues such as “temperance or wisdom, prudence or any other kind of virtue?” Would we not be blessed also if we hunger after these? Clearly, Gregory points out, justice is but one of the virtues to be desired.

Gregory says,

Now Divine Scripture frequently expresses the whole by the part, for example, when it gives certain names to the Divine Nature. Thus, speaking in the person of God, the prophecy says: I the Lord; this is my eternal name, and this is my memorial unto all generations. And again elsewhere, I am who am;(Exod 3:14) and yet in another place, I am compassionate.(Exod 22:27) Thus Holy Scripture can call Him by innumerable other names which fittingly signify God's majesty; and so it becomes quite clear to us that when it says one thing the whole series of names is quietly understood to be included as well.

Therefore we should expand the idea of justice to include the other virtues as well. He says, “if the conception of justice does not admit of anything bad, it must needs comprise in itself everything good, but what is good belongs to virtue. Therefore every virtue is here comprised under the name of justice. Those who hunger and thirst for it the Word calls blessed and promises them the fulfillment of their desires.”

Gregory writes:

I think the saying means something like this: None of the things that are coveted in this life for the sake of pleasure will satisfy those who run after them, but, as Wisdom says somewhere metaphorically, A cask full of holes is the occupation with the pleasures of sense. For those who are always anxiously busy filling it show that their unending labor is fruitless. All the time they are pouring something into the abyss of desire, they add pleasure to pleasure, yet never procure themselves full satisfaction.

Therefore we learn from the Lord this sublime doctrine that the only truly and solidly existing thing is our zeal for virtue. For if a man has perfected himself in any of the higher things, such as continence, temperance, devotion to God or any other of the sublime teachings of the Gospel, his joy in these achievements does not quickly pass away, but is truly solid, lasting his whole lifetime.

He teaches us in the discourse from the high mountain of thought: not to desire eagerly any of those things that end in nothingness for those who pursue them. To occupy oneself with them is as devoid of sense as to run after the top of one's own shadow. For such people run on forever, since the object of their pursuit always quickly eludes the pursuer. But we should turn our desire to those things where, if a man exerts himself, the object of his efforts becomes his possession. If a man desires virtue, he makes goodness his very own, for he sees in himself what he has desired.

Finally, he offers a bolder interpretation, referring to Holy Communion:

He became for us wisdom from God, justification, sanctification and redemption, but also Bread descending from Heaven and living water…. For if, as the Psalmist says, a man has truly tasted the Lord;(Ps 33:9) that is, if he has received God into himself, he is filled with Him for whom he has thirsted and hungered, as He has promised who said: I and my Father will come and will make our abode with him (John 14:23) (the Holy Spirit of course had already been dwelling there before). I suppose the great Paul, too, who had tasted of those ineffable fruits from Paradise, was at the same time full of what he had tasted al-id always hungering for it. For he owns that he his been filled with what he desired when he says, Christ liveth in me;(Gal 2:20) yet he is still hungry, for he always stretches forth to the things before him,(Gal 3:13) saying: Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I run that I may apprehend.(Gal 3:12)

Next: Blessed are the merciful.

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