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Blessed are the Meek. A talk based on the Homilies of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Blessed are the Meek (Audio Link)

 

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

 

  1. The Beatitudes are arranged like a ladder, each one a step that naturally leads to the others:
    1. “For if a man’s mind has ascended to the first beatitude, he will accept what follows as a necessary result of thought, even though the next clause seems to say something new beyond what had been said in the first.” (97)
  2. The first Beatitude speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven belonging to the poor in spirit, why then is the inheritance of earth spoken of second? Wouldn’t it make more sense to begin with earth and then ascend to heaven? At this point St. Gregory reminds us that it is important not to get hung up on the letter of scripture, but to see through to its inner meaning. Just as the kingdom that belongs to the poor in spirit is not an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one, so too, the earth inherited by the meek is the “supercelestial” earth. It is beyond the skies, not in terms of spatial height, but in quality.
    1. “For whatever belongs to the realm of bodily perception is wholly akin only to itself. Even if it appears to be high in terms of spatial relations, it is yet below the intellectual nature, which thought cannot reach unless reason has first caused it to pass beyond those things that are touched by the senses.” (98)
    2. St. Gregory notes that the Word incarnate speaks to us in a manner that is adapted to the lowliness of our understanding, using words and names that are intelligible to us, speaking in symbols, as it were.
      1. “For it was impossible that those good things that are above the sense experience and knowledge of men should be revealed to them by their proper names. For, the Apostle says, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man. But we learn about the ineffable things according to the lowliness of the nature that is ours, so that the hoped for beatitude may not altogether escape the grasp of our imagination.”
    3. This encourages us to approach the interpretation of scripture, with faith and hope. In a prayer, St. Nikolai Velimirovich speaks of faith, as the far-seeing vision of his eyes. A vision that goes beyond normal sight. In another work of his, The Universe as Symbols and Signs, he develops this notion further. He presents us with the image of a child who is learning to read. Initially, what the child sees on the page are shapes that have no meaning, then the child moves on to understanding that the shapes signify sounds, yet it takes so much effort to pronounce one word, that if you asked the him what he had just read, he likely wouldn’t know – “for only the form, size and color of the written letters had made an impression upon the mind; and that is all the child momentarily knows about letters.Indeed, the child perceives letters as only a physical reality just as idols are to an idol worshipper.” Many adults, St. Nikolai notes, are in the same state with their approach to reality “ they scarcely go beyond their childlike repetition of the letters that comprise nature.” In this regard, a thoroughgoing materialist, and an idol worshipper share the same attitude. “Therefore, it may be said that nature worshippers are analphabetic, and spirit worshippers only are alphabetic. To the mind of the former, things and creatures in the natural world represent an ultimate reality, expressed in their forms, colors, functions and relations. While to the mind of the latter things and creatures are only the symbols of a spiritual reality which is the actual meaning and life and justification of those symbols.” (10) He quotes St. Symeon the New Theologian: “The man who is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the Revealer of all things, acquires new eyes and new ears, and sees no more as a natural man, namely by his natural sight with natural sensation, but standing as it were beyond himself contemplates spiritually visible things and bodies as the symbols of things invisible.” (10)
  3. Since our hope is set much higher, and deeper, in this regard, then clearly the earth that is promised to the meek is not mere expansion of territory, but a new heavens and a new earth.

 

Meekness

  1. St. Gregory interprets it as quietness and slowness.
    1. If this is the case, he says, then clearly, not everything ought to be done with meekness. A meek runner would fall behind in the race. A meek boxer would lose the match. St. Paul advises us to increase our speed, “So run that you may obtain.” Not only that, but Paul was an example of ever increasing asceticism, violence (as in, the violent take it by force) towards his body.
      1. “Thus Paul is a swift and nimble fighter, David enlarges his steps in pursuit of his enemy, the Bridegroom in the Canticle is likened to a roe because of his speed, leaping upon the mountains and skipping over the hills; and there are many other sayings placing speed of movement above the slowness that goes with meekness.” (101)
    2. So why is meekness called blessed?
      1. There is a tendency toward evil in nature. And when one falls, there is a great swiftness in the falling. “Since…in these circumstances speed is something dangerous, the concept of its opposite would be called blessed. Now the habit that gives way to such downward impulses only slowly and with difficulty is called meekness.”
      2. Meekness is like a flame, always tending to move upwards, and only with difficulty moving in the opposite direction. “Hence, as our nature is very quick to turn towards evil, slowness and quiet in these matters is called blessed. For calm in such things proves the presence of the upward movement.” (102)
      3. In life we are beset by passions that pull us in different directions, it is impossible not to feel the tug. “Therefore the Lord calls blessed not those who live in complete isolation from the passions; for it is impossible to secure a perfectly immaterial and passionless mode of life…But he calls meekness a standard of virtue attainable in the life of the flesh, and he says that meekness suffices for beatitude.” If complete absence of passion were commanded, he syas, it would be like asking fish to live in the air or birds to live in water.
      4. “If the Beatitude ordered man to be unmoved by desires, the blessing would be quite useless for life. But actually He does not say a man is to be condemned if he chances to desire something, but only if of set purpose he lets himself be drawn to passion. For the weakness inherent in our nature frequently causes such desires to arise against our will; it is the work of virtue not to let ourselves get carried away by the impulse of passion as by a torrent, but to resist such leanings manfully and to defeat passion by reason.”
    3. 103 – The example of wrath, meekness is its exact opposite. Meekness after humility. “Well established humility is the mother of the habit of meekness.”