Note: for this particular chapter, various readings from "The Divine Intimacy" were utilized to compliment these notes. The chapter numberings from "The Divine Intimacy" are in brackets .
Verse 1: Luke has it that He stood in the plain. Our Lord may have been first with His disciples alone on some more lofty peak of the mountain, and from there descended with them not from the mountain entirely, but from the top to some expanse of level ground in the side, capable of holding a great number of people.
Matthew wished to begin right away with the preaching of Christ, and delivers the sum of it at the beginning of his Gospel, which he did by giving an account of this discourse, although it was actually preached some time after. Many events preceded it, which he relates subsequently.
The sequence of the history was as follows: After Christ had restored the hand of a certain man which was withered, on the Sabbath day (Matt. 12:15), He fled from the anger of the Scribes, and went to the Sea of Galilee. Here a vast multitude of people flocked to Him, and after He had healed many who were sick, went up into a mountain, where He remained the whole night in prayer. In the morning He appointed the twelve Apostles (Luke 6:12). Christ then came down from the top of the mountain to a lower level, and there He delivered the sermon which follows, partly to His disciples and partly to the whole multitude. That people were present is seen in Luke 7:24. This is the same sermon of which S. Luke gives an account in his sixth chapter.
Verse 2: Opening his mouth he taught them. Similar wording found in Tobias 13:1 ("opening his mouth, blessed the Lord"), Daniel 3:25 ("opening his mouth in the midst of the fire, he said, blessed are you, O Lord . . ."). Also seen in Acts 8:35, 10:34. A phrase introducing a speech or address longer than ordinary.
But there is an emphasis in the expression in this place. It means that Christ spoke of elevated things things great and wonderful, and Divine mysteries concerning which He had hitherto kept silence. So Sts. Hilary & Bernard says, "He opened now His mouth, who before had opened the mouths of the prophets. Truly was His mouth opened, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Verse 3: poor in spirit. St. Augustine states, "'Spirit' generally means insolence and pride. For in common speech the proud are said to have a great spirit, and rightly - for wind is a spirit, and who does not know that we say of proud men that they are 'swollen', 'puffed up.'" So poor in spirit means lowly, fearing God, not having a puffed up spirit. Chrysostom - "He begins at once at the root, pulling up pride which is the root and source of all evil".
[DI #300] The literal Greek is "they who beg", which can also mean poor in material possessions, but those who are financially poor are generally more humble.
[#305] Verse 4: blessed are the meek. Ambrose, "When I have learned contentment in poverty, the next lesson is to govern my heart and temper. Aug. "The meek are they who overcome evil with good."
A certain holy man, once said pleasantly, "Heaven is given to the humble, and earth to the meek; what remains to the proud and the cruel except the misery of hell?"
[#310] Verse 5: Blessed are they that mourn. Ambrose, "When you have done thus much, attained both poverty and meekness, remember that you are a sinner, mourn your sins."
[#303] Verse 6: thirst for justice - Chrysostom, "He may mean either general righteousness, or that particular virtue which is the opposite of covetousness. As He was going to speak of mercy next, he shows beforehand of what kind our mercy should be - as covetousness is thought to make many rich, He affirms on the contrary tht righteousness rather makes rich, for He who loves righteousness possesses all things in safety." Hilary: "The blessedness which He appropriates to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shows that the deep longing of the saints for the doctrine of God shall receive perfect replenishment in heaven; then they shall be filled." S. Luke omits after justice, but the meaning is the same.
[#307] Verse 7: Blessed are the merciful. Justice and mercy are so united, that the one ought to be mingled with the other; justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice, profusion - hence he goes from one to the other. Chrysostom, "The reward here seems at first to be only an equal return; but indeed it is much more; for human mercy and divine mercy are not to be put on an equality."
[#312] Verse 8: pure of heart. A pure heart means a chaste mind, free from all lust and carnal concupiscence. As though He said, Blessed, not those who have a clear intellect, as philosophers, nor yet those who have clean and fashionable clothes which many cannot have, but who have a pure and chaste mind which all can have. St. Chrysostom.
2. Blessed are those who have a pure conscience those, namely, who have cleansed it from every stain of sin, from evil thoughts and desires, from passions and other things that disturb them, from all evil intention, and especially from all duplicity and hypocrisy. Thus if a fountain be pure and unmuddy, so will the waters which flow from it be pure and unmuddy likewise; and if the heart be pure, the actions which spring from it will be pure and clean. St. Jerome.
3. And most fully: They are in the highest grade of purity of heart, who have cleansed their hearts from all creature love, that their hearts may be like that of an angel a pure mirror and shrine of the Deity.
St. Anthony, according to St. Athanasius, taught that purity of heart is the way to prophecy. "If any one would be in a position," he says, "to know future events, let him have a clean heart, for I believe that the soul which serves God, if it shall persevere in that wholeness in which it has been born again, is able to know more than the demons."
[#314] Verse 9: peacemakers. Peacemakers are called the sons of God, because they share in the name and office of Christ the Son of God, whose office it is to reconcile men to God and one another, and to bring to the world that peace which the world cannot give. His name is the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6.)
The degrees of this Beatitude are -
1. To have or obtain inward peace of soul with God.
2. To cultivate peace with neighbours and friends.
3. To recall those who disagree to the concord of charity.
The 4th grade is to make others like ourselves, by instilling into them a zeal for peace, that they too may study to make peace between those who disagree.
Verse 10: that suffer persecution for justice' sake. "To act bravely is the part of a Roman, to suffer bravely is the part of a Christian."
Justice here has a wide very wide meaning, and embraces every kind of virtue, says S. Chrysostom.
Because they are just, because they are Christians, because they follow after justice, because they keep the law of God, or the statutes of their Order, or defend the property and rights of the Church, and stand up for the rights of orphans, or because they are zealous for the reformation of the clergy or their monastery.
Because by this we become like Christ, who all His life long, unto the death of the Cross, was persecuted by the Jews. "Let us go forth therefore to Him without the camp, bearing his reproach." (Heb. 13) The Church has always increased in time of persecution, decreased in prosperity. So too with all the religious orders.
To sharpen the virtue of believers by persecution. This was revealed to S. Cyprian, as he himself declares, "This persecution is the trial and examination of our sins."
St Francis Borgia, the third General of the Jesuits, was known to say, there are three things which preserve the Society of Jesus: 1. The study of prayer. 2. The union of the members among themselves. 3. Persecution. And he gives the reasons. Prayer binds us closely to God; concord unites the brethren with one another; persecution separates us from the world, and compels us to act with prudence, that our persecutors may have no handle against us.
Verse 11: Blessed are ye when they shall revile you: To persecute includes both open violence and secret snares. It must be a false accusation, and it must be for God's sake; otherwise he has not the reward of this blessing; therefore He adds, for my sake. If we seek our glory in heaven, we will not fear any slanders on earth.
St. Ambrose was once accused of "anti-social" activities, because he spoke on the excellence of virginity.
Jesus shows His equality with His Father, as he says, suffers for my sake.
Verse 12: rejoice. Rejoice in false accusations, in persecutions, for, 1. By them you are blessed. 2. Because there awaits you an ample reward in heaven. 3. Because you are like the prophets, such as Isaiah, who, on account of his prophecies, was sawn in half by Manasseh; Jeremiah, who was stoned by the Jews to death; and the rest of the prophets, who were almost all put to death in one way or another. By this Christ tacitly intimates that the apostles succeeded to the place of the prophets, or, were superior to them, because they were called to loftier things, to preach, not the Law, but the Gospel, not only to the Jews, but to the whole world. Wherefore He will add, Ye are the salt of the earth, &c.
Note. That these eight Beatitudes are all connected among themselves. No one is blessed who has the first unless he has the other seven as well. To illustrate, Blessed are they who despise the good things of this world through poverty of spirit, and its honors through meekness, and its pleasures through mourning, who moreover follow hard after justice and mercy, and come to purity of heart; those also who labour to make others have peace with God and among themselves, and finally who, because of these and other works of righteousness, suffer persecution, for this is the apex of Christian perfection and blessedness.
Verse 13: salt of the earth. Salt denotes the office, power, and dignity of the Apostles. For salt is the symbol of wisdom. For as salt seasons food and makes it savoury, so does wisdom season the mind and make it wise.
The Apostles therefore were salt because they corrected the unsavoury morals of the world, and made them wise and savoury.
But if the salt lose its savour, &c. If an apostle, if a bishop, if a priest who should, like salt, season the morals of others shall, through gluttony, uncleanness, fear, or flattery, lose the vigour of his spiritual salt, who shall restore it to him? No one. This may be seen in the case of some of the priests and pastors of the past age, who either led scandalous lives, or else were ignorant and negligent in instructing the people wandering in to, or verging on, heresy.
Verse 14: You are the light of the world. You are; again this means, you are by My election and commission what you ought to be in actual truth. The light of the world, that you may by the light of your doctrine and evangelical life illuminate the world obscured by the darkness of errors and sins. So St. Hilary.
continue with the second half of St. Matthew, chapter 5