“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
As much as too strong a sense of our own righteousness can lead to mechanical legalism, too much mercy leads to a breakdown of morals altogether. But to remedy this potential for decay Jesus does not merely counter-posit more righteousness. To avoid moral nihilism, the vice which comes from the corruption of the virtue mercy, we need sanctifying goodness. We need purity of heart.
Mercy as a good in itself is the foundation for SJW moral philosophy, such as it is philosophical. Of course in Prog language mercy is expressed as tolerance; Tolerance, here, is the codification of Mercy. In this moral revolution the very notion of tolerance has been transformed though. It no longer points to a patient and enduring disposition toward the foibles of others, but now describes an actively magnanimous disposition; the virtue of open-minded curiosity, and admiration of diversity. The morally licentious of the contemporary West understand themselves, quite consciously, as the merciful correction for past ages of Christian moral despotism. This prompts the need to liberate ever more marginalized behaviors, and the need to protect these practitioners from criticism. For there is nothing worse than being doubted in your inclinations. Nothing worse than poverty of spirit. If they continue unabated the only sin that will remain is prohibition. So we have a reconstruction of moral code on the foundation is permission. So the rule-maker has become the sinner, the sinner, the rule maker. Purity is anathema to such.
Unfortunately this new morality has entered the Church. Those of us who speak traditional morality, even here, are condemned as mean, unmerciful, intolerant. This is profoundly detrimental to the keeping of the traditional spiritual-moral discipline we find in the Beatitudes. As we have considered along the way, this process is a thorough and complex relationship between many personal and social dispositions and needs. The sum of which is true growth; time honoured psycho-spiritual growth. To place any one of these beatitudes of Christ as chief above the rest is a disastrous error.
For the faithful traditionalist we found that an overly maudlin disposition will keep us stuck worshiping our own misery. As a counter to this we may take on a militant righteousness, over praising ourselves for our association with the Right. Both are imbalances, both leave us in hell.
For the Progressive Christian the fault lies in wanting to make everyone happy, in wanting to make everyone feel included. And, the need to signal that we are tolerant, not bigoted like those outdated Christians who missed the memo from the Summer of ’68. This is the spirit that dominates the established mainline churches. It has been very successful in silencing traditionalist over the past few decades. For all its appeal to mercy, it has failed to comprehend the righteousness in the beatitudes, and so tends to muddy rather than purify the collective heart of the people.
Nevertheless, it is imperative that we not react with narrowness. Traditionalism is not small-mindedness. In that it conveys the spiritual potency of the past to us today, spiritual traditionalism intends to open minds and hearts and souls. But unlike post-modern liberalism, our spiritual traditions mean to understand and conform to natural limits. Freedom and open-mindedness are only efficacious if understood in the realm and matrix of realism, else they are nothing but delusion. The discipline we have been following in the Beatitudes makes this clear. The path to awareness of ourselves, of our fellows, and of our place before God requires more effort and personally challenging contemplation than the disciples of tolerance can bear. In truth the path of tolerance is a path of ease, the broad way, requiring neither discipline nor thoughtfulness, leading to destruction. It merely reacts in the spirit of a single imperative, “Don’t tell me what to do!”
By way of confession I have been dealing with opposition first because the prospect of becoming ‘pure of heart’ is frightening and undesirable. Undesirable and yet so compelling it is all I long for at times. This is the conundrum of our call; it both pulls and repels. The path we have traveled with Jesus through these beatitudes has been leading us to this inevitable crisis. Back and forth, we have first grown spiritually, and then we have taken that growth out to others, and then back to ourselves and grown some more. At each stage we could have gotten off or turned back, but so far we have been compelled to continue. Compelled because each new blessed state furnished our souls with good, if hard won, provisions. But now we are faced with an almost incomprehensible transformation. We might be happy to be good, to be a little different than our work or schoolmates, but this call to be pure will earn us full freak status; rendering us untouchable.
For those times we find this isolation attractive, we have to ask if it really is purity of heart that we desire. Merely being socially isolated from the broader world is not virtue in itself. And it is easy to redefine purity to mean whatever it is our particular sect or church does that separates us. It is easy to attach this purity to social-political positions we hold on marriage and abortion say, and so miss the deep internal longing for washing that Jesus is calling to mind here. For, more than with righteousness, which, in important ways, is outside of ourselves, purity of heart is at the essence of our being.
‘Make in me a clean heart’ is a common Lenten plea. It comes form a Psalm of David. The one he wrote after taking Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife:
“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psa 51:8-10
Considering David also had Uriah killed to cover his sin (2 Sam 10-11) he is starting from a particularly low place. The Septuagint uses the same Greek word here translated ‘clean’ as Matthew uses translated ‘pure’. This word’s use about Scripture implies the meaning ‘very clean’.
We may know a few people in our lives who are blessed with naturally pure hearts. But we are more blessed by their presence than they are for their disposition. They are seemingly oblivious to their beatific state. Perhaps they have worked harder for their spirit than we know. Like David most of us have become soiled by transgression. Perhaps our sins are not as monumental as his, but who has not lusted so deeply for a woman, if we were king we wouldn’t have taken for our own? Who has not hated enough to want to kill? Or, Perhaps we know nothing of such ancient passions. We are rather ho hum these days, more sullied by this present age and its lazy debauchery. Sin almost does not exist at all. Having torn down the storehouse of traditional righteousness, we grovel around picking up scraps of pleasure to satisfy our hunger on.
I am still avoiding facing the topic head on. Perhaps it is too personal to discuss but with Christ and ourselves. I must admit this is the place in this spiritual development were I have only glimpsed what I crave. We can be so full of nonsense from the life of media we have ingested, It is difficult to imagine our hearts ever being clear as fresh water. Perhaps we need to go back to step one, impoverish our spirits and start all over again. The process is slow, though, not instantaneous, requiring quiet thoughtfulness in prayer. If we look back over our lives under this discipline we can see both soiling and washing. Perhaps we, like the blessed we mentioned above, will never know the state of our own purity. ‘The purity of heart that can be named is not real purity of heart’?
Perhaps, but I fear we will not be successful in the next stage of the beatitudes if we do not begin clearing our hearts of confusion. The work of peacemaking is too important, and requires humility and sorrow and meekness and righteousness and mercy and pure hearts. Suffice it to say we have been made to face ourselves directly in this beatitude. The blessing for purifying our heart is equally incomprehensible to its accomplishment, for Jesus tells us, we “shall see God”. This marks purity of heart as the climax of the beatitudes understood as narrative for spiritual ascent. What can be more fulfilling than seeing God? This is the moment of mystical union with the divine. The following two beatitudes comprise the denouement. For in them we are taken down from the Mount of Transfiguration into the world to act again. And this action necessarily prompts response.