The Sixth Beatitude: Who are the Pure in Heart?

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.

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

We have now climbed great hieghts. In this beatitude we are promised “for they shall see God.” But John says, “no man hath seen God at any time.”(John 1:18)

Gregory writes:
This is the slippery, steep rock that affords no basis for our thoughts, which the teaching of Moses, too, declared to be so inaccessible that our mind can nowhere approach Him. For all possibility of apprehension is taken away by this explicit denial, No man can see the Lord and live.(Exod 33:20) Yet to see the Lord is eternal life.

What does Jesus mean when he promises we will see God?
Gregory says,
Hence the man who sees God possesses in this act of seeing all there is of the things that are good. By this we understand life without end, eternal incorruption, undying beatitude. With these we shall enjoy the everlasting Kingdom of unceasing happiness; we shall see the true Light and hear the sweet voice of the Spirit; we shall exult perpetually in all that is good in the inaccessible glory.

Jesus tells us here that seeing God depends on having a pure heart. But if the effort is impossible as Moses says, what’s the use, Gregory asks. The Lord surely would not tell us to do something that is impossible.

First Gregory reasons the Divine nature is beyond all mental concepts. Therefore the way to knowledge of Divine Essence cannot be through thought. So how doe we grasp what is not know by mental concepts?

Gregory writes,
Since such is He whose nature is above every nature, the Invisible and Incomprehensible is seen and apprehended in another manner. Many are the modes of such perception. For it is possible to see Him who has made all things in wisdom by way of inference through the wisdom that appears in the universe. It is the same as with human works of art where, in a way, the mind can perceive the maker of the product that is before it, because he has left on his work the stamp of his art. In this, however, is seen not the nature of the artist, but only his artistic skill which he has left impressed on his handiwork. Thus also, when we look at the order of creation, we form in our mind an image not of the essence, but of the wisdom of Him who has made all things wisely. And if we consider the cause of our life, that He came to create man not from necessity, but from the free decision of His Goodness, we say that we have contemplated God by this way, that we have apprehended His Goodness–though again not His Essence, but His Goodness. It is the same with all other things that raise the mind to transcendent Goodness, all these we can term apprehensions of God, since each one of these sublime meditations places God within our sight.

Hence it is clear through what has just been said that the Lord speaks the truth when He promises that God will be seen by those who have a pure heart; nor does Paul deceive when he asserts in his letters that no one has seen God nor can see Him. For He is invisible by nature, but becomes visible in His energies, for He may be contemplated in the things that are referred to Him.

But Gregory says there is more to the meaning of the Beatitude.

We have learned that even though in several places in Scripture it says we cannot see God, we see Him by inference in all that has been created by Him. We cannot see him with normal thought. We can grasp His Goodness. He can be grasped through His energies. This is the wonder and awe we experience when in nature.

But Gregory says there is more to the meaning of this Beatitude.

He says, The Lord does not say it is blessed to know something about God, but to have God present within oneself…. perhaps this marvelous saying may suggest what the Word expresses more clearly when He says to others, The Kingdom of God is within you.(Luke 17:21)

Gregory says
I think that in this short saying the Word expresses some such counsel as this: There is in you... a desire to contemplate the true good. But when you hear that the Divine Majesty is exalted above the heavens, that Its glory is inexpressible, Its beauty ineffable, and Its Nature inaccessible, do not despair of ever beholding what you desire. It is indeed within your reach; you have within yourselves the standard by which to apprehend the Divine. For He who made you did at the same time endow your nature with this wonderful quality. For God imprinted on it the likeness of the glories of His own Nature, as if moulding the form of a carving into wax.

But this image that God has implanted in each of us has been tarnished. It is coated with evil and remains hidden. Therefore, Gregory says, you wash off by a good life the filth that has been stuck on your heart like plaster, the Divine Beauty will again shine forth in you.

How do we wash off the filth, he asks next. This may seem to be impossible to many.

He writes
Our very birth has its beginning in passion, growth proceeds by way of passion, and in passion life also ends. Somehow evil is mixed up with our nature through those who first succumbed to passion, and by, their transgression made a permanent place for the disease. Now the nature of living beings is transmitted in each species by its descendants so that, according to the law of nature, that which is born is the same as that from which it is born. So man is born from man, the subject of passion from that which is subject to passion, the sinner from the sinner. Hence sin in some way comes into existence together with those who are born; it is born and grows with them, and at the end of life it also ceases with them.

Here he describes what we know today as the doctrine of ancestral sin or the Orthodox view of original sin. We are born with a tendency to sin. Therefore to acquire virtue requires much effort because of this human condition. This cleansing of the heart is not a simple matter making it hard fror most of us to attain virtue.

Gregory says,
Virtue, on the other hand, is hard for us to attain; even with much sweat and pain, zeal and fatigue, one can hardly establish it. This we are taught in many passages of the Divine Scriptures, when we are told that the way of the Kingdom is strait and passes through narrow paths, whereas the way that leads through a life of wickedness to perdition is broad and runs downhill with ease.

Yet we also know, he points out, that attaining virtue is not impossible according to Scripture. We find the stories of many holy men in the Bible.

The Gospel teaches us how to become pure.

Gregory has shown us that the way we see God is from within but it is hidden from our apprehension due to our sinfulness. Our heart is clouded with evil. He has also pointed out that attaining a pure state of virtue is difficult but not impossible. He now gives some advise on how to proceed.
The evil that clouds the heart comes from two sources: works and thoughts. He writes, The former, that is to say, the iniquity that shows itself in works, He has punished through the Old Law. Now, however, He has given the Law regarding the other form of sin, which punishes not so much the evil deed itself, as guards against even the beginning of it.

To get at this new kind of sin we need to remove evil from our will so we will no longer choose what is bad and choose instead what is good.

He tells us how the Lord set out to help us.,
Since evil has many parts and forms, He has opposed by His precepts its own remedy to each of the forbidden things. The disease of wrath is present everywhere all through life, so He begins the cure from what is most prominent, and first lays down the law to refrain from anger. You have learned, He says, from the Old Law, Thou shalt not kill. (Matt 5:21) Learn now to keep your soul from wrath against your neighbor. He has not forbidden wrath completely. For sometimes one may lawfully turn such an emotion also to good use; what the precept abolishes is to be angry with one's brother for no good reason–for everyone who is angry with his brother in vain: the addition in vain shows that the use of anger is often opportune, namely, whenever this passion is roused for the chastisement of sin.

He then passes on to the healing of the sins committed for the sake of pleasure, and, by His commandment, frees the heart from the vile desire of adultery. Thus you will find in what follows how the Lord corrects them all one by one, opposing by His Law each one of the forms of evil. He prevents the beginning of unjust violence by not even permitting self-defense. He banishes the passion of avarice by ordering a man who has been robbed and stripped to give up also what is left to him. He heals cowardice by commanding to scorn death. And, in general, you will find that by means of each of these commandments the Word digs up the evil roots from the depths of our hearts as if by a plough, and so through them we are purged from bringing forth thorns.

Gregory concludes, by asking us to consider what a way of life that does not pursue goodness of life would be like. This may keep you from being discouraged, but there is still the effort required to pursue goodness. The fear of hell can help us to seek goodness. He says, the fear that is present in the thought alone will suffice to chase away the passions.

He reminds us of the consequences

For if the clean of heart are blessed, those with sordid minds are altogether miserable, because they look at the face of the adversary. Further, if the Divine character itself is impressed on the virtuous life, it is clear that the evil life resembles the form and face of the enemy. Now, according to different concepts, God is called by those representing the good, for example, light, life, incorruption, and similar things. By contrast, everything opposed to these is dedicated to the instigator of evil, for example, darkness, death, corruption, and whatever else is like to these. Hence, as we have learned what is an evil life and what is a good one–for we have It In the power of our free will to choose either of these–let us flee from the form of the devil, let us lay aside the evil mask and put on again the Divine Image. Let us become clean of heart, so that we may become blessed when the Divine Image is formed in us through purity of life, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever.

Source: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com.by/2009/09/6th-beatitude-continued-blessed-are_16.html