The 9th beatitude, so often forgotten, is very important!
Since the Fathers of the Church, it has been the custom to count only eight beatitudes. They are the summary of the Gospels, the “perfect charter for the Christian life” (St. Augustine), the roadmap to holiness. The number “eight” seemed most appropriate to express all of this. Thus it was that their first commentator, St. Gregory of Nyssa, counted eight of them for reasons of biblical symbolism, and St. Augustine did likewise.
Even today, many exegetes and commentators do the same, seeing in the ninth beatitude only a repetition or development of the preceding one (the one about being persecuted for righteousness’ sake). While a venerable tradition, it can lead to forgetting this ninth beatitude, and that would be a shame for it is the summit of them all.
A beatitude quite unlike the others
“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you beause of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (see Mt 5:11-12). This ninth beatitude doesn’t replace the first eight. But it’s different from the others, and not only because it’s four times as long and has a more complex structure.
The first eight are stated in the third person plural, “Blessed are they …,” and form a sort of catalogue of holiness that we are called upon to live and to recognize wherever they are practiced, including outside the bounds of the visible Church. But the ninth is in the second person: “Blessed are you …” It’s no longer a description; it’s a call. Imagine yourself listening to a lecture when the speaker suddenly stops and points to you, calls to you, “You, over there!” Can you feel the difference?
The first eight beatitudes are in the indicative tense, which reinforces their descriptive nature. As with any catalogue, there’s a temptation to choose only the things we like or that we believe within our capabilities. But the ninth is in the conditional: “Blessed are you if …” There’s no escaping it: there’s a condition for blessedness that has to be met. And what a condition! To be insulted, persecuted … That’s wholly more demanding.
A beatitude that transforms the meaning of blessedness
This is also the only beatitude in which Jesus refers to himself: “because of me.” And so, in and of itself, it concerns those who claim Him, we Christians. What’s more, it foretells what He is to undergo: insults, persecutions, false witness. As for the great reward in the promised Kingdom, is it not to begin with His Resurrection and exaltation at the right hand of the Father? This beatitude thus announces that His Paschal Mystery of suffering and victory will be carried on in His disciples.
This is the beatitude of joy and gladness. It reveals the possibility of blessedness and, what’s more, in trials, suffering, or distress, if we live them with and for Christ. This amazing revelation that revolutionizes the meaning of the word “blessedness” is at the core of the Gospel message. And this blessedness isn’t only for the hereafter; Christ offers it to us in the here and now: “Be glad and rejoice.”
This ninth beatitude announces the persecutions that the Church will suffer, and continues to suffer. For all those who have endured or are still enduring them, it offers support and hope: suffering Churches are living Churches, and very lively at that! Should we deduce from that that, for a Christian, there is no path to happiness other than a state of persecution? If words mean what they say, this would be huge: what about most of us, then? Certainly, we experience situations where one or another of the beatitudes might apply, but we’re not persecuted. As the theologian Romano Guardini once wrote: “It’s an affront to our good sense.” But, he added, “It’s better to accept it and try to explain it rather than dismiss the words of Jesus as pious banalities.”
So does this beatitude concern us?
So let’s try to explain it. First of all, without overstating it, let’s not deny the difficulties today in following the Gospel. How much misunderstanding and rejection in the media, or even in the workplace and within our own family, sometimes turn this belief to derision and hatred. And there’s more. What this beatitude announces shows that following Jesus is always a serious business. Visible persecutions at the hands of others are not the only ones, nor necessarily the worst. Every Christian life is essentially a spiritual battle between the flesh and the spirit, between selfishness and charity.
Moreover, men will “persecute you … because of me”: when we are called to suffer, including temptation, that least visible but not least effective form of persecution, it’s not only ourselves who are attacked, it’s Christ in us. This beatitude helps us to understandthat if Jesus seems to ask much of us, it is because He truly counts on us to carry on in ourselves His work of salvation. This is why it is not for us to choose the trials that afflict us — external or internal — but to live them in the spirit of this beatitude, in free and faithful love of Christ and his demands, and in the certainty that He lives them with us and supports us.
Finally, since this beatitude (and the witness of those who live it to the point of martyrdom) is one of gladness and joy, it frees us from fear in our trials, whatever they may be, and helps us to live them in hope. For, if “the only happiness we have is to love God and to know ourselves loved by Him,” as the saintly Curé of Ars liked to say, nothing and no one can take it away from us.