St. Augustine was confident that the Beatitudes are the key to the Sermon on the Mount. They lay out the goal toward which the entire Christian life—and so, implicitly, the entire Sermon—is ordered, and they describe the person who attains the goal. When Augustine commented on the Our Father, the model for all Christian prayer, he was similarly confident that the Beatitudes must somehow be the key. Our prayer should be directed to the goal of our life, right?
In a moment of inspiration, he decided to line up the petitions of the Our Father with the Beatitudes, in order:
|Beatitude||Our Father, who art in heaven,|
|Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.||Hallowed be thy name.|
|Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.||Thy kingdom come,|
|Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.||Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.|
|Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.||Give us this day our daily bread,|
|Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs.||And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.|
|Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.||And lead us not into temptation|
|Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.||But deliver us from evil.|
Some correlations fail to convince, but others are stunning. When I taught through the Sermon on the Mount for the PEAK program recently, I had a chance to try an experiment. Before showing them St. Augustine’s commentary, I asked each group separately to explain the meaning of each of the Beatitudes. All four groups independently came to more or less the same conclusions:
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Refers either to detachment from material goods or to humility.
Blessed are the meek. Recommends against using anger to conquer.
Blessed are those who mourn. Mourn what? Wicked people mourn good things, after all. The consensus was that the blessed one mourns his own sins or the sins of others.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Could mean a desire for holiness, or it could refer to a longing for justice in the world.
Blessed are the merciful. Commends those who forgive others instead of exacting penalties.
Blessed are the pure of heart. Simplicity of intention, and the absence of “foreign elements” in one’s desires—lust, greed, and so on.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Literally, those who end quarrels and bring about peace between others.
The fact that all four groups came to these conclusions independently, together with the fact that the Augustine, Chrysostom, and Aquinas say the same things, convinced me that we were on the right track. Grasping each Beatitude better helped me to see that St. Augustine’s commentary on the Our Father is even more startling than it seems at first.
To bring out what I was seeing, I tried to re-write the Our Father as the prayer of the blessed one described in the Beatitudes. See what you think. Here is a comparison with the Beatitudes on the left, the Our Father on the right, and the Prayer of the Blessed in between:
|Beatitude||Prayer of the Blessed||Our Father|
|Our Father, who art in heaven,||Our Father, who art in heaven,|
|Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.||Not to our name, but to your name give the glory.||Hallowed be thy name.|
|Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.||Be thine the victory,||Thy kingdom come,|
|Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.||And be thy justice our consolation.||Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.|
|Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.||Satisfy our hunger for you, caring for our needs besides,||Give us this day our daily bread,|
|Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs.||And show us mercy as we have shown mercy.||And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.|
|Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.||Stay with our hearts,||And lead us not into temptation|
|Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.||And deliver us from the kingdom of strife.||But deliver us from evil.|