Blessed are the Meek, for They Shall Inherit the Land, by Father Basil William Maturin

the publican from an 1873 illustration of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, artist unknownThe Christian Creed is one whole. The perfect balance of truths that sometimes seem opposed. God is three and God is one. Christ is perfect God and perfect Man. The life of man is absolutely dependent upon personal effort, and equally dependent upon the help of Divine Grace, All the effort is vain without the Grace of God, and the Grace of God is powerless without the co-operation of the will of man. Heresy is the overstatement or the understatement of truth, or the pressing of one truth to the neglect of some other, The Christian faith is like the blending in perfect proportion of certain chemicals, which if the proportion be not exact fails to produce the combination desired, or ends in an explosion.

And it is the same with the Christian life, the more you analyze it the more wonderful you see it to be in its sublime justice, its perfect proportions and its intimate cohesion. The Church is most patient of human weakness and sin, yet the ethical system of the Church is intolerant of all sin. Heathen systems were full of paradoxes, blending lofty ideals with shocking vices. They permitted virtue and vice to grow side by side, with their roots interlaced. But Christianity brought out all sin into the light, showed its ugliness and forbad it. No man can be a true follower of Jesus Christ and sin with impunity, and in ignorance that his sin is forbidden. Saint John the Baptist’s prophecy of our Lord’s work was: “His fan is in His hand and He will thoroughly cleanse His floor, gathering His wheat into His barn and burning up the chaff with fire unquenchable”, Our Lord marked clearly and definitely once for all the line between right and wrong. He called light light and darkness darkness. He that offends against one commandment is guilty of all. That is, he that lives in the deliberate violation of one of the commandments of God destroys the Christian standard and produces a different type of character from that set before him by our Lord. The blending and harmonizing of all the commandments produces a perfect whole, a type unknown outside of the Religion of Jesus Christ. Our Lord does not set before us at first an imperfect standard and as we advance a more and more perfect one. He holds before our eyes from the very first the standard of perfection, bears with our weaknesses and failures, the slowness of our progress, our many sins, but only that He may lead us, as we can follow, to the fufillment of His design. And thus we are led on – one step forward leads to another. The struggle with one sin leads us to see and struggle with others, As the outer coating of the marble is struck off by the sculptor, the rough outline of the figure is seen, then gradually it steps forth freed from all that incumbered it, instinct with beauty and with life. So in the Christian life one thing leads to another, We do not realize all that that first step involves, all that it commits us to. If we did we probably should not have the courage to take it. We see only the beauty of goodness, the ugliness of sin, and we long to rid ourselves of the chains of perhaps one sin that enslaves us. But we soon find that we cannot stop there, sin is intertwined with sin as virtue is with virtue, and we become quickly aware that we cannot break with this dominant sin without breaking with others. The form of perfect goodness becomes more and more attractive and its light pierces deeper into the soul, revealing evil hitherto unknown. We find ere long that we must go on, or go back under the bondage we hate. As we were the servants of sin, there is only one way out of our slavery; by submitting ourselves to a higher service, we must become the servants, the slaves, of Righteousness, We are caught in strong currents that bear us onward; we must either force our way out of those currents, or yield ourselves to be carried where they will. The stream of life has as it were two counter-currents, one towards goodness, the other towards evil; to escape from one is to find ourselves in the relentless clutches of the other. There is no still backwater where we can float about as we will. Or to use Saint Paul’s image: Every man here on earth must be a slave. He cannot in fact be, as he imagines, his own master. He must be the servant of sin or the servant of Righteousness – the slave of Jesus Christ – “Quem servire est regnare”.

And thus, no sooner does a man place himself under the first great Law of Christian perfection – the Law of poverty of spirit – than he finds himself drawn under the force of another Law, growing out of it, and intimately connected with it – the Law of Meekness,

The first Beatitude declares, as we have seen, the Law which should control man’s relationship to the creatures, that is, to all created things around him, and the circumstances in which he is placed. It may be a very long time indeed before he is governed by this Law. When he is, he will find that he is already far advanced in the spiritual life. But till he has begun to strive to see things and to act in the light which this Law reveals, his spiritual life cannot be said to have begun. Thus these material things outside of himself that are not, and never can be, a part of himself, become the occasion of a constant struggle in his own soul, So deeply do the things around us act upon character for good or evil, that the effort not only to use them aright but to think of them and value them aright, opens out possibilities and forces issues and produces results altogether incommensurate with the things themselves. The struggle with these things of earth, if properly conducted, becomes the means of revealing the first glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, the victory over them makes the soul its possessor. A change begins to pass over the whole character, the light of another world dawns upon the soul, revealing the things of this world in their true light, perspective and proportion.

But as the conflict deepens and the Law of poverty of spirit effects its results, the outlines of another Law begin to be dimly discerned, and the soul finds itself passing more and more under its control. For meekness and poverty of spirit are in fact twin sisters, they are born together, hand in hand they ripen to maturity, and if poverty dies meekness cannot survive it. Together they live and together they die. The first throb of the life of meekness is felt with the birth pangs of poverty, and if the clouds of earth gather over the soul that once strove for poverty of spirit, and dim the light of the Kingdom of Heaven, meekness dies in the earthly atmosphere. And those things which poverty strengthened the soul to give up, meekness not only fits it to receive again, but gives back to it, to hold and to use in another and better way, and thus Our Lord’s promise is fulfilled – “There is no man that hath left house or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the Gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time”. For “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land”; and long ago the Psalmist sang the same – “The meek spirited shall possess the earth, and shall be refreshed with abundance of peace”.

For in fact it is the struggle to attain poverty of spirit that develops the spirit of meekness.

As we have already seen, the first Beatitude forbids the use of nothing, condemns nothing as in itself evil, It points out that the morality lies not in these created things, but in man alone, and that the evil which men seem to get from the things around them springs from their abuse; from allowing them to gain the mastery over them.

At first it seems to us as if we were struggling with the things themselves; we find various things taking possession of mind or heart or imagination; they become an absorbing interest, and rouse our passions, or enslave the will. We live for them and cannot do without them. Then as we realize the danger, how they close our hearts and eyes to better things, we rise up to struggle with them and set ourselves free, It is a conflict between myself and something that is trying to possess and control my life. There is that thing and here am I; I will not let myself yield to its attraction. And I turn upon it to drive it forth from my life. To one man it seems that the great moral struggle of his life has been with money – not to let the love of money crush out the power of loving anything else; to another it has been with the love of popularity; to another the craving for excitement, and soon. But as the conflict deepens they begin to realize that in fact these external things are but the occasions of awakening and intensifying the inner dualism of their own nature. They excite the antagonism between desire and conscience – conscience calls one way, these things awaken desires which call another way. And by degrees they perceive that the fight is not between self and something else which is not self, but that it is wholly within the kingdom of the soul. I am not fighting as I supposed with material things, but with my own passions, my own desires. The things that I long for may be removed out of my sight, but the longing, or the struggle with that longing, will go on. I may be in absolute solitude without the possibility of acquiring anything removed from my life, but this does not stop the thirst of my nature to possess, Indeed a man may be better for being able to get what he wants than with those unsatisfied desires eating out his heart.

For the human soul is in fact a centre of passionate, unquenchable desire to possess, It cannot be satisfied with itself alone. The very essence of its life is the craving to possess what it has not or for a more complete possession of what it has. It is the fire that is ever consuming it, the force that lashes it into action. It looks out upon things above and around it and longs to make them its own. The heart is made for love and cannot rest without the love of something or some one, and love is never satisfied short of absolute possession.

The structure of our whole nature shows this. The central fire is desire, and all the powers of our being are given us to see, to fight for, and to win the object of our desire. Quench that fire and man turns to ashes. There is nothing to stimulate the powers to action. The force that sets the whole machinery in motion is gone, and it can work no longer, Kindle the fire, let the desire be for the poorest and most worthless object, and the machinery is set in motion. The fullest activity and utmost power of the whole machinery of our being is brought out when the desire is at its height and reaches out to what is most worth having. If therefore a man can direct all the deepest and most passionate longing of his nature towards an object worthy of it and most difficult of attainment, it will develop him to the full.

And this is what the soul was made for, to desire and attain possession of God. It is indeed the longing for God, known or unknown, that keeps it alive. The dim vision of some faint ray of Divine beauty reflected in His creatures, or the clearer entrancing vision of God, revealed to the soul in His Moral Beauty. The restless longing that drives men hither and thither, now in pursuit of one thing, now of another, is in fact the thirst for the possession of the Infinite. And wherever this desire exists it sets in motion all those powers with which man is endowed to overcome every obstacle that stands in his way, till he grasps and holds as his own what he longs for.

“My soul is athirst for God.” That is the cry, often inarticulate, that sets the world’s activities in motion. God seen or unseen, known or unknown, Seen in the pure radiance of His Own Moral Beauty, or seen in His creation, and in the beauty of His creation often forgotten and lost sight of.

If therefore the desire for God Himself be awakened in the soul, and it be content with nothing short of God, those powers with which it is endowed to gain possession of Him will be exercised to the utmost of their capacity. There is no other desire that can call out their strength in anything like the same degree of intensity. The effort to possess, and to overcome all obstacles in the way of possession, must be in proportion to the magnitude of the desire. If I desire a thing a little, I will not make much effort to get it, and if there are many difficulties in the way I will give it up. If I desire it more, I will make more effort. If I desire it with a passionate longing that cannot be quenched, if I know that I cannot live without it, I will struggle with all my might to get it, or die in the effort.

But there is, in the Divine order of our nature, an intimate relationship between the desire that stimulates to action and the powers with which we are endowed to satisfy the desire by possession. Some of these powers are for defence, some of them for attack. If they are used to gain that which is worthy of their exercise and effort they grow stronger, more supple and more keen in the struggle, and moreover they do not hurt or make harsh the person that uses them; on the contrary, they enrich the whole nature, and do not become aggressively prominent. They are like a soldier with his sword by his side to use it when he needs it, not like one with his drawn sword always in his hand. The arms of our warfare are used only in the warfare for which they are given. They form part of the equipment of a character that is pursuing its true destiny, and fall into their place. On the contrary, if the desire which sets them in action be unworthy, they recoil upon the person who uses them, and become blunted and injured in their use. The character deteriorates, the instruments of warfare and defence take an undue prominence, and make the person aggressive, pugnacious, intolerant.

How different, for instance, is the righteous anger of a saint from the outbursts of temper and irritability of one checked or thwarted in some scheme of his own. One is in a sense impersonal, the other is wholly personal. One is a virtue, the other is a vice. Yet the weapon used in each case is the same. Or how different again is the moral firmness of a good man who resists all persuasion to violate his conscience, and the dogged obstinacy of a man who is only determined at all costs to have his own way. One enriches, the other impoverishes the nature, yet the only difference is that in the one case the will is used for no personal end, in the other the end is altogether personal.

And now we can see the intimate connection between the Beatitude of poverty and meekness.

Poverty directs the soul Heavenward, bids it keep all created things in their place as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And this involves, as we have seen, a strenuous and unceasing conflict, not with these created things, but an inward conflict with our own hearts to direct them towards God, and then with all those weapons of warfare which God has given us to get possession of what the heart desires, and to defend ourselves against the assaults of every one and everything that would hold us back.

And this is the source of meekness.

Meekness is that virtue which is the outcome of the discipline and training of the offensive and defensive powers of the soul, so as to use them primarily and chiefly in the service of God, not for the attainment of earthly ends or for one’s own personal ends. Aristotle defines it as “the contrary habit to passion”. Yet there is passion in it. It is full of fire and force, for all the passion and fire that might be used for personal ends is used in the struggle to possess God. The passion is there, but purified, intensified and directed. There is no anger that cows men as the anger of the righteous against iniquity; no will so strong and firm as the will that is wholly dominated by conscience. Such anger, such firmness of will, are not passionless, they are aglow with all the passions of our nature, for all can be summed up in love, and the love of God is love at white heat – a love that can conquer the world.

Thus it is in the effort to gain poverty of spirit that meekness is born, and under its protecting arm it ripens to maturity. Though of gentle mien and kindly form it is the outcome of fierce struggle and ceaseless conflict with self. It is perfectly fearless, for it was born in the din of battle. Though gentle as a woman its nerves are of steel, its muscles of iron. Yielding as it seems, it can lead men to the martyr’s stake, and strengthen them to endure all the cruelty that the art of man can devise. Though ready to give place to others, it is not from indifference, but because it has set itself to attain what is more worthy of its possession. “A heart of steel towards self, a heart of fire towards God, a heart of flesh towards men.”

“Greater is he that rules himself than he that taketh a city,” and the meek man is one who holds himself well in hand, and directs the powers of his nature, which so often make for destruction, for the construction of his own character in the ways of God, and for the welfare of men.

Meekness, if all this be true, is a very different thing from what it is ordinarily considered. To most people a meek man is a tame, colourless being, without energy, or spirit, or character. Not the possessor of earth, but the beast of burden of the earth’s possessors, one whom strong men push out of their way with contempt, and to whom they give but scant consideration; whose characteristics, what he has of them, are mostly negative; who is yielding, plastic, self-depreciative and generally despicable. Our Lord utters no Beatitude we may be well assured upon moral cowardice and weakness; nor as a matter of fact can it ever be said that any Christian virtue is really despicable in the eyes of men. The meekness which men despise is not meekness at all, but a wretched caricature of the great virtue which has as its reward the possession of the earth. The gentle, yielding, retiring spirit of the meek springs from a strong and vigorous stock, its counterfeit imitations spring from weakness and lack of character. One man withdraws from the fight because he has not the courage to face it, the other by a deliberate act of his own will, that he may husband his strength for a sterner and more serious battle. One man is gentle and unassertive because he has little to assert and no power to assert what little he has, the other by a splendid victory over a strong self-assertive nature. Some of the external characteristics of weakness and meekness are doubtless identical, but the sources from which they spring are as wide apart as the poles. One springs from Heaven, the other from the uncultivated and neglected earth of man’s fallen nature.

But let the two men be tested. Let some question arise where self-assertion or firmness in the cause of God and His Truth be demanded, and the two characters disclose themselves. And we see at once that meekness has in it no shadow of weakness, but that the gentleness and readiness to yield are really the outcome of the strength of self-control and a view of life that is altogether supernatural. Indeed, a weak man, in so far as he is weak, will never acquire the Christian virtue of meekness. He who has not the strength to resist outward pressure will not have the strength to resist the pressure from within. His weakness in reality springs from the fact that the flame of desire burns low, and has not the strength to set the machinery of his nature in motion, to work for one definite end.

It is the strong alone, those who are naturally endowed with the gift of strength and determination, or those who have gained strength by faith and prayer and the grace of the sacraments, who will ever gain, beneath the heavenly light kindled by poverty of spirit, the strength to acquire that self-control which blossoms into the gentle flower of meekness.

Those who know the truly meek are always impressed with the feeling that they could do more if they would; that they could win place and power and subdue the strongest, but somehow they will not. It often surprises their friends, not infrequently irritates them, they allow themselves to be misunderstood, let splendid opportunities of showing what mettle they are made of pass by. Like the disciples of Him who said, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart,” they cry out, “If Thou be the Christ show Thyself, for no man doeth the works that Thou dost and himself remains in secret”, Those who know them feel that underneath the fire is burning. That with all the gentleness the strength is there. That somehow the self-control has not been purchased at the expense of emasculation. It is in fact the gentleness that is a surprise rather than the strength, like some sweet flower growing on the edge of a volcano. For meekness is the virtue that grows out of the inner conflict with the combative and self-assertive powers of our nature. In proportion to the strength of these powers must be the conflict, and the consequent and evasive beauty of that virtue which is the outcome of the victory.

But be it remembered that these powers are not in themselves bad, however great the evil they effect if undisciplined, nor is the struggle with them in any sense to destroy them. They are on the contrary good, given us by God to carry on the warfare of life; without them we could not fight our way, we should be hustled aside or trampled under the feet of the combatants. Those who have them not are, as a rule, the men who are failures.

For if life be as we say a battle, then man must be a fighter, he must be able to defend himself and to attack his enemies. And if this idea of life as a battle be, as it certainly is in Holy Scripture and in the teaching of Christ, the essential idea underlying and interpreting all else, then the most essential part of man’s equipment is the offensive and defensive armour with which he must be endowed. And the man best fitted for the battle of life is the man best equipped with fighting weapons – independence, determination, strength of will, the sense of responsibility, anger, courage, and so on.

Then comes the great question which every one so endowed must answer for himself – What does the battle of life mean for me; and who are my enemies? Upon the answer to that question everything depends. These arms were given for combat, he must use them, they were not meant to be hung up to rust in the temple of the soul, but to be used, and he can use them as he will and against whom he will, and for what purpose he pleases.

The choice lies in fact between two causes for which he must fight. He can fight for himself, for his own advancement and his own personal ends, or he can fight for God – for Goodness, Justice and Truth. His arms are strong for either battle. He can use them to push aside or destroy every obstacle that stands in the way of his attaining the end he desires, or he can use them in the service of God.

And the difference between a strong, domineering, ill-tempered, self-asserting man of the world, and the man endowed with the grace of Christian meekness, is that one uses his powers to fight for himself and the other to fight for God.

Each of these men is equally using the arms given him for the battle of life, each is a fighter, neither of them flinches from the fray. Yet the difference in the effect upon the character of each cannot be concealed, In the one, self is the most prominent feature, in the other self is almost lost sight of. In the one every fighting instinct is alert if self be in any way assailed, in the other the fighting powers are only aroused in the cause of God and right. In the one case they act almost automatically, they have practically passed out of the hands of the person and are at the service of self-love. In the other they are all kept well in hand and under control and like a disciplined army obey the word of command. The one with all his strength and aggressive force betrays his weakness, he is not master of himself. The other shows the dignified strength of perfect self-control. He could use all these powers for his own purposes if he willed, but he does not will, he has trained himself to use them in the higher service of God. There is therefore no loss of power in weakness, there is no effort to destroy any of the gifts with which the soul is endowed for the battle of life; on the contrary, all these gifts are entirely at the service of their possessor, but they are held in the firm grasp of a man who will never use them in an unworthy cause. He believes that the battle of life is primarily and above all things the battle of right against wrong, of truth against error, and that it is for this that he has been given these weapons, and he will not tarnish them by using them for merely personal ends.

Meekness is thus the virtue that springs from the perfect control of the strongest forces of our nature, all held in leash, to be let loose upon the one real enemy of the soul, and in the one battle worth waging. It is a gentleness whose roots suck their nourishment from a soil of fire and granite,

And such gentleness must always attract, and will unconsciously break down opposition and win its way inthe end. And it fits a man above all else to be a ruler.

There are those who exercise the sway of a dominant personality; people yield because they are not strong enough to resist. And there are people who when in a position of authority, if it be only over a child, have the faculty of exercising it in a way that arouses antagonism. Many a child obeys its parent or teacher in a spirit of rebellious fear, many a servant hates, while he yields to the commands of his master. There are rulers who cow into submission those who are under them by temper and sheer force. There are men and women who win their way in the world by a reckless pushing aside of those who stand in their way. There are people to whom others yield because it is not safe to resist them; they are unscrupulous in the choice of the weapons which they use. Such people may hold power and win their way, but they leave the path strewn with wounded hearts and maimed and injured lives and gathering revolt against the success of selfishness and cruelty. But these are not the real rulers of men, and their success in the struggle for life is the success of the strong animal that tears and tramples upon his prey. And if they live long enough they live into a solitary old age, full of remorse, without friends and without love. But there are others whom somehow it is a pleasure to obey. Men who never stir in others one feeling of jealousy or antagonism who seem to have the extraordinary power of making those who serve them feel honoured in their service, not degraded, who always respect the rights, and call out the dignity of those whom they rule. Men who never drive, but always win and lead, whose path through life leaves in its wake no bitterness or gathering revolt, not one who has been pushed aside or whose rights and aims have been unconsidered.

And these are the born rulers of men, and they owe their power and their sway over others to the fact that in the victory over themselves they have learned to rule, that no one could ever accuse them of personal ends or unworthy motive. Single-minded, strong, self-controlled, gentle and always considerate, they win the world to their feet and receive in full measure and filled with tranquil joy the blessing of our Lord – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land”.