This word may sound waspish, like a bee attitude, but it’s a much more blessed attitude of being. It sounds too much like platitude – an anodyne pronouncement that feels beatifying in the abstract but when someone asks you to live up to it you say “Beat it, dude.” But a beatitude is an example, a prescription, not just a description.
Let’s start by noticing that there’s beatitude and there are beatitudes. Beatitude, the abstract mass object, uncountable, is also unaccountable, blissful – supreme blessedness or happiness. You can be in a state of beatitude. It means you are #soblessed. The word comes from Latin beatus, ‘blessed’, which may look ironic, since if we’re so blessed, you can’t beat us. It sounds ironic, too, because beatus is said like “bay at ooss” but if we’re so blessed, it would be obtuse to bay at us.
Beatitudes, on the other hand, are individual pronouncements about who is blessed. They are rather like desiderata. If some set of people are blessed, then it’s a good idea to be one of those people. There’s a specific set of beatitudes that the term usually refers to. Here’s the Latin – it’s not the original; it’s translated from Greek, which may not have been the original language either but then again may have, but in the Latin you see the point:
beati pauperes spiritu quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum
beati mites quoniam ipsi possidebunt terram
beati qui lugent quoniam ipsi consolabuntur
beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt iustitiam quoniam ipsi saturabuntur
beati misericordes quia ipsi misericordiam consequentur
beati mundo corde quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt
beati pacifici quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur
beati qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum
beati estis cum maledixerint vobis et persecuti vos fuerint et dixerint omne malum adversum vos mentientes propter me
Hard to miss, isn’t it? Nine beati in a row. That’s the plural of beatus, and here it’s the predicate – it means not just ‘blessed’ but ‘blessed are’. Here’s the same set in an English translation:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Does that sound familiar? Some of my readers will know it well; others may not. It’s the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a section of the Gospel of Matthew in the Christian Bible (I used the New International Version translation). The Sermon on the Mount is presented as one great extended sermon by Jesus to a crowd, but it was probably put together from various teachings of Jesus remembered from various occasions, passed on by word of mouth, and written down in various times and places, all put together in a coherent format. Notwithstanding that, it is one of the central texts of Christianity – even if some of its teachings can be rather challenging and open to competing understandings – and these nine beatitudes that make the opening lines of it are statements of essential values that Christians are supposed to try to live up to.
Supposed to. Well, some do, and some pay great lip service. Some remember the last two very well and fancy that when people criticize them it’s proof that they’re among the blessed. But people may be criticizing them for not living up to some of the others, such as “blessed are the meek,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” and “blessed are the merciful.”
And here is one indubitable thing: if you are too waspish about your beatitudes, you should look carefully to see who is stinging and who is being stung.