Blessed are the Pure in Heart – Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa, commenting on the beatitude “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” (Mat. 5:8) compares God to an inaccessible rock, a mountain peak impossible to climb except to those lifted up, as Peter was, by the strong hand of Jesus.

The feelings that come to a man who stands on a high mountain peak and looks down onto some immense sea are the same feelings that come to me when I look out from the high mountain peak of the Lord’s words into the incomprehensible depths of his thoughts.

When you look at mountains that stand next to the sea, you will often find that they seem to have been cut in half, so that on the side nearest the sea there is a sheer drop and something dropped from the summit will fall straight into the depths. Someone who looks down from such a peak will become dizzy, and so too I become dizzy when I look down from the high peak of these words of the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.


These words offer the sight of God to those whose hearts have been purified and purged. But look: St John says No-one has seen God. The Apostle Paul’s sublime mind goes further still: What no man has seen and no man can see. This is the slippery and crumbling rock that seems to give the mind no support in the heights. Even the teaching of Moses declared God to be a rock that was so inaccessible that our minds could not even approach it: No-one can see the Lord and live.

To see God is to have eternal life – and yet the pillars of our faith, John and Paul and Moses, say that God cannot be seen. Can you understand the dizziness of a soul that contemplates their words? If God is life, whoever does not see God does not see life. If the prophets and the Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, attest that God cannot be seen, does this not wreck all the hopes of man?

It is the Lord who sustains our floundering hope, just as he sustained Peter when he was floundering in the water, and made the waters firm beneath his feet. If the hand of the Word stretches out to us as well, and sets us firm in a new understanding when these speculations have made us lose our balance, we shall be safe from fear, held safe in the guiding hand of the Word. Blessed, he says, are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God.

This selection, taken from St. Gregory of Nyssa’s homilies on the Beatitudes (Orat. 6 De beatitudinibus: PG 44, 1263-1266) focuses on the phrase “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) and compares God to an inaccessible rock towering over the sea.  It is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Thursday of the twelfth (12th) week in ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from I Samuel 21:2-10; 22:1-5). 

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