The beatific vision

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Matthew 5.8


Perhaps under the influence of the materialist culture we inhabit, Christians today tend to restrict our ambitions to the mundane business of being "salt and light", secure in the eventual hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Back in the early Middle Ages, Christian aspirations were, literally and unashamedly, loftier. Drawing on Jesus' promise in the Beatitudes, their focus was on divine encounter. This was not to deny the call to earthier matters, such as caring for the poor and preaching the gospel. It was a reminder that, while being dust of the earth, humans are also - uniquely - image bearers of the Creator and so possess a built-in yearning to behold our heavenly prototype.


But how can that be achieved, as elsewhere in scripture, and on many occasions, we are reminded "nobody can see God"? From Cappadocia in what is now Turkey, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 - 395) addressed the issue by distinguishing between three properties of God: his nature (physis), his being (ousia), his energies (energeiai). While it is the case that God cannot be seen in himself, he can be seen in his operations, such as creation. And there is more...


Because human are made in the image of God, Gregory taught that, by washing away the accretions of sin through a strict regimen of spiritual discipline, we might hope to reveal a glimpse of God in the mirror of our own lives. This is not salvation, which is through Christ alone, but it is a vital aspect of the life of faith on earth: that, as well as living in communion with God through prayer, we may also enjoy beholding him through his created works and as we perceive him within ourselves. It is left to us to discover, through teaching and reflection, how we attain to the exhortation, not of Gregory but of Jesus: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5.48)

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