To read more from Daniel, visit his blog: Sic Et Non.

Cover image via Gospel Media Library. 

Herewith, a brief set of preliminary notes toward a chapter in my projected book on the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reads the first of the Beatitudes (in Matthew 5:3 of the King James Version), “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

By the way, please note that the phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” also occurs at Matthew 5:10, which, by the traditional reckoning (with which I agree), is the last of the eight Beatitudes.  It is significant, I think, that the Beatitudes begin and end with the promised reward of “the kingdom of heaven.”

Notice, too, that the phrase “poor in spirit” seems to refer to a good thing, not to depression or self-deprecation but rather, perhaps, to a sense of humble dependence.  To, as Gerhard Kittel’s great (and massive) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament puts it, “the self-awareness . . . of poverty of spirit and perhaps of longing for the [Holy Ghost]”[i]

Consider William Ernest Henley’s justly famous poem “Invictus,” which apparently inspired Nelson Mandela during his long imprisonment under the South African apartheid regime and, accordingly, provided the title for Clint Eastwood’s great 2009 film about Mandela, which starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon:

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.