Holy Preaching 2.3

The Concede mihi, part of a longer prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas

“Whatever is pleasing to you, O merciful God, may I ardently desire, wisely pursue, truly recognize, and bring to perfect completion, to the praise and glory of your name. Order my life, O my God. Grant me to know what you would have me do, and to carry it out as I should and as is profitable for my soul.” Amen.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled’: At first, the very idea of saying that someone who weeps or mourns is ‘blessed’ probably seems counter-intuitive, even down-right wrong. How can we even think of sorrow or mourning as a blessing? Well, it might be helpful to begin by discussing Aquinas’s account of sorrow, beginning with the most basic, natural emotion / passion of sorrow. He calls it a passion, from the Latin word, pati, which means to undergo something.


Let us turn, then, to the passion of pain or sorrow. What is sorrow or sadness? Well,  just as something perceived as good is the object of the passion of love (here love in the sense of a natural awareness and attraction to a good), and so a suitable good that is present to me now, that I in a way possess, is the object of pleasure or joy, so also something perceived as evil is the object of hatred and so an evil that is already present to me now, is the object of pain or sorrow. In the case of pain or sorrow, we are talking about a present evil, although this “presence” may be present either actually, or really, or simply a presence virtually in my memory of the past or in my imagination of the future. Now generally speaking, a future evil has more to do with fear and anxiety, but if I so imagine an evil as something which is happening right now, I may even experience a certain sorrow and sadness at it.

Let us look a little more at the cause of sorrow. Aquinas explains that since all of the passions are in some way based on the passion of love, so Augustine says, “(De Trin. x, 12), ‘love is felt more keenly, when we lack that which we love.’ [And Aquinas continues,] Now from the lack of what we love, sorrow results, which is caused either by the loss of some loved good, or by the presence of some contrary evil.” And desire can also give rise to sorrow. St. Thomas explains that “desire becomes a cause of sorrow, in so far as we sorrow for the delay of a desired good” (ST I-II, q. 36, a. 2, corp.)

But Aquinas warns  that “all the passions of the soul should be regulated according to the rule of reason, which is the root of the virtuous good; whereas excessive sorrow, …oversteps this rule, and therefore it fails to be a virtuous good” (ST I-II, q. 36, a. 2, ad 1). So a person who has become depressed or saddened to an excessive degree over something, even if that was a true evil, if the sorrow is excessive, they have allowed the passion of sorrow to overcome their reason and will, which can have detrimental effects, and insofar as the person gives way to excessive sorrow voluntarily, this can be sinful, and even dangerous, because one who is consumed with sorrow, as Aquinas says, becomes in a sense, spiritually paralyzed, perhaps even to the point of being hindered in his struggle against evil, so that he gives into it, or fails to continue in doing good.

Nevertheless,  there is also a sorrow that Aquinas says is “according to God,” and this is a sorrow for sin, not simply feeling depressed about past sins, but which, rather “brings with it the hope of the forgiveness of sin.” For this reason, Aquinas also teaches that “in so far as sorrow is good, it can be a virtuous good.”

He cites the beatitude that we are discussing today, given by Christ in the Gospel of Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Thomas says, “For … sorrow is a good inasmuch as it denotes perception and rejection of evil. These two things [perception and rejection of evil], as regards bodily pain [on a natural level], are a proof of the goodness of nature, to which it is due that the senses perceive, and that nature shuns, the harmful thing that causes pain. [So feeling pain in one’s hand when one burns oneself, for instance, is a sign that the body is at least somewhat healthy and functioning, whereas if a person completely loses feeling in his or her hand, so that the person is unable to feel pain, that is generally a very bad sign.]”

As regards interior sorrow, [continues Aquinas] perception of the evil is sometimes due to a right judgment of reason [when we make a correct judgment that this thing we are sorrowing about is truly evil]; while the rejection of the evil is the act of the will, well-disposed and detesting that evil [such as the evil of sin]. Now every virtuous good results from these two things, the rectitude [uprightness] of the reason and the will. Therefore it is evident that sorrow may be a virtuous good” (ST I-II, q. 39, a. 2, corp.) So it is right to sorrow over what is truly evil, such as sin, although Aquinas adds that “just as sorrow for an evil arises from a right will and reason, which detest the evil, so sorrow for a good is due to a perverse reason and will, that detest the good. Consequently such sorrow [i.e., such as becoming sad over a good thing, as happens in the case of envy over another’s good] is an obstacle to the praise and merit of the virtuous good; for instance, when a man gives an alms sorrowfully” [becoming sad over doing the good act, because one is not really wanting to do it] (Ibid. ad 2). If not an actual vice, that is at least a real imperfection.

Beatitude: The End/Goal

Now before discussing “Blessed are those who mourn”, I would first like to answer the general question, What are the Beatitudes themselves? First, I should note that when Aristotle speaks about virtue, he speaks about the “good life”, meaning the virtuous life, the life lived well. But the perfect acts of the beatitudes are higher than even the virtues; these are the means to the “blessed life” of heaven.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “Happiness/beatitude is the last/ultimate end of human life [vision of God in heaven, but this blessed life of beatitude begins here, although it is still imperfect.] Now one is said to possess the end already, when one hopes to possess it [I plan to go on a journey, for example, to the United States, and I already begin to feel a certain excitement in the hope of having reached my destination]; therefore … the Apostle says (Rom 8:24): We are saved by hope. Again, we hope to obtain an end, because we are suitably moved towards that end, and approach it; and this implies [on our part] some action. And  someone is moved towards and approaches the happy/beatific end by works of virtue, and above all by the works of the gifts [of the Holy Spirit], if we speak of eternal happiness, for which our reason is not sufficient [we can’t do it on our own; it’s not something that is purely natural; that would be to fall into the heresy of Pelagianism], since we need to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and to be perfected with His gifts that we may obey and follow him. Consequently, the beatitudes differ from the virtues and gifts… as act from habit” (ST I-II, q. 69, a. 1, resp.)

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are like habits, or dispositions infused in us by grace, which, when the Holy Spirit moves us, allow us to act in a supernatural way. And these acts, when they are perfect, are the beatitudes. So the beatitudes are acts of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit acting in us by his gifts. So, according to Aquinas, the beatitude, Blessed are those who mourn is related to the Spirit’s gift of knowledge working in us.

But before we speak about that beatitude and its corresponding gift, I want to point out that Aquinas cites St. Augustine, who declares that “the whole perfection of our life is contained in the [Sermon on the Mount.]” (Lectura super Matt, c. 5, lect. 2, n. 403)[1]. Our Lord begins his Sermon on the Mount by presenting the beatitudes as means to “the end to which he leads us, that is, a promise,” which is really eternal life with God, or God Himself, our perfect beatitude, or Last End, as we have seen. Aquinas notes that “complete happiness is included in these words” of the beatitudes (n. 404), each one beginning with a meritorious act (in the 1st half), which receives the reward mentioned in the second half of the beatitude. And this reward for beatitude begins already in this life, with an initial beatitude/happiness already here insofar as we are perfected. And remember, Christ commands us in Matthew 5:48 to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Aquinas points out that “those things which are set down as merits in the beatitudes, are a kind of preparation for, or disposition to happiness/beatitude, either perfect or inchoate/initial: while those that are assigned as rewards, may be either perfect happiness, so as to refer to the future life, or some beginning of happiness, such as is found in those who have attained perfection, in which case they refer to the present life. Because when one begins to make progress in the acts of the virtues and gifts, it is to be hoped that he will arrive at perfection, both as a wayfarer [a pilgrim on this earth], and as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom” (ST I-II, q. 69, a. 2, resp.)

I will just briefly describe how the practice of each beatitude leads us to the true beatitude of heaven, according to St. Thomas. The acts of the first three beatitudes “pertain to the removal of evil.” First, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Aquinas explains that this beatitude can refer to those who are “poor in spirit” in the sense of being humble, as well as to those who are “poor” by either renouncing temporal goods in the practice of voluntary poverty, or are at least detached from these goods, not keeping them “in their heart” (n. 416). The virtue practiced in detaching one’s heart from temporal goods removes the evil of greed from one’s soul, so that one may be more open to the spiritual riches of the kingdom, as in the virtue of humility.

The second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” serves to withdraw the soul from seeking its consolation in harmful pleasures. Rather, we are, first, to mourn for our sins, as well as those of others, for which we will receive the consolation of having sin remitted [forgiven]. Secondly, “mourning can be taken as mourning for our dwelling in present misery,” (n. 422) “to which corresponds the consolation of eternal life” in our heavenly homeland. And thirdly, the abandoning of the joys of the world in order to come to Christ may cause a temporary feeling of sorrow, but to this “corresponds the consolation of divine love” and “spiritual and eternal things” (n. 423). We will discuss this further in a moment. But just to see how the other beatitudes fit together.

The third beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” removes the evil of cruelty or disquiet (n. 414) in the soul of one who is angry.

Our Lord then gives the beatitudes “which pertain to the working of good,” specifically, the good [of virtue, that is,] of justice and the good of mercy (n. 426). The fourth beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be satisfied,” and the fifth beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Aquinas points out these two virtues must be joined together, because “justice without mercy is cruelty, while mercy without justice is the mother of laxity” (n. 429).

With respect to mercy, St. Thomas states that “to be merciful is to have a miserable heart at the misery of others” (n. 430), and “we have pity on the misery of others when we think of them as our own.” So just as “we are eager to drive… away” our own miseries, so we should be eager also to drive away the miseries of others, whether this misery be due to a lack of necessary temporal goods, or due to the misery of sin. Thomas explains that “just as there is beatitude in the works of the virtues, so there is a particular misery in vices…. When we warn those falling [into sin] so that they may return, we are merciful.”

So now we have seen those acts of the first three beatitudes by which we are withdrawn from sin, and those acts of the fourth and fifth beatitudes by which we do what is good, or virtuous, and now, in the sixth and seventh beatitudes, says Aquinas, we find those “acts by which we are disposed to do what is best” (n. 433), that is, we are disposed to the “vision of God and to love” (n. 436). [So we can see a certain progression in perfection in the beatitudes.]

The sixth beatitude is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is a most direct reference to seeing God in the Beatific Vision, which will be seeing his essence, not with our bodily eyes, which would be impossible, but with the eye of the heart, which is the intellect, but it must be a “heart purified by faith” (n. 434), since it is faith in this life that gives way to vision in the next. “Blessed are the pure in heart” also refers to a purity of our thoughts as well as our body, because, says St. Thomas, “the heart is the holy temple of God” (n. 435), in which we may see God even in this life by means of contemplation.

Finally, we have the seventh beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” “Peace is the tranquility of order,” says St. Thomas (n. 438). In this way, we need to order our interior being such that our mind is subject to God, and our passions and drives are subject to our reason (although, as Aquinas says, this will never be entirely possible in this life, which is why our peace in this life is always imperfect, and somewhat unstable.) In addition, we should seek to be at peace with others.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ [or justice’s] sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This last and 8th beatitude sums up the “perfection of all the preceding beatitudes [says Aquinas]; for [one] is perfect in all these when he [or she] does not give up… because of afflictions” (n. 443). However, he also points out that “the persecution itself does not make one blessed, but the cause of the persecution,” that it be “for justice’s sake.” In other words, it involves the patient endurance of evil for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which is the reward.

So these beatitudes are meritorious acts recommended by Our Lord as means of obtaining our Last End, acts that run completely counter to what the world might consider important. In fact, all of them in some way involve the cross. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are required in order to be able to live these beatitudes perfectly, and in fact, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the habits or dispositions that are required to practice these perfect acts of beatitude, so it is good to pray often for these gifts and seek to cooperate with them. The gifts are also required for the perfect practice of the infused/supernatural virtues that are meritorious for heaven, since, as St. Thomas notes, “none can receive the inheritance of that land of the Blessed, except he [or she] be moved and led thither by the Holy Spirit” (ST I-II, q. 68, a. 2, resp.)  It is very important for the spiritual life that one pray that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit be activated in our lives and that we be disposed to listen to and obey these movements of the Holy Spirit within us.

Now as I mentioned, the gift of the Holy Spirit that corresponds to the beatitude, Blessed are those who mourn, is the gift of knowledge.  The gift of knowledge is the “Gift through which the human intellect, under the action of the Holy Spirit, judges rightly concerning created things as related to eternal life and Christian perfection.”[2] Aquinas explains  that “to the gift of knowledge there corresponds, in the first place, sorrow for past errors, and, in consequence, consolation, since, by his right judgment, man directs creatures to the Divine good. For this reason sorrow is set forth in this beatitude, as the merit, and the resulting consolation, as the reward; which is begun in this life, and is perfected in the life to come.”[3]

St. Thomas points out that:

“Right judgment about creatures belongs properly to knowledge. Now it is through creatures that man’s aversion from God is occasioned, according to Wis. 14:11: Creatures . . . are turned to an abomination . . . and a snare to the feet of the unwise, of those, namely, who do not judge rightly about creatures, since they deem the perfect good to consist in them. [They are seeking their perfect happiness/beatitude in creatures, rather than in God.] Hence they sin by placing their last end in them, and lose the true good. It is by forming a right judgment of creatures that man becomes aware of the loss (of which they may be the occasion), which judgment he exercises through the gift of knowledge. Hence the beatitude of sorrow is said to correspond to the gift of knowledge.”[4]

Blessed are Those Who Mourn, For They Shall Be Consoled. In what way, then, are we to understand that those who mourn or sorrow may be blessed?  In Aquinas’ commentary on Matthew 5 (n. 422 and 423), he discusses three types of mourning and three corresponding kinds of consolation that we hope for. He points out that:

“This mourning can be explained in three ways. First, for sins, not only personal, but another’s as well, for if we mourn those who are dead in body, much more those who are dead spiritually…. For someone could say, ‘it is enough not to do evil,’ and this is true in the beginning, before sin; but after a sin is committed, it is not enough unless you make satisfaction.

Second, it can be taken as mourning for our dwelling in present misery; woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged! (Ps 120:5). This is the watering above and below (Jos 15:19), about which, weep over your sins, and over the resident alien of the heavenly homeland. [That is, over the delay of heaven.]

Third, according to Augustine, for the mourning which men make over the joys of the world, which they abandon by coming to Christ; for some men die to the world, and the world dies to them; but God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14). Now as we mourn over the dead, so these men mourn, because it cannot be but that they feel some sorrow in abandoning everything.”[5]

Augustine points out that mourning

 “ is sorrow arising from the loss of things that are dear. Now those converted to God lose those things which they were accustomed to embrace as dear in this world: for they do not rejoice in the things in which they formerly rejoiced; and until the love of eternal things be formed in them, they are wounded by some measure of grief.” (Sermon on Mount, lib. 1, ch 2.5).

So there is a period of struggle in those who are being converted and striving to turn away from sin and practice virtue, until the practice of virtue becomes like a second nature to them, in which case it becomes easier and more pleasant, leading to true spiritual joy.

In this way, Aquinas points out that:

to these three mournings correspond three consolations, because to the mourning for sins corresponds remission of sins, which David begged for, saying, restore unto me the joy of your salvation (Ps 51:12).

To the delay of the heavenly homeland and the dwelling in present misery corresponds the consolation of eternal life, about which it is said, I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them joyful after their sorrow (Jer 31:13); and, you will be comforted in Jerusalem (Isa 66:13).

To the third mourning corresponds the consolation of divine love; for when someone sorrows over the loss of a thing loved, he takes consolation if he acquires another thing more loved. Hence men are consoled when instead of temporal things they receive spiritual and eternal things, which is to receive the Holy Spirit; which is why he is called the Comforter (John 15:26). For men rejoice through the Holy Spirit, who is the divine love.”[6] (30:36)

So as Augustine says, “they will therefore be comforted by the Holy Spirit, who on this account chiefly is called the Paraclete, that is, the Comforter, in order that, while losing the temporal joy [the fleeting joy of temporal things], they may enjoy to the full that which is eternal.” (Sermon on Mount, lib. 1, ch 2.5).

Aquinas points out that in the Gospel of John,

 “He describes the Holy Spirit in several ways: as the Paraclete, as Spirit, and as Holy. He is the Paraclete because he consoles us. He consoles us in our sorrows that arise from the troubles of this world:…who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor 1:4). He does this because he is love, and causes us to love God and give him great honor. For this reason we endure insults with joy: Then they left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (Acts 5:41); Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven (Mt 5:12). He also consoles us in our sadness over past sins; Matthew refers to this in Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (5:4). He does this because he gives us the hope of forgiveness: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven (20:22).”[7]

And St. Thomas, recalling the wedding feast of Cana, says that

“Christ, however, does not serve the good wine first, for at the outset he proposes things that are bitter and hard: “Narrow is the way that leads to life” (Mt 7:14). Yet the more progress a person makes in his faith and teaching, the more pleasant it becomes and he becomes aware of a greater sweetness: “I will lead You by the path of justice, and when you walk you will not be hindered” (Prv 4:11). Likewise, all those who desire to live conscientiously in Christ suffer bitterness and troubles in this world: “You will weep and mourn” ([John] 16:20). But later they will experience delights and joys. So [Christ] continues, “but your sorrow will be turned into joy,” and St. Paul declares,] I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, which will be revealed in us, as is said in Romans (8:18).”[8]

So as Aquinas notes, “some seek consolation through pleasures; [but] the Lord says, Blessed are those who mourn.”[9] That does not mean that one must be a stoic, without feeling or emotion. Rather, one is called to seek consolation in the higher things, and most particularly, in the consolation given by God himself.


[1] Henceforth  referred to as LsM

[2] Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology.

[3] ST II-II, q. 9, a. 4, ad 1.

[4] ST II-II, q. 9, a. 4, resp.

[5] Commentary on Mt 5, n. 422.

[6] Commentary on Mt 5, n. 423.

[7] Commentary on John 14, n. 1955.

[8] Commentary on John 2, lect. 1, n. 363.

[9] Commentary on Matthew, n. 412.

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