Wisdom Requires Purity of Heart

The pure of heart are the blessed ones, Christ tells us, because having rid themselves of every distraction, their eyes remain fixed upon God alone.

If the aim of education is knowledge and love of the truth, and there can be no greater truth than He who is truth, then nothing matters more than educating students in the knowledge and love of God.

Now that’s neatly put, wouldn’t you say? But to make it happen, mustn’t there be some prior formation of character in place? Otherwise, too many distractions get in the way, and, before you know it, the poor student ends up in a ditch, no longer disposed to reach for the stars.  

Without purity of heart, in other words, they will never see God. The pure of heart are the blessed ones, Christ tells us, because having rid themselves of every distraction, their eyes remain fixed upon God alone. Everything is seen through the lens of the Absolute, thus enabling them to see as God sees. Free of worldly and sensual distraction, their eyes remain as clear and limpid as the eyes of a child.  

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This is not an invitation to infantility, by the way, but the simple application of faith, which instills a certain moral discipline, the exercise of which works like a purgative upon the passions, removing all that is inordinate while rejecting whatever false or fanciful representations get in the way of true belief. And, as always, the saints show us the way. 

But not just the canonized ones, as if they alone are the ones we look to for inspiration along the way. What about those who soldier on, steadfast in the struggle, propelled by the vision of what they yearn to have but, like the rest of us, fall repeatedly short of reaching? “For most of us,” says T.S. Eliot, “this is the aim / Never here to be realized; / Who are only undefeated / Because we have gone on trying…”  

And what have we to offer, especially to the young whom we are obliged to try and educate? Nothing less than the quest itself, along with the high and austere joy of knowing we are pilgrims in search of the One for whom we have all been made—for the sake of whose eternal company every sacrifice here below will have been worth it.  

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

And here I am thinking of the late Malcolm Muggeridge, who first turned to Christ, discovering the freshness of faith beyond the stale substitutes of a world that gave no nourishment, in the last years of his own life. It was around the time of his appointment, back in the late 1960s, as Rector of Edinburgh University, a most venerable Scottish institution founded some four centuries before.

Oddly enough, he’d been offered the post owing in large part to his reputation as a renowned iconoclast, a fact which greatly pleased the students, who were ever eager to exploit his good offices. What a rare prize to have the former editor of Punch as one’s Rector. Here was just the sort of rebellious spirit they required in order to bless and approve their own rebellion, driven by the usual depravities of pills and pot.  

They were, of course, spectacularly mistaken. For far from indulging their basest impulses, he bluntly called them out for their excesses, castigating “the slobbering debauchery of dope and bed,” which, alas, had come to characterize their disordered lives. He would extend them no moral credit whatsoever, refusing in any way to excuse their behavior. “I have no wish to check any fulfillment of your life,” he told them. “But whatever life is or is not about, it must not be expressed in terms of drugs, stupefaction, or casual sexual relationships. The road to the future is not on the plastic wings of Playboy magazine or in psychedelic fantasies.”  Whatever life is or is not about, it must not be expressed in terms of drugs, stupefaction, or casual sexual relationships. The road to the future is not on the plastic wings of Playboy magazine or in psychedelic fantasies.Tweet This

Stunned by the unexpected rebuff, the students retaliated by demanding his resignation, which he tendered—but not before addressing them in a formal farewell, which took place before some two thousand members of the university community. He told them, among other things, “how infinitely sad, how macabre even, that the form of your rebellion should be a demand for drugs, for the most tenth-rate sort of self-indulgence ever known in history.” And in a voice laden with great wit and pathos, he concluded thus:

All is prepared for a release of new life. We await great works of art, the spirit of adventure and courage, and what do we get from you? Self-centered folly. You are on a crazy slope. For myself, I always come back to the King, to Jesus, to the Christian notion that all our efforts to make ourselves happy will fail, but that sacrifice for others will never fail. A man must become a new man, or he is no man. Or so at least I have concluded, having failed to find in past experience and present dilemmas any alternative proposition. As far as I am concerned, it is Christ or nothing. Goodbye and God bless you.

Nihilism or the New Testament. Those were the choices. And were the students at all grateful, I wonder, to have the alternatives so starkly laid out before them? Did they congratulate the speaker for the ruthless clarity with which he framed the alternatives? Probably not. And Muggeridge was, by all accounts, the first Rector in four hundred years ever to lose his job in that way—a high-profile resignation, you might say. A real profile in courage, too, given the massive rejection and ridicule visited upon him for speaking his mind; the mind of Christ, actually, who surely faced far worse when speaking His mind. 

“To see God,” Muggeridge had told them, “is the highest aspiration of man and has preoccupied the rarest human spirits at all times.” What he meant by that, I think, can mean really only one thing: seeing into the heart of mystery, which certainly should be the defining aim of all education. Knowing, too, that it is not primarily a matter of stupendous deeds or deep and searching thoughts. “The words are clear enough,” he insisted: “’Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’”

There is the ultimate satisfaction, surely. To have the courage to speak the truth and never to compromise in saying it—not even to students, for whom we educators have a responsibility so great that we shall answer to God for how well we exercised it.         

[Image: Malcolm Muggeridge]

  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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