Is it permissible to disagree with a pope who is also a saint?
I have for some time been uneasy with some of the points in Pope John Paul’s “Theology of the Body.” Don’t get me wrong –there is much good here, but….
One of those points is interpretation of the sixth beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart…”
In his General Audience of April 2, 1980, Pope John Paul interpreted Mt 5:8 (“Blessed are the pure of heart...”) as reference to human sexuality. He related that beatitude to “the possibilities of the human heart with respect to concupiscence of the body” (Man and Woman He Created Them, 23.6).
In the Sacra Pagina series, Daniel J. Harrington’s The Gospel of Matthew sees Ps 24:3-4 (“Who may God up the mountain of the Lord?...The clean of hand and the pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain”) as the background for the beatitude. Harrington says, “Neither a reference to sexual-ritual purity nor to single-heartedness, ‘pure of heart’ characterizes people of integrity whose moral righteousness extends to their inmost being and whose actions and intentions correspond” (p. 79).
In the Anchor Bible series on Matthew (commentary by W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann), the beatitude is interpreted as a purity of heart which focuses on the Divine. They wrote, “The Aramaic word would here be dakhin, ‘broken, humble, contrite’” (p. 47). It is about a single-mindedness as a pre-requisite for the vision of God as emphasized by Philo in his On The Contemplative Life (ii 473).
Catechism of the Catholic Church interprets the beatitude rather broadly, as reference “to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (2518). The Catechism refers the reader to 1 Tim 4:3-9 and to 2 Tim 2:22 in footnotes to the area of “charity” (let the reader judge whether exegesis of these two passages supports the area of charity).
The Catechism refers the reader to 1Thess 4:7, Col 3:5, and Eph 4:19 in footnotes to the area of “chastity and moral rectitude” (let the reader judge whether the references are of necessity implied in the beatitude’s expression “pure of heart”).
The Catechism refers the reader to Titus 1:15, 1 Tim 1:3-4, and 2 Tim 2:23-26 in footnotes to the area of "love of truth and orthodoxy of faith" (let the reader decide whether these footnotes are necessarily an exegesis of the beatitude).
The footnotes promote behavior appropriate to the Gospel and to the Kingdom but the reader must ask whether the Catechism’s application necessarily explains what is meant by the expression “pure of heart.”
There is to be sure a history of interpreting the beatitude in terms of chastity, but today’s scholarship questions that exegesis.
Church father Chrysostom gave this interpretation: “By the pure are here meant those who possess a perfect goodness, conscious to themselves of no evil thoughts…” and then adds, “For as there are many merciful, yet unchaste, to show that mercy alone is not enough, he (Jesus) adds this concerning purity.”
Augustine interpreted the beatitude in terms of Wisdom 1:1 (…"seek him in integrity of heart…"), explaining that the fool seeks to see God with a bodily eye while in truth He is seen only by the heart (Catena Aurea, Thomas Aquinas).
Trappist monk Fr Simeon (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis ) of St Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts , explains: “’Purity of heart’ is a quality that restores to a person the state of full grace and joy that Adam and Eve had before their sin. The Greek term katharos alludes to the Jewish rituals of purification, so that ‘clean’ here means not only ‘morally upright,’ ‘free of base thoughts and actions,’ but especially refers to a heart that has been removed from the realm of the profane and consecrated to the service of God, a heart in some sense made into a vessel to receive the presence of God” (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Ignatius Press, 1996, vol. 1, p. 199).
Luke Timothy Johnson critiques John Paul’s use of “pure of heart” for leaving the impression that Matthew 5:8 refers to chastity “when he knows full well that the beatitude does not have so restricted a sense” (The Revelatory Body, William B. Eerdman’s, Publishing Co., 2015, p. 5).
There is much good in John Paul’s theology of the body, though it is on occasion difficult for me to understand, but application of the sixth beatitude as pointedly a matter of sexuality may well be judged as an escape into “proof texting” and such exegesis questionable.
There is more to “purity of heart” than sex.