Biblical Basis (§ 1).
Foundation in Ethics (§ 2).
In Communion with God (§ 3).
Degrees of Blessedness (§ 4).
1. Biblical Basis.
The term "blessedness" is the usual rendering in
the English Bible for the idea of the Hebrew asher and
Greek makarios. The German Seligkeit represents besides
the content of those words also
the idea of the Greek sozein, "to
save." The Latin equivalent of makarios is
beatus, which has, however, passed
in usage to designate the state of Christians who have
fallen asleep (cf. Rev. xiv, 13); while beatitudo
in scholastic usage designates the aim and the
highest good of the Christian. The union of two
Biblical conceptions in one expression gives to the
latter its unique Christian content, as is realized
when the two ideas are traced to their junction.
Illuminative of this point is Paul's use (Rom.
iv, 7-8) of Ps. xxxii, 1-2. The Old Testament
passage bases "blessedness" on forgiveness of sin,
and goes to the root of human felicity or its opposite. The Reformed theology traced the idea of
blessedness to the salvation implied in that forgiveness, and the fact is evinced in Luther's use of
Seligkeit to express the state consequent upon
forgiveness. Thus the union of the ideas of blessedness and salvation is manifest.
The term suggests also the idea of a condition of
abiding satisfaction fully realized in consciousness.
This is attributed to God in I Tim. vi, 15-16 (cf.
i, 11), with which dogmatics agrees on the ground
of his absoluteness and completeness. In this
respect, to man may be attributed only a relative
blessedness. By reason of his constitution man
may pursue and attain a sort of arbitrary satisfaction; and in consequence of his being a creature
he can attain full satisfaction only in a way in
accord with his inner nature. A purpose which for
him reaches beyond the present life involves a
blessedness not to be reached here, where only a
conditioned form is for him attainable. This is the
point of view of the Biblical presentation. Man
holds, on the one hand, relations with God, and on
this depends his blessedness; he is also, as a member of the race of Adam, a sinner and so under the
impress of evil, and his blessedness is contingent
upon salvation from this condition.
2. Foundation in Ethics.
On the foregoing basis is built Christian usage,
in which "eternal life," "eternal blessedness," and
"blessed eternity" are variant expressions for
the same concept. Life in its fulness is the idea.
The Bible and philosophy agree in the ethical as
the source of blessedness (Jas. i, 25; Acts xx, 35),
but the former annexes also a religious
relationship (Jas. i, 27). If the most
significant limitation in life, that
which distinguishes man from God,
viz., guilt, be removed, on this line
of thought blessedness may be attributed to man.
Out of this comes the emphasis constantly laid
in the language of the Gospels upon the identity
of salvation and blessedness, the latter resting upon
freedom from guilt and from the proscription arising
from sin. Thus blessedness and life, in this way
reaching its fulness, are regarded as equivalents.
3. In Communion with God.
A special dogmatic terminology has developed
from this usage, as when Schleiermacher (Christliche Glaube, Berlin, 1821, §§ 100, 101, 108, 110)
describes the activity of Christ in that he receives
believers up into his own God-consciousness and
into participation in his serene blessedness, into
the "peace" of the New Testament. Similarly
J. C. K. von Hofmann (Theologische Ethik, Nördlingen, 1878, p. 89) asserts that "faith as obedience
is freedom, faith as certainty is blessedness." So
the term designates the religious side of the Christian's condition as distinct from the ethical. The
eudemonistic side is expressed by J. Kaftan
(Wesen der christlichen Religion, Bielefeld, 1881, pp.
67, 292) in the form "blessedness is enjoyment of
the highest good." Into Christian usage there has
come a transcendent element, implying the satisfaction of all needs which present themselves
to the people of God. If among these needs is
classed complete communion with God in the completely realized kingdom of God, or intercommunion
of mankind made one in God, the satisfaction of this need goes on to God as the source,
and to communion with him as the means of attaining such satisfaction. Hence in
Biblical representations intimate communion with him is the highest
privilege of which man may think
in his Godward relations. Companionship with God appears therefore as an implicit
ground of blessedness, and the Old Testament
conception comes out in the manifestation of
theophanies and in the intimate intercourse had
by Moses with God (Ex. xxxiii, 11; Num. xii, 8;
Deut. xxxiv, 10). The idea is still further carried
out in later books, as in Ps. xvii, 15; cxl, 14 ("I
shall be satisfied"), and is expressed by Job as
a desire (xix, 26). The opposite effect is the result
of separation from God (Isa. xxxviii, 11). Ps.
lxxxiv exuberantly sets forth the blessedness
arising from this companionship with God. In
the New Testament the same notion of the consciousness of God's presence and of faith in him is
in evidence (John xiv, 9; II Cor. iv, 6; I Pet. i, 8).
Yet in this life knowledge of God and communion
with him is but partial (I Cor. xiii, 12, cf. II Cor.
v, 7; Matt. xi, 27). It is the sons who see the father,
and so the sons of the Heavenly Father are called
blessed (Matt. v, 9). This intimacy, which is conditioned upon ethical oneness with God, is the source
throughout the development of the man of God from
which he draws the completion of his happiness.
4. Degrees of Blessedness.
A difficulty has been encountered in the question
whether there are steps or grades of blessedness or
glory. To this an affirmative answer is given on the
basis of such passages as Matt. x, 41; xiv, 28-29;
xxv, 14-15. Such a conclusion is fortified by the
consideration that blessedness includes
within itself a kingdom whose subjects
are men of God, and that such a conception involves diversity in which differences must exist in relation to blessedness. Such differences imply variety in order of felicity to accord with personal gifts and individuality.
The figurative language of Heb. iv, 10 makes
mention of a final Sabbath rest. The question has
been raised whether by this is meant a state of
inactivity or of continued activity. It will be
noted that the passage refers to the rest following
upon creation; therefore, not the stagnation of
absence of life is represented, but the quietude of
the achievement of an end. And in the Christian
imagery of Rev. xxi, 3-4, what is implied is the
absence of evil, grief, and toil with the unrest which
they entail. Similarly the inception of the restoration of all things (apokatastasis pantōn), in
which there is stated an eternity of punishment
as well as of satisfaction or peace, raises the question whether the latter will not be marred because
of pity on account of the misery of the condemned.
Relief is afforded by the consideration that the region
is one in which ethical measures apply, not those
of emotion. Dante has the blessed look into the
mirror of God's heart, which last is the source
from which the ethical world draws its being and
order. In ancient times Tertullian (De spectaculis,
xxx), in modern times Jonathan Edwards held that
among the causes of the blessedness of the redeemed
will be the sight of the misery of the wicked. Edwards declared that the "sight of hell torments
will exalt the happiness of the saints forever"
(Works, vol. vi, pp. 120, 426).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. L. Martensen, Dogmatik, §§ 283-284,
Berlin, 1856, Eng. transl., Edinburgh, 1865; E. Riehm,
Lehrbegriff des Hebräerbriefs, Basel, 1867; B. Weiss, Theologie
des N. T., §§ 144, 149, 157, Berlin, 1880, Eng.
transl., Edinburgh, 1882-83; I. A. Dorner, System der
christlichen Glaubenslehre, ii, 864, Berlin, 1887; H. Schultz,
Alttestamentliche Theologie, pp. 370-371, Göttingen, 1896,
Eng, transl., London, 1892.