The beatitudes: Hell is other people

Christ addressed the beatitudes specifically to those who had faith in him. One of the beatitudes is “Blessed is the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Martin Luther, in his “Commentary on the Beatitudes” gives an example of this beatitude, which reminds me of the last words of Jean Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” (Huit Clos): “Hell is other people.”

Luther

When I was young, they (the hermits) gloried in this proverb: Love to be alone and your heart will stay pure; and they quoted in proof a saying of St. Bernard, who said whenever he was among the people he befouled himself. [It’s unlikely that Bernard of Clairvaux would have said such a thing].

As we read in the lives of the fathers of a hermit, who would not have any one come near him or talk with anybody, and said: “The angels cannot come *to him who moves among men.” We read also of two others who would not let their mother see them; and as she often watched her opportunity and once took them by surprise, they presently closed the door and left her standing without a long while weeping, until they finally persuaded her to go away and wait until they would see each other in a future life.

Behold, that was called a noble deed, and the height of sanctity and most perfect purity. But what was it? There is the word of God: “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.” Had they regarded that as holy and pure, they would have shown their mother and their neighbor all honor, love and friendship: on the contrary, following their own notions and self-chosen holiness, they cut themselves off from them, and by their very attempt to be the purest they most shamefully defiled themselves before God ; just as though the most desperate scoundrels could not have such thoughts and put on such an appearance that one would have to say: “These are living saints, they can despise the world and hold intercourse only with spirits;”—yes, with spirits from the bottom of hell. The angels like nothing better, than when we familiarly handle the word of God; with such they love to dwell. Therefore let the angels be undisturbed up there in heaven, and look for them here below, upon earth, in your neighbor, father and mother, child and others, that you may do to them what God has commanded, and the angels will not be far away from you.

I speak thus, that one may learn in this matter of purity to order himself aright, and not go so far to hunt for it as the monks do, who have thrown it quite out of the world and stuck it in a corner or into a hood; all of which is stench and filth, and the true harboring-place of the devil; but let it be where God has placed it, namely in the heart that clings to God’s word, and uses its calling and all creatures in accordance therewith, in such a way that both the entire purity of faith toward God is embraced therein, also outwardly shown in this life, and everything is done in obedience to the word and command of God, whether it be bodily clean or unclean

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