Only the Pure in Heart Can See God.

Only the Pure in Heart Can See God.

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

Over 23 years ago I made my canonical retreat that was required before being ordained a transitional deacon. We were studying the Letter to the Romans in the retreat conferences and came upon a particularly difficult passage early in the retreat.

The retreat master, an older priest and well known scripture scholar stopped his train of thought, perhaps perceiving we were having difficulty and said, “Do you know what is the biggest obstacle for us in understanding the Word of God?” I was expecting a geeky answer like, “We don’t know enough Greek,” or “We haven’t studied the Historical Critical Method carefully enough.” But the priest pleasantly surprised me we he paused, looked around the room and then said, “The biggest obstacle we have to understanding the Word of God is our sin.”

He was (and still is) Fr. Francis Martin. He went on to encourage us in the discipline of study but warned us that all the study in the world could not be of great help, indeed it could be of harm, if we did not have a clean heart. I have respected him ever since and listened on tape to probably two dozen other priest conferences and courses he preached and taught. He became one of my principal teachers through his tape ministry though I was never formally enrolled in a class he taught. He now has a great Youtube ministry here: Fr. Francis Martin Ministries

Scholars, academicians, even unbelievers to some extent can tell you what a biblical text is talking about, but only the holy, the Saints, can tell you what it means. Fulton Sheen was famous for saying toward the end of his life something to the effect, that we have tried in modern times every possible way to build up the Church: committees, study groups, task forces, seminars, advanced degrees in every sort of theology and religious study. But there is only one thing that we have not tried, and that is holiness. He went on to recommend that every priest make a daily Holy Hour.

There is a passage in the Breviary that also well sets for the correlation between seeing and holiness:

If you say, “Show me your God,” I will say to you, “Show me what kind of person you are, and I will show you my God.” …..God is seen by those who have the capacity to see him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open. All have eyes, but some have eyes that are shrouded in darkness, unable to see the light of the sun. Because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine. The blind must trace the cause back to themselves and their eyes. In the same way, you have eyes in your mind that are shrouded in darkness because of your sins and evil deeds. A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God. But if you will you can be healed. Hand yourself over to the doctor, and he will open the eyes of your mind and heart. Who is to be the doctor? It is God, who heals and gives life through his Word and wisdom…. If you understand this, and live in purity and holiness and justice, you may see God. But, before all, faith and the fear of God must take the first place in your heart, and then you will understand all this. When you have laid aside mortality and been clothed in immortality, then you will see God according to your merits.— From the book addressed to Autolycus by Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop

So there it is, holiness, a the fear of the Lord are the only way to really see at all.

There is also the great Gospel of the Man Born Blind. In a pivotal moment Jesus smeared his eyelids with clay and sends him to the Pool of Siloam to wash. He comes back able to see. When asked how he came to see he says, in effect, “I went, I washed and now I see.” This is Baptismal theology even if in seminal form. We cannot see until we are washed. In the end it is Baptism, Confession and a holy life by God’s grace that give the greatest light. One of the great theologians and Fathers of the Church St. Cyprian experienced the vision that Baptism and holiness brings:

And I myself was bound fast, held by so many errors of my past life, from which I did not believe I could extricate myself. I was disposed therefore to yield to my clinging vices; and, despairing of better ways, I indulged my sins…But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the waters of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man. And then in marvelous manner, doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened…and what had been thought impossible was able to be done(“Letter to Donatus,” 4).

Only after baptism did some things make sense and seem possible for Cyprian.

For me too, I have come to understand some things only after many years of prayer and growth. Daily Holy Hours, daily mass and the liturgy of the hours, weekly confession, only then do some things clarify and does that which had been in darkness come to light. Studies have had their place in my life to be sure, But only the path to holiness (combined with study) can ever really bring light.

We’ve tried everything! How about holiness? …..Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
This entry was posted in Spiritual Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Only the Pure in Heart Can See God.

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Msgr Pope says “Only the pure in heart can see God”: and in the breviary, “no-one who has sin within him can see God”.

    Well that rules us all out then.


  2. Gertrude says:

    Not just Mgr. Pope and the Breviary Whippy. Did not Our Blessed Lord teach us “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God”? An aspiration for us surely rather than unattainable goal. Toad’s favourite saint – St. Augustine called the Beatitudes the ideal for every Christian life!


  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Yes G, I fully agree about aspiration; however it would be clearer if this were presented as such, rather than in the negative way in which the breviary and Msgr Pope do.That is a counsel of hopelessness, quite different from Our Lord’s holding out a promise.

    As usual, it is better to do as you have done, and go to the source.


  4. Gertrude says:

    It depends how you look at it Whippy. By the time we are in the presence of Almighty God (in the hope of salvation I should add) our hearts will be exactly that – pure, and we shall, as promised, see God.
    We might not attain such purity of heart in this life – but we can work toward it as Mgr. Pope suggests. 🙂


  5. JabbaPapa says:

    It is untrue that only those that are pure in heart can see God.

    Only those to whom God shows Himself can see Him.

    God came and showed Himself as Christ to a world full of iniquity, and sin, and all manner of impurities. Not even all of His Apostles were pure in heart !!!


  6. Gertrude says:

    You’re being a wee bit pedantic here JP. It was Jesus Christ (in the Incarnation) that said the pure at heart would see God. You are absolutely right when you say that God is revealed in the Incarnation. The presence of Almighty God (the Father) awaits us (hopefully).


  7. JabbaPapa says:

    No, there is a deep and meaningfully theological difference between saying that only the pure in heart will see God — and saying that God can also reveal Himself to the impure.

    This is no pedantry — this is to try and help avoid a common heresy.


  8. Jerry says:

    No, there is a deep and meaningfully theological difference between saying that only the pure in heart will see God — and saying that God can also reveal Himself to the impure.

    This is no pedantry — this is to try and help avoid a common heresy.

    I do think I see what you mean, but it would be helpful if you expanded a bit on the distinction you’ve drawn and how it works.

    (Sorry that reads like tutors comment in the margin of an essay!!!)


  9. JabbaPapa says:

    yeah, I know Jerry — the trouble being that the doctrinal theology here is actually quite difficult indeed…

    The less complex explanation is that the Incarnated Godhood came as Revelation into our sinful midst — Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, so that others than just the pure in heart (Pontius Pilate, the adulterous woman, Thomas, Judas, and — if we’re to be honest — everyone in the Gospels with the exception of the Virgin, and the possible exceptions of the Baptist, Joseph, Peter, James, and John, the Magdalene, and “the beloved disciple” if this is not one of these, …) saw God.

    But a proper understanding of the theological and doctrinal questions requires a prior understanding of or familarity with the more deeply involved questions of The Incarnation Itself, and at the even deeper level, Trinitarian doctrine as such.

    But there are various other complex and inter-related aspects to this question, including all aspects relating to Revelation and Conversion, from every different point of view.

    The simple fact that each individual relationship with God is defined by human fallibility, and both Original and particular Sin, and the Trinity, simultaneously requires that the perception of God cannot be reserved to any particular kind of person and that any particular definition of the nature of this relationship, including the contents of my own explanations, must be viewed as being inherently flawed because of those reasons, **including** this description of those explanations as being inherently flawed !!!

    God can transcend ALL of these mortal limitations.


  10. JabbaPapa says:

    Saul of Tarsus was certainly not pure in heart …


  11. Robert John Bennett says:

    St. Bernard of Clairvaux also had something to say about the theme that Monsignor Pope has touched on here:

    It is my teaching that every soul,
    although burdened with sins,
    although caught in a trap,
    although a captive in exile,
    although imprisoned in its body,
    although clinging to the mud
    and stuck in the mire,
    although afflicted with sorrows,
    made anxious by many worries
    and unsettled by suspicions,
    although it is a traveller in a hostile country
    and thus, as the Prophet says,
    soiled by contact with the dead
    and reckoned with those in hell,
    — this is what I say –
    that although a soul is so condemned
    and so desperate,
    nevertheless it is my teaching
    that such a soul is able to find within itself
    not only a source of relief in the hope of pardon
    so that it may hopefully seek for mercy,
    but it will also find a source of boldness
    that it may desire marriage
    with the Word,
    not fearing to enter into a treaty
    of friendship with God,
    nor being timid about
    taking up the yoke of love
    of the One who is the King of angels;
    for what cannot be safely dared
    when the soul sees itself
    as His excellent image
    and distinguished likeness?

    — St. Bernard of Clairvaux (SC 83.1)


  12. Gertrude says:

    I’m a trifle confused JP. Are you saying my comment was a ‘common heresy’? I was attempting, obviously inadequately, to place the Incarnation (Jesus Christ) within the Trinity distinct from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost.


  13. JabbaPapa says:

    I’m a trifle confused JP. Are you saying my comment was a ‘common heresy’?

    Cripes !!

    Certainly NOT !!!

    The related heresy involves providing that there are a certain number of “elect”, chosen by God, who will be saved ; whereas the unchosen will be damned.

    It takes several different forms, but they all derive from a common ground of cosmic Dualism, incompatible with Christianity.

    The earliest form of this heresy was the various types of 2nd-4th century gnosticism.

    What you have said goes nowhere near that territory — to clarify in more detail, what Monsignor Pope has said is what I have some reservations about ; NOT your contributions 🙂


  14. JabbaPapa says:

    The related heresy involves providing that there are a certain number of “elect”, chosen by God, who will be saved ; whereas the unchosen will be damned.

    I mean — salvation or damnation depend on the individual relationship with God — rather than various types of personal characteristics actively defining or especially *denying* the possibility of that primally salvific relationship.


  15. JabbaPapa says:

    One is neither saved nor lost on the basis of the opinion of others.
    One is either lost or saved on the basis of God’s Sovereign Acceptance of one’s Faith and one’s Love.


  16. JabbaPapa says:

    One is neither saved nor lost on the basis of the opinion of others.

    … nor of oneself …


  17. Rebrites says:

    I believe grace plays a major part in the ability of sinners to “see” God. It was God who put inside every sinner the drive to seek truth and peace, and God who sends the Holy Spirit to guide the seeker on his way home. It´s God who meets him at the open door. The sinner doesn´t need to be perfected before he meets God. It´s in meeting God that he is made perfect. No?


  18. kathleen says:

    The sinner doesn´t need to be perfected before he meets God. It´s in meeting God that he is made perfect. No?

    Exactly! That is how I see it too.

    But where I differ from Jabba – something unusual to be sure 😉 – is that I think Msgr. Pope has hit the nail on the head with his analysis.

    The biggest obstacle we have to understanding the Word of God is our sin.”

    If that sinner who ‘meets’ God decides to procrastinate too long; or to choose to remain wallowing in his ‘sins’, either from a form of attachment to them, or a disinclination to abandon them, he will indeed lose that ability to ‘see God‘. His impure heart, who at one moment had that yearning towards love and goodness, is seeped in the mire of sin once more. The devil will whisper to him all his usual platitudes and his vision of God will be clouded.

    Naturally, God will not give up on him, and hopefully he will be given the opportunity to turn back again and again. Only the longer the sinner leaves it – turning away from mortal sin – the harder it will become.


  19. JabbaPapa says:

    hmm, perhaps I may have over-emphasised, not necessarily the degree of my “disagreement” with Monsignor Pope, but the relative importance of that “disagreement” in the more general terms of what he has written. In fact, I spoke of “reservations” ; NOT disagreement !!

    Certainly — “The biggest obstacle we have to understanding the Word of God is our sin.” (but then, this is a quote from Fr. Francis Martin … )

    And also what Rebrites has written above your own post — which is as I myself would view these matters.

    I suppose that the main extent of my reservations concerns the **title** of the piece !!!


  20. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Nice post Kathleen. I must demur however over this business where “the devil will whisper” etc.

    Don’t you feel that this is a shifting of responsibility somewhat? Many do this, I should add, and I say that like it’s a BAD THING.

    “It was the devil wot made me do it yer honour”!
    “That’s all right my dear, off you go home and have a cup of cocoa”. Some have used this defence of course. The Hunchback of Notre Dame blamed those bloody bells.

    No, if you commit a sin – YOU commit a sin.

    And if one does a good thing, we never hear people say “It was an angel wot made me do it”. No, the credit’s all theirs.


  21. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Overall, Msgr Pope 2, Sinners 9.


  22. kathleen says:

    Jabba @ 14:07 yesterday,
    Thanks for your clarification. In no way was I criticizing you dear Friend, and yes, I know you never said you ‘disagreed‘ with Msgr. Pope’s article.
    The quote in question is indeed from Fr. Martin, and it is precisely this quote that the Monsignor analyses with so much insight.
    The title of the article could well be misleading – hence all the following comments – but the words are derived from Our Lord’s own words (as we all know of course).


  23. kathleen says:

    Talking about the devil’s ‘whispers‘ to commit sin is a sort of metaphor Mr. Whippy…… but it’s still the devil all right, no doubt about that! 😉
    This is not a cop out; if we commit sin, we are to blame. The devil cannot make us sin.
    But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your power to resist; at the time you are tempted he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

    Avoiding occasions of sin is good advice…… but something that’s not always easy to do. Sigh!


  24. JabbaPapa says:

    Talking about the devil’s ‘whispers‘ to commit sin is a sort of metaphor Mr. Whippy……

    hmmm …. usually yes, but not always. In the metaphorical sense, these whispers would be “chinese” ones ; but the devil can and does himself personally speak amidst humanity, too. It is very rare to have any personal dealings with the Liar, particularly given that God can extend His protection to both the innocent and the blessed — but there is nothing to prevent those who have been deceived from spreading these lies throughout our human societies, and there is no reason why we should not sometimes believe in those lies, and then start whispering them ourselves…

    kathleen, I must add that you are spot on when you teach that “the devil cannot make us sin.


  25. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I am thrilled that both Kathleen and Jabba are with me on this, and follow my lead.

    I am sad however that Jabba said to Kathleen “”you are spot on when you teach that the devil cannot make us sin”. I said that first and yet Jabba did not praise me in such glowing terms. Perhaps Jabba feels that as I am over 35 I cannot contribute usefully to the community -like the Holy Father.

    I am happy that K says that the devil stuff is a metaphor and is not actually real. Agreement busts out all over like those primulas we see now!

    Whipping Boy (64)


  26. kathleen says:

    I am happy that K says that the devil stuff is a metaphor and is not actually real.” 😕

    No, K never said that!! Please reread above comments Mr. W and try to understand.

    Does anyone else have the feeling that we are going round in circles here? Or getting out kn*****s in a twist?

    (And are you 64 years old Mr. W?…… Well, that’s not considered ‘old’ nowadays. My age? I’ll give you a clue: I’m younger than you, but still a ‘baby boomer’ ;-).)


  27. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    K, please see your post of 09.29?

    Well you did say ” a sort of metaphor”, so my tired old brain became confused.

    If I misunderstood, then I apologise -really. But I do admit I can’t yet see that I am mistaken -well sort of mistaken….



  28. toadspittle says:


    “Or getting out kn*****s in a twist?”
    What is the world coming to, when Kathleen is reduced to using bowdlerised obscenities, like “knockers?”
    Asks Toad, who is himself older than the rocks amongst which he sits, and has died many more times than the vampire.
    Truly God moves in mysterious ways.


  29. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I must agree with Toad here, as he declares from the heights of el casa ‘Toadspittle Towers’.

    He has indicated previously his unease when Jabba uses words like boll***** and “cr****” and now Kathleen has been infected it seems, using the dubious word “kn******. It’s no good them saying “It was the devil wot done it” as they have suggested about sinning. I don’t blame Kathleen, a mere slip of a girl as she confesses.

    I have tried to impress on them that “It was them wot done it” but to no avail. They are with St J-M Vianney on this one.

    Perhaps they’ll listen to Toad..


  30. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    la casa


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s