By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo
What is the relation between the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the Beatitudes of the New Testament? The relation is not one of identity, nor is it one of opposition, nor is it one of simple difference. It is one of fulfillment. Christ said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets (Old Covenant); I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) The Beatitudes are one example of that.
The Ten Commandments are for avoiding the vices and the Beatitudes are for practicing the virtues. We have the higher obligation to obey the commandments than the beatitudes. The commandments are morally binding. And the beatitudes are counsels of perfection offered to our free choice and not imposed as duties. The commandments are the minimum and the beatitudes are the maximum. The motive of obeying the commandments is duty or obligation and the motive of obeying the beatitudes is love. Love goes beyond justice or the required minimum.
Christ is giving us the complete formula to be holy. It is not just a matter of avoiding this sin or that sin but to practice the virtue, so that Christianity does not become a religion of “no” or a religion of “don’ts” but a religion of “yes” or positive action. Christianity’s moral framework is to avoid evil and do good which is the same duty and obligation as our conscience imposes on us. Our conscience operates on the principle of do good and avoid evil.
In practical terms, the best way to avoid a vice is to practice the opposing virtue. To avoid pride, we need to practice humility; to avoid greed (for money and material things) we need to practice detachment and generosity; to avoid lust, we need to practice chastity; to avoid wrongful anger we need to practice patience. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) actually refer to the seven capital sins and the corresponding virtue that we need to practice. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” refers to the virtue of humility; “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” refers to the virtue of generosity; “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” refers to the virtue of solidarity or rejoicing in the good of others as opposed to the mourning at other people’s blessedness which is the capital sin of envy. This blessed mourning also refers to the virtue of patience in suffering; “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” refers to the virtue of patience with others as opposed to anger; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” refers to the virtue of hard work or diligence especially in the practice of virtues as opposed to the capital sin of laziness or sloth; “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” refers to the virtue of chastity as opposed to lust; And “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” refers to the virtue of self-giving as opposed to the virtue of gluttony which is a form of self-indulgence.
In essence, Christianity is not just a set of commandments but a relationship. The moral rules are indispensable because the relationship would not prosper without it. Lovers have to show their love for each other in deeds and not just in words. That’s why true love is virtuous. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)