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 sōzein, "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 beatitude 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 conception 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.