Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5)





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Meekness is an important Christian virtue and one the eight beatitudes (or blessings) that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Many non Christians (and some Christians) interpret this as weakness and consider it to be at the root of all that is wrong about Christianity. However, meekness and weakness are not the same and it is important to understand the context in which Jesus is extolling this virtue.





Firstly, let’s examine the meaning of the word. According to the ‘On-Line Etymology Dictionary’, ‘meek’ implies the qualities of being gentle, quiet, unaggressive, benevolent, kind, courteous, humble and unassuming. The Old English word  éaðméde or éaðmode, from which our modern word is derived, literally means being of an easy mind, humble and gentle. It probably derives from a proto-Germanic word ‘Meukaz’ and is cognate with modern Germanic words such as the Dutch ‘Muik’ meaning soft. There is a cognate Old Norse word ‘Mjukr’, meaning soft, pliant or gentle. Only from the 14th century did it take on a sense of meaning ‘submissive’. 



The English word ‘meek’ is used to translate the Greek word ‘Praus’ which actually implies a sense of ‘strength brought under control’ and was often used to describe a horse that had been trained. There is clearly a sense here of our natural or wild instincts being tamed and trained in some way. Some may see this as proof that Christianity is about submissiveness as the horse no longer ‘lives wild and free’. On the other hand, an untamed, wild horse is not much use to society in terms of ploughing fields or riding into battle. Similarly a wild and uncivilised person is not much use to a community.



Do we really consider an ideal character to be continuously aggressive, hard hearted, nasty, selfish and thoroughly unpleasant to live with? I doubt it. A degree of meekness, at least, is necessary to get along with other people and form harmonious communities. Such societies do not emerge out of self-centred, aggressive individuals pursuing only their own interests all of the time.



Some Judeao-Christians may take the ideal of meekness literally and be happy to be trampled underfoot. But Germanic Christianity does not, and never has, taken this view. Germanic Christianity does not equate meekness with total submissiveness or going around wringing our hands all day saying how ‘very ‘umble’ we are like Uriah Heep in Dickins’ novel ‘David Copperfield’. It is one thing to say that it is better to be civil, polite and gentle rather than aggressive, nasty and arrogant. But it is another thing entirely to allow yourself to be trampled underfoot. Such a thing would go against personal honour and duty to protect our kinfolk. It would be directly contradictory to fundamental moral values of Germanic Christianity. Furthermore, humbleness on its own does not guarantee that an individual is a good person. They may, deep down like Uriah Heep, be nasty, malevolent creeps!





Authors such as Lars Lonnroth (writing in the American Scandinavian Society in 1917) find in Germanic Christianity a sympathy for the old codes of worldly honour and loyalty to the family and tribe, even a reserved approval of the revenge principle.  For instance, the C13th treatise called ‘the King’s Mirror’ from Moral Values in Icelandic Sagas advises:


        keep your temper calm though not to the point of suffering abuse or bringing upon yourself the reproach of cowardice.  Though necessity may force you into strife, be not in a hurry to take revenge; first make sure your effort will succeed and strike where it ought”. 



In a similar vein, St Odo, abbot of Cluny monastery (d. 944), radically redefined the concept of a virtuous and saintly life by explicitly including the warrior ethos and lifestyle.  In defence of this, he states “truly, no one ought to be worried because a just man sometimes makes use of fighting, which seems incompatible with religion”.  Here was a clear attempt to not just integrate the warrior ethos into the Christian ethos, but to adapt it to the basic principles of Christian morality – warfare for a higher or just cause and not just for its own sake or for temporal glory.



Meekness therefore embodies a set of characteristics that help develop strong, cohesive communities in which people help each other and are civil towards each other. In saying that the meek will inherit the world, Jesus is saying that these are the qualities, the type of person, who will best form strong, successful communities with the inner strength to face a sometimes hostile world. but meekness as a social ideal is not to be equated with weakness – which contravenes fundamental moral principles of the Germanic code of honour which form the basis of Germanic Christianity.




The traditional English ‘Gentleman’ is an excellent example of these qualities. Left alone, he is polite, reserved, kind and courteous. But do not assume that if you go up to him and thump him that he is just going to blush and say ‘sorry’ to you. You would soon find that this traditional English ‘Gentleman’ was a first class boxer, martial artist or maybe has an adapted umbrella to use as a weapon!