The name beatitudes ought not to mislead. They are less a promise of happiness than the assurance of God's blessings; and the eulogy they contain cloaks a commandment, the imperative character of which is softened by God's favourable regard for those who obey it.
This is indeed the case with the Beatitudes which open the Sermon on the Mount. The listeners were impatient to know Jesus' messianic programme; the Master was therefore going to promulgate the laws of the kingdom. But instead of enumerating them in the manner of the precepts of the Decalogue, he praised those who observed them, he called on the `blessed', the fortunate in whom God would reign and on whom he was counting to establish his kingdom on earth.
Later Jesus would enumerate his disciples' duties in detail, but before prescribing what they ought to do, he declared what they ought to be. The beatitudes describe what would be the characteristics of Christ's disciples. If they had the qualities described by Jesus, they would be whole men and the agents of a better world.
Man's dignity is not to be measured by earthly standards. In making him bring his earthly task to perfection, Christ is helping him reach that greatness which goes beyond the human condition.