The Virtue of Hope
by Father Reginald Martin, O.P.
God is the Source and Object of the Faith,
Love we call the Theological Virtues. Because
God is Infinite, we will never be able fully to comprehend the Habitual Dispositions - or
Virtues - that lead to Him. Nevertheless, in the
Virtue of Hope we find a great deal that speaks to us on a Human Level, making this Virtue one
of the more accessible.
The Dictionary defines Hope as "the feeling that what is wanted can be had,
or that events will turn out for the best". We reasonably expect this definition to change somewhat as we apply it to our
Spiritual Lives, and to those Dispositions we call Virtues, but Saint
Thomas Aquinasí definition of Hope remains extremely easy to grasp, "...a
future good, difficult but possible to attain...by means of the Divine Assistance...on Whose help it leans"
(ST II-II, 17.1).
Saint Thomas also calls Hope "a movement or stretching forth of the
Appetite towards an Arduous Good". If we think of the many things we long for, this physical image of "
stretching" to achieve a Good is one we can easily understand. Robert Browning describes
this longing quite aptly when he writes, "Ah! But a manís reach should exceed his grasp, or whatís a Heaven
for?" The effort we are willing to expend is proportionate to the Good we seek. The
"highest" Good we Hope for, of course, is
Everlasting Happiness in Godís Presence. This is worth quite a stretch, indeed!
We cannot - or should not - wish anything other than this Happiness, so the
Virtue of Hope allows us to place the many Good Things that surround us in a Proper Order. Once we place our
Eternal Happiness at the Top-of-the-List, everything else should fall into place. Of course, this is not a step we can take all at once;
even Good Habits take time to develop. Nevertheless, as we progress in the Spiritual
Life, and our Life with God emerges more clearly as the Best Thing we can desire (and, therefore,
the prize worth the most effort), other goals, which may once have seemed Highly Desirable, assume their proper character and seem much
easier to achieve.
Because Hope is the Habit by which we long for our Eternal Salvation,
it is a very Personal Matter. However, when we come to consider the Virtue of Charity in our next Reflection,
we shall see how Loving God enables us to Love Godís creation. This
includes Loving ourselves, of course, but also Loving our Neighbor. Thus,
we may properly identify a Social Dimension to the Virtue of Hope, whereby we long not only for our own
Salvation but for that of others. Our Catechism teaches, "Buoyed up by hope,
[an individual] is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from Charity" (1818).
As we saw when we considered the Virtue of Faith, a Gift is not given just to
enrich the individual who receives it. The Virtue of Hope encourages us to embrace a
Selfless Love that reaches out to all of Godís Creatures.
We began this Reflection by observing a peculiarly Human Dimension to the Virtue of Hope, and here we might
reflect that Hope can only exist in Beings who have not yet achieved the goal they seek. It is, thus,
always concerned with something in the Future. The Angels, and the Souls in Heaven, have no need of
Hope, for they enjoy Godís Eternal Life as an Ever-Present Reality. Similarly,
the Souls of the Damned have no Hope, although for a far different - and quite
Frightening - Reason. Those condemned to Hell are aware their
Punishment is Everlasting. Because they cannot escape this state to attain
Happiness of any sort, they have nothing to Hope for.
We have all heard the expressions "to give up" or "to
lose" Hope. In everyday life this ordinarily means concluding that some Good Thing is beyond
our reach. Such a conclusion is unquestionably Disappointing and Painful,
but usually, after a time, we are able to leave behind the Pain and
Disappointment. However, when we consider the State of the Damned (those Souls which, by
definition, are without Hope) we see that giving up or
losing Theological Hope is a far more Serious Matter.
Saint Thomas teaches, "the True Opinion of the Intellect about God is that from Him comes Salvation to
Mankind and Pardon to Sinners...." (II-II, 20.1). The Habit of
Hope Leads and Encourages us to embrace this Truth, as the Letter
to the Hebrews reminds us, "Let us hold fast the confession of our Hope without wavering, for He Who promised
is Faithful" (Hebrews 10:23).
|Saint Michael weighs Men's Souls on the Scales of God's Justice.
This is a Comforting and Compelling Message, but the Freedom of our Will always allows us to reject it -
to our Peril - either by Imagining that God refuses Pardon to
Repentant Sinners, or to believe that
God does not turn Sinners to Himself by means of
Grace. This Error (and here we must remember that Theological Error is
not simply a Mistaken Notion, but rather a Denial of Truth) is the Sin of
Despair. It is an extremely serious Sin, because its Consequences can prove Fatal to our
Hope of Everlasting Life. Despair denies
Godís Justice by refusing to believe God will remain
Faithful to His Promises. It also denies Godís
Mercy, refusing to acknowledge that God wants us to enjoy Everlasting
Life with Him. Saint Paul offers an Antidote to these
Temptations, encouraging us to Surrender to "The Holy Spirit ... He poured out upon us Richly through
Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be Justified by His Grace and become heirs In Hope of Eternal Life"
Despair consists in denial, but one can also
Sin against Hope by over-affirmation;
this Sin we call Presumption. Presumption
is the Error by which one imagines that Eternal Life is a Goal within his
Unaided Reach, or by which he places too-little value on Godís Justice, imagining Godís
Mercy to be so great that an individual need not Repent of Sins
he has committed.
In each of these Sins we encounter a Lack of Moderation, an Absence that can seriously Harm our
Spiritual Life. The Remedy, by which one maintains a Virtuous
'Middle-Course', is Fear. When we considered the Virtue of Faith
we determined that one of the First Effects of Faith is to Comprehend what happens if we turn away
from God. This Understanding results in Fear, the
Fear of Punishment, and - more important - Fear of Separation
from God. Our Faith allows us to see Godís
Infinite Goodness, and it also makes us realize how much we Sacrifice if we Separate ourselves from this
Goodness. Indeed, Faith allows us to understand that Separation from
God is the Greatest Evil we can Suffer.
The Virtue of Hope enables us to see Life with God as a Goal
Possible - if Difficult - to attain. We cannot Fear the God Who
is Goodness Itself. However, we may reasonably Fear the Just
Consequences of our Sins against
Him, and if our Fear is Purified through Love, we will
reasonably Fear offending God by Sin.
The Fear of Godís Justice is called "
servile", because it is based in a desire to avoid Punishment; the
Fear of committing a Fault against one we Love is called
"filial" Fear, the Fear a
child feels at the prospect of offending a Loving Parent.
Theology, like any Science, allows us draw a vast number of conclusions. As we study the Virtues in
themselves, our conclusions allow some very Sophisticated Distinctions. However, we must never forget the Practical Aspect of
Virtue. Virtues are the everyday Habits by which we strive to attain
Eternal Happiness. Hope is a very practical
Virtue, the disposition of 'Wayfarers': individuals on a 'Pilgrimage' that will only end in Heaven.
At some point we may be moved to ask how we 'Manifest' the Virtue of Hope. As we look at our lives, we
can tell very clearly when we are Acting with Faith, and we have no problem discerning whether we are Acting
Charitably. Hope, however, may remain somewhat Elusive. We can avoid
the extremes of Presumption and Despair, but does this 'Guarantee'
we have embraced the Virtue of Hope?
Our Catechism tells us that Prayer is one Sign the Virtue of Hope is
at work in our lives. Why? Because both Prayer and Hope are concerned with
the Future. "Prayer is an indispensable condition for being able to obey Godís Commandments", the
Catechism teaches, so Prayer is an all-important element in our quest for the
Salvation for which we long. Prayer enables us to align our Will
with Godís, so Prayer brings us one-step-closer to the
Everlasting Life that is the Goal - Possible, but Difficult - of the Virtue of Hope.
We who are living, experience Hope because Grace enables us to perceive
Everlasting Life as a 'Reward' we may attain. The Souls in
Purgatory, who Rejoice in an 'Imperfect Happiness', experience Hope because they understand that no matter
how long they must endure the Temporal Punishment due their Sins, they know they
shall, at last, be admitted into Godís Kingdom. Hope encourages us to
Pray for the Souls in Purgatory, that
they may speedily enjoy the State-of-Rest we look forward to.
In the Gospel we read, "[we] ought always to Pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). These words
assure us that our Hope is not in Vain. And if we look for examples, individuals who demonstrate most clearly
what Hope enables us to accomplish, we need look no further than our Ancestors-in-Faith. In the Old Testament we find
a model in Abraham, strengthened by Hope to surrender to what must often have seemed
Godís Incomprehensible Demands. In the New Testament, of course, we find the Virgin
Mary, humbly looking toward a future in which all Godís People will recognize the
Blessedness that is the 'Reward' of her Fidelity.
We have also the example of the Saints. In what is practically our own day - slightly more than a Hundred Years ago -
we encounter Saint Maria Goretti, a girl of Twelve (12), and a Victim of what
we would today call a Sexual Predator. We draw this Reflection to a close with the words Pope Pius XII preached at
the Canonization of Saint Maria Goretti. "Sustained by Divine Grace", the Pontiff said,
"and the response of the Firm Resolution of her Will, she laid down her life and preserved her Glorious Virginity".
Let those who are in the happy days of youth learn not to waste their energies on the Transient Empty Pleasures of self-indulgence ...
Rather may they strive vigorously to form their Character in the way of Christian Living, hard and rough though the way may be. For this perfection can indeed
be attained through Personal Determination, helped by the Grace of God, Prayer and Perseverance.
These sentences sum up everything we believe about the Virtue of Hope: that it is Godís
Gift, sustained by Godís Love. That it is a Way of Life, built on Prayer and Practice, and that -
although Fidelity to the Virtue may not always be easy - it leads to an Everlasting Goal
God will enable us to grasp. The Catechism teaches that our Worship of God sets-us-free. The
Virtue of Hope allows us to 'Revel' in this Freedom, for the possibility of Everlasting Life in
Godís Kingdom Encourages and Enables us to look beyond the Lure of the Present, and to reject the many
Idols we encounter each day.
Audio Clip on the
by Father Jordan Aumann, O.P.
Institute of Spirituality at the Pontifical University
of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome
Links to other Pages on Virtues
Three (3) Theological Virtues
Four (4) Main Moral Virtues
No Species exist for the
Three (3) Theological Virtues