A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Aquinas on Virtue #6 (The Theological Virtues: Hope)

Without faith in God, one cannot hope in God. As faith perfects the intellect, so hope perfects the will. The primary focus of hope for the believer is the movement toward eternal happiness and bliss. Faith assents to the truth (intellect) that the promises of God will come to pass. Hope puts faith into practice (will) as one lives in a way that those promises will indeed become a reality. One moves intentionally in hope, with the help of God, toward the future. Hope is not synonymous with optimism; for optimism puts too much trust in what can been seen and places too much emphasis on human ability to secure the future.

While the vision brought by hope looks to the future, the practical emphasis on hope is centered in the present. As Aquinas states, "The perfection of hope lies not in achieving what it hopes for but embracing its standard." To equate hope with a feeling or a wish is more indebted to modern understandings of sentimentality than to the profound understanding of virtue displayed by Thomas. Hope is based on faith which is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hope is more than wishful thinking; it has its roots in history as one learns and appropriates the story of God's people from the hope of Abraham traveling to a land unknown to the hope of Mary that her son would one day "bring down the mighty from their thrones."

"Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus' preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the 'hope that does not disappoint.' Hope is the 'sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.' Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: 'Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.' It affords us joy even under trial: 'Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.' Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire" (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Aquinas suggests that once the state of eternal blessedness is achieved, then faith and hope will no longer be necessary, because we will finally know perfect happiness in all of its fullness; what we previously had only assented to in faith and longed for in hope. The third theological virtue of charity, however, will always be necessary.

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