Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hope - Three Definitions

1) Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
--CCC 1817

2) Hope is the theological virtue infused by God into the will, by which we trust with complete certitude in the attainment of eternal life and the means necessary for reaching it, assisted by the omnipotent help of God.
--Spiritual Theology by Jordan Aumann, O.P. (great book!), p. 258

3) EXPECT implies a high degree of certainty and usu. involves the idea of preparing or envisioning; HOPE implies little certainty but suggests confidence or assurance in the possibility that what one desires or longs for will happen
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, under the entry for expect

The problems of understanding faith and love in our present cultural climate have been well-rehearsed; love is commonly understood not as an act of will to seek the good of another, but as a mere desire, often out of our control entirely; faith is misunderstood as belief in something unprovable and is taken to be opposed to reason, as if reason's proofs did not rest on any act of faith.

Of the three theological virtues, however, I believe that hope is the most difficult to penetrate, for two reasons. First, we have too much stuff; a measure of deprivation and poverty is necessary to open the imagination to rewards beyond what we currently possess. Second, I believe that Webster's has it right: when we talk about 'hope' in common parlance, we usually refer to things that are fundamentally uncertain. "I hope it's not too hot later this week, but the way things are going..." "I hope that Fr. Jones isn't preaching today, but Fr. Smith is still on vacation..." "I hope that we can pull out of Iraq soon, but I doubt it." We designate one option as more desirable than another and so, as we have done with love, reduce what should be an act of will to a mere personal preference.

These thoughts came about during my current lectio on the Psalms, which I am attempting to do as far as I can in the original Hebrew. The words usually translated as 'hope' (there are two or three) generally more literally mean, 'to expect' (like the Latin exspecto, which is etymologically related to spero, to hope). The idea here is that because God is chesed--faithful, we should oppose anxieties and fears by an act of will that recognizes that God will triumph in the end, and we will be saved.

Fr. Aumann mentions the error of Jansenism being a denial of hope; I wonder if they weren't rather proto-modernists in redefining hope as merely a preference for salvation that may or may not come true, one that, in the words of Webster, carries 'little certainty'.

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