Hope (Theological Virtue)
Hope is termed a theological virtue because its immediate object is God, as is true of the other two essentially infused virtues, faith and charity.
Hope, in its widest acceptation, is described as the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it. The Scholastics say that it is a movement of the appetite towards a future good, which though hard to attain is possible of attainment. Consideration of this state of soul is limited in this article to its aspect as a factor in the supernatural order. Looked at in this way it is defined to be a Divine virtue by which we confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity as well as to have at our disposal the means of securing it. It is said to be Divine not merely because its immediate object is God, but also because of the special manner of its origin. Hope, such as we are here contemplating, is an infused virtue; ie., it is not, like good habits in general, the outcome of repeated acts or the product of our own industry. Like supernatural faith and charity it is directly implanted in the soul by Almighty God. Both in itself and in the scope of its operation it outstrips the limits of the created order, and is to be had if at all only through the direct largess of the Creator. The capacity which it confers is not only the strengthening of an existing power, but rather the elevation, the transforming of a faculty for the performance of functions essentially outside its natural sphere of activity. All of this is intelligible only on the basis, which we take for granted, that there is such a thing as the supernatural order, and that the only realizable ultimate destiny of man in the present providence of God lies in that order.
Hope is termed a theological virtue because its immediate object is God, as is true of the other two essentially infused virtues, faith and charity. St. Thomas acutely says that the theological virtues are so called “because they have God for their object, both in so far as by them we are properly directed to Him, and because they are infused into our souls by God alone, as also, finally, because we come to know of them only by Divine revelation in the Sacred Scriptures”. Theologians enlarge upon this idea by saying that Almighty God is both the material and the formal object of hope. He is the material object because He is that which is chiefly, though not solely, aimed at when we elicit acts of this virtue- ie., whatever else is looked for is only desired in so far as it bears a relation to Him. Hence according to the generally followed teaching, not only supernatural helps, particularly such as are necessary for our salvation, but also things in the temporal order, inasmuch as they can be means to reach the supreme end of human life, may be the material objects of supernatural hope. It is worthwhile noting here that in a strict construction of the term we cannot properly hope for eternal life for someone other than ourselves. The reason is that it is of the nature of hope to desire and expect something apprehended precisely as the good or happiness of the one who hopes (bonum proprium). In a qualified sense, however, that is so far as love may have united us with others, we may hope for others as well as for ourselves.
By the formal object of hope we understand the motive or motives which lead us to entertain a confident expectation of a happy issue to our efforts in the matter of eternal salvation notwithstanding the difficulties which beset our path. Theologians are not of one mind in determining what is to be assigned as the sufficient reason of supernatural hope. Mazzella (De Virtutibus Infusis, disp. v, art. 2), whose judgment has the merit of simplicity as well as that of adequate analysis, finds the foundation of our hope in two things. It is based, according to him, on our apprehension of God as our supreme supernatural good Whose communication in the beatific vision is to make us happy for all eternity, and also on those Divine attributes such as omnipotence, mercy and fidelity, which unite to exhibit God as our unfailing helper. These considerations, he thinks, motive our wills or furnish the answer to the question why we hope. Of course it is taken for granted that the yearning for God, not simply because of His own infinite perfections but explicitly because He is to be our reward, is a righteous temper of soul, otherwise the spiritual attitude of hope in which such a longing is included would not be a virtue at all. Luther and Calvin were at one in insisting that only the product of the perfect love of God, ie. the love of God for His own sake, was to be regarded as morally good. Consequently they rejected as sinful whatever was done only through consideration of eternal reward or, in other words, through that love of God which the Scholastics call “amor concupiscentiae”. The Council of Trent (Sess. vi, can. 31) stigmatized these errors as heresy: “If anyone says that a justified person sins when such a one does what is right through hope of eternal reward, let him be anathema”. In spite of this unequivocal pronouncement of the council, Baius, the celebrated Louvain theologian, substantially reiterated the false doctrine of the Reformers on this point. His teaching on the matter was formulated in the thirty-eighth proposition extracted from his works, and was condemned by St. Pius V. According to him there is no true act of virtue except what is elicited by charity, and as all love is either of God or His creatures, all love which is not the love of God for His own sake, ie. for His own infinite perfections, is depraved cupidity and a sin. Of course in such a theory there could not properly speaking be any place for the virtue of hope as we understand it. It is easy also to see how it fits in with the initial Protestant position of identifying faith and confidence and thus making hope rather an act of the intellect than of the will. For if we may not hope, in the Catholic sense, for blessedness, the only substitute available seems to be belief in the Divine mercy and promises.
It is a truth constantly acted upon in Catholic life and no less explicitly taught, that hope is necessary to salvation. It is necessary first of all as an indispensible means (necessitate medii) of attaining salvation, so that no one can enter upon eternal bliss without it. Hence even infants, though they cannot have elicited the act, must have had the habit of hope infused in Baptism. Faith is said to be “the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1), and without it “it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Obviously, therefore, hope is required for salvation with the same absolute necessity as faith. Moreover, hope is necessary because it is prescribed by law, the natural law which, in the hypothesis that we are destined for a supernatural end, obliges us to use the means suited to that end. Further, it is prescribed by the positive Divine law, as, for instance, in the first Epistle of St. Peter, i, 13:
“Trust perfectly in the grace which is offered you in the revelation of Jesus Christ”.
There is both a negative and a positive precept of hope. The negative precept is in force ever and always. Hence there can never be a contingency in which one may lawfully despair or presume. The positive precept enjoining the exercise of the virtue of hope demands fulfilment sometimes, because one has to discharge certain Christian duties which involve an act of this supernatural confidence, such as prayer, penance, and the like. Its obligation is then said, in the language of the schools, to be per accidens. On the other hand, there are times when it is binding without any such spur, because of its own intrinsic importance, or per se. How often this is so in the lifetime of a Christian, is not susceptible of exact determination, but that it is so is quite clear from the tenor of a proposition condemned by Alexander VII: “Man is at no time during his life bound to elicit an act of faith, hope and charity as a consequence of Divine precepts appertaining to these virtues”. It is, however, perhaps not superfluous to note that the explicit act of hope is not exacted. The average good Christian, who is solicitous about living up to his beliefs, implicitly satisfies the duty imposed by the precept of hope.
The doctrine herein set forth as to the necessity of Christian hope was impugned in the seventeenth century by the curious mixture of fanatical mysticism and false spirituality called Quietism. This singular array of errors was given to the world by a Spanish priest named Miguel Molinos. He taught that to arrive at the state of perfection it was essential to lay aside all self-love to such an extent that one became indifferent as to one’s own progress, salvation, or damnation. The condition of soul to be aimed at was one of absolute quiet brought about by the absence of every sort of desire or anything that could be construed as such. Hence, to quote the words of the seventh of the condemned propositions taken from Molinos’s Spiritual Guide, “the soul must not occupy itself with any thought whether of reward or punishment, heaven or hell, death or eternity”. As a result one ought not to entertain any hope as to one’s salvation; for that, as a manifestation of selfwill, implies imperfection. For the same reason petitions to Almighty God about anything whatever are quite out of place. No resistance, except of a purely negative sort, should be offered to temptations, and an entirely passive attitude should be fostered in every respect. In the year 1687 Innocent XII condemned sixty-eight propositions embodying this extraordinary doctrine as heretical, blasphemous, scandalous, etc. He likewise consigned the author to perpetual confinement in a monastery, where, having previously abjured his errors, he died in the year 1696. About the same time a species of pseudomysticism, largely identical with that of Molinos, but omitting the objectionable conclusions, was defended by Madame Guyon. It even found an advocate in Fénelon who engaged in a controversy with Bossuet on the subject. Ultimately twenty-three propositions drawn from Fénelon’s Explanation of the maxims of the Saints on the interior life were proscribed by Innocent XII. The gist of the teaching, so far as we are concerned, was that there is in this life a state of perfection with which it is impossible to reconcile any love of God except that which is absolutely disinterested, which therefore does not contemplate possession of God as our reward. It would follow that the act of hope is incompatible with such a state, since it postulates precisely a desire for God, not only because He is good in Himself, but also and formally because He is our adequate and final good. Hope is less perfect than charity, but that admission does not involve a moral deformity of any kind, still less is it true that we can or ought to pass our lives in a quasi uninterrupted act of pure love of God. As a matter of fact, there is no such state anywhere identifiable, and if there were it would not be inconsistent with Christian hope.
The question as to the necessity of hope is followed with some natural sequence by the inquiry as to its certitude. Manifestly, if hope be absolutely required as a means to salvation, there is an antecedent presumption that its use must in some sense be accompanied by certainty. It is clear that, as certitude is properly speaking a predicate of the intellect, it is only in a derived sense, or as St. Thomas says participative, that we can speak of hope, which is largely a matter of the will, as being certain. In other words, hope, whose office is to elevate and strengthen our wills, is said to share the certitude of faith, whose abiding place is our intellects. For our purpose it is of importance to recall what it is that, being apprehended by our intellect, is said to do service as the foundation of Christian hope. This has already been determined to be the concept of God as our helper gathered from reflecting on His goodness, mercy, omnipotence, and fidelity to His promises. In a subordinate sense our hope is built upon our own merits, as the eternal reward is not forthcoming except to those who shall have employed their free will to co-operate with the aids afforded by God’s bounty. Now there is a threefold certitude discernible.
- A thing is said to be certain conditionally when, another thing being given, the first infallibly follows. Supernatural hope is evidently certain in this way, because, granted that a man does all that is required to save his soul, he is sure to attain to eternal life. This is guaranteed by the infinite power and goodness and fidelity of God
- There is a certainty proper to virtues in general in so far as they are principles of action. Thus for instance a really temperate man may be counted on to be uniformly sober. Hope being a virtue may claim this moral certainty inasmuch as it constantly and after an established method encourages us to look for eternal blessedness to be had by the Divine munificence and as the crown of our own merits accumulated through grace.
- Finally, a thing is certain absolutely, ie., not conditionally upon the verification of some other thing, but quite independently of any such event. In this case no room for doubt is left. Is hope certain in this meaning of the word? So far as the secondary material object of hope is concerned, ie. those graces which are at least remotely adequate for salvation, we can be entirely confident that these are most certainly provided. As to the primary material object of hope namely, the face-to-face vision of God, the Catholic doctrine, as set forth in the sixth session of the Council of Trent, is that our hope is unqualifiedly certain if we consider only the Divine attributes, which are its support, and which cannot fail. If, however, we limit our attention to the sum total of salutary operation which we contribute and upon which we also lean as upon the reason of our expectation, then, prescinding from the case of an individual revelation, hope is to be pronounced uncertain. This is plainly for the reason that we cannot in advance insure ourselves against the weakness or the malice of our free wills.
This doctrine is in direct antagonism to the initial Protestant contention that we can and must be altogether certain of our salvation. The only thing required for this end, according to the teaching of the Reformers, was the special faith or confidence in the promises which alone, without good works, justified a man. Hence, even though there were no good works distinguishable in a person’s earthly career, such a one might and ought, notwithstanding, cherish a firm hope, provided only that he did not cease to believe.
Assuming that the seat of hope is our will, we may ask whether, having been once infused, it can ever be lost. The answer is that it can be destroyed, both by the perpetration of the sin of despair, which is its formal opposite, and by the subtraction of the habit of faith, which assigns the motives for it. It is not so clear that the sin of presumption expels the supernatural virtue of hope, although of course it cannot coexist with the act. We need not be detained with the inquiry whether a man could continue to hope if his eternal damnation had been revealed to him. Theologians are agreed in regarding such a revelation as practically, if not absolutely, impossible. If, by an all but clearly absurd hypothesis, we suppose Almighty God to have revealed to anyone in advance that he was surely to be lost, such a person obviously could no longer hope. Do the souls in Purgatory hope? It is the commonly held opinion that, as they have not yet been admitted to the intuitive vision of God, and as there is nothing otherwise in their condition which is at variance with the concept of this virtue, they have the habit and elicit the act of hope. As to the damned, the concordant judgment is that, as they have been deprived of every other supernatural gift, so also knowing well the perpetuity of their reprobation, they can no longer hope. With reference to the blessed in heaven, St. Thomas holds that, possessing what they have striven for, they can no longer be said to have the theological virtue of hope. The words of St. Paul (Romans 8:24) are to the point: “For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for?” They can still desire the glory which is to be proper to their risen bodies and also by reason of the bonds of charity, they can wish for the salvation of others, but this is not, properly speaking, hope. The human Soul of Christ furnishes an example. Because of the hypostatic union It was already enjoying the beatific vision. At the same time, because of the passible nature with which He had clothed Himself, He was in the state of pilgrimage (in statu viatoris), and hence He could look forward with longing to His assumption of the qualities of the glorified body. This however was not hope, because hope has as its main object union with God in heaven.
By Joseph Delany
WILHELM AND SCANNEL Manual of Dogmatic Theology (London, 1909); MAZZELLA, De Virtutibus Infusis (Rome, 1884), SLATER, Manual of Moral Theology (New York, 1908); ST. THOMAS AQUINAS Summa Theologica (Turin, 1885); BALLERINI, Opus Theologicum Morale (Prato, 1901).
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APA citation. (1910). Hope. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 10, 2019 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07465b.htm
MLA citation. “Hope.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 10 Oct. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07465b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerard Haffner.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.