Having Hope and Being Saved

Philosopher Comments on Theme of New Encyclical

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The theological virtue of hope is directed toward salvation and the beatific vision, which one can only obtain through the grace of God, says a philosophy professor at Catholic University of America.

Monsignor Robert Sokolowski made that observation ahead of Friday's release of Benedict XVI's new encyclical titled "Spe Salvi" (Saved in Hope), referring to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, 8:24: "For in hope we were saved."

The text will address one of the three theological virtues -- faith, hope and charity. The Holy Father's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," addressed the topic of charity.

Monsignor Sokolowski spoke with ZENIT about the theme of the Pope's forthcoming encyclical.

Possible, but difficult

"St. Thomas Aquinas," said the priest, "has some wonderful remarks about hope. He points out that it deals with goods that have two features: They are possible to attain, but they are difficult."

Monsignor Sokolowski continued: "If something is impossible to attain, we do not hope for it. We might wish we could reach it, but our wishing is forlorn and resigned; we know we cannot attain that particular good.

"On the other hand, if the thing in question is possible and easy to attain, again we do not hope for it; we just go ahead and do it or obtain it. I do not hope that I will have lunch today; unless I am in some very desperate situation, I just have lunch."

Informed by faith

"Now, the theological virtue of hope is directed to our salvation and the beatific vision, to our life with God," explained Monsignor Sokolowski. "It is the theological virtue of faith that discloses this possibility to us."

He added: "Faith reveals to us the truth that God has redeemed us in the death and resurrection of Christ, and that this has made it possible and thinkable that we should become affiliated in the life of the Holy Trinity.

"We share in the sonship of Christ. The faith of the Church shows us that our destiny is not just to live in this world and in our human community, but to share in God's life. So this life becomes possible.

"But it is obviously difficult; in fact, it is not only difficult but impossible for us by ourselves. Our salvation has to be God's work, and so we call it the work of grace. We hope not in ourselves but in God. And yet, although salvation is God's work and his grace, it does become ours as his gift."

Not optimism

"This theological virtue of hope is different from optimism," said Monsignor Sokolowski, making a distinction, "which is a more mundane kind of attitude, one in which we expect that 'things will turn out all right, after all.' This is not a bad disposition, even though it may at times be quite unrealistic."

"Also," he added, "there can be such things as a worldly hope, say, in human nature; we might think that if you let people exercise their freedom, they will, in the long run, use it well and for the common benefit. This would be the kind of hope behind the idea that a 'democracy' or a republic is better for human affairs in the long run, because more people contribute more talents to the common effort."

"Theological hope is a confidence not in human nature but in God, and not in regard to human flourishing but to eternal salvation," said the professor.

"It presupposes the virtue of faith, which is the acceptance of the truth of God's word, which opens up to us the dimension in which hope itself is possible," Monsignor Sokolowski added. "Hope in turn leads to charity, in which we respond to God's love for us by loving him and by exercising charity toward one another, in the kind of friendship that grace alone makes possible."