Hope, the Anchor
When the theological virtues are in lockstep, they work wonders
I suppose if Christian civilization were to adopt a Mission Statement, as most modern enterprises do, none better could be found than the simple list of the three “theological virtues”: Faith, Hope and Love. These sum up all our duties and our aspirations. Every human on earth understands in some sense what they each mean — though they can be misused or sold short. To the believer they have their source and their goal in Eternity. To the unbeliever they possess, sadly, a far narrower range of applications. Misapplied, they can even lead us badly astray. For example, Psalm 146 strongly advises us not to put our faith in “princes” (presumably that includes prime ministers or state premiers) for to do so is to tempt fate and court disaster. And love can be a poor, self-indulgent, conscience-saving activity, as the old saying “cold as charity” reminds us. The words love and charity mean, or ought to mean, the same thing. The kind of love that lay behind that cruel adage is not really love at all; too often mere sentimentality or a guilty conscience can look like the real thing.
Hope is perhaps the hardest virtue to grasp, though St. Paul thought it deserved a category of its own. Hope can be shallow and ungrounded: I can hope to win the lottery, and that’s a tall order (even taller if I don’t buy a ticket). I can hope for world peace, but it’s a vain hope unless all the world wants it too. Real Hope, that divine gift, looks to the future with an eye to Eternity. And Faith, that other noble virtue, is for the present. They complement each other: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). If they are separated, strange things might happen: the incurable optimist could have hope without faith; the fatalist may have strong faith but no hope! But when all three are in lockstep, they work wonders.
Christopher Dawson and others like him believed strongly in the close relationship between Faith and Reason. Perhaps Reason deserves inclusion in our mission statement, though according to St. Anselm it is secondary to Faith: “I do not seek rational understanding so that I can have faith, but I have faith in order to have rational understanding.”
That’s a startling claim. It sounds absurd to an unbeliever, for it suggests unmistakably that nobody can properly understand anything at all without first having faith in God. But to the believer it naturally makes perfect sense, for Faith is like the focus dial on the lens: adjust it and the whole universe finally makes sense.