Monday, October 05, 2009

Hope: Virtue? or Anthropology?

Thoughts on Hope as Found in Pieper’s “Hope”

"Look, you can sit around and say, ‘Oh I expect at the end of history, there will be the resurrection of the dead, etc…

!! Get me a hamburger!!

"What about now? Why do you get up in the morning? This search for the definitive in the provisional, it’s the most important thing about our lives. It’s not something we do in addition to being human; it is what it means to be human. It is the ‘life in us’,,, We are structurally this search.” [Msgr Albacete - retreat to priests in Malverne 2009]

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It was always perplexing for me to find Pieper’s take on “hope.” He had written that “It would never occur to a philosopher, unless he were also a Christian theologian, to describe hope as a virtue. For hope is either a theological virtue or not a virtue at all. It becomes a virtue by becoming a theological virtue.”[1]

My immediate reaction to that has always been: Perhaps hope is not a virtue in the sense of accident of a substance at all, because man is not really “substance” as “thing-in-itself” at all. In his chapter (II) “Hope As a Virtue,” Pieper goes on to say: “When we say, then, that hope is a virtue only when it is a theological virtue, we mean that Hope is a steadfast turning toward the true fulfillment of man’s nature, that is, toward good, only when it has its source in the reality of grace in man and is directed toward supernatural happiness in God.”[2] [3] He goes on to say: “Justice, for instance, is already a true virtue, a clear tending toward good, even outside the supernatural order. When justice ceases to be directed toward good, it ceases to be justice. Hope, on the other hand, can also be directed – even in the natural sphere – toward what is objectively bad and yet remain real hope. Natural hope lacks the distinctive quality of virtue: quod its sit principium actus boni, quod nullo modo mali – that it is so ordered to good that it cannot possibly turn toward evil.” He says further: “Obviously, hope experiences this firmness of orientation toward good above all as a God-given turning to God, that is, as a theological virtue.”[4]

Reconsidering the point in the light of the most recent encyclical, “Charitas in Veritate,” consider the recent point of Benedict XVI on the meaning of “integral development.” And notice that “development” is contrasted with “progress” in that “progress” can be in “things” whereas “development” is about “persons”. This resonates with the theme of virtue. Benedict says: “The theme of development can be identified with the inclusion-in-relation of all individuals and peoples within the one community of the human family… This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine Substance. [Note, however, that God cannot properly be called “Substance” in a philosophic sense since there can be no “accidents” in God]. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. The reciprocal transparency among the divine Person is total and the bond between each of them complete, since they constitute a unique and absolute unity.”[5] And then: “God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: ‘that they may be one even as we are one’ (Jn. 17, 22)….”[6] Now, more forcefully: “The Christian revelation of the unity of the human race presupposes a metaphysical interpretation of the ‘humanum’ in which relationality is an essential element.” [7]

The encyclical “Spe Salvi” affirms that we are saved by knowing God. But one can only know God by becoming God (Mt. 11, 27): “like is known by like.” At root, hope and faith are not virtues as accidents of a substance, but acts of the whole person, a gift of the whole self to the revealing Christ. Faith is not merely “informative” but “performative.” The entire encyclical is about the object of hope. And he concludes that we hope for the life that we image which is God’s life. And Christ is the revelation of the Father. Hence, we hope to performatively become Christ. That is the “development” toward which we are yearning and longing, and for which we “hope.” And this longing is to take place “now” in that the Kingdom of God is here and now. It is the Person of Christ present as Love in the world. The Baptist’s question: “Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?”[8] And the answer: “God and tell John what you have seen and heard: “The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them, and blessed is he who is not scandalized in me.”[9]

I conclude suggesting that it seems that hope is not really a virtue in the philosophic Aristotelian sense of accident in an anthropology of “substance,” but a state of being-in-development-as relation, which is a distinct anthropology. It is taken from above as image and likeness of the Trinitarian Persons with its prototype in Jesus Christ as revelation and meaning of man. What is achieved joy in Him as self gift on the Cross is hope in us as ever renewed self-gift.

[1] Joseph Pieper, “Hope as a Virtue,” On Hope Ignatius (1986) 25.

[2] Ibid 26

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Benedict XVI “Charitas in Veritate” #54.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Lk. 7, 19.

[9] Lk. 7, 22-23.

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