Introduction: Hope

Inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Spe salvi, the Summer, 2008 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Hope.” The encyclical is clear that the true hope of man, “which holds firm in spite of all disappointments, can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished.’” However, the encyclical also repeatedly turns its discourse on hope to a more explicit discussion of what “to the end” signifies: suffering. As the pope insists, the capacity to suffer for the truth is the measure of humanity, and it is only hope that enables a person to place himself “on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations.” The articles centered on this theme, often taking the encyclical as a starting point, attempt to give an explanation for this underlying stance or act of hope, and to explain why the form of creation, of being, and of love make it a fitting and reasonable response for men in the face of suffering, beyond the modern virtue of optimism.

In “Mary, Certainty of Our Hope,”Antonio López takes up Benedict’s reference to Mary as the “star of hope for us” and shows why Mary’s unique conception, fiat, and relationship with her Son provide the grounding structure of every Christian action. Much more than edifying exemplars, the events of Mary’s life are a necessary confirmation that the God who comes to be with man in his solitude can be trusted to remain with him. To be educated in the school of Mary, says López, is to learn not only how to welcome and love God and his gifts, but also how to be divested of them through participation in the Cross, and finally to return them to the Father with one’s self for the sake of the world.

Tracey Rowland, in “Variations on the Theme of Christian Hope in the Work of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI,” traces the development of the theme of hope throughout Ratzinger’s writings and highlights his judgment that the theological virtue of hope has undergone a secularist mutation: the result is the dogma of progress in its threefold liberal, Marxist, and social Darwinist forms. The despair, depression, and joyless resignation that mark much of modern society spring from this secularization of hope, since the lack of a relationship to Christ limits the possibilities for self-transcendence and shrinks the spiritual horizon to exclude any novelty. Ratzinger’s answer to the loss of the theological virtue is recourse to the transcendentals, to beauty: the beauty of art and music, and of the resplendent humanity of the saints.

Michelle K. Borras, writing on “Péguy, Expositor of Christian Hope,” lays out the poetics of hope of the twentieth-century French poet Charles Péguy, whose own life appeared from the outside to be a continual destruction of all his hopes, all the way to his early death in the First World War. Péguy’s young protagonist, Joan, enters into a dialogue with God that transforms a protest against suffering, hell, loss, and sin, into the Father’s own wonderment at the beauty of his Son and his love for men, who, after the Incarnation, cannot be separated from his own Child.

Livio Melina, in “Action: The Epiphany of an Ever-Greater Love,” brings to light the mutual connection between charity and hope as principles of Christian action, starting from an analysis of divine superabundance (the mark of creation and the Incarnation, reflected in miniature at the wedding at Cana). The incalculable divine outpouring into man, writes Melina, reveals the introduction of a new principle of human action that goes beyond the constraints of means and ends and translates instead into an “always more.” Melina shows that it is the Holy Spirit who guides this dynamism of excess within human action through the principle of trinitarian charity. Love seeks ever-greater excellence, but always within the concrete circumstances of individual and personal existence: that is, within a relationship. The context of friendship preserves the integrity of reason and virtue while allowing these to surpass themselves in the attempt to be ever-more intense expressions of charity. 

In a slightly different direction, Roch Kereszty’s “Toward the Renewal of Theology and the Theologian” considers the state of theology itself and what the Church and the world can hope from it and from those to whom its care is entrusted. Starting from an analysis of what biblical studies, if they are to flourish, must cultivate and what they must dispense with from twentieth-century postconcilar theology, Kereszty then turns to the person of the theologian and his task of allowing his own subjectivity to be “snatched away from itself” and then, having been fitted into the subject of Christ, to “receive itself anew.”

Jean-Pierre Batut, writing in “Divine Goodness! Notes on the Goodness of the Father According to Origen,” reflects the earlier theme of the ever-greaterness of divine love in a discussion of Origen’s insistence on the filial character of the “likeness” to God that men, already made in the divine “image,” are to attempt to reach in Christian life. The dimension of charity borne by the filial relation to God the Father picks up where philosophical attempts to reach knowledge of God leave off, a limit which, as Batut notes, Origen identifies for perhaps the first time in the history of Christianity. The “final conflagration of the universe” will be a conflagration of charity, then, when the laws of creation and of the universe are revealed to be love and the glory of the goodness of God.

Finally, “Retrieving the Tradition” reprints Communio’s 1985 article, “On Hope,” by Joseph Ratzinger. This text, delivered upon the jubilee of the Roman Antonianum, draws in part on St. Bonaventure to relate the virtue of hope to poverty and the life of St. Francis. Ratzinger explains St. Paul’s use of “hyparxis” and “hypomene” in Hebrews to characterize the Christian hope that does not pass away as do worldly goods and hopes, and the article ends with a meditation from the future pope on the Tridentine Catechism’s linking of hope and the Our Father: “We know that there is someone who has the goodness and the power to give us anything, and it is to him that we stretch out our hands.”