“To be a Christian is to be one who hopes; it is to situate oneself on the foundation of a sure hope.”1
Paul reminds the Christians of Ephesus of the time when they were not yet Christians. Their situation was characterized by the lack of a promise. They lived in this world without hope and without God (Eph 2:12). A similar observation is found in 1 Thessalonians. Paul is here speaking to the Christians of this Greek port city of a hope that looks beyond death so that they will not have to live “like those who do not have any hope” (4:13). Therefore, one can conclude from these two passages that for Paul hope defines the Christian, and inversely that the absence of hope defines the atheist. To be a Christian is to be one who hopes; it is to situate oneself on the foundation of a sure hope. According to these texts, hope is not just one virtue among others; it is the very definition of Christian existence.
Casting a glance over the horizon of modern thought, one is tempted to contradict this last statement. True enough, hope has always been listed in the catalogue of Christian virtues, but was it not fear rather than hope that marked the average Christian? And even if there was hope, was it not much too narrow, far too restricted because it was restricted to the self alone? The question arises of whether one may purely and simply deny the hope of others. Ernst Bloch, in his Das Prinzip Hoffnung, has emphatically revived this long-forgotten theme by defining it as the central question of all philosophy. The world represents for him “a labora- tory of possible salvation.” With convincing eloquence he attempts to make it clear to us that the regeneration and reign of man would have precisely as a precondition the fact that “there is no God above, that there is not now and never has been any up there.”2 Thus for Bloch the opposite of what we have heard in Paul is true; the atheist is the only one who hopes and, as long as the Marxist way of transforming the world was unknown, human beings lived in this world without true hope and therefore had to try to be content with an imaginary hope.
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*[This article was originally published in Communio 12 (Spring 1985)—Ed.]
1. The text of this article returns to one of the lectures given in the framework of the jubilee of the Franciscan college of Rome, the Antonianum. The common theme of these lectures was “Francis, witness and guardian of hope.” This is why I have tried to develop the theme of hope particularly in the perspective of Francis and the Franciscan tradition. It seems to me that this point of departure, which has caused me to give more emphasis to certain aspects, remains to be completed, but it is also in a position to put in concrete form certain aspects of the theme.