Jacques Maritain Center : Elements of Moral Theology


§ 1. Hope.

Why is hope a virtue?

Virtue has already been defined in Aristotle's words, as "that which makes him who has it good, and renders his work good" (Eth. Nic., ii. 5). Therefore, wherever any good act of man is found, some human virtue corresponds thereto. But in all things which are subject to rule and measure, the good depends on their attaining that proper rule; as we call a coat good which neither exceeds nor falls short of the due measure. But we have seen (see page 80) that there is a two-fold measure of human acts, one proximate and homogeneous with those acts, sc., reason; another, supreme and transcendent, sc., God. And on this account every human act which attains to reason or to God is a good act. But the act of hope, of which we are now speaking, attains to God. For the object of the natural passion of hope is future good, difficult of attainment, yet possible to be had. Now, anything is possible for us either through our own selves or through others. But in so far as we hope for anything as possible to us through Divine aid, our hope attains to God, on whose aid it rests. And so it is plain that such hope is a virtue, since it makes a man's act good, attaining to its due rule and measure. (Define this theological virtue, then, as "a habit of soul, Divinely infused, through which with sure confidence we expect to obtain the spiritual good of eternal life by Divine aid.") This hope is not the natural passion (though grounded in that), but a spiritual habit, purely the gift of grace.

What is the proper object of hope?

The apostle answers when he says (Heb. vi. 19) that hope "enters into that which is within the Veil." It attains to God, in resting on His aid for the obtaining of the hoped-for good. Now the effect must be proportioned to its cause. And therefore the good which properly and principally we ought to hope from God, is infinite good, since that is proportioned to the power of Him who aids us. But this good is eternal life, which consists in the fruition of God Himself. For not less is to be hoped from Him than He Himself is, since His goodness by which He communicates blessing to His creatures is not less than His infinite essence. Therefore, the proper and principal object of hope is eternal beatitude.

(1) But how can man hope for what exceeds the desire of his soul? (1 Cor. ii. 9). I answer that man at present cannot perfectly know what beatitude is; but he can apprehend it under the general notion of perfect good, and so he can hope for it; and thus his hope "enters into that which is within the veil."

(2) But prayer interprets hope, and we can lawfully pray for the goods of this present life, both spiritual and temporal goods, and for deliverance from evils, which will not exist in the eternal beatitude. But whatever other good things we ask from God, we are bound to ask with reference to eternal beatitude. And so, besides its principal object, hope may have objects derived from this and dependent on it. In a similar manner we regarded the virtue of faith.

Through love one may hope and desire for another as for himself.

Why is hope a theological virtue?

It is a virtue from its attaining the supreme rule of human actions, which it attains both as that rule is its primal efficient cause, on whose aid it rests; and as that rule is its ultimate final cause, and it expects beatitude in the fruition of that end. Hope's object, then, as virtue, is chiefly God. And in this consists the notion of theological virtue, that it has God for its object. (See page 69.) Hope, therefore, is a theological virtue.

If other good things are expected by it, this is in relation to God as their ultimate end, or from God as their efficient cause.

There are moral virtues also which are based on expectation, on patient waiting, but hope's distinguishing characteristic is its expectation of Divine aid.

God is the object of all the theological virtues, but in different manner.

Love makes man cleave to God for His own sake; hope, as the source of eternal beatitude for us; faith, as the source of truth. In the creed of faith you say: "I look for the life of the world to come," wherein the act of faith is manifested by the act of hope.

If we speak of the order of theological virtues, we must distinguish between the natural order of generation in which the imperfect precedes the perfect, and the (rational) order of perfection.

In the first way faith precedes hope, and hope precedes charity. It is necessary, if one hope for anything, that it be presented to him as possible of attainment. Now the objects of hope are eternal beatitude and Divine aid. And each of these is proposed to us by faith, which makes known that we can reach eternal life, and that Divine aid for this has been prepared on our behalf. "He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him" (Heb. xi. 6). Hope also brings in charity, inasmuch as one who hopes to be rewarded by God is induced to love Him and keep His commandments.

But, in the order of perfection, love is prior. Perfect love, which cleaves to God for His own sake, renders hope more perfect, for we hope most from those who are our friends. This is "spes fermata," in which one hopes from God because He loves and is loved.

The act of hope belongs to the "appetitive" soul, because it is a seeking after the good; but it does not pertain to the sense-appetite, because the object is not sensible good, but Divine good.

Along with this virtue maybe considered the spiritual gift of godly fear (qu. xix.). We may fear that which is evil, or that from which the evil proceeds. In the first way, God cannot be feared. In the second way He can. This evil proceeding from God, evil secundum quid, though good simply, is the evil of punishment, "malum paenae," which is the ground of servile fear, in which one turns to God through fear of His judgments. Or, with filial fear one may dread separation from God through his own fault, "malum culpae," or, again, there may be that worldly fear which the Lord prohibited as evil (S. Matt. x. 28), in which, through love of the world and dread of worldly loss, one departs from the Service of God. It is filial fear which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, like the other spiritual gifts, a certain habitual perfection of the soul, by which it is made prompt to follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost, just as moral virtues render the passions prompt to follow reason.

§ 2. Vices opposed to hope: despair and presumption.

Is despair a sin?

It is a noteworthy remark of Aristotle's (Nic. Eth., vi. 2), that seeking and aversion in the will correspond to affirmation and negation in the intellect. And good and evil in the latter correspond with the true and the false in the former. And, therefore, every motion of desire which is conformed to the truth of the reason is in itself good, and every motion of desire which follows the false is in itself evil and sin. But the true thought of the mind concerning God is that from Him come our salvation and pardon for sinners (Ezek. xviii. 23). And the false opinion is that He denies pardon to the penitent, or that He does not turn sinners to Himself by justifying grace. And as hope which is conformed to correct estimation of God is laudable and virtuous, so the opposite, which is despair based on a false estimation of God, is vicious and a sin.

Every mortal sin whatsoever is some kind of aversion from the infinite Good; but the sins which are opposed to the theological virtues consist, primarily and chiefly, in this aversion, as hatred of God, despair and infidelity, because the theological virtues have God for their direct object and he that deserts God necessarily turns himself to some changeable good. But other sins consist principally in the turning to such good, and, consequently, in aversion from God. For the sensualist does not intend to depart from God, but to enjoy his pleasure; from which follows the aversion from God.

Fear of God is good; yet indirectly evil fruit may proceed from a good root, when one uses the good in a bad way, taking occasion for despair from his servile fear.

Does despair necessarily imply infidelity?

The latter belongs to reason, the former to the will. But reason considers universals, while the will is moved to particular things. Now, one can have a correct estimation of universal principles, while his estimation of particulars is corrupt. His general judgment necessarily proceeds to the desire of some particular thing through the medium of some particular judgment; and hence it is that one may have a right faith in general, while his will fails in the particular thing, his estimation of that particular thing being corrupted by habit or by passion. One may rightly believe in the forgiveness of sins in Holy Church, yet give up to despair; sc., that in his present state there is no hope of pardon for him in particular.

According to their specific character the gravest sins are those which are opposed to the theological virtues.

These have God for their object; those are direct aversion from God. Such sins are infidelity, hatred of God, and despair. In themselves the two former are even graver than the last. For infidelity comes from rejecting the veracity of God; hatred, from a will opposed to the Divine goodness; despair, from the want of hope that one will be a sharer in that goodness. The two former, therefore, are directly against God as He is in Himself; the last, as His goodness is participated by us. But, on our side, despair is more dangerous, because by hope we are recalled from evils, and led to seek for good; but hope being taken away, men rush into unbridled vices and are held back from efforts for good.

Causes of the mortal sin of despair.

We have seen (page 175) that the object of hope is good difficult of attainment, but possible to be obtained through one's own efforts or by another's aid. Hope of beatitude, then, may fail in either of two ways: either that felicity is not regarded as such a good, or it is deemed unattainable. If our affections are corrupted by the love of sensual pleasures, spiritual good things are distasteful, and are not hoped for as difficult goods. So lust (luxuria) produces despair.

But, on the other hand, spiritual sloth ("acedia") casts down the soul so that the difficult good is viewed as unattainable. So this capital sin produces despair.{1}

Presumption: what is its object?

Presumption implies unwarranted, immoderate hope. Now, hope is of what is possible, and that possibility refers either to one's own powers, or to the Divine aid. There are, then, two kinds of presumption: one, by which any one is seeking some good as possible for himself, though it exceed his powers; another, by which any one is seeking some good as possible through the power and mercy of God, when it is not possible -- e.g., he hopes to obtain pardon without repentance, or glory without deserving it. But this kind of presumption is a species of sin against the Holy Ghost, since by it is taken away or despised the aid of the Holy Ghost by which man is recalled from sin.

(1) Does there seem to be greater presumption in trusting to one's own powers than in trusting to Divine power? But the gravest sin is sin against God. Hence, the presumption which inordinately rests on God is graver sin than that which trusts to one's own power. For it is derogating from God when one expects to obtain through His aid what it is unworthy of God to bestow. He sins more gravely who diminishes the holiness of God than he who exalts his own powers.

(2) Is it objected that other sins arise from sin against the Holy Ghost, and that self-confidence, which is rooted in self-love, is the source of many sins rather than presumption respecting God's mercy? And so, that it is the first kind of presumption which is sin against the Holy Ghost.

But inordinate presumption respecting God includes self-love by which one inordinately desires his own good. For what we greatly desire we deem easy of attainment through others' aid, even when that is not possible.

(3) Presumption in Divine mercy is true aversion from God, because it attributes to God what is unworthy of His holy nature.

Briefly, as from despair one despises the Divine mercy on which hope rests, so from presumption one despises the Divine justice which punishes sinners. But both mercy and justice are in God. Therefore, as despair is inordinate aversion from God, so presumption is inordinate turning to Him (which is true aversion from some part of the infinite good. See (3) above).

Is presumption a sin?

What was said with respect to sin is once more to be repeated; so., that every act of will which conforms to falsehood in the intellect is in itself evil and a sin (page 179). But presumption is such an act. For as it is false that God spares not the penitent, or that He does not turn sinners to repentance, so it is false that He grants pardon to those who persevere in sin, and that He glorifies those who cease from good works. On which false estimation presumption is based. Therefore it is a sin, less in its kind, indeed, than despair is, since it is God's "property always to have mercy" and "to forgive sins " rather than to punish them, because of His infinite goodness; for that belongs to His nature, but this to His justice according to our sins.

Note that this presumption is not excess of hope, hoping too much of God; for it is hoping to obtain from God what is unworthy of His holiness, which is even hoping less from Him, because it is detraction from Him.

The source of presumption is the capital sin of pride or vainglory.

Self-presumption, inordinate trust in one's own powers, is manifestly the child of vainglory. And inordinate trust in the power or mercy of God comes from pride, when one thinks himself of so much consequence that God will not punish his sins, or exclude him from glory.

Precepts of hope and fear.

Of the precepts which are found in the Holy Scriptures some belong to the substance of Divine law, and some are preambles to that law. The latter are presupposed, because, if they did not exist, there would be no place found for law (none would be subject to that law for whom it should be promulged). Of this nature are precepts of faith and hope, because by the act of faith the mind of man is led to recognize the authority of the author of the law, and by hope of reward man is led to obedience. But those precepts are of the substance of the law itself, which are given to one already subject to the law, and ready to obey it; they pertain to rectitude of life. But precepts of hope and faith were not set forth as precepts, because, if man did not already believe and hope, the law would be set forth in vain. (Note that faith in God being presupposed, through which the human mind is submitted to God, commandments can be given concerning other things which are to be believed, as is apparent in the New Law of the Gospel. See qu. xvi., omitted above.)

But as the precept of faith was prefixed to the proclamation of the law -- sc., "I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt" (Ex. xx. 2); and "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord" (Deut. vi. 4) -- so also the precept of hope in the first giving of the law was in the form of promises attached to the second and the fifth commandments. For he that promises rewards to the obedient, by that very thing incites them to hope.

But when the law is once imposed, men are urged to observe its preambles, as in Ps. lxii. 8 "O put your trust in Him alway, ye people; pour out your hearts before Him, for God is our hope."

(1) Nature sufficiently inclines to good proportioned to human nature, but man must be inclined to hope for supernatural good both by promises and by admonitions or precepts. And yet even for that to which natural reason tends, precepts of Divine law are necessary for the sake of greater firmness in them, and because reason is apt to be clouded by sinful concupiscences.

(2) Prohibition of opposite sins must of course be understood whenever the law in any manner incites to hope or faith.

The same things may be said of fear.

But we must remember the distinction between servile fear, the fear of penalties, and filial fear which springs from love. The first giving of the law did not command fear, but it threatened penalties on the violators of law. (See the Second Commandment.) But filial fear and love are preambles to the acts which the law commands. So it was said (Deut. x. 12), "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of Thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him?" etc. These are the principles common to the whole law. And this injunction to fear suffices to exclude presumption (its opposite vice).

{1} This mortal sin of despair caused by Just or spiritual sloth should be distinguished from what may outwardly resemble it: (a) the scrupulous conscience which is always finding difficulties in the way of salvation that east down the mind, and tend to obscure its hope; (b) what is not infrequent in our age, incipient "melancholia" taking a religious form, and perplexing the family and the priest, who have not detected the approach of insanity.

<< ======= >>