Spe Salvi 14: The Social Character of Hope

We continue exploring with Pope Benedict XVI the question, Is Christian hope individualistic? Today, as was true in paragraph 13, we are assisted by the Jesuit Henri de Lubac:

14. Against this, drawing upon the vast range of patristic theology, de Lubac was able to demonstrate that salvation has always been considered a “social” reality. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a “city” (cf. 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14) and therefore of communal salvation.

Indeed: the roots of Christian faith are to be found in Genesis, and a covenant with Abraham not for his own enrichment, but for the founding of a people. Pope Benedict pages back a few chapters, and reminds us that the fragmentation of Genesis 11 was the splintering of a human unity, the last of the great offenses that began with the disobedience in the Garden:

Consistently with this view, sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is. Hence “redemption” appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers.

This restoration would also heal the rift between Adam and Eve, between brothers Abel and Cain, and negate any divine “reset” from natural catastrophe. The bishop of Hippo is out guide here, and we are privy to his advice to Proba:

We need not concern ourselves here with all the texts in which the social character of hope appears. Let us concentrate on the Letter to Proba in which Augustine tries to illustrate to some degree this “known unknown” that we seek. His point of departure is simply the expression “blessed life”. Then he quotes Psalm 144:15: “Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.” And he continues: “In order to be numbered among this people and attain to … everlasting life with God, ‘the end of the commandment is charity that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith’ (1 Timothy 1:5)” [Ep. 130 Ad Probam 13, 24: CSEL 44, 67].

A good reminder that the impulse to fragment one’s society, to move away from the community runs against the virtues of purity of heart, sincerity, etc.. It’s a needed caution in our age where many believers are caught tempted by withdrawal from others, circling the drain in their own protected solo enclave and reinforced by mirror images of their own thinking.

This real life, towards which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a “people”, and for each individual it can only be attained within this “we”. It presupposes that we escape from the prison of our “I”, because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself—to God.

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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