Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If hope is certain, why can't I be sure of my own salvation?


Allegory of the Theological Virtues: Faith, Love, and Hope

Hope vs. Presumption
If we are saved through hope, and hope is certain; why is it that the Catholic Church teaches that it is a heresy to say that I am certain of my own salvation? How is it that theological hope can be certain without being presumptuous?
The theological virtue of hope must needs be distinguished first from natural and worldly volition – “I hope it doesn’t rain today!” – and then from the vices of despair (which is a lack of hope) and presumption (a quasi-excess of hope).
[this article was previously published at VirtuousPla.net, but was lost when the site moved to IgnitumToday – check out all the good work that blog continues to do (here)]

Hope Against Hope
What makes theological hope different from natural and worldly hope is, first and foremost, the object to which the will is inclined. Natural hope directs us to desire certain natural things – for example, good weather or financial security – and it can even direct us toward God according to our human powers (we can be moved to hope in God as our Creator, as the first Cause, and prime-Mover). However, natural hope cannot move us to desire that which is above and beyond our nature – natural hope will never move us to even desire (much less effectively tend toward) heaven.
Despair
The theological virtue of hope makes us to desire heaven as something which can really be attained through God’s grace and our effort – this is what merit is, our rational cooperation with God’s grace. Now, the virtue of hope has two opposing vices (they are mutually opposed one to the other, and both are opposed to hope): The deficiency of hope is called despair, the excess of hope is called presumption [though, it is true, in one respect there is no “excess” properly so-called, since the Divine Mercy is per se infinite, and cannot be hoped in too much].
It is probably easier for us to recognize what despair is and how it differs from hope. Despair can either be of God or of ourselves – either, we do not believe that God is strong or loving enough to save us, or we do not believe that we can be converted. Despair is to abandon heaven, as something which is unattainable. Like hope, despair is not an emotion or a feeling – despair (together with hope and presumption) is the result of a choice which a man makes. Depression or hard times do not lead to despair – the only thing which leads to despair is the choice to abandon hope. This is surely a terrible sin.
Presumption
And then there is the vice of presumption. It is probably more difficult for us to recognize what exactly constitutes presumption. On the one hand, we know that hope is supposed to be certain and sure – how, then, can we have an “excess” of hope? If hope is already 100% certain, how can presumption go beyond the proper boundaries and make us too hopeful?
The truth is that the sin of presumption (like that of despair) can be twofold: We presume either on God or on ourselves. To presume upon ourselves is to believe that we can attain to heaven by our own powers – it is to put our hope in “horse and chariot” (i.e. in our own abilities) rather than in the Name of the Lord (cf. Psalm 19:8, Vulgate). This sort of presumption will usually lead to despair, since it will eventually become clear that our own powers will not save us.
The second form of presumption is the worse. It is to presume upon God’s mercy as being opposed to the divine justice. This is the sin of presumption whereby a man admits that he is a sinner and does not have any right to heaven (nor any means of getting to heaven, by his own powers), but then simply considers the divine mercy and ignores the demands of justice. This is a very prevalent sin in our day. A man who sins by presuming upon God will say something like this: “Sure, I know that I am a sinner, but I am certain that God will save me anyways.”
To think that God will save us and forgive us even if we do not convert, is to commit the sin of presumption. There are some things God cannot do: He cannot make a rock so big he can’t lift it, he cannot forgive an unrepentant sinner, and he cannot make someone who dies in mortal sin to go to heaven.
Hope, on the other hand, takes the mean between despair and presumption. Theological hope admits that God’s mercy is omnipotent and that the Good Lord desires our salvation (in fact, he desires it even more than we do), but hope then also admits that God’s mercy works in us to bring about not only our salvation but also our conversion – such that, without conversion, there can be no salvation. Hope admits that we are sinners, but also admits that God’s grace is sufficient to bring about true contrition and conversion in our souls.
The Certitude of Hope
But isn’t hope certain? How can hope be certain, if we know that the Protestants are wrong to say, “Once saved, always saved”? Here we see another important aspect in which Christian hope differs from Protestant presumption: Theological hope does not so much make us certain that we are to be saved (contrary to the Protestant errors), but rather makes us to be certain that we are on the path of salvation. Christian hope tells us that, if only we continue in the life of virtue (especially in the life of charity), we will most certainly be saved. Hope tells us that we are not yet saved, but that we will most certainly be saved if only we do not abandon the grace which God continues to give us. Hope assures us that the grace of Christ will be with us to the end, if only we continue to cooperate with that grace.
“In other words, by certain hope we have not as yet the certitude of our future salvation, which is not revealed to us (for that we would need a special revelation), but we tend certainly toward salvation, under the infallible direction of faith and according to the promises of God […] The certitude of Christian hope is not, therefore, as yet the certitude of salvation, but it is the firmest kind of certitude that we are tending toward salvation.
“From this admirable doctrine it follows that Christian hope should have two qualities or properties: it should be laborious to avoid the presumption which expects the divine reward without working for it; and it should be firm, invincible, to avoid discouragement.”
(from The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the greatest theologian of our age)

14 comments:

A Sinner said...

Right, because if you mortally sin...you no longer have supernatural Hope. So it's almost sort of "by definition": as long as you have supernatural Hope, you will certainly be saved. So this Hope is correct and certain whenever/as long as you, in fact, have it! But that doesn't mean for sure you are getting to heaven ala OSAS; because if you sin mortally, you no longer have Hope (so Hope can't be wrong, because when you're not headed to heaven, you don't have it anymore).

A Sinner said...

As for what God cannot do, I'm not sure. Catholic Encyclopedia says, in its article on Hell: "In itself, it is no rejection of Catholic dogma to suppose that God might at times, by way of exception, liberate a soul from hell."

After mentioning historical instances of this belief (non-heretical, but dismissed as legend) it goes on to say that theologians now believe this never happens. But the POSSIBILITY is not dismissed in itself, and is explicitly said not to be a rejection of Catholic dogma.

Stacy Trasancos said...

Fr. Erlenbush, I am so glad you posted this again. I think about this all the time, and as a parent, on so many days it is the hope that pulls me along. This is such an important concept to get straight in the mind, thank you for explaining it so concisely.

Joshua said...

A Sinner,

1. Actually those in mortal sin, provided they have not sinned by infidelity (heresy, etc) or despair do have hope, but deformed, just as they have deformed faith

2. The Catholic Encyclopedia is not a perfect source. That said, if one is going to cite it, one should do so honestly and accurately

"Thus some argued from a false interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19 sq., that Christ freed several damned souls on the occasion of His descent into hell. Others were misled by untrustworthy stories into the belief that the prayers of Gregory the Great rescued the Emperor Trajan from hell. But now theologians are unanimous in teaching that such exceptions never take place and never have taken place, a teaching which should be accepted."

I hope you are aware that such an opinion would have resulted in a book not getting an imprimatur and being condemned by the Holy Office back in the day. Just because something is not heretical, does not mean you can hold it.


B

Fr. Isn't it best to say, simpliciter, that hope has no excess and only secundum quid that it does. You seem to be saying the exact opposite. After all, presumption is primarily a turning away from trust in God's power, it is a deficiency in respect to its object. And in a very real sense hope, like the other theological virtues, consists not in a mean, and admits no excess. Though I agree that, in a certain respect, there may be an excess (St. Thomas draws out that distinction). I don't think it best to speak of it as being a mean or having an excess, even if, in a certain respect, it can be.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear A Sinner. So, there is hope for Molly Yard?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Stacy,
Thank you (and also Mr Edwards) for having given me the opportunity to join the team! Blessings to you all in the continued work! +

A Sinner said...

"Actually those in mortal sin, provided they have not sinned by infidelity (heresy, etc) or despair do have hope, but deformed, just as they have deformed faith"

Right, because they still have hope in the possibility of repentance. But if they DIE in their sin, then they can no longer be said to have it, so it is by definition true: there is certainly hope as long as there is still hope. And that hope is certain in the sense that, as long as you still have it, you can still be saved. But at a certain point (ie, death) you may not have hope anymore. And at that point, there is no hope.

"I hope you are aware that such an opinion would have resulted in a book not getting an imprimatur and being condemned by the Holy Office back in the day."

Back in the day. I wonder, now, with all the Balthasarian (soft-)universalism recent Popes have had some level of sympathy for...

"Just because something is not heretical, does not mean you can hold it."

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "such an opinion."

The only point I'm making is that traditional sources indicate God COULD liberate a soul from Hell, apparently. I've not saying here He has or ever will. That's a different question, and as you say we must defer; I certainly don't believe the Trajan account, etc (though plenty of good medieval men did).

But, theologically, it is apparently considered at least possible (and thus not in the same logically-contradictory category like "making a rock so heavy even He can't lift it").

Alessandro said...

@ A Sinner
A damned person can't be rescued from hell, even God willing it, until he doesn't want to. But since all souls in hell are by definition "eternally unrepentant" (which means they refuse God for ever), they simply can't be saved. God chose that free will be a very important component in our reality and can't contradict Himself by imposing salvation on a person that didn't want to be saved. "We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."" (CCC, 1033). So yes, it is even unacceptable to believe that God may ever free someone from Hell. That would be the dictatorship of God rather than his kingdom of love.

Unknown said...

These distinctions raise for me another issue that I have been involved with since 'Mothers' Day. I am thinking specifically of the distinction made between the 'Ascension of Christ' and the 'Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
In the context of this article, would such an 'assumption' not be possible for us as we are sinners, and have not been immaculately conceived? Could such an 'assumption' be a special/unique kind of hope specific only to the Virgin Mary. How can the concept 'assumption' in this case, throw perhaps some light on the concept of 'presumption' with respect to 'hope', i.e. as something to strive towards in the context of aspiring to the blessedness of the virgin. Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

Larry
If we change and repent we will be forgiven. If we hope that we change we probably have not. There is trust and belief that what god tells us is true. If your still hoping you will be forgiven you better repent just to be sure.

A Sinner said...

Ah but, Alessandro, NTM has recently had an article (and it's a point addressed several times on the blog) about how God's causality is not in conflict with free will. If God gave the soul in question an efficacious grace of repentance...it would repent. Freely!

Now, I think the Trajan example is telling inasmuch as it makes resurrection to natural life a sort of precondition of such a possible repentance of the damned. It seems to recognize that once the "book is closed" on a life, no further choice as regards that life's final orientation (to good or to evil) can be made, even, yes, by nature or logic (without changing the past). So, it imagines God getting around that by actually re-opening the book, restoring the person to natural life, so that their life-story (and its final orientation) was not in fact over.

This does raise the question, however, of where the dead like Lazarus were PRIOR to their miraculous resurrections to natural moral life. Where was Lazarus in those four days? Where were the souls of dead people brought back to life by saints (if we say their souls were still in the body, then they weren't really dead, so the miracle wouldn't be the same. So their souls must have been in some sort of after-life state).

So for human souls, restoration to natural life (and thus another chance to make new choices) seems at least one path by which a soul could be given more chances to (with grace) make a different choice, even after having been dead. Although, perhaps in all such (hypothetical) cases, we have to imagine that the particular judgment was actually simply "deferred" given that God KNEW the restoration to natural life would later take place, and thus maybe it couldn't REALLY be called a liberation from Hell strictly speaking (but still, where would those souls have been in the meantime??)

For angels/demons, obviously, such a "methodology" would be more problematic because the "completion" of their choice of heaven or hell was not based on an earthly "timeline" of a life history playing out, but was made immediately with full knowledge, and thus it is unclear how exactly such a choice could ever be imagined as remade without destroying the identity of the creature in question (as defined by its freedom).

A Sinner said...

Unknown...I think you're either making a really good pun, or confusing two different meanings of "assume" here. The assumption of the virgin mary refers to being taken up into heaven, not assumption in the sense of "taking for granted"!

Aric said...

Cool. Let's wrestle with Aquinas for a moment:

Whether there is certainty in the hope of a wayfarer?

Objection 1. It would seem that there is no certainty in the hope of a wayfarer. For hope resides in the will. But certainty pertains not to the will but to the intellect. Therefore there is no certainty in hope.

Objection 2. Further, hope is based on grace and merits, as stated above (Question 17, Article 1). Now it is impossible in this life to know for certain that we are in a state of grace, as stated above (I-II, 112, 5). Therefore there is no certainty in the hope of a wayfarer.

Objection 3.Further, there can be no certainty about that which may fail. Now many a hopeful wayfarer fails to obtain happiness. Therefore wayfarer’s hope has no certainty.

On the contrary, “Hope is the certain expectation of future happiness,” as the Master states (Sent. iii, D, 26): and this may be gathered from 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know Whom I have believed, and I am certain that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.”

I answer that, Certainty is found in a thing in two ways, essentially and by participation. It is found essentially in the cognitive power; by participation in whatever is moved infallibly to its end by the cognitive power. On this way we say that nature works with certainty, since it is moved by the Divine intellect which moves everything with certainty to its end. On this way too, the moral virtues are said to work with greater certainty than art, in as much as, like a second nature, they are moved to their acts by the reason: and thus too, hope tends to its end with certainty, as though sharing in the certainty of faith which is in the cognitive faculty.

Check out This post for a probing of this issue.

Mar said...

It gets better:

Nec Plus, Nec Minus:

Work on the project of *His Design*.

The rest doesn't matter. Length of working hours, intensity, personal talent, etc. is out of the picture. Remember the Parable of the 11th Hour.

Pax!

Mar.

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