Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Josef Pieper on Hope & the Reformed Doctrine of Faith
In response to a recent insightful comment to my post on adapting elements of Reformed catechisms for use in a catholic catechism for children, I am giving the following quote from Josef Pieper’s little book on Christian hope. The comment concerned the Reformation doctrine of faith, which is defined by the Heidelberg Catechism as “not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence…that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God.”
I take this to be a confusion of the theological virtues of faith and hope since no less an authority than St. Augustine wrote, “faith must be distinguished from hope, not merely as a matter of verbal propriety, but because they are essentially different.” In other (Aristotelian) words, faith and hope have different formal objects: “Can anything be hoped for which is not an object of faith? It is true that a thing which is not an object of hope may be believed.” Specifically, hope has for its object “only what is good, only what is future, and only what affects the man who entertains the hope.” Faith, on the other hand, has for its object everything which comes under Christian belief:
‘Accordingly, faith may have for its object evil as well as good; for both good and evil are believed, and the faith that believes them is not evil, but good. Faith, moreover, is concerned with the past, the present, and the future, all three. We believe, for example, that Christ died,--an event in the past; we believe that He is sitting at the right hand of God,--a state of things which is present; we believe that He will come to judge the quick and the dead,--an event of the future. Again, faith applies both to one's own circumstances and those of others.’
Faith and hope concern the same objects, only the objects of faith are common objects, whereas the objects of hope are personal.
Pieper, in his masterful thomistic treatment of the theological virtue of hope, exposes two vices opposed to it: despair and presumption. He identifies the latter with the doctrine of the Reformation described above.
‘The second form of presumption, in which, admittedly, its basic character as a kind of premature certainty is obscured, has its roots in the heresy propagated by the Reformation, viz. the sole efficacy of God’s redemptive and engracing action. By teaching the absolute certainty of salvation solely by virtue of the merits of Christ, this heresy destroyed the true pilgrim character of Christian existence by making as certain for the individual Christian as the revealed fact of redemption the fact that he had already “actually” achieved the goal of salvation. (Moreover, the theology of the Reformation denied not only the negativity of the “not yet”, but also its positive side: in no sense does it regard man’s proper existence as a positive progression towards fulfillment.) It has often been observed how close – both logically and phsychologically – this second form of presumption is to despair on the one hand and, on the other, to the moral uninhibitedness of that “inordinate trust in God’s mercy” that theology reckons, along with despair, among the “sins against the Holy Spirit.” It is but proper to emphasize at this point what is surely obvious: that we are speaking here only of the objective erroneousness of the presumption that is part of Reformation theology. It would be ridiculous and absurd to raise or attempt to answer the question of subjective guilt.’