Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2010

Spe Salvi facti sumus……in hope we were saved: A great message during this Advent Season

By Prof. Lakshman Madurasinghe

Pope Benedict's latest encyclical is a timely reminder of the value of hope and a challenge to Christian Legal Theorists as well.

Pope Benedict who has distinguished himself as an accomplished Theologian of our era has displayed his erudition once again with a scholarly exposition on hope which will undoubtedly re-kindle the hope in his readers at a time when many people in the world are struggling without faith and hope.

It is also timely that he chose to release it during the season of advent when the coming of Jesus as the redeemer is heralded worldwide. Redemption being the central theme of this Encyclical, it deals with a subject not alien to the law and therefore no stranger to Catholic legal thought and theory. These inputs are invaluable for the Catholic legal theorist who must grapple with the question of how the law and legal systems can best serve the development and flourishing of the human person who is created in God's image, Imago Dei, and revealed to us in the person of Christ.

In the encyclical about hope running into about 75 pages, Pope Benedict is not proposing a facile hope in heaven undoing injustices of life on earth. Indeed, this is where he brings in Dostoyevsky. The Pope asserts that "the last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope". A world without God is a world without hope, and "God is justice". Only God can provide the justice that sustains hope in the better future—the eternal life—for one and all. "God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship."

With justice comes grace, yet "grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on Earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoyevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel "The Brothers Karamazov”. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."

Elaborating on the resurrection of the flesh he goes on to say in section 43 that there is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgment is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. He is convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any cases the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfillment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; He further explains that to protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so"

Spe Salvi facti sumus…..In hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

The Pope's fundamental point is about the goal of redemption for humanity and the corresponding responsibility of hope in the reaching this objective—an objective that relies on but does not depend ultimately on human institutions such as the law. He illustrates the right relation between God and human enterprise in this endeavor. And proceeding to justice requires hope and patience on behalf of the human family—as Benedict states, "The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life."

Spe Salvi instructs readers that the Christian message is not only "informative" but also "performative, " that is, "the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing," Pope Benedict says. It is in receiving God through Jesus Christ that we receive hope. He illustrates this point narrating the life of the African slave, St. Josephine Bakhita. He uses the images of the downcast, the slave, and those on the margins of society to reinforce the theme of hope in the one who came to save us all so that we may be redeemed and live with Him forever.

The Holy Father takes note of the human alternatives that exist in this word to achieve one type of freedom that can liberate the marginalized—an endeavor with which the law has a great interest. But as he argues throughout the letter, the forms of liberation that rely solely on human resources are imperfect: "Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a 'not yet'. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future." For Benedict, there must be a renunciation of exclusive reliance on the things of this world to provide authentic relief to those who suffer in this world:

Engaging in a deeper analysis of Heb 11: 1 " faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen" he uses the un- translated word used for substance- hypostasis- Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen". He elaborates that the "substance"—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this "thing" which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not "appear"), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence.

He very rightly elaborates that to Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance", in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject. Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a "proof" of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a "not yet".

The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future. This new freedom, the awareness of the new "substance" which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit. In their case, the new "substance" has proved to be a genuine "substance"; from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope. In their case, it has been demonstrated that this new life truly possesses and is "substance" that calls forth life for others.

For this to make sense, the Pope acknowledges that redemption, and the human role in it (through hope in God) must understand what life, including eternal life, means. This is where the role of Jesus’s salvific mission must be taken into account for it means something to the existence of every person whose life begins in this world but will continue elsewhere.

Inspired by the writing of Henri de Lubac, the Pope distills the essence of human existence by identifying the individual and social nature of hope, faith, salvation, and redemption: "salvation has always been considered a 'social' reality." For Benedict, sin—the product of human free will—destroys the unity of the human race by fragmenting the person and the society in which he or she lives. The Pope sees a remedy to this problem of fragmented liberty: it is redemption which reestablishes the unity in which individuals come together in a union that begins to take shape in the community of believers.

The Holy Father also notes the importance of Christian faith-hope in the modern age. In the encyclical letter, Pope Benedict analyzes the false utopian dreams of the modern age and points out the untold suffering they have caused human beings. From this point of view, redemption is no longer through faith in God's saving action but from what human beings can achieve through the application of technical knowledge to all of society's problems. A praxis-oriented science draws on an understanding of progress as the overcoming of all dependency to make room for a "kingdom" in which God is no longer at the center. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level. Thus hope too… acquires a new form. Now it is called: faith in progress. For Bacon, it is clear that the recent spate of discoveries and inventions is just the beginning; through the interplay of science and praxis, totally new discoveries will follow, a totally new world will emerge, the kingdom of man.

It is this "kingdom of man" in which Benedict argues the purely political departs from the exercise of right reason that leads all to the eternal life and the Kingdom of God. He relies upon illustrations from the French Revolution and Marxist theory and praxis to make his point convincing. While promising "freedom," both of these political events removed authentic freedom for reason.

What are critical to the success of the Holy Father's proposition are two further realizations. The first is that right state of human affairs cannot be guaranteed by human-designed structures alone even while acknowledging their merits. Second, it is essential to understand the essence of human freedom: "the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man's freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all."

He cautions us that it is not "science" that redeems us; rather, it is love, specifically the love of God in Jesus Christ, the one who came to save us all. Moreover, this love is the source of all life—both now and in the future. This love characterizes a crucial relation in human beingness, relation with our Savior. But this love which takes us into the eternal life also has a role in the life of this world. As Benedict states: "[Christ] commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole."

Atheism may be "understandable" when mankind is confronted with evil and suffering, but the attempt to banish God, he wrote, "has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice," whether through Marxist revolution or the science that produced the atomic bomb.

In section 5 he says… "It is not . . . the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love".

As he has often done in his writings, Benedict emphasizes his points in several passages by summing up the arguments against God as well as any doubter could. In section 31 speaking of the Kingdom, he explains "His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is 'truly' life.

He wanted the Protestants to take note that we cannot—to use the classical expression—'merit' Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something 'merited', but always a gift ".

"But then the question arises: do we really want this — to live eternally?" he asked. "Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive."

He continued, "To continue living for ever — endlessly — appears more like a curse than a gift," before describing a heaven that is not, as he put it, "monotonous and ultimately unbearable."

"It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists," he wrote. "We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy."

He urges people to continue to pray: "When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude ...; if I pray I am never totally alone.

May these thoughts inspire you during Christmas and encourage you never to lose hope.

Prof. Lakshman Madurasinghe is a Lawyer/ Consultant Psychologist and is in the International Faculty of Haggai Singapore and USA engaged in training Christian Leaders worldwide. He is in the faculty of Kotelawala Defence University teaching Psychology to those following a Masters degree and also in the Army Command Staff College, Sri Lanka. He is the author of "Organizational Behaviour", and the joint author of “Clinical Psychology" and a 12-volume set on "World Religions. The first two covering Buddhism and Christianity were released a few years ago. He is also a member of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Colombo and has authored a challenging article on “Eucharistic Consciousness"

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.