FREEDOM FOR THE WILL
THE cold shiver that runs up our spine as we pass the dull walls of a prison or hear the clank of chains in a ghost-story is our nature’s recognition of accurate symbols of slavery. The walls and the chains are instruments of imprisonment. For, essentially, our notion of liberty is the ability to go somewhere; the capacity to choose a path to a goal and to take, or refuse to take, some steps along that path. The limitations of a man’s physical ability to move about touch our spirit with the cold finger of fear, in spite of the fact that we know in our hearts that there are no walls, no chains which can restrain the mind and the heart of a man.
Hope and internal liberty
As long as the mind of man knows a goal, as long as his heart can soar on the wings of hope and love following the directions of his mind, a man is essentially free. He is still a man, he still has reason for living. There is no display of a dictator’s power, no lash of a whip, no smile of scorn, indeed no power on earth which can stop the mind and the heart of a man from rushing to its goal. When you have seen the light of that goal die out of the face of a man, when you have seen him surrender hope of choosing a path to somewhere and of stepping along that path, when you have seen the death of hope, you have seen the death of man and the birth of a slave. This is true no matter how free a man may be to move about this physical world of ours; he is a slave, for his mind and his heart have no place to go.
Optimistic pessimism: The fact
This slave may be optimistic about his slavery. He may go at his living as enthusiastically as a dog digs for a nonexistent bone — and with just as much grounds for his optimism. He may admit the existence of the goal but deny that he has any power to reach that goal, and so place himself in the position of a starving paralytic staring hopelessly at a full meal. Or he may whine to the universe that no adequate means of reaching the goal is offered to him and sulk like a movie fan in love with a star he will never see.
These are not amusing fictions; they are the possibilities held out to man by modern philosophy. These modern philosophers may sound bright, cheery, completely optimistic about man and the universe but nevertheless the invitation they issue is to absolute pessimism. The fact is that we cannot be free without hope; and a slave has no grounds for optimism. We must have hope, hope of getting to a place that is really worth while, that is, hope in a personal goal and the means to that goal.
The explanation: Natural and supernatural hope
There is an unconscious realization of this in the tribute we pay to hope, even on the natural scale. To us, it smacks of thc heroic, of courage and magnanimity; there is a young beauty about it, a sense of strong endeavor and great accomplishment. The tragedy of this natural hope is that it is built upon so utterly frail a basis, like a financial empire reared upon baseless credit or the reputation of a man depending on the breath of a whisper. For this natural hope depends on human faith; that is to say, it rests on no more than a strong opinion. Hope must always rest on faith and, if it is a human hope, it must rest on human faith.
The basis of hope — faith
St. Thomas compares supernatural hope to an anchor holding the soul firm. What is there in this life that can secure a soul? Can we think of the mind of man as secure when we see the learned men of the ages making mistakes as ridiculous as those of a school-boy? Who will say that the love of man gives us absolute security? Will we place our security in the feelings and sense of a man that change with every breath of wind? in a political organization? in a military power? will we even dare to place our security in nature itself knowing it is not a goal but merely a beginning? We cannot sink the anchor of our hope in the depths; paradoxically we must fix it to the heights, even to God Himself. That is what supernatural hope does. It gives us confidence of eternal life through the promises of help of Almighty God Himself. While there are no human-made bars that can imprison the mind of man, no jail that can hold his heart, the hope of that heart and mind can be demolished by the destruction of the foundation of hope; by taking away from man his faith in the existence of a God Who is faithful to His promises and powerful enough to help man win through to divinity itself.
Demolisher of hope’s foundation — infidelity
Negative, positive and contrary infidelity
Infidelity — the contrary of faith — is, then, the greatest tragedy which can enter into human life for it blasts out the foundation of that hope which is the starting point of our activity. This infidelity may be that of the pagan who has never heard of the faith, or that of the man who, having heard of the faith, persistently refuses it much as a man might refuse olives at dinner, without rancor. On the other hand it may be the militant infidelity which attacks the faith as an enemy of humanity. Remembering that faith is the basis of hope, it seems difficult to believe that there are those who thus fight the faith; but there are such men and women, and plenty of them. Objectively, at least, they commit a sin much greater than murder, adultery, theft or any of the sins against the moral virtues; their sin is directly against God, these others are only indirectly against Him. Indeed, their sin so completely separates man from God as to leave him, not only spiritually dead, but completely off the supernatural plane. Notice, however, that we say “objectively”; for no man can judge of the subjective guilt of another. Who can say that this infidel, viciously attacking all that the Church stands for, commits a graver sin than the backbiting housewife? That is known only to God.
Malice and extent of the corruption of infidelity
The “broad-minded” man, rejecting the faith politely and without rancor, commits the same sin; he too has that contempt for God so tragically exemplified by William James when he said, “The truth or falsehood of the theistic proofs makes little difference, for such a god is of no use to men.” But if there could be such a thing as the purely negative infidelity of the pagan, it would involve no formal sin; sin, you know, does not happen by accident through no fault of our own. However Thomas rightly denies that such negative infidelity is possible. If a man does not place one of the fundamental impediments to faith — pride or fear — God will, if necessary, reveal to him directly what is to be believed or even, miraculously, send him a preacher to announce to him the good tidings of faith.
There is a fiction, current in intellectual circles today, to the effect that Christianity maintains man is totally corrupt, that all of his acts are sinful, even mortally sinful. If we identify Christianity with the religion of Luther and the reformers, this ceases to be fiction and becomes fact; but if we suppose this absurd statement is a corollary of the great sinfulness of infidelity we are calling for our fiction straight, with no slightest admixture of fact. Catholicism vehemently denies any such corruption in man, not only in Christian man but in any man. Of course an infidel can build a house, bake a good pie, give alms to the poor or sympathy and encouragement to one in suffering; all of these are certainly not sins. They are good works, possessed of real value. But supernaturally they are dead works. They are not coin of the realm of Christ precisely because of the infidelity and consequent lack of charity: they have no value for eternal life.
Fiction such as this, which springs from a lumping together of all that lays claim to the name Christian, is responsible for much of the indifference and even hostility to Christianity among men and women today, particularly among learned men and women. They know that men and women, whatever their faith, are not utterly vicious, not totally corrupt. Nowhere will they find a more wholehearted support of that knowledge than in the Church. In fact it can be taken as a general rule that in any attack on humanity, whether in the name of religion, politics, militarism or anything else, the Church will always be found on the side of the defense. And its defense of humanity will not be a gentle, timid disagreement, a polite remonstrance, nor a neutrality that stands aghast but does nothing. It will be a thundering condemnation such as was hurled against Luther, Calvin, Jansenius and Baius on this precise point.
Comparative malice of infidelity of pagans, Jews and heretics
Every type of infidelity rules out the possibility of faith in a man’s mind and consequently destroys the basis of hope. It makes no difference whether the infidelity be that of the pagan who has never heard of faith, the Jew who has accepted it only in its pre-figures and prophecies, the heretic rejecting his faith, or the apostate turning his back on the truths that were once his. This is obvious in what Thomas considers the purely hypothetical case of the pagan’s negative infidelity. In regard to the others, a distinction must be made between material and formal infidelity. By the first, a man holds fast to the formal reason of faith — the authority of God revealing the truths of faith; what he rejects, he turns aside from precisely on the grounds that it is not revealed by God. By the second, formal infidelity, a man pits his mind against the mind of God and rejects this or that supernatural truth, or all supernatural truths, precisely as such. Or, to put the same truth in another way, the material infidel’s doubts fall on the declaration of the revealed character of certain truths; the formal infidel doubts the truths themselves.
In this connection it is well to remember that the testimony of the Church is not a formal motive of faith, but a condition of faith. The infallibility of the Church’s declarations is itself a revealed truth and an object of faith. However, a revealed truth is not lost inculpably and accidentally. Material infidelity is understandable as a result of corrupt teaching or of no teaching at all, consequently in a second or third generation of heretics or, in simple souls, in a first generation following the teaching of its formally corrupt leaders. It is difficult to conceive of it in other circumstances.
In one sense these formal infidelities are all equal for all completely destroy faith, rejecting its formal reason — the authority of God revealing these truths. But, from another angle, there is no equality among them, i.e., from the angle of the truths which are still accepted. Obviously the Jew has more of these truths than the pagan, and the heretic has more than the Jew; yet the order of malice is just the reverse. We might say that in the argument with God over the truths of faith, the heretic shouts out insults at the top of his voice; the Jew’s is a conversational disagreement; while the pagan stands stubbornly silent, refusing to admit anything.
Treatment of infidels: In their persons: Disputation
It sounds strange to us today that between Catholics and infidels, whatever their type, some norm of action must be laid down. After all, Republicans and Democrats flare up at each other only once in four years, while Rotarians and Elks have no trouble avoiding ill feeling. Perhaps this impatience with religious quarrels comes from the idea that religion is not worth fighting about; or, more probably, it may be based on ignorance of the terribly destructive force of infidelity. In a Catholic such ignorance is hardly excusable. lt is not only that his appreciation of the inestimable value of thc faith should give him an insight into the tragedy of infidelity: there is also the glaring fact of the comparative zeal of the enemies of the faith and his own zeal. A thoughtful consideration of that fact gives us the key to the tremendous power for destruction in infidelity. The Catholic’s zeal springs from love of neighbor and love of God; it is always a rather serene thing, for the false gods and false goals of others do not threaten the security of his own soul, of his own life. And this very serenity and security too often make it a mild, tepid thing. The infidel’s zeal, on the contrary, is inspired by desperate, bitter self-defense. Supernatural faith itself, God, the final goal of life are all devastating accusations which strike at the roots of his philosophy, at the basis upon which he has built his life; in order to protect himself in his own eyes, he must destroy these things, or do his utmost to effect their destruction.
Something, then, must be done about infidelity. But what? What is Catholicism’s mode of procedure in the face of infidelity? Well, the obvious thing that Catholics, at one time or another, must do with infidels is argue. Certainly it is going to be necessary to protect the faith of the simple faithful, to confute error and reply to accusations levelled against the faith. St. Dominic, and all his disputatious sons after him, recognized the necessity of argument for the return of thc infidel to the faith; though not many can successfully emulate Dominic’s example of arguing all night with a heretic. Boredom and conversion are poles apart and only a saint or a genius can preserve an all-night argument from boredom.
This arguing in favor of the faith is not to be confused with the fruit of an unpleasant disposition or a poor night’s sleep. Not anyone who feels in the mood for argument is justified in arguing about the faith. It would seem that almost anyone can argue, any time, about a sporting event, politics or international policies with no appreciable effect on sport, politics or internationalism. But the same cannot be said of arguments about the faith. The fact that we have picked up a smattering of theology, know something of the difficulties against this or that truth of faith, does not give us a right to parade our knowledge before simple people who are perfectly content in their faith. Our Catholicism does not give us the right to stand up before any audience and take on any adversary in our defense of the faith, as a wrestler might challenge anyone in the audience to grapple with him. This is not a game. We shall probably do the faith much more good by keeping a discreet silence and letting it be known that we are not fitted for an argument with this adversary, or under these circumstances, and insisting that it be done by one who is so equipped.
The right of disputation is questioned by no one in America today. Its limitations are dictated by common sense. But beyond that — well the world used to tell us to be very tolerant. But that was some time ago. That was before the floods of vicious intolerance were let loose, not against error, but against truth. Today the world at large is a decidedly intolerant world; it is only of us that tolerance is still expected. Yet there is something to be said for intolerance of error; nothing for intolerance of truth.
The very word tolerance indicates that we are putting up with an evil. We do not tolerate a good; we embrace it, enthusiastically encourage it and do all in our power to promote it. But we do tolerate the noise of the little boy next door, the snorings in a Pullman, the eccentricities of a statesman, graft in public administration, and so on. We do not question the unpleasantness or positive evil of these things. Certainly we are not enthusiastic about them; we put up with them, and none too cheerfully, because that is all we can do without causing greater unpleasantness or greater evil. If it were otherwise we would be enjoying these things or cowardly about them; either way we would have little to be proud of. The Church in this matter has much to be proud of, and she is neither a gourmand of evil nor a coward.
The tolerance of infidels on the part of the Church is not, then, to be mistaken for approbation. Indeed even that tolerance, to be well understood, must be seen in its causes. It is quite impossible for the Church to force infidels to believe. Not only has she absolutely no jurisdiction over the Jew or the pagan, the very act of belief enjoys all the inviolability of an act of free will; no force on earth, in hell or in heaven can possibly force the free will of man. The Church has her hands full dealing with her own obstreperous brood; she has no time to attempt the impossible.
However she is a mother. She can and does force others to cease persecuting the faith, injuring it by their blasphemy, undermining the faith of the simple faithful by clever argumentation. In other words, she demands, forcefully if necessary, that the faith be left alone. The Church has the serious obligation, imposed by Christ Himself, to preach the gospel to all nations. Surely then she has the right to fulfill that obligation; and others have the obligation to respect that right of the Church.
There can never be question of forcing a man to believe, to accept the faith. But to force those who were baptized and who deserted the faith, to fulfill that which had been promised in faith’s acceptance — that is another story. It can be done, and historically it has been done, not only by spiritual penalties, but also by the much less serious corporal penances. It is this compulsion of heretics that goes against the grain of our modern world; let us look at it a little more closely.
In this case the Church is not a busybody slipping into a neighbor’s house to spank children who are nothing to her but nuisances. These heretics are her own children; by baptism they entered the Church, and by that sacrament the Church has over them the same power it has over all the rest of its subjects. Moreover these heretics are committing moral suicide; they are doing tremendous, eternal damage to themselves and to others in blasting out the one foundation of hope, the faith. No one seriously questions the sensibleness of compulsion, even physical compulsion, against a man plotting the overthrow of a legally constituted and properly functioning government; against the man who undermines the health of the community by spreading a dangerous disease; or against the traitor in war who attempts to betray his country. The social and physical life of man are concrete, tangible goods. Perhaps this is the clue to the root of our difficulty: we cannot realize the enormity of the damage accomplished by the heretic because we value so slightly the spiritual life of men,
Let us put the same thing in terms of physical health. Let us suppose a man were to go from city to city deliberately spreading the germ of a fatal disease, What limitation would we place on the physical coercion which might be inflicted on him? Would there be any question in our minds but that these activities should be stopped no matter what the physical damage necessary to stop that campaign immediately? Now look at heresy objectively, considering the seriousness of it in itself. Has the Church the right to protect its own and to warn the heretic by excommunicating him from all participation in sacramental life? Indeed, looked at objectively, the reasonableness even of the execution of that heretic to preserve the common good of the spiritual life is not hard to see. Actually the procedure of the Church has never been immediate execution; rather it has always been a slow, infinitely patient attempt to protect all of her children, the attacking heretic as well as the faithful ones. Her gestures were not those of exasperation, of frightened weakness, of ruthless power. Even in the middle ages, when the death penalty for heresy, while not universal, was not uncommonly inflicted by the state, the Church’s corrections proceeded with that same slow, unruffled pace. The heretic was warned; then he was warned a second time; if he still held stubbornly to his error, the Church not hoping very stoutly for his conversion, provided for the salvation of others by excommunicating him. Finally, when all hope of his conversion was abandoned, the Church turned him over to the secular arm for the infliction of the death penalty; and she stood beside him to the very last, offering the divine forgiveness that would assure her wayward son of eternal life. Her love for her children, in other words, has never been a weak, timid, sentimental thing, too selfish to be severe; her sense of values was serene, absolute; she knew there was no answer to the question, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” — surely the answer was not physical life.
In their rites
Today we accept this version of strong love with a cynical smile. The argument is that such a course of action violates the conscience of heretics who, very often, are in good faith. Yet our newspapers week after week, tell us of police thwarting attempted suicides, snatching people from ledges of high buildings, grabbing the poison from their hands, pumping out their stomachs, searching prisoners lest they conceal instruments of self-destruction. Do not the consciences of these people tell them that suicide is the thing for them to do? Of course; but their consciences are erroneous, they are wrong. So also is that of the heretic; just as men of sane conscience are obliged to correct and prevent the attempted suicides, so also is the Church. The hero who drags a woman from the river and forces her to continue to live, against her conscience, is not forcing her to commit sin. Sin is not in the material act, but in the will; and the will cannot be forced. In the same way, a heretic forced to conform to the rites of the faith is not forced to commit sin. Rather he is protected from pursuing a way of sin, a road away from thc end of life, he is kept in a position to attain the supreme goal when and if he returns to spiritual sanity.
In their children
Another modern argument is drawn from the infringement on the liberty of infants who were baptized without having anything to say, at least intelligibly, about it. But after all liberty is a choice of means to an end. The Church, insisting that the child, baptized as an infant, live up to his faith, is insisting that a person under the jurisdiction of the Church hold fast to the means to the one end of life. That is not an interference with but a guarantee of the material of liberty.
Why should the child be obliged to what he did not personally promise? Well, why not? It was necessary at that time, i.e., the earliest possible moment, that the step be taken; the elevation of man to the supernatural plane upon which he must move is not something that can be put off. The child could not act of itself; so others acted for him on the presumption — a most reasonable presumption — that if the child knew the truth and were capable of action, this is what he would do. The crux of the whole question is, of course, that this act is one that cannot be taken back; it impresses the indelible character of baptism on the soul. The absurdity that children must be allowed to grow up like animals until such a time as they should choose their religion for themselves was formally condemned by the Council of Trent. There is still no exchange a man can make for his soul. We instill habits of personal hygiene, even though the child vociferously protests at the very sight of a bathtub or a tooth brush. Usually it is not the age of reason but his first girl that inspires a boy to wash behind his ears freely, industriously, without compulsion. Certainly the bathtub and tooth brush have done the child no injury. Perhaps some day our moderns will become convinced that there are things even more important than personal hygiene, such things for example as the supernatural habits that make possible the success of human living.
With a clear realization of the malice of infidelity in men, it is not difficult to understand why the Church, at one time or another, forbade Catholics to have business or social relations with infidels. The thing could not be done, of course, the other way around; the Church, you will remember, has no jurisdiction over the unbaptized. Nor was this prohibition of the Church a merely arbitrary procedure; a flight from the shadow of a ghost, as we can see faintly here in America today. It would be strange indeed if a corrupt but almost universal view on marriage in itself, divorce and remarriage, or on business, political and medical ethics had not had some effect on the simple Catholic living in such an atmosphere.
When we turn to a consideration of the Church’s attitude towards the services of heretics and infidels, we must keep in mind that toleration is not approbation. That these church rites can be tolerated either because of some good in them or to avoid some greater evil is evident; indeed it may be obligatory to tolerate them. Even God Himself tolerates some evil; no human regime, even an ecclesiastical regime, can hope to effect a government more perfect than the divine.
To come down to particulars, the rites of the Jewish religion can be tolerated of themselves; there is always some good coming from them. In fact, they are a constant witness to the faith, for they give the testimony of the prefigures and of the prophets. The rites of pagans and heretics, on the contrary, have nothing in themselves to recommend their toleration: they are always a danger to the faith; at least materially they are sins. But there are strong reasons for toleration of these rites, for example: to avoid spiritual damage, either to the faithful or to the infidels themselves; to avoid riots and bloodshed; because any other mode of procedure would be a serious impediment to the eternal salvation of these infidels. Being tolerated, the infidels might gradually, little by little, turn to the faith. How essential this toleration is may be gathered from the fact of the great multitude of men who are infidels, and the memory that, in the eyes of God, the soul of just one man is well worth the last drop of blood, even of the God-man. This truth, so completely overlooked in any discussion of the tolerance of the Church, cannot be emphasized too strongly: the secret of the assured tolerance of Catholicism is not a continued lack of opportunity, but a divinely guaranteed appreciation of the value of the soul of man; the Church will be tolerant, persistently, patiently, to the very end, because of her divine love for the souls of those who know not Christ.
Perhaps all this could be said briefly by pointing out that just as faith does not enslave but rather frees the mind of man with a divine freedom, so does the guardian of the faith hold her place in the world not as the enemy of the freedom of man but the staunchest champion of that freedom. She will always be the object of attack, as will the faith, for freedom demands both courage and respect for others; and always in the world there will be cowards and tyrants. Nowhere does this championship of the rights of men appear more evident than in relation to the children of infidels.
In the mind of St. Thomas there was no doubt but that the rights of the parents were supreme. It was not merely that the baptism of infidel children against the wishes of their parents would do great damage to the faith, since these children normally have very little chance of being educated in that faith; it would be a serious injury to natural justice. Thomas is quite clear in asserting the foundation of his argument: the inviolability of the children of infidels rests on the natural right of the parent. The child, until he has the use of reason, until he is able to care for himself, is under the care, indeed a part of the parents. His salvation is the responsibility of the parents; nor do these parents lose their rights by contact with Divine law, which does not destroy but perfects the law of nature. Both the law of grace and the law of nature have come from the mind of the same supreme Lawgiver and work harmoniously to bring men back to that supreme Truth.
Further attacks on the foundation of hope: Blasphemy
The angry man who spouts blasphemies is not necessarily guilty of sin; ordinarily he is only the victim of a limited vocabulary. Though she is struggling for emphasis, not expletive, the vivacious young lady swaying on the subway strap and shouting the name of God above all the roar of the train is suffering from the same limitation. These two are not at all in the same class as the university professor who calmly assures us that God is a symbol. His is a sin, but a dry, dusty, languid sin, with little heart in it. The complete blasphemer is seen in the atheist who viciously attacks the notion that God is good, that God is omnipotent, that He is the provider of His children in this world. Here we have the sin which stands at the peak of all the sins of infidelity, a sin which consists in verbally insulting God.
By it we attribute to God something which does not belong to Him, or deny Him something that is His divine prerogative. In its full stupidity it outstrips all sins against the moral virtues, even sins of despair and presumption against the virtue of hope; it gives place, reluctantly, only to that supreme sin which is hatred of God. When blasphemy proceeds from hatred of God itself, then blasphemy is the supreme sin.
However brief it be, however softly whispered, there is nothing small about the smallest of blasphemies; for just one, any one, destroys our union with God. In the human order an insulting word or a moment of infidelity does not necessarily destroy the love that binds a man and woman together; but then that love is a natural thing, with roots deep in nature. The love that binds us to God is not at all natural; its roots are not in nature. From our side it must always be a frail, engrafted thing; in cherishing our union with God we must tread fearfully, carefully with the fear and caution looking out, not towards God, but towards ourselves.
An eavesdropper at the keyhole of the gate of heaven would listen in vain for God and His friends to hurl insults. Blasphemy has no place in heaven, and no place among the friends of God on earth. Men do of course blaspheme. The devils too blaspheme, not with lips but with their affections. Once the damned souls in hell are reunited to their bodies the uproar in hell will really commence, and one of the constant activities in the social life of hell will be blasphemy. There is a terrible significance to this truth, for it indicates that there is no limit to the sins and wickedness of hell; in fact that very wickedness is a part of the punishment of hell. If nothing else would, this truth shows us that there is no Joy in sin for if there were, the devils could have none of it.
Sins against the Holy Ghost
To most of us there is more viciousness in the contempt of a snub than there is in the attack of open insult: the latter at least does us the honor of opposition. Some such subtle contempt is involved in the blasphemies which have come to be known as the sins against the Holy Ghost. Their cold hauteur is the ultimate in snobbery. They are the characteristic gestures of those who are too good for God; at least these sins always imply a contempt for God’s goodness for they proceed, not from ignorance, not from weakness nor passion, but from deliberate malice, from a rejection of the protection offered to us against the choice of sin.
By these sins against the Holy Ghost, we slam the door of our mind against the brightness of God which drives out the darkness of sin. We prefer the dust, the dampness the dirt and cobwebs, the hidden ugliness of sin; an ugliness that is so revolting that, were it shown in bright light, it would be too much even for us. So we hurl shut the door of our mind against all consideration of the divine judgment, lest its justice and mercy hold us back from presumption and despair. We turn away from the consideration of the gifts of God, lest the knowledge of His truth halt our attacks on divine revelation at the very start. We refuse to consider the help of interior grace, that our enmity for the grace of others might be unrestrained. We refuse to look at sin honestly, lest its disorder and foulness should move us to amendment and penance. We blind ourselves to the pettiness of the apparent good of sin, that our obstinacy might be undisturbed.
Obviously such a sinner is really in a bad way. His sin has no excuse; it is a sin of malice. These sins directly exclude the very things which might bring us to our knees before the gentle Christ. Only the omnipotence of God makes it possible for these sins to be forgiven up until the very moment of death. But, as far as the sinner himself is concerned, he has already signed his own death warrant with a ghastly flourish.
The variety of these sins may be frightening: presumption, despair, attack on divine truth, envy of the grace of others, impenitence and obstinacy. But fortunately they are not starting points; rather they are climaxes of evil. Human nature, ordinarily, does not reach any heights or depths in one jump. Normally it takes some little effort to be thoroughly bad. Usually the sinner starts with sins that have some excuse in ignorance or passion, that is with sins that leave at least a few tatters to cover his self-respect. It is only later that it is possible for him to abandon self- respect in his mad passion for sin, to plunge into the depths of contempt for the goodness of God.
Spiritual blindness and sluggishness
The virtue of faith, perfected by the gift of understanding, is the clear eye of a pilot spotting a landing field in the dusk; a landing field to which the heart rushes on the wings of hope. Blindness of the pilot means the end of hope and the crash of the flight of the heart; indeed, sleepiness, heaviness, sluggishness are almost as surely fatal. That is exactly the attack made on the gift of understanding by spiritual blindness and spiritual sluggishness. Both are sins against the Holy Ghost by attacking His gifts; and the attack is an odd, indirect thing. It consists in a voluntary non-consideration of spiritual goods. Understand in this case a man does not refuse to consider this or that particular aid to this or that particular action; he is attacking in a much more sweeping fashion, attacking the root principles, if you like, of the enlightenment of man.
He is blind to the things of the spirit because the world has got into his eyes; for this blindness is traceable primarily to lust, the sluggishness to gluttony. This is not to be misunderstood; it is not a matter of the rush of blood to the stomach after a heavy meal, crippling our thinking power. It is a question here of the concentration of our attention, of our hearts, upon these things of the flesh. The world is in our eyes; we will not see, and so we cannot see. Time only adds to our blindness until, after a while, we convince ourselves that we are not blind, that these things we cannot see no longer exist. Then indeed is hope definitely dead.
The virtue of hope: The essence of hope, its object and subject
The man whose hope is dead no longer confidently expects everlasting life and the means to attain it because of the omnipotence, mercy and fidelity of God. He no longer possesses that theological virtue of hope which makes a man look to God as to a good to be possessed, that makes a man stand awe-struck at the spectacle of divine omnipotence, determined by divine mercy and divine fidelity, making of his weak hands, of his stumbling feet, the instruments by which he constructs an eternal habitation inside the walls of heaven itself.
Moreover, there is little that anyone else can do for him. Just as no one can walk, or sleep, or digest for me, so no man can hope for me. The act of hope cannot be carried through by a substitute; it is an intimately personal thing, the act of the appetite of man desiring God. No man can hope for another unless somehow these two be one, unless they be cemented in that bond of unity which is the love of God. One Christian, united to others by charity, can hope for the ultimate happiness of these others with whom he is one, just as he can hope for himself; for in truth, these to whom he is united are other selves.
It is true that many a man has been brought to heaven by the prayers of a mother, a wife or a child. It is true that many a man may escape the trap of despair because of someone’s great love for him and the help they give him. But that does not mean that we can hope in other men, except as they are instruments of God. No man, no woman, no prayer, no sacrifice can bring us to the possession of God; only the Omnipotent Himself can do that for us. Just as the authority of God is the solid basis of faith, so the omnipotence of God is the solid basis of hope; upon that foundation alone can man safely rear the high towers of his hopes.
Place of hope among the virtues
There is something youthful about hope; it puts a spring into our step, a lilt into our heart. To understand something of that eternal youthfulness of hope and the young eyes it puts into the faces of the saints, it is only necessary to compare it with the other theological virtues. Charity looks to God as to an end to be serenely possessed; its outlook then is one of serene wisdom. Faith looks to God as a principle, a fountain from which pours truth; its eagerness is tempered by an abashed humility staring at unutterable truths. But hope looks to God as a principle, a beginning, a source of successful action; its eyes sweep youth’s glorious world of long futures, of things, great things, still to be done.
Hope presupposes faith. It follows on the heels of faith as the heart follows in the steps of the mind, or hope springs from our will: and the will, the appetite of man, cannot, will not, plunge blindly about in the dark. It follows only so far as the intellect can lead; it takes only those steps that are possible because faith, knowledge, has gone before hacking out footholes. Hope comes from Faith; it leads to love, to charity. With the increase of charity there is also an increase of hope; of course we expect much more, and more confidently, from our friends. And charity means that God is our friend. The difference between the hope that walks arm and arm with charity and the hope that walks alone is the difference between the living and the dead. For charity is the soul of hope, as it is the soul of faith, as it is the soul of all the virtues. It alone gives them life.
When we say that the wish is father to the thought, we are flattering ourselves, If the alleged thought proceeds from emotion, rather than emotion proceeding from thought, the result is not thought at all. If it is anything, it is an emotional prejudice. In other words it is important to remember that hope is in the will of man, not in his intellect. Consequently hope is not a foundation of knowledge or conviction, much less can it be the foundation of all religion, as much modern Protestantism and modernism suppose.
It is true enough that there is a certitude in hope. After all, anything based solidly on God has certitude about it. But the certitude of the mercy and the omnipotence of God towards us, the certitude of the possibility of our happiness, is a certitude that comes from faith. Understand well that it is not a certitude which establishes the absolute success of our own life. It by no means assures us that now we need not give the matter of salvation a thought; that we are saved; that we have religion and now all that is necessary is to sit back and wait, smilingly, for the crown to be placed on our head, meanwhile, perhaps whiling away the time by tchick, tchicking at those who are not as holy as we are. That smugness is even a little too much for God to swallow. It is always certain that God is merciful and omnipotent, that beatitude is possible to us; but it is not certain in this life that we ourselves will acquire that eternal happiness. It may seem, from a superficial glance, that the Reformers were doing a sweet, kind thing in extending the certitude of hope to the lengths of a personal guarantee. As a matter of fact, their attempt was cloying, saccharine; it reduced the religious tribute we pay to God to a gust of emotionalism without foundation.
The perfection of hope: The gift of fear
Varieties of fear
The ordinary human being is an easy victim of drama. A brief sentence, a picture, a passing portrayal of emotion, even though none of these ring quite true, will close our threats, wet our eyes, bow down our hearts. We are fearfully impressed, not merely fearful, when we read an immortal poet’s dramatic line, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, as written over the gates of hell. The same thing might just as well have been written above the gates of heaven, for it is just as true that there is no hope in heaven, as it is that there is no hope in hell; though of course for a different reason. In heaven there is no need for hope because what was once hoped for is now possessed; but in hell there is no possibility of hope because that which was once hoped for can now never be possessed.
That chord of fear, struck in our hearts at the thought of abandoning all hope, is a reasonable thing. Yet even the greatest hope, in full stride to the accomplishment of high, hard things, must have some solid fear in its make-up. We make a serious mistake today in supposing that all fear is opposed to courage. It is not. There can be great courage present with extremely great fear. After all, we have seen that there is a fear produced by faith, and faith is possible only to one of great courage. Indeed the fearless man who has no fear of God, man or the devil, is undoubtedly a fool; there are many things of which we can, even must be, reasonably afraid. Certainly we must fear the Lord; not, you understand, as we fear death, disease or accident; rather we fear Him as a judge, evaluating our actions and giving them their just due. Only a fool would not fear strict justice.
The gift of the Holy Ghost
But there is another sense of fear in which it is a sublime gift of the Holy Ghost. This fear is not a cowardly embracing of sin to escape temporal evil; it is not that honest, supernatural fear which is the effect of faith and which drives us from sin through the threat of punishment; rather it is the child’s fear of separation from one who is desirable above all else. It is the fear that makes us easily moved by the breath of God towards God Himself by placing within us the first condition of easy mobility, that is, a complete, willing subjection to and reverence for God. It removes all sulkiness from our response to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. In a sense, it makes us grow up; though it is a child’s fear, by it we are no longer children stamping the floor and pouting because we cannot have our own way. We grow up, we bow down before the supreme wisdom of God and, in ourselves, the beginnings of wisdom appear.
For fear is really the beginning of wisdom. It is not the first principle of wisdom; that privilege belongs to faith’s first long view of the goal. But fear is the beginning of wisdom in the sense of being the first concept of wisdom from which wisdom itself begins to operate. Indirectly the fear produced by faith begins wisdom through its expulsion of attachment to sin; for such an attachment makes wise direction impossible. But directly wisdom is begun by the child’s fear, the gift of the Holy Ghost, which implants in our souls the conditions necessary for all direction, for all regulation, for all progress towards God — reverence and subjection.
You will have noticed that in this fear of God there was a double element: a fear of separation from our divine Friend, and a note of reverence and subjection to God. It is in that double sense that we fear the Lord in this life. As we approach more closely to God, we revere Him more deeply and are more thoroughly subject to Him; while the idea of being separated from Him, even for an instant, becomes more and more intolerable. When we reach the perfect union with God that is proper to heaven, the fear of separation disappears altogether; but our reverence and subjection reach their peak. In other words, in heaven our fear will be perfect because we will be fully grown up. Perhaps another way of saying this is that complete independence belongs to God alone. When we attempt to climb into the clothes of God, we look as pathetic as the child thrashing about in her mother’s shoes, playing that she is grown up. Our perfection consists, not in greater independence, but in being perfectly subject to God and in giving Him the reverence due to the Creator from the creature.
Corresponding beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit
The highest reaches of the gift of fear, its supreme and ultimate acts, are those of poverty of spirit. This does not mean that such perfection is reserved for those who can present a union card; this gift can be, must be, had by all classes for it is necessary for salvation. For the rich as well as for the poor, the ultimate perfection of fear of the Lord is poverty; and it is strictly true that in this sense of poverty, the richest of men can be more poor than the most abandoned dweller in the slums. St. Augustine described poverty of spirit as “the emptying out of a proud, inflated spirit.” The phrase gives us a picture of a pin-prick deflating a balloon. It really means that, with this perfect fear of the Lord, we no longer seek our greatness in any other but God. We no longer have to bolster the frail structure of our souls with riches and honors; we do not have to magnify ourselves by pride; we do not have to protect our weakness by a bulwark of external, temporal things. The very fact that we are so perfectly subject to God, that we have such deep reverence for Him, that we no longer seek outside of Him a source of greatness for ourselves — this is the height of hope. It is this that frees the rich man from the tentacles of his riches, takes the bitterness out of the smile of poverty, and sends both rich and poor rushing on eager feet to the embrace of God.
Annihilator of hope: Presumption; Despair
Earlier in this chapter we have seen that infidelity indirectly destroys hope by blasting away its foundations. Two other sins train their guns directly upon hope and destroy it by blowing it apart. These are presumption and despair; and both of them are the result of a mistake. Despair judges eternal happiness to be impossible. It decides that God denies pardon here and now to this penitent sinner; it looks at an impossible good and so it quits. Presumption fixes its eyes upon an irresistible personality — the personality of the sinner himself. The presumptuous man decides that he is so important that God cannot condemn him; he will be given heaven without good works, pardon for his sins without any sorrow.
The one gives up the search for heaven; the other gives up the avoidance of hell. Both land the sinner in exactly the same place. Both are lesser sins than infidelity and hatred of God for, while all are directly against God, presumption and despair are less so. A moment’s consideration will make this clear: infidelity opposes the supreme Truth: hatred of God opposes the supreme Good; but despair and presumption go against our supreme happiness, i.e., against God inasmuch as He is participated by us. Nevertheless these two sins, precisely because they have God for their object, are greater than any sins against any or all of the moral virtues.
If we compare the two we see that despair ranks above presumption in its gravity. It denies to God His perfection of mercy, a perfection which belongs to Him by His very nature; while presumption denies to Him things that pertain to God in reference to our actions, namely, His punishment and reward.
But make no mistake about this. Because despair and presumption rank third and fourth among all the sins man can commit, they are not to be dismissed lightly. Despair is, in fact, a sin of very, very serious danger. In a sense it is a climax of sin, a height of evil; in another sense it is the beginning of sin, and this is a horrible truth. The despairing man is stripped of everything that might have held him back from sin. Now he is a vicious, wild animal, cut loose from all curb on his madness. Indeed the presumptuous man is in much the same position. His insolent assurance of God’s overlooking his sin strips him of all that might restrain his appetites. Both are high points of evil, normally reached after a long hard journey through sin; but both are the beginning of new horrors whose end can be seen only in a hell without end.
The despairing man is convinced that absolutely no means of remedy is of use to him; the presumptuous man is convinced that no means is necessary for him. How can they be helped? Only by the omnipotence of God, His relentless love and floods of His grace, can turn the life of the presumptuous or despairing man from failure to high success. But if man is so helpless in the grip of these sins at least he can, while still free of them, see clearly what brings them on and so protect himself from their extremely serious dangers. Despair is a lazy sin. It springs from spiritual sloth which runs away from spiritual good because it involves too much labor. It is bored with spiritual activity; things of God and the soul are distasteful to it. St. Thomas puts it briefly when he describes despair as “a sorrow of spirit casting us down.” Dejection makes things look much harder, even as hard as the impossible. This particular dejection, springing principally from sins of the flesh, inverses the values of the spiritual and the carnal; the spiritual goods seem smaller and smaller, less and less worthwhile when seen in the light of the labor they demand and the easy richness of the goods of the flesh. Presumption, on the other hand. is an elation of spirit that exceeds all reason: it expects things which are impossible even to the ordinary power of God. Plainly it is the fruit of pride.
In its eyes the practice of virtue, the doing of penance are grubbing in the earth. This sort of thing is petty, venal work far beneath the presumptuous man. A person as important as he is in the eyes of God does not need such things. He is the perfect picture of the utterly fearless man; and so he is a perfect portrait of the utter fool.
The enslaved will: Desire of the slave
Infidelity, despair and presumption — these are the chains and the grim walls that have succeeded in doing what nothing else in the world could do, for they have imprisoned the heart of man, they have destroyed hope. No matter how much the modern man talks of freedom, no matter what his championship of democracy, no matter how freely he walks the street, flies the skies or rushes over the ocean, he cannot get away from that bondage within his own heart. He is a slave. His desire, his love are the desire and love of a slave. When he looks at the end of it all, as he must sometime, his despair is the despair of the slave; not of the physical slave, not of the political slave, not of the economic slave, but of the moral slave whose heart has no place to go.
Love of the slave
This is the hopeless man whose desires are limited to a few hours, a few months, a few years; to the things he can see and touch; to narrow limits: of natural life, of personal accomplishment, of human faith, of the security to be had in this present world. This is the hopeless man whose love has been limited as has his desire. It is the love of a machine, of an animal, or, at best, the love of a man. At its best it is doomed to frustration from the very start; it grows in perfection only to lose the thing it loved; it stops at the walls of the world, shrinks in horror from sickness, brings up short before the barrier of death. It is the love of the slave; the love of the hour that dare not look ahead because of what the future holds for it.
Despair of the slave
For to the heart that has no place to go, there is nothing open but despair. Nothing within the heart of man can satisfy that heart; nothing within the natural universe is worthy of the yearnings of that heart. It has no place to go; yet it was made to go to sublime places, even into the hearts of other men and other women, even info the heart of God. But now, without hope, it is chained down. On its short chain it becomes sullen, vicious, savage, consumed with a violent hate — all of which are only the outer signs of inner despair.
A Contrast: the cross and the throne
It is an astonishing thing that, with all our love for liberty, we have not seen the innate liberty of a Man nailed to a cross as contrasted with the innate slavery of a man chained to a throne. The Man on the cross was there as the fulfillment of a long hope. He died in hope to give birth to hope. He was there because the human heart had wandered so far; because it still had so far it could go; because that road must be left open to all human hearts that were to come after His. The man on the throne of power today is there because of despair. He is not reigning in hope because his heart has so much further to go; it has already reached its goal. What road is he opening to the hearts of his followers but the narrow, short road he has already trod to its end? He holds out to men the prospect of merging themselves into a political machine; into a social process or into a cosmological process. But with all this power he cannot make one small hole in the walls of the world for the escape of the human heart.
Hope and life: faith, action, and love
Supernatural faith frees the mind of man. It breaks a breach in the walls of the world; through the breach, hope follows. Faith has freed man’s mind; hope frees his heart. With heart and mind free, man has limitless things to do, limitless love to give and to take, limitless courage with which to do these things, with which to prove that love. Because that goal beyond the world is so clearly and surely before us, because it can be accomplished by our own acts, and we know this securely by reason of the omnipotence and mercy of God, we can take steps towards that goal, we can get something done. There is no moment of life, nor smallest action of life that cannot be bent toward that supreme task.
Hope and courage
Life is not a dull, plodding affair; life is not the fruitless labor of a slave. Life is the swift action of a free man rushing to an end worthy of his freedom. Because his heart is free by hope, man’s love is not balked at death, not hindered by sickness; it is not even held back by the limits of the world. The hearts of other men and women are thrown open to him, not for a day, not for an hour, not for a month, not for years; but forever. And the heart of God is just as wide open and for just as long a time. Of course this free man can sacrifice in the name of love; of course he can face terrific difficulties driven on by that love; of course he can fail and pick himself up again and again and again, and never be beaten. For always freedom and hope burn in his heart. This man can face the fearful things of hell because he can hope for the divine things of heaven.