I don’t write as an expert theologian – only as a faithful Catholic, a mother, a student who is discovering an appreciation for the logic of St. Thomas Aquinas. I was a little hesitant to write about faith and hope in Christ, as it could seem ostentatious. I’m writing about this subject during Holy Week because upon reading these explanations from St. Thomas about the perfection of our Lord, true man and true God, my understanding of what hope and faith mean was deepened, and I want to share it.
Further, one of the greatest dangers for heresy is to use words that in any way can lead to a denial of either the humanity or the Divinity of Christ, or to think of those natures as separate. This is critical, I think, to understanding why St. Thomas said there was no faith or hope in Christ. He was perfect man and true God, “one and the same Christ…known in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” (Council of Chalcedon, 451) To say there was faith or hope in Christ would imply that the Divine nature was not really Divine, or that the human and Divine natures were not really united.
That wasn’t clear to me at first, but here’s how St. Thomas explains it. He derives the argument from this verse, among others. (ST-III, Q. 7, Art. 3-4)
“Now, faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” Hebrews 11:1
The theological virtue of faith is an assent to what is unseen; it has God Himself for its object. So it is with hope, as a theological virtue, to expect what one has not. The virtue of hope means we expect Divine aid in all things, expect all things to work out for the good and the glory of God.
From the first moment of conception Christ had the “Divine fruition” fully, possessed the Beatific Vision in His soul with two united natures. St. Thomas concludes that Christ did not have the virtue of hope, not because of some defect or lack of virtue, but because He had perfect virtue, perfect love, perfect charity – He possessed the vision of God – and did not need hope. Therefore, it was not in Him.
St. Thomas does make a distinction that Christ’s body did not “as yet possess all that pertained to His perfection, viz. immortality and glory of the body” so it can be said that Christ had an act of hope for those things, but the “bliss of the body” does not pertain to the Beatific Vision. It could also be said that Christ hoped for the building up of the Church by the conversion of the faithful, but that doesn’t pertain to His perfection either. Rather it pertains to a hope that others are led to share of His perfection.
I think of it like this. If a woman hopes for a child, that implies she does not yet have a child, has not yet attained motherhood. The child is the primary object of her hope. Once she conceives and bears a child, she no longer needs to hope for a child, there is no longer hope in her for a child since she can see and hold and know him. She may, however, have certain acts of hope for certain things as the child grows.
“Hope properly regards what is expected by him who hopes.”
I’ve read often that Christians are a people of faith and hope. That statement makes so much more sense now. Christians assent in faith to Divine Revelation, in the hope that we will come to know God’s will, which is good, true an beautiful. It also makes sense why of all intellectual creatures, the hope of the Blessed Virgin Mary was the highest on Mount Calvary when even the apostles, except St. John, did not have the courage to witness the death of Christ. Faith and hope gave the Blessed Mother courage because she knew God’s word would be fulfilled.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 148-149.
Council of Chalcedon – 451, “The Definition of Faith” Fordham University, paragraph 264.
Garrigou-Lagrange OP, Reginald. Christ the Savior: A Study of the Third Part of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.Veritatis Splendor Publications. Chapter IX.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 7, Articles 3-4.