Saturday, July 12, 2008

Virtue and Uncertainty

Around a table with a number of other theology students, as was customary for a Thursday night, we were about begin a discussion. This Thursday night tradition was coming to an end as the school year closed, and for the last week our topic was, the interconnectedness of things. As an example we began with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

The first two encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI curiously concern two of the theological virtues, love and hope. As a prediction, I would expect to see a third encyclical on faith.

Thomas Aquinas found that there was a necessary relationship among the virtues but a certain preeminence given to love (charity). Love, in this sense, enables the virtues. Considering this relationship, hope and faith cannot function, cannot have life, without love. But perhaps pushing further, can we have love without hope or hope without faith? Aquinas would say, no.

Faith (believing in what is not seen), hope (looking forward to what cannot be certain) and love (giving of one's self with no certainty of return) all seem to rest on a lack of certainty. Then when faith is made certain through sight; hope is fulfilled; and the return of love is granted. Likewise, we hope for the return of love and have faith that it will return even when we cannot be sure through sight.

This may all seem confusing, but the sure conclusion (however disconcerting it may be to some) is that being a Christian means being uncertain. It means living in faith when the returns of love are hidden. It means hoping beyond what seems probable. It means loving when faith and hope are all that is left.

It can also enable us to appreciate how much of our lives are build on a lack of certainty. An uncertain-ness that continues to call us to listen, call us to realize that the path may not be visible for us. In this uncertain-ness, however, we can rest knowing that we are cared for by a Loving Hand.

And if we seriously resign ourselves to this Absolute Care, we have no reason to fear uncertainty.