Christian Hope Defined

          It is worth defining Christian “hope,” since St. Paul tells us that it is in “hope” that we are saved (Rom: 8:24) (¶1).  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us that “hope” is faith in life eternal in union with God.  Moreover, this faith is not only a mere attitude.  Rather, for those in a state of grace, it is a “substantial” presence within us mirroring in embryonic form this same hoped-for eternal union with God.  The hope of Christianity is therefore the hope of knowing that, irrespective of what happens in this life, we will meet God our creator in eternal life (¶3). 

          All human beings want “happiness” and, innately, we know that the reality of this happiness must exist (¶11).  But beyond that, we really don’t know what we want, nor the form that this happiness must take, since we have an imperfect grasp of reality.  The happiness which we know must exist, but which is presently incomprehensible, is what Christians refer to as eternal life and is the object of Christian hope and expectation (¶12). 

          By Christian Faith is meant more than a mere attitude.  Faith is in embryonic form the substance of what in actuality will be in eternal life (¶7).  A Christian’s way of life is a de-facto proof of things to come (¶8). 

The Contrast Between Christianity and Beliefs in Materialistic Determinism

          From the very beginning, Christianity represented a change in world view that represented a new hope even as to what can be achieved in this present life.  In contrast to earlier astrological beliefs, Christianity asserted that it was not the stars or elemental spirits of the universe which govern mankind.  Rather, it was a personal God that governs the stars.  Humans could appeal to this personal God, and, to the extent that appeal was in accordance with his will, change the course of their lives   

          Christianity represents that same hope today for our present lives.  It is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have will have the final say, but reason, will and love—a Person that we call God (¶5).  Anyone that does not know God, although he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is without hope.  We may hope and strive to overcome the challenges that face us daily, whether providing security for our families, providing for our children or conducting our lives in an upright manner.  We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day.  But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else—God (¶31).  We live only when we are in relationship with him who does not die, who is life itself (¶27).

Christian Hope In Action

           Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sets forth certain Christian behaviors that are characteristic of, and that reinforce, Christian hope, including prayer, upright conduct and the transformation of suffering into something that benefits both the sufferer and the world. 


          Our prayers should include both our own personal petitions, as well as the traditional prayers of the Catholic Church: the Our Father, the Hail Mary and liturgical prayers. 

          When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well (¶33).  We become capable of great hope and become ministers of hope for others (¶34).  Our prayers can aid in the purification of not only our souls, but also the souls of the departed in purgatory (¶48).

          Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is the best guide for us to believe, to hope and to love (¶50).  Our life is a journey and those people who have led good lives in the past are the true guiding stars of our life.  They are lights of hope (¶49) and the Blessed Virgin is chief among them.  For a millennium, Mary has been referred to as the “Star of the Sea.”

Upright Conduct

          All serious and upright human conduct is also an example of hope in action. We cannot “merit” heaven through our works.  However, even when we are aware that heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it is still true that our behavior is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history.  We can free our life from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future (¶35).

          By doing so, we benefit not only ourselves, but others.  Salvation is a communal concept.  Sin was understood by the Church fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, where languages were confused, is an expression of what fundamentally results from sin (¶14).  The opposite of vice, virtue, can therefore lead to unity among men.  


          Perhaps surprisingly, properly dealing with suffering can be also be an expression of hope.  We are healed not by avoiding suffering, but by accepting it and finding meaning in it through union with Christ.  Suffering is an unavoidable part of our present existence.  It results from the fact that we are finite and also from the fact that there is sin in the world.   

          But Suffering can be transformed from the power of hope springing from faith.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI quotes from the writings of Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, who wrote from a concentration camp, how, for the believer, “suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise” (¶¶36-37).  Even for those of us who are not called to martyrdom, every day hardships can be transformed into something beneficial.  In past days, many Christians were in the habit of “offer[ing] up” to God as sacrifices their daily hardships.  Such practices give suffering meaning (¶40), by uniting us with Christ who suffered for our own sins.  God has given us an image of himself in Christ who was made man.  God has revealed his true face to us in the form of a sufferer who has taken man’s condition upon himself (¶43).

          The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer.  A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society.  Moreover, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity.  If my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, and violence and untruth reign supreme.  Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being or else my life becomes a lie (¶38).   

          To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself.  In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering and this new capacity then became decisive in the history of humanity. The capacity to suffer for the truth is the measure of humanity (¶39).    

Christian Hope in Action as Contrasted with Faith in Progress  

          Unfortunately, modern man seeks to regain what was lost in paradise, not through faith and hope in Jesus Christ, but rather through faith in science and progress (¶17).  Francis Bacon and those who followed him in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed by science (¶25).  The right state of human affairs and the moral well-being of the world cannot be guaranteed by structures alone, no matter how good those structures may be.  The Kingdom of Good can never be established in this world because of man’s free will.  If there were structures that could irrevocably guarantee a determined good state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence those structures would not be good at all (¶24).

          In fact, history has already revealed that progress alone cannot provide man’s well-being.  As the 20th Century commentator Theodore W. Adorno pointed out, what modern man often believes to be progress is, in fact, progress from the sling to the atom bomb.  Although progress opens up possibilities for good, it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil that did not exist before.  If technical progress is not accompanied by ethical progress, then it becomes a threat for man and for the world (¶22).

          Christianity does share certain common ground with the modern world view, insofar as victory of reason over unreason is a goal of Christian life.  But reason must be open to faith, to the differentiation between good and evil.  Man needs God.  Without God, man has no hope (¶23).

          In short, it is not science that redeems man but love.  Quoting St. Paul, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes that man needs the unconditional love that makes him say “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord” (Rom: 8:38-39).  We have been “redeemed” by Jesus.  We have become certain of a God that is not simply a remote first cause of the world, but rather, a God that has given us his only Son to become man and give himself up for our sins (¶26). This hope is the hope that sustains and saves us.

This brief summary was taken from the English version of “We Are Save by Hope” at:


The Works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

We are Saved by Hope