I chanced upon a slim volume this year, by an author whom I greatly admire, the Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper. In the midst of what seems a rather ‘hopeless’ year – from one perspective – I read his Hope and History which, as the title promised, provided some buoyance from that all-too-neglected and misunderstood virtue, the middle child between faith and charity. Pieper’s point is one that bears repeating, from Saint Paul, to Pope Benedict, that our hope is not in this world. This may sound sort of trite, but, when men drunk with power and ambition strive to instantiate the obverse – that our hope is only in this world – grave evil ensues. This, as Pieper and our Faith declare, is the spirit of antichrist, the pseudo-and-secular messianism, the false saviour, who will lie and murder to construct a utopia here on earth. Manducemus et bibamus, cras enim moriemur – let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die. A stark message in these Covidian days, that our life is most definitely not about eking out one more dismal day, as we slouch towards entropy, annihilation and eternal oblivion.
How different, how much more joyful are the good tidings of Christianity! That the world was indeed created ‘good’, and man and woman ‘very good. But as good as these good things are, we are a pilgrimage to something far, far greater. Our neither our history, nor our Church, are ordered to an ever-greater ascendancy, towards some omega point of evolution and perfection, a veritable humanist paradise. Rather, this world will be consumed in a cataclysm – or, better, its ‘passing form’, and all of its material – the goodness and virtues, the ‘treasure’ of which Christ speaks – will be transfigured into the Kingdom that will have no end.
There are adumbrations here of Pope Benedict’s 2008 encyclical Spe Salvi, on the theme of salvific hope, and why Christians should never lose their ‘anchor’ and perspective; why so many martyrs went so joyfully to their deaths; and why countless saints accepted suffering as a treasure from God.