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In Hope We Were Saved

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While I am waiting for Pope Benedict XVI’s next encyclical, I have decided to do something with the first two ones. Right now my interest is on “Spe salvi” because of the way it relates to the Social Doctrines of the Church, a course I am teaching at a nearby College.  I present an outline of the document here The outline helps me zero in on certain key ideas of the document and see them in the proper context. 

Like “Deus caritas est”, “Spe salvi” is easy to figure out.  Both these documents are short and straightforward in presentation.  Both are easy to read and concepts are explained with different perspectives.  I don’t pretend to have understood the encyclical totally even after reading it three times.  But I did find five ideas in this encyclical which I may use in sermon later on, or even a platica (you know, one of those devotional “talks” that parishioners normally ask from their priest on special occassions.)

First, the way the author of the encyclical went about explaining the biblical concept of hope, first showing through relevant biblical passages that hope is faith, and later showing how the Catholic understanding of Hebrews 11:1 is more faithful to the original than Luther’s understanding of it.  Hope is not just “standing firm” in what one hopes; it already is the “substance” of what is hoped.  In hope, one already has in an inchoate manner, the object of one’s hope: eternal life. 

Second, the idea that hope is both informative and performative.  Hope is not only being convinced of the divine promises (informative), hope changes one in such a way that it affects one’s lifestyle (performative).  In the same way that faith changes one’s understanding of the world, others and oneself (world-view), the way one realizes one’s dreams (life-project), and how one lives with others (life-style), so too does hope.

Third, the author of the encyclical illustrates how a private-individualistic hope is not the nature of hope.  Hope is also “hope for others”.  I found the brief historical explanation of how hope began to be understood as something private and individual quite informative.  A lot of my understanding of the explanation depended on lessons and readings in political theory vaguely remembered.  But the narrative line that leads from a hope in the kingdom of heaven to an earthly kingdom through Bacon, Kant to Marx does fix certain points in the history of thought that is worth looking into a second time.

Fourth, it is not often that one reads an explanation of a theological concept on the basis of Christian art (such as the references to Christian sarcophagi and paintings of the Last Judgment).  But Pope Benedict seems to be at home with it.  Beauty of course is one of the categories of being and there is some connaturality that binds art to the heavenly things they represent.  An idea is, after all, reality grasped by the human intellect through what is sensed, even if it be a revealed idea.

Finally, the section on “Learning Hope” allows me to put together in a framework what I have found in other reading materials, including those of John Paul II’s authored documents.  There are three main ideas under this section of the encyclical: prayer, action and suffering, judgment and purgatory.  The portion on Judgment and Purgatory is quite refreshing since the Pope explains them under the perspective of Divine love and mercy.  Judgment is about the vindication of the just and purgatory is divine mercy itself filling up what one has lacked. 

“Spe salvi” is a mine for meditation.  Read it with notebook and pencil friends.  I think that for a lot of people, the rule of St. Augustine holds:  If you don’t understand a book (or document) for the first time, set it aside and come back to it at a later date.  Perhaps you are not ready for it yet.  A second or a third reading at a later date may help you understand concepts and ideas through experiences and knowledge that you still do not have.  In the meantime, check out the outline I made.  Perhaps it may help you go through the document with more facility..

Originally posted 2008-08-19 01:16:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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