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Legionary Professors Comment on Holy Father’s New Encyclical Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)

El Papa Benedicto XVI firma la nueva encíclica “Spe salvi”.

November 30, 2007. Rome. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has published a new encyclical entitled Spe salvi (On Christian Hope), now available at this link.

Several Legionary professors at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum have written brief commentaries introducing the encyclical. Two of these commentaries are presented below.


Father Alfonso Aguilar, LC
Professor of Philosophy at Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athanaeum

“In hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24). These five words sum up the whole encyclical. In the light of the current problems of the world, do we still have a reason to hope?

Pope Benedict’s answer is clear: Yes, we can and should have hope, because our “faith is hope” (n. 2). Two are the main questions tackled in the encyclical: What is hope? And what type of certitude does it give us?

For Pope Benedict XVI, hope is not a nice ideal, because our faith is not essentially “informative” – a doctrine. Hope is, rather, “performative,” that is, a transforming or redeeming experience: “The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life” (n. 2).

Jesus Christ brought hope to a hopeless world by bringing us God: “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope” (n. 3). Jesus brought “an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within” (n. 4).

Without the knowledge of a God who is Love, there is no hope. Christ, the true philosopher and shepherd, “tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. [...] He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life” (n. 6).

That’s why the Christian faith gives us a transforming certitude. “Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet’. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future” (n. 7).

The certitude is about eternal life. But what is eternal life? Benedict XVI reflects on this question in the light of man’s contradictory state (nn. 10-12). “On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do
Il Prof. Alfonso Aguilar, LC
Father Alfonso Aguilar, LC
not want us to die. Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view. So what do we really want?”

Quoting Saint Augustine, the Pope answers thus: “Ultimately we want only one thing—‘the blessed life’, the life which is simply life, simply ‘happiness’”. We, however, do not know what this happiness is all about, and we wouldn’t like an eternal life that is “an unending succession of days in the calendar”. The Christian hope is about eternal life understood as “plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists, [...] in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”  

Such a hope in eternal life cannot be individualistic, because salvation is “communal” and “has to do with the building up of this world” (nn. 13-15).

In order to transform our world, we must understand it. At this point, Pope Benedict makes an acute analysis of the spirit of modern age (nn. 16-23). It is an age based on “faith in progress,” which the French Revolution and Marxism tried to establish exclusively through science and politics. Marx’s fundamental error “is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favorable economic environment.”

By contrast, true salvation and true Christian hope is based on God, who is Love (nn. 24-31). “It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.”

Now, how to make hope an everyday, concrete and transforming experience? The final section of the encyclical is dedicated to practical suggestions. Four “settings” in which we can learn in practice about hope and its exercise are proposed: prayer, action, suffering, and the Last Judgment (nn. 32-48).

Following John Paul II’s tradition, Pope Benedict ends his encyclical with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Star of Hope,” who is our guiding star in the often dark and stormy voyage of life.

Father Fernando Pascual, L.C.
Professor of ancient philosophy at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum

The encyclical “Spe salvi” of Pope Benedict XVI explains a central nucleus of Christian hope: salvation has been offered to mankind through Jesus Christ.

What does true Christian hope consist of? It is incorrect, says the Pope, to limit hope to a subjective attitude, to a desire for good without guarantees. Hope implies welcoming a gift that is offered, a gift that is God himself: “God is the foundation of hope; but not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the extreme, each one in particular and humanity as a whole” (n. 31).

The modern world, by
P. Juan Pablo Ledesma, L.C., decano de la facultad de teología en el Ateneo Pontificio «Regina Apostolorum».
Father Juan Pablo Ledesma, LC.
contrast, has left aside Christian hope to seek, through progress, a continual improvement of earthly life. It has forgotten heaven to build perfect happiness on earth. But it was deeply mistaken: reason, freedom, money, and science are not enough to rid the earth of evil between men (n. 16-22). Science, as much as it can help humanize the world, also “can destroy man and the world if it is not guided by forces outside itself” (n. 25).

For this reasons, the Pope invites Catholics to remember that “the true, great hope of man that resists the weight of all disillusionment can only be God, the God who has loved us and who continues loving us ‘until the end’” (n. 27).

The encyclical “Spe salvi” is a song to the Love of God, a Love that, through Christ, offers us reasons to walk the path of life with hope. Looking toward eternity, desiring a definitive encounter with Love, already draws us closer in time to true life. There does exist a heaven where justice and love triumph forever. That is why the followers of Jesus of Nazareth believe, hope, and love.




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