On Hope

The Siege of Gondor

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A symbol of hope (Source)

“There never was much hope,” says Gandalf. “Just a fool’s hope.” The White Wizard has been labeled a fool for the madness of letting the weapon of the Enemy be entrusted to a “witless halfling” and sent “into the land of the Enemy himself.” As for Gandalf’s (and Faramir’s) hope? That in risking the utter ruin of all, by hazarding a single chance of the triumph of good over even instead of slowly lingering as the darkness consumes all, something “passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in the days to come.” A seemingly irrational pursuit for one with as meticulously sensible a mind as Denethor; but hope has never been a fully rational pursuit.

For though the theological views of faith, hope, and love have their source, cause, and fulfillment in the Divine, and though the Godhead be the font of rationality, nevertheless the full comprehension of the theological virtues lays beyond the bounded rationality of the moral mind. The word hope derives from the German “hopian” meaning “to have trust and confidence in the future, especially because of God.” It is a religious word that over the years gained an orientation toward immediate desires and secular wishes. Offer symbolized with the grounded anchor, it expressed the tethering of the Christian heart to the ultimate fulfillment of the Divine plan in the world. As with each of the theological virtues, it is a grace gifted from God in recognition of the trials and turmoils, the despairs and desolations, of the fallen world. It is the motto of saints and the slogan of the Long Defeat. While the flame of faith burns steadily and the blaze of love pours forth, it is the fires of hope that kindle. It is the providence of the fool, for no argument or evidence can erase it.

Yet hope has lost its potency as it has lost its orientation. We more frequent speak of the hopes of men than the hopes in God: the culmination of political and economic projects, the wishes for cultural understanding and unobtainable peace, the jargon of “Hope and Change” and “Hope for Tomorrow.” Reality is stark: there is no hope for mere man alone. All women and men die, societies collapse, and eventually even the earth, the sun, and the universe itself will run their course. Peace by human means is an enticing mirage, and “the poor will always be with us.” No matter our labors, there will ever be “many defeats, and many fruitless victories,” and times when we deem “that evil was ended forever, and it was not so.” The cup of human hope is bitter to the palate and disquieting to the heart.

Nevertheless, hope remains, as one need not choose to place one’s final hopes in the will of women and men. Healthy hope, life-giving hope, dwells in God alone. Only with the final victory beyond our grasp and understanding is every human action transfigured with meaning and value. Only with the hope that the Ring moves closer and closer to Mt. Doom does resisting the Siege of Gondor give comfort. Only the comprehension that our choices, our acts, and our prayers participate in the unfolding of that which lies beyond the circles of this world can we reject despair and embrace the inner peace of hope. Hope does not negate a life of love and activity; quite the opposite, for without hope, all is futile.

And so we play the fool. We trust in powers beyond our understanding, and have confidence not merely in the human initiatives and accomplishments of our days. There has never been much hope in the ultimate triumph of people over their sins, but instead only a fool’s hope in the greatest risk of all: hope in a single moment, a single accomplishment, a single cross.


2015’s Reflection: “On War

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