In the Holy See Press Office this morning, Cardinals Georges Marie Martin Cottier O.P., pro-theologian emeritus of the Pontifical Household, and Albert Vanhoye S.J., professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, presented the Encyclical of Benedict XVI, "Spe salvi," on the theme of Christian hope.
In his talk, Cardinal Cottier explained how "Christian hope has been subject to ever-harsher criticisms" to the effect that "it is pure individualism: by abandoning the world to its misery, Christians allegedly take refuge in an eternal salvation which is exclusive and private."
"A question remains," said the cardinal, "a question that cannot be eluded: how did the idea arise that, with Christianity, the quest for salvation became a selfish quest that refuses service to others?"
New problems "have a vital impact on the modern crisis of Christian faith and hope," and there emerges "a new form of hope which is called 'faith in progress' oriented towards a new world, the world of the 'kingdom of man'."
"Faith in progress," the cardinal explained "has become the ever more dominant conviction of modernity, and two categories are becoming increasingly central to the idea of progress: reason and freedom." Thus, he went on, "reason is considered as a power of good and for good," and progress, having "overcome all forms of dependency," is "moving towards perfect freedom. In this perspective freedom appears as a promise for the full realization of man."
After highlighting the "crisis of Christian hope in modern culture, and its replacement with faith in progress," Cardinal Cottier identified a "question that returns insistently: what may we hope?" In this context he indicated that "sections 22 and 23 of the document are of vital importance. They explain to us the essential objective of the Encyclical from both a pastoral and a cultural standpoint."
For his part, Cardinal Vanhoye indicated how the introduction to the Encyclical "immediately makes clear the decisive importance of hope, which is later reiterated on a number of occasions. In order to be able to face the present with all its problems and difficulties, we have an absolute need for hope and for a truly valid and firm hope."
In sections 10 to 12, on the theme of eternal life, "the Holy Father uses vivid realism to explain the current mentality of many people," said the cardinal. "Eternal life is the subject of hope, but many people today 'do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life. ... Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end - this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable."
Cardinal Vanhoye explained how the second part of the Encyclical describes the "settings for learning and practising hope," and thus has a direct and tangible link to Christian life. Three "settings" are identified: "Prayer as a school of hope. Action and suffering as settings for learning hope. Judgement as a setting for learning and practicing hope."
The Encyclical also presents "the Final Judgement of God as one of the 'settings for learning and practising hope'," said Cardinal Vanhoye, but "with a significance evidently different from that of the other 'settings' because the Final Judgement is not a present reality like prayer or suffering. Nonetheless, the Judgement gives rise to hope because it will eliminate evil. Here the Encyclical presents profound reflections on the terrible problem of evil and justice."