THE EXAMINATION ON FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE:

A)  Background:  Faith and the Mystical Journey

        Not until Dante reaches the Sphere of the Fixed Stars will he be explicitly examined on faith, hope and charity or love. However, even in the Earthly Paradise, there is a foreshadowing of seeing and being by faith.

Modern note: Many philosophers and theologians today draw a contrast between belief and faith.

"Belief," says Ken Wilber, "is the lowest form of religious involvement, and, in fact, it often
seems to operate with no authentic religious connection whatsoever. The ‘true believer' . . .
embraces a more-or-less codified belief system that appears to act most basically as a fund of immortality symbols." However, "the person of faith somehow intuits very God as being
immanent in (as well as transcendent to) this world and this life."
Dante does not draw this contrast, yet the seeds of such a distinction are in the Comedy. I will distinguish:

        Surface faith -- conventional religious belief in a creed, a code, a cult (or order of
                                                                         worship) and community organization.

        Mixed faith -- more than just surface belief, not yet the assurance of the mystic.
                Sacred and secular -- divine and creaturely -- oscillate back and forth.

        Deep faith as experienced mystery -- the type of seeing and being which the mystics
                 exemplify.

    Perhaps we might say that "belief" vs. the "doubting of belief" exist on surface level
                    beneath which is a deeper thirst for something or someone not yet named.

        FAITH as experienced mystery is a realization of this deeper current of life.
        FAITH as experienced mystery is FAITH without an opposite.

        In the Earthly Paradise, I believe, Beatrice -- as Dante’s God-bearing image -- readies him "to see and be" in a deeper way. He is being asked to see life and the world and all that is in the world in such a way that the divine is in the creation. The dualisms "sacred-secular" or "divine-human" are no longer valid.

Surface belief-doubt                             True FAITH (Faith w/o opposite) says:
      is                                                           "The ‘deep things’ we sense are real."
a function of the quest for certainty,                    The quest for certainty is
seeking security & certainty.                                    reversed into the
                                                                     quest for on-going understanding.
                                                                Quest for security is released in trust
                                                                        in that which sustains all things.

Surface hope-despair                             True HOPE (Hope w/o opposite) says:
            is                                                           "Expect them to unfold."
a function of  looking for                     The expectation of "how we will be" (and already are)
"success/reward."                                        is a source of energy.
 

Surface love-hate                                 True LOVE (Love w/o opposite) says:
        is                                                 "See all things arise from and return to the Good
a function of                                         -- the Source and Sustainer and Goal."
desire/fear.                                       In this light, we see light and our hearts are full.


    In the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, there are these distinctions:

    a) Things we "able to reach by reason" (arr) and not Revealed (not-R) = arr & not-R

    b) Things we are able to reach by reason (arr) and Revealed ( R) = arr & R

    c) Things we are not able to reach by reason (not-arr) and Revealed ( R) = not-arr & R

    d) Things we are not able to reach by reason and are not Revealed = not-arr & not-R
                                                        ***********

        Category (a) contains millions of items -- all that we know through the hard sciences, social sciences, humanities, common sense knowing, etc. Our faculties of knowing are sufficient to come to know these things. Therefore, God does not need to reveal them. The proper object of our human intellect, according to Thomas,
is the essences of material beings.

        Category (b) contains such matters as the existence of God and such moral matters as the Ten Commandments. Thomas argued that we could come to know that there was a supreme being and to know something of its nature by reason alone. After all, Plato and Aristotle had reasoned to the existence of God and they did not have scriptural revelation. Also the basics rights and wrong which make up ethics or morality are principles and precepts which we could come to discover by reason. Why then are they also revealed? Because, says Thomas, -- People may not have the talent nor time to reason them out. Even with talent and time, the reasoning is long and complex and many mistakes can be made. Yet these matters are central to our salvation. So God reveals them.

        Category (c) is what is revelation in the most proper sense. These are things which we could never reason to. We can only come to know them if God reveals them to us. These are teachings which concern the inner life of God -- the triune unity which God is. So, Aquinas argues that the Trinity cannot be reached by reason and any items of teaching which go back to the Trinity are also properly revelation. Thus, the dual nature of Christ, the church as continuing Christ’s work and the sacraments through which that work is continued -- all are tied up with the mystery of the Trinity or the inner life of God. Hence, like a secret which I know about myself but you will never know unless I chose to tell you, so it is with God.

        Category (d) is not of interest -- if there is a set of items which we cannot come to know through reason and which God chooses not to reveal to us -- then those are simply things we cannot know at all.

For Aquinas, there was the order of nature -- knowable by reason and

the order of grace -- known to us through revelation by faith.

Sometime the order of nature is called the NATURAL ORDER (= what we can know through reason) and the order of grace is called the SUPERNATURAL ORDER (meaning those realities or aspects of realties which are only brought to us through revelation and known by us through faith).

            Some, however, think that this doctrine of two orders or two realities or two dimensions of present, redeemed reality is too dualistic. They seek a more pan-en-theism = God is in all things and all things are in God. See Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality as an example of seeking to see the immanent and the transcendent in the things of this world.

    The mystics also tend to see God in all and all in God in a less dualistic manner.
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B) Dante's Examination on Faith, Hope and Love in the Sphere of the Fixed Stars

    Exam #1 on Faith: Examiner: St. Peter

        What is faith? Definition (from Heb 11):

            Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the "argument" or evidence
                                        [what stands (stare) under (sub)] of things not seen.

        In other words, faith convinces a person, experientially, of the real existence of
what is not yet and what is not visible.

        I noted above Ken Wilber's distinction between belief and faith. In this light, we might say

            "belief" vs the "doubting of belief" exist on surface level
                    beneath which is a deeper thirst for something or someone not yet named.

            "FAITH as mystery" is a realization of this deeper current of life.

        One can say, with the Zen tradition, that the Great Faith and the Great Doubt
        reinforce each other. Or one can say that somehow this deeper FAITH is without an
        opposite.

Do you have this in you? Yes. Whence came it? Scriptures (more widely: the sacred teachings).
 
How do you know these are reliable? The works. (More deeply: By their fruits, you shall know them.)

        That the world turns to Christianity should only be convincing if the turning is seen as
        authentic enrichment.

When Dante is asked what he believes, he answers with the essence of Christian teachings -- in God the creator, who creates and sustains through love, and in the three eternal persons.
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   Exam #2 on Hope: Examiner: St. James

    What is hope? Definition (from the work of Peter the Lombard):

        Hope is a certain EXPECTATION of future glory
            product of divine grace and precedent merit.

What do you hope for? That each shall be clad in the double garb (resurrection of the body)

Modern Reading: In this life, we can get caught up in the surface dualisms -- such as hope vs despair. We need to go beneath this pair to find

            HOPE as mystery which is either compatible with great suffering
                    or can be looked on as HOPE without an opposite.

FAITH and HOPE as mysteries which operate in Dante at this point are provisional -- they will fade away when the invisible is seen and the "not yet" is now-here -- when all is present. In the end, there will only be LOVE -- that LOVE called Caritas (Charity). FAITH (as a intuited realization of the MORE) and HOPE (as a waiting for that realization to unfold) are prerequisites to Caritas.
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   Exam #3 on the Love that is Caritas: Examiner: St. John

        Dante is blinded and must answer in darkness.

        What is this LOVE? The GOOD which satisfies -- the Alpha and Omega
                                                                            of all scriptures which love reads.

        Good, as good, so far as understood, kindleth love.

The good in the sense of the ESSENCE WHICH INCLUDES ALL was seen by Aristotle and OT and NT. Also the good appears in the being of the world and my being; in the death he sustained that I might live. Leaves wherewith all the gardens of the eternal Garden are leafed.

    Following our pattern, we may think of this LOVE as beneath the surface level where love as desire is at war with hate and resentment -- under this surface level there is

                        a LOVE without bounds, without an opposite.

The striving for the more than human is felt in the darkness and the object of the quest -- the THAT TOWARD WHICH of faith -- the EXPECTATION which sustains us -- is ultimately what our hearts were made for. St. Augustine said: "Our hearts were made for thee, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee."

The scales fall from Dante's eyes. He catches a glimpse of Adam. At the opening of the next Canto, he sees the universe smile.
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I would put it this way:

Surface belief-doubt is a function of trying to have certainty.
Surface hope-despair is a function of looking for success/reward.
Surface love-hate is a function of desire/fear.
True FAITH says: The "deep things" we sense are real.

True HOPE says: Expect them to unfold. The expectation of "how we will be" is a source of energy.

True LOVE says: See all things arise from and return to the Good -- the Source and
                Sustainer and Goal.   In this light, we see light and our hearts are full.
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                                                                                                                            Copyright John G. Sullivan 1999

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