The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the essence of life in Christ. They provide the source of human virtue and call the faithful to a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They are the roots of Christian belief, the habits of Jesus, which motivate for the intentional purpose of oneness with God. This is the infusion of the Holy Spirit into the individual, gifted by the Father and promised by the Son.
Faith is best summed up in the words of the Nicene Creed, which begin, “I believe in one God…” and continue on to profess the central doctrine of the Catholic Church and the belief in the individual aspects of the Holy Trinity, the Paschal Mystery, and the communion of the faithful. Just as one might suspect, faith is the belief in the truth of God, but that wasn’t easy to ascertain in the first place.
The early Church was divided quite equally between people who believed Jesus was divine or human, but not both, and those who believed he was, in fact, both. The controversy continued through the first three centuries of Jesus’ Way, represented by the Catholics who believed in the Son, and the Arians who refused to accept that Jesus had a divine nature. For many years, the Arians dominated much of the emerging Church.
It’s hard to tell how long it may have taken the Christians to work this one out with their deep division. It was the Roman Emperor Constantine that forced the Council of Nicaea in ad325, and it was the astute, devoted understanding of leaders like St Athanasius, who brought the belief of Christians to life with a ‘profession of faith.’ It still wasn’t easy; the Nicene Creed has been questioned or reaffirmed in one way or another by virtually every council and synod since Nicaea.
While acknowledging the proclamation of the latter Council of Trent that faith remains in those who do not sin against it, the catechism also recognizes the need for action on top of belief. In the letter that bears the name of James, sometimes called the brother of Jesus, and the first Bishop of Jerusalem (but not an apostle named James), the author describes instances which are basically words without actions. James was writing to all the seven early Churches around twenty-five years after the Lord’s death and Resurrection. He questioned how lax Jesus’ followers had become, and he did indeed tell them that faith without works did not fulfill the Christian need. That would be accomplished by the other two theological virtues: hope and charity.
Hope is the belief in the fulfillment of the promises of Christ. God gives every human the desire to seek him and the hope for spiritual prosperity. As Jesus taught the Beatitudes (as discussed earlier in this series) he was instilling hope in those who heard his words and believed enough to have faith. This is the path of the Holy Spirit that indeed leads to happiness. Hope lifts the believer above the pain of earthly reality. Hope in Christ through the Holy Spirit leads to the virtue of charity.
Charity, as revealed by Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, is synonymous with love. This part of the apostle’s letter has been called “The Way of Love” or “The Love Verses” among other nicknames, and contains Paul’s definition of love as patient and kind, never rude, overbearing or jealous. It does not have a temper or cause injury. “Love never fails.” As James asserted in his letter, written around the same time, that faith without works was useless, so too, the letter to the Church in Corinth began by confirming that having all the faith in the world was incomplete without love.
Paul concludes the thirteenth chapter by re-professing the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and adds that the greatest of these is love. That is the completion of the formula that leads to grace in the presence of God. In essence, love (charity) is the final fulfillment of the greatest commandment to love God and one another. It is achieved by having hope that the kingdom will raise the faithful to that holy presence, and in turn, hope was achieved by having faith in God, Creator and Master of all things.
It sounds simple enough, but it is the ongoing work of the faithful that leads to daily conversion through the spirit of love. Faith gives hope, and hope leads to charity (love), and that love carries over to our God and our fellow human beings. It is when one is fully in tune with the theological virtues that the human virtues come into play and provide the resolve to do God’s work on earth. It is in charity (unconditional love) that we find great joy, the peace the world cannot give, and mercy towards all of God’s creation. This is truly life in Christ.