A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The Illuminative Way of Proficients


Ch 18 : Confidence in God; Its Certitude

Since we have spoken of the spirit of faith, it is fitting that we consider what hope in God, or confidence in Him, should be in proficients, and that we state precisely what must be understood by the certitude of hope, which is based on that of faith and has a character sui generis which it is important to note.

Infused hope, no less than faith, is necessary to salvation and perfection. Moreover, to have a generous interior life, it is not sufficient to hope in God weakly and intermittently, as so many Christians do. His often obscure and occasionally disconcerting good pleasure must be loved, accepted with a spirit of filial submission, and the divine help awaited with a firm, humble, and persevering confidence.


In connection with this virtue, we should avoid two contrary defects: presumption and discouragement. By noting them at the beginning of our discussion, we may see more clearly the true nature of hope, which rises like a summit between these opposing deviations.

There are two kinds of presumption: either man relies excessively on his own powers, like the Pelagians, not asking as much as he should for the help of God, not recalling sufficiently the necessity of grace for every salutary act; or, on the other hand, he expects from the divine mercy what God cannot grant: for example, pardon without true repentance, or eternal life without any effort to merit it. These two forms of presumption are mutually contradictory, since the first presumes on our strength, whereas the second expects from God what He has in no way promised.

Moreover, when trial and contradiction come, the presumptuous fall into the opposite defect, discouragement, as if the difficult good (bonum arduum), which is the object of hope, becomes inaccessible. Discouragement might lead to spiritual sloth, to acedia, which makes a man judge the work of sanctification too difficult and turns him away from every effort in this direction. He might thus even fall into despair. Many souls oscillate thus between presumption and discouragement, and never succeed in arriving, at least practically, at a true notion of Christian hope and in living by it as they should.


Less is said about the virtue of hope than about faith and charity. Yet hope is of great importance. Most certainly Christian hope, as an infused and theological virtue, is essentially supernatural, and consequently immensely surpasses the natural desire to be happy and also a natural knowledge of the divine goodness.

By infused hope we tend toward eternal life, toward supernatural beatitude, which is nothing less than the possession of God: seeing God immediately as He sees Himself, loving Him as He loves Himself. We tend toward Him, relying on the divine help which He has promised us. The formal motive of hope is not our effort, it is God our Helper (Deus auxiliator et auxilians), according to His mercy, His promises, His omnipotence.(1)

Thus we desire God for ourselves, but first for Himself; for He is the last End of the act of hope, which should, moreover, be vivified by charity: (2) in other words, by hope, we desire God, our last End, not by subordinating Him to ourselves, like the food necessary to our subsistence, but by subordinating ourselves to Him. Thus it is evident, in contradistinction to the teaching of the quietists, that hope, although inferior to charity, contains nothing inordinate. It is a lofty virtue, though not the greatest of all.

Since, in fact, among the moral virtues, acquired magnanimity, and especially infused magnanimity, has a high place, so far as it makes us tend to great things (as we see in the founders of religious orders, in their works and struggles); with even greater reason, infused hope is a lofty virtue that makes us tend not only toward great things, but also toward God Himself to be possessed for eternity. This truth is emphasized by the fact that hope does not make us desire only an inferior degree of supernatural beatitude, but eternal life itself without fixing the degree. Indeed it leads us to advance always more generously toward God by giving us a greater desire for Him.


In this tendency of hope toward eternal life, there is at one and the same time a mystery still unknown and a certitude, about the nature of which some are deceived. St. Thomas explains it clearly, as he also explains the different types of certitude: those of knowledge,(3) faith,(4) prudence, (5) and the gift of wisdom.(6)

He raises first the following objection: (7) No man can be certain of his salvation without a special revelation,(8) which is rare; it seems, therefore, that hope cannot be certain. Moreover, it is not true that all who hope will be saved; it happens that some among them become discouraged in time and finally are lost. It seems, therefore, that hope is not truly certain.

In this problem, there is the element of the unknown, a mystery; yet hope remains certain. This mystery with its light and shade is one of the most beautiful in Christian teaching. As St. Thomas shows clearly, the certitude of hope differs from that of faith since it is not a certitude of the intellect, but a certitude shared in the will and in its aspect as a tendency. "Certitude," says the holy doctor, "is essentially in the cognitive faculty; but it is also by participation in all that is moved infallibly to its end by the cognitive power. . . . In this way we say that nature works with certainty, since it is moved by the divine intellect which moves everything with certainty to its end (the bee builds surely its hive and makes honey). . . . Thus too, hope tends with certitude to its end, as though sharing in the certitude of faith, which is in the cognitive faculty." (9) Likewise, in the order of human affairs, when we have taken the train for Rome, without being absolutely sure of arriving, we are certain of going in the right direction, and we hope to reach the end of our journey.

In other words, by certain hope we have not as yet the certitude of our future salvation, which is not revealed to us (for that we would need a special revelation), but we tend certainly toward salvation, under the infallible direction of faith and according to the promises of God, "who never commands the impossible, but who orders us to do what lies in our power and to ask for help for what we cannot do." (10) The certitude of Christian hope is not, therefore, as yet the certitude of salvation, but it is the firmest kind of certitude that we are tending toward salvation. From this statement spring many practical conclusions on the qualities or properties of Christian hope, which should grow in us with hope.


How should we hope in God to avoid the twofold presumption that we have spoken of and the discouragement that often follows it? The Council of Trent tells us: "All should have a very firm confidence in the help of God. For if men do not fail to correspond to divine grace, as God Himself has begun the work of salvation in us, He will finish it, working in us 'both to will and to accomplish.' (11) However, 'He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall' (12) and 'with fear and trembling work out his salvation,' (13) In labors, vigils, prayer, alms, fasts, purity,!(14) according to these words of the Apostle: 'For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.' " (15)

From this admirable doctrine it follows that Christian hope should have two qualities or properties: it should be laborious to avoid the presumption which expects the divine reward without working for it; and it should be firm, invincible, to avoid discouragement.

Hope should be laborious because it tends toward a possible, difficult good, but a difficult, arduous future good, which is the object of merit. We must work at our salvation, first of all, to preserve in ourselves a living hope and not a vain presumption. We must work in the spirit of humility and abnegation to preserve a keen desire for eternal life, for God, our beatitude, a desire whose ardor would be destroyed by the intensity of contrary desires, like those of earthly joys and of ambition. This keen desire for heaven, this ardent desire for God, is too rare even among good Christians. And yet, if there is one thing we should desire with a holy ardor, is it not the divine union? What will we desire ardently, therefore, if we do not have a keen desire for God?

Furthermore, we must work to merit eternal beatitude: to see God as He sees Himself and to love Him as He loves Himself. Without doubt, we need grace to attain this end; but it is given to us, says St. Augustine, not that we may do nothing, but that we may work with continually increasing generosity until the end: "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved." (16) "For he also that striveth for the mastery is not crowned, except he strive lawfully." (17) We must work to remove the obstacles of concupiscence, of sloth, pride, dissension, ambition, and to observe the precepts with always greater perfection according to the spirit of our vocation.

Laborious hope together with the gift of fear, or the fear of sin, saves us from presumption. By this virtue and this gift of fear, is preserved the equilibrium of the spirit in divine things, as a little lower in the order of the virtues, not theological but moral, spiritual balance is safeguarded by humility and magnanimity, which are like the two sides of a scale, that we may escape falling either into pride or into pusillanimity.(18)

Lastly, in the midst of difficulties that may present themselves until death, and even until our entrance into heaven, hope should be most firm and invincible. It should not be broken by temptations, trials, or the sight of our sins. It should never yield to temptations coming from the world, the flesh, or the devil: "If God be for us, who is against us?" (19) God never commands the impossible; more than that, as St. Paul says: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it." (20)

Hope should not be broken either by the trials which the Lord sends to purify us and to make us work for the salvation of souls. In time of trial we should not forget that the formal motive of hope is God our Helper, Deus auxilians, according to His mercy, promises, and omnipotence. Because Job had the virtue of hope, he declared: "Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him." (21) And in the Epistle to the Romans we read: "Who against hope believed in hope; that he [Abraham] might be made the father of many nations, according to that which was said to him: 'So shall thy seed be.' "(22) Contrary to every human hope, in spite of his great age, he hoped, and even prepared himself for the immolation of his son Isaac, the son of promise, from whom his posterity was to be born.

The aim of the purification of hope is to free the virtue from all alloy of inordinate self-love, but not to lead us to the sacrifice of the desire of our salvation, as the quietists declared. Such a sacrifice would be equivalent to renouncing our love of God above all for all eternity, and, by sacrificing hope under the pretext of pure love, we would also sacrifice charity. We must, on the contrary, hope against all hope.

Finally, confidence should not be broken by the sight and the memory of our sins. Therefore St. Catherine of Siena used to say: "Never consider your past sins except in the light of infinite mercy, so that the memory of them may not discourage you, but may lead you to place your confidence in the infinite value of the Savior's merits."

St. Teresa of the Child Jesus stated that her immense confidence in God did not come from the knowledge of her innocence, but from the thought of the infinite mercy and infinite merits of the Savior, and that, even if she were the greatest wretch on earth, her confidence in God would not for that reason be diminished. This is a magnificent way of stating that the formal motive of hope, a theological virtue, is not our effort or our innocence, but God our Helper, Deus auxilians, helpful Mercy.


After various trials, hope, which has been greatly strengthened, surmounts all obstacles. According to St. Paul: "We. . . glory in the hope of the glory of the sons of God. And not only so; but we glory also in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience trial; and trial hope; and hope confoundeth not, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to us." (23)

Commenting on St. Paul's words, St. Thomas says: "St. Paul shows us first of all the grandeur of hope by the grandeur of the thing hoped for (that is, eternal life), then the power, the vehemence of hope. In fact, he who strongly hopes for something, willingly bears for that reason difficulties and bitterness. And therefore the sign that we have a strong hope in Christ is that we glory not only in the thought of future glory, but in our tribulations and the trials which we have to bear. 'Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.' (24) Moreover, the Apostle St. James says: 'My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.' (25) And from the fact that a man bears tribulation patiently, he is rendered excellent, probatus. We read of the just in the Book of Wisdom: 'Though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust He hath received them.' (26) Thus trial causes hope to grow, and hope does not deceive us, for God does not abandon those who trust Him. 'No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.' (27) It is evident that the Lord will not refuse Himself to those who love Him, to those to whom He has already given His Son. . . . He has prepared eternal beatitude for those who love Him above all else." (28)

From what has just been said we perceive that, contrary to the opinion held by the quietists, in great trials, instead of sacrificing our desire of salvation, we must "hope against all hope" while loving God for Himself. Thus charity increases greatly; it becomes pure love which, far from destroying confidence, vivifies it.

Certainly these trials serve to purify hope of all self-love, of the desire of our own perfection, so far as it is ours. A servant of God who had desired to become a saint later expressed her desire under a less personal and more objective form: "Lord, may Your kingdom come more and more profoundly in me." She was happy not to have the reputation of being a saint, happy to be but little esteemed by those about her; she thus aspired truly to be always more closely united to our Lord, to be more loved by Him. Thus hope grew as it was being purified.

So Abraham, the father of believers, hoped, when he was tried and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. He did not cease to believe that this child was the son of promise, that his posterity would be greatly blessed, "accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead." (29)

St. Philip Neri used to pray: "I thank Thee with my whole heart, Lord God, that things do not go as I should like them to, but as Thou dost wish. It is better that they should go according to Thy way, which is better than mine."

St. Nicholas of Flue admirably expressed in a prayer the union of firmest hope and of pure love: "Lord, take from me all that hinders me from drawing near to Thee; give me all that will lead me to Thee. Take me from myself and give me entirely to Thyself." We can also say, as an expression of hope and pure love: "Give Thyself, Lord, entirely to me, that I may love Thee purely and forever."

As a practical conclusion, let us remember that in our lives there are two parallel series of daily facts: that of the outward events which succeed one another from morning to night, and that of the actual graces which are offered to us and even bestowed on us from moment to moment that we may draw from these occurrences, whether pleasurable or painful, the greatest spiritual profit. If we thought often of this fact, there would be realized increasingly in our lives St. Paul's statement: "To them that love God all things work together unto good," (30) even annoyances, rebuffs, and contradictions, which are so many occasions of lifting our hearts toward God in a spirit of faith and confidence in Him.

St. Francis de Sales says in his Second Conference on Hope: "Although we do not feel confidence in God, we must not fail to make acts of hope. Distrust of ourselves and of our own strength should be accompanied by humility and faith, which obtain the grace of confidence in God. The more unfortunate we are, the more we should have confidence in Him who sees our state, and who can come to our assistance. No one trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his hope. The soul should remain tranquil and rely on Him who can give the increase to what as been sown and planted. We must not cease to labor, but in toiling we must trust in God for the success of our works."



1. The formal motive of a theological virtue cannot be something created, no matter how noble; it can only be God Himself, in this case, God, our Helper.

2. Cajetan says very clearly, In IIam IIae, q. 17, a. 5, no. 6: "Desidero Deum, mihi, non propter me, sed propter Deum." We desire God for ourselves without subordinating Him to ourselves, whereas we desire a fruit, which is inferior to us, for ourselves and for our own sake. The last end of the act of hope is God Himself.

3. Cf. IIa IIae, q.2, a.1, and De veritate, q.14, a.1: The certitude which arises from evidence.

4. Cf. ibid., q.4, a.8: Certitude without evidence, but based on the authority of God revealing.

5. Cf.. Ia IIae, q.57, a.5 ad 3um: Certitude through conformity with a right appetite.

6. Cf. IIa IIae, q.45, a.2: Certitude by connaturality or sympathy with divine things, under the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

7. Ibid., q.18, a.4.

8. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 13) defined this point against the Protestants.

9. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 18., a.4.

10. Cf. Council of Trent (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 804).

11. Phil. 2:13.

12. Cf. I Cor. 10:12.

13. Phil. 11: 12.

14. Cf. II Cor. 6:3 ff.

15. Rom. 8: 13. Cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 13 (Denzinger, no. 806).

16. Matt. 10:12.

17. Cf. II Tim. 1:5.

18. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 161, a. I ad 3um, and a.2 ad 3Uffi; q. 162, a.1 ad 3um; q.129, a.3 ad 4um.

19. Rom. 8:31.

20. Cf. I Cor. 10: 13.

21. Job 13:15.

22. Rom. 4: 18.

23. Rom. 5:2-5.

24. Acts 14:21.

25. Jas. 1:2f.

26. Wisd.3:4-6.

27. Ecclus. 2: 11.

28. Comm. in ep. ad. Rom., 5:2. For those who wish not only to distinguish but, as it were, to separate asceticism from mysticism, it is difficult to say, in reading the Epistles of St. Paul and the commentaries of the fathers and doctors, where asceticism ends and mysticism begins. In reality, mysticism commences when the superhuman mode of the gifts of the Holy Ghost begins to prevail, in particular of the gifts of understanding and wisdom: that is, when, under the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, we penetrate and taste the mystery of faith: "Taste and see mat the Lord is sweet."

29. Heb. 11: 19.

30. Rom. 8:28.