The Theological Virtue of Hope – Part 2 of 2

Continuing his discussion of the virtue of hope, Father Pegues distinguishes filial fear from servile fear, and then shows how the gift of fear of the Lord, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, corresponds to the virtue of hope.

Filial fear, or fear of the Lord, is a holy respect of God on account of His excellence or on account of the goodness of His infinite majesty. One who has filial fear “fears only what displeases Him or keeps us away from Him in such wise as to prevent us from possessing Him eternally in heaven.” Servile fear is “a disposition of an inferior order such as is proper to slaves whereby one fears a master because of the penalties and punishments He is able to inflict.”

Filial fear is superior because it cares not about the loss of created goods, “provided that the possession of the Uncreated Good which is God Himself remains assured. It is only the loss of the Infinite Good, which is God Himself, or of whatsoever compromises perfect possession of it, that filial fear dreads.”

Filial fear can initially co-exist with the kind of servile fear that is not sinful. Such servile fear is called “initial fear.” But, since charity is the cause of filial fear, as charity grows in a soul, filial fear grows and becomes the only fear in that soul, so that, at length, that soul becomes “wholly penetrated with the love of God.”

Filial fear is most intimately related to the gift of fear of the Lord. By means of this gift, “one subjects oneself to God and to the action of the Holy Ghost, resisting Him not, but rather revering Him in all, lest one lose Him.” Thus, this gift belongs in a special manner to the virtue of hope.

Hope and fear of the Lord differ in this: “the virtue of hope views the infinite good of God to be gained by the help which He Himself gives, whereas the gift of fear views rather the evil of being separated from Him and of losing Him in withdrawing ourselves by sin from that help which He gives in order to lead us to Him.” Hope is of a higher order than the gift because (1) the theological virtues are superior to the gifts; and (2) “the virtue of hope views the good to be possessed, whilst the gift of fear views the evil which is the lack of such good.”

Filial fear will exist in heaven “in its highest perfection.” In heaven there will be “a holy trembling in the presence of the infinite greatness and majesty of God’s goodness; but no longer will it be the trembling of fear as if it were possible to lose God.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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