Presentation of the Encyclical Spe Salvi

Source: FSSPX News


 In the document, Benedict XVI affirms that “A self-critique of modernity is needed in dialogue with Christianity and its concept of hope. In this dialogue Christians too, in the context of their knowledge and experience, must learn anew in what their hope truly consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot offer. Flowing into this self-critique of the modern age there also has to be a self-critique of modern Christianity, which must constantly renew its self-understanding setting out from its roots.” (n° 22)

The encyclical begins with a verse of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans which recalls that “in hope we were saved” (Rom. 8: 24), and underlines “as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future”: “their life will not end in emptiness” (n° 2).

“To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope,” Benedict XVI explains in n° 3 of the encyclical. Christ “tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking.” (6) Hope is not something, but Someone: it is not based on what is transitory but on God Who gives Himself forever (n° 8). In this respect, he adds, “the present-day crisis of faith is essentially a crisis of Christian hope.” (n° 17)

To the question: “Is Christian hope individualistic?”, Benedict XVI’s answer refers to Fr. de Lubac to say that salvation had always been considered as a “social” reality: “Hence ‘redemption’ appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers.” (n° 14)

According to the pope, “the ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist.” “If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world,” he explains in n° 22). “Our contemporary age has developed the hope of creating a perfect world that, thanks to scientific knowledge and to scientifically based politics, seemed to be achievable.” The pope stops to consider “the two essential stages in the political realization of this hope”: “First there is the French Revolution—an attempt to establish the rule of reason and freedom as a political reality” (n° 19)

“After the bourgeois revolution of 1789, the time had come for a new, proletarian revolution,” he explains. “Karl Marx (…) took up the rallying call.” “His promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination.” “Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident.” (n°20)

For the pope, if Marx “showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter.” Marx’s error is that “ he forgot that man always remains man.” “His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.” (n° 21)

Benedict XVI also explains that “it is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.” “Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.” “It is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life,” he states. “Day by day, man experiences many greater or lesser hopes, different in kind according to the different periods of his life.” “Young people can have the hope of a great and fully satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in their profession, or of some success that will prove decisive for the rest of their lives.” But “It becomes evident that man has need of a hope that goes further.” He needs “this great hope  [which] can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain.” (n° 31)

In a second part, Benedict XVI points forth four “Settings” for learning and practising hope: prayer, actions, sufferings and God’s judgement. “In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God.” “When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God.” “In a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.” (n° 32-33)

The second “setting” for learning hope is action. “Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the “perverse end”. It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God. Only in this way does it continue to be a truly human hope.” (n° 34)

The third “setting” for learning hope is sufferings. “Certainly we must do whatever we can to reduce suffering,” declares the pope. However, “It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. (n° 36-37)

The last “setting” for learning hope is God’s judgement. “Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice.” “For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries.” (n° 41-47) Benedict XVI speaks of hell in the following terms: “There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell,” -- without any reference either to the pain of loss or that of sense. As a rule, the last ends are very badly treated: hell, which is considered mainly from a psychological viewpoint, seems to contain but a small number of souls who have only hatred as sin; the presentation of particular judgement is very fuzzy in relation with purgatory where might be found a fire which might be Jesus Christ according to “some recent theologians”! (n° 47).

The pope mentions a “further point” “important for the practice of Christian hope”: prayer for the departed souls. “The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving,” he explains. Hope is not selfish: “No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse,” the pope writes. “How can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise?” wonders the pope, and he answers: “Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.” (n° 48)

Benedict XVI concludes by introducing “Mary, Star of Hope.” “Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!”


During his press conference, Cardinal Vanhoye, retired professor of New Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, emphasized that the encyclical “was addressed to the Catholic Church but also meant to show to all people of good will that hope cannot do without God.” In this respect, it is also addressed to Christians and non-Christians, he explained.

Fr. Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office declared that the encyclical was released “on the eve of the season of Advent, a time of expectation and hope.” “The text is absolutely a personal work which the pope had been writing by himself, and discreetly, since Easter, and more particularly this summer during his vacations in Lorenzago,” he specified. - Benedict XVI is supposed to publish a third encyclical, this time of a social character, in February 2008, according to Vatican sources.