Breaking bonds Print
By Jean DaniĆ©lou   
Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Christianity starts from the awareness of a desperate situation, a helpless servitude, a want of all possible remedy. To this extent Christianity has a pessimistic outlook, and Christian hope derives all its character from this starting-point. That is why the doctrine of original sin is so important, for it is nothing but the theological formulation of the desperate condition of our affairs, and it is for exactly this reason that optimists execrate the doctrine. But the distinctive quality of our hope is that we are not resigned to our servitude: we have given up all expectation of winning our own freedom, but then we appeal (against all the evidence) to Another. Wherever this appeal is made, wherever a man looks out from his miserable estate for help . . . in a word wherever a prayer is uttered, there is hope – maybe not the theological virtue of hope, but real hope nevertheless. It is a movement towards Almighty God, and as such it is a grace bestowed. This turning to God for help is rare among us, simply because it presupposes a really difficult renouncement of self. Mankind has a passion for autonomy: we love to have only ourselves to thank, to be self-sufficient. We prefer a modest competence of our own getting to greater riches in another man’s gift. The average man of our time considers it a mark of weakness to seek God’s help: it seems to him a bigger thing to rely on himself. . .
 There is of course one way in which a man can give up, which is a kind of quietism: in this case, reliance on God is no more than a convenient excuse for not trying; but that is a vile caricature of genuine hope. Hope is the attitude of a free will that has already reached the limits of its own activity . . . The fact is: grace and glory are beyond our reach, and it is only by an act of hope in God, who alone can bestow his gifts upon us, that we can anticipate possession of the unattainable. It is a monstrous abuse of Christ’s atonement to make of it no more than a laborsaving device. Christ came among us to break the bounds of our natural human existence, and to afford us a way of access into the boundless life of God himself.