In the course of their history, Christians have tried to express . . .“knowing without knowing” by means of figures that can be represented, and they have developed images of “Heaven” which remain far removed from what, after all, can only be known negatively, via unknowing. All these attempts at the representation of hope have given to many people, down the centuries, the incentive to live by faith and hence also to abandon their hyparchonta, the material substance for their lives. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, in the eleventh chapter, outlined a kind of history of those who live in hope and of their journeying, a history which stretches from the time of Abel into the author’s own day. This type of hope has been subjected to an increasingly harsh critique in modern times: it is dismissed as pure individualism, a way of abandoning the world to its misery and taking refuge in a private form of eternal salvation. Henri de Lubac, in the introduction to his seminal book Catholicisme. Aspects sociaux du dogme, assembled some characteristic articulations of this viewpoint, one of which is worth quoting: “Should I have found joy? No . . . only my joy, and that is something wildly different . . . The joy of Jesus can be personal. It can belong to a single man and he is saved. He is at peace . . . now and always, but he is alone. The isolation of this joy does not trouble him. On the contrary: he is the chosen one! In his blessedness he passes through the battlefields with a rose in his hand”.
Against this, drawing upon the vast range of patristic theology, de Lubac was able to demonstrate that salvation has always been considered a “social” reality. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a “city” (cf. 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14) and therefore of communal salvation. Consistently with this view, sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is. 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. We need not concern ourselves here with all the texts in which the social character of hope appears. Let us concentrate on the Letter to Proba in which Augustine tries to illustrate to some degree this “known unknown” that we seek. His point of departure is simply the expression “blessed life”. Then he quotes Psalm 144 :15: “Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.” And he continues: “In order to be numbered among this people and attain to … everlasting life with God, ‘the end of the commandment is charity that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith’ (1 Tim 1:5)”. This real life, towards which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a “people”, and for each individual it can only be attained within this “we”. It presupposes that we escape from the prison of our “I”, because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself – to God. – from Spe Salvi, November 30, 2007
Henri de Lubac