“Hope Beyond Thy Sight”

In Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, the first story is entitled “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gandolin.” Tuor is of the race of men. He speaks with Ulmo, King of the Waters, who is sending him on a mission. Tuor sees no purpose in his being sent. He has but one sword. He is fighting among beings superior to his human standing. But Ulmo replies to him: “But it is not for thy valour only that I send thee, but to bring into the world a hope beyond thy sight and a light that shall pierce the darkness.”

In Tolkien, the one sent usually does not know how his deeds will favor others. He is to be obedient. He does not see how his works will fit into any providential plan. This plan itself includes the free actions of men, both their virtues and their vices. It is sufficient that he obey orders. They are not for himself alone.

And valour? What is hope for its own sake? We do not hope in order to hope. We hope because something to hope for exists. When the bravest die, they complete their part of the mission. Their deeds, however, live on. They do not avoid death. Their hope includes it. They do not struggle just to keep alive. They sense that being alive in this world is not the whole of what reality consists. 

The world, I think, does not suffer from a lack of vision. If it suffers from anything, it is from too many visions that are not true to reality. I have often wondered about the passage in John’s Gospel that reads: “To hate me is to hate my Father. Had I not performed such works among them as no one has ever done before, they would not be guilty of sin; but, as it is, they have seen, and they go on hating me and my Father” (15:23-24). No words could be stronger.

The disciples are warned that they will be hated just as Christ was hated. They are not, to be sure, to return hatred for hatred. But they are not forbidden to wonder about the depths of this hatred of the divine being as it is manifested against them.

   J.R.R. Tolkien

No one who hates the Son or the Father sees God. What they hate are the works “performed among them.” These “works” are designed to instruct and teach men what they are. What we are from the beginning, in nature, is better for us than any alternative vision we might concoct for ourselves to explain what we are and what our individual destiny is. In this sense, we can speak of a “hope beyond its sight.” The premise of Christian civilization that modern secularism, with ever increasing urgency and force, is busy ejecting from the public order is this: Final human happiness is not found in this world.

All alternate visions insist that it is in this world. We are our own instruments in finding or establishing it. The Son and the Father are actively “hated.” In explaining and showing man what he is, it is necessary to acknowledge that what is best for us is not what we make for ourselves. It is what is given to us. In being obedient, we discover what we are, even when we do not know clearly where the obedience will ultimately take us. The “light” that “pierces the darkness” has been given to us. And we look away. We hate the light. We hate those who reflect its presence among us. They, too, are hated for it.

And how is this hatred manifest in our time, or perhaps in any time? It is presented in terms of “rights” and “dignity.” It is utopian in character. It claims to institute social justice and equality. It systematically rejects any stamp of man’s divine origin. What is said to be man’s nature, his need to distinguish, as something already in being, what is good from what is evil, comes to be hated. We must rid ourselves of things in man said to be of divine origin. The state is the instrument not of a common good, but of a transformation of man so that nothing of his ultimate origin or destiny can attain public profession.

In the light of such hatred, is there still valour? In one sense, that is all that there is. And why is this valour? Because, beyond our “sight,” we have “hope.” “Light” has pierced the “darkness.” Yet darkness and hatred, in fact, are freely chosen because many, if not most, reject the work of the Father who is seen in the Son. We refuse this “light” by insisting that we have “rights” to make ourselves as we want to be, not what is really best for us to be.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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