Acton Institute Powerblog

Hope: the theological, economic virtue

On Holy Saturday, I wrote the last of my series of “Lentenomics” articles on virtues and the good economy for the Italian daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. I invited readers to reflect on “Hope: In ourselves and in our exchanges with others and God.”

Without hope–which I divide into its natural and supernatural dimensions–I conclude that economies would neither stimulate risk nor develop a culture of trust among fellow market participants and God. As a result, they would not form collaborative ventures such as companies, corporations, and multinationals.

What’s worse, I conclude hopeless economies are basically dead and inevitably lose their freedom. Such despairing markets must be managed by gloomy command-and-control regimes that tell economic actors what to do, when they can do it, and with whom they may collaborate. Distrusting economies neither hope in man’s natural abilities to help himself by exercising our vocational roles nor express supernatural hope in God’s providence for the economy.

I write:

Hope is the most ethereal of all virtues. Few of us understand it well. We instinctually have “some feeling” about what hope means. In our spontaneous expressions of “I hope so, I really hope that, hoping for the best…” we express some form of confidence and wish for happy outcomes. But we often don’t know why we hope. To complicate matters, hope is really two virtues rolled into one. Hope is partly supernatural (theological) and partly natural (human). In brief, we hope in God and his supernatural capacity to interact with and save us and we hope in man and his natural capacity to help himself and others.

Without theological hope, our expressions of human hope have no long-term fuel and eternal motivation. Without theological hope, human hope in itself has absolutely no solid justification. Human hope is based on a firm belief that man is naturally empowered by God with individual talents and gifts for freely doing marvelous and magnanimous deeds. No supernatural God means no natural, God-given abilities, and thus no human hope. Without either forms of hope, we live in a godless world defined by imperfection, isolation, and brokenness. It is a dark existence without a generous God who gives us everything we need to live well on earth.

To be clear, God doesn’t want us hoping in Him alone. He doesn’t want to do everything for us, like some sugar daddy who spoils us rotten. God also wants us to help ourselves; otherwise we don’t praise and affirm his gifts to us. These gifts grant us natural hope to do immense good freely by our own will. So, God wants us to have some merit and responsibility for our salvation. He encourages us to cooperate personally with Him to help deliver ourselves and our fellow men from malice. …

This free cooperation of individuals persons trusting in themselves, in their neighbor, and in their God, is what now leads us to speak about economics.

Firstly, this triune trust and cooperation is a reflection of what theologians call the Economic Trinity. The Economic Trinity is the union of absolute hope and mutual cooperation between three Godheads who interrelate perfectly with one another and positively for the salvation of the world. Therefore, any Christian economic society on earth should be anchored in this inspiring, symbiotic, and organically cooperative divine economy.

Secondly, what we can then conclude about the Economic Trinity is that it is in no way a top-down or centralized chain of command. This leads us to reject command-and-control human economic models (e.g., Cuba, Venezuela, China, and the former USSR) that are not based on the mutual, free cooperation of divinely gifted persons. We understand how they lead to the opposite of hope: the despair that is painfully evident in these destitute and self-destructive regimes that cannot even take care of themselves.

Such communist economies bring about despair, because they purposely eradicate natural and theological hope. Communist economies have always promoted atheism, because God is the archenemy of the “Almighty State” which “already gives everyone everything they need.” There’s simply no need for God. So, logically there are only “State-given gifts.” Hence, natural hope and theological hope disappear completely from such state-run economies. Communist economic participants can only “hope in hopelessly corrupt” political leaders and their untenable ideological agendas. These are the same few political-economic bosses who assign citizens their professions, who force labor, and who fix prices and supply to guarantee distribution and access to the products and services that are always in extremely short supply in such non-creative economies.

Free markets, on the other hands, count on our intuition of the mutual cooperation that should exist between free persons who trust in their God-given gifts to help themselves and others. Free markets advocate dreams, creativity, and vocations, thus hoping and trusting in God’s noble plan for each of us.

In conclusion, free markets are economies of hope and not desperation, where economic actors are naturally confident in themselves and God’s providential plan for individuals. They are economies that naturally risk, create, expect persons to invest, and naturally set up cooperatives and corporations of thousands of persons. They are the same economies that are capable of trusting and hoping in stakeholders from all over the world to form multinational companies. Market-based economic societies promote freedom, trust, cooperation, and–above all–the self-confidence and creativity of God’s creatures. Such economies personify what we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him … to receive his reward and rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 15: 19).

You can read the full article here.

(Photo credit: Pexels. Public domain.)

Michael Severance

Michael Severance earned his B.A. in philosophy and humane letters from the University of San Francisco, where he also studied at the university's St. Ignatius Institute, a great books program. He then pursued his linguistic studies in Salamanca, Spain where he obtained his Advanced Diploma in Spanish from Spain's Ministry of Education before obtaining his M.A. in Philosophy and Modern Languages from the University of Oxford. While living in Italy, Michael has worked in various professional capacities in religious journalism, public relations, marketing, fundraising, as well as property redevelopment and management. As Istituto Acton's Operations Manager, Michael is responsible for helping to organize international conferences, increase private funding, as well as expand networking opportunities and relations among European businesses, media and religious communities, while managing the day-to-day operations of the Rome office.