*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: Tears, then action, lead to hope

08 December 2017

Looking forward, we must not succumb to negativity, Paul Vallely counsels


Troubling times: the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols (far right), joins the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Rabbi Ephriam Mirvis, Sheikh Ezzat Khalifa, and Sheikh Mohammad at a vigil for the victims of the Westminster terror attack, outside Westminster Abbey, in March

Troubling times: the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols (far right), joins the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Rabbi Ephriam Mirvi...

EACH year, The Economist produces a special edition that looks over the coming 12 months. The investment banker John Studzinski recently read the current version, The World in 2018, and noticed a glaring omission. There were predictable pieces on Donald Trump, Brexit, the Rohingya, North Korea, Yemen, Iran v. Saudi Arabia, and Russia’s interference in Western elections.

But where, asked the banker — who is a Roman Catholic and a prominent philanthropist — was the article on the devastating decline in morality in the industrialised world?

He made this observation at a book launch he hosted recently for a slim volume by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Hope In Action. The book struck a chord with me, as I had observed in my last two columns that, in our bleak and beleaguered times, we had a particular duty to maintain a narrative of optimism. The book insists on a distinction between optimism and hope.

St Thomas Aquinas saw two distinct elements in hope, Cardinal Nichols writes. Hope, the great scholastic philosopher says, is a movement of the will to desire something good. It is not the product of opinion or argument, but is a partnership between our understanding and our will. And hope is always directed towards God, the source and summit of all good: Goodness itself.

There is more here than a distinction between hope and optimism, which Cardinal Nichols dismisses as a mere disposition to look on the bright side, however irrationally. But hope can take on a negative manifestation as well as a positive one, as was demonstrated by two vivid images in the Cardinal’s speech in reply to Mr Studzinski. Both had been prominent when he was writing the book.

The first was of the terrorist executioner Jihadi John, dressed in black, pointing upward with the blade of his knife, his other hand holding his victim in a position of total subservience, defeated, and about to die. The brutal murderer spoke of his hope of a ruthless domination in the name of God.

The second image came from a mosaic that Cardinal Nichols had seen on a visit to the Church of the Annunciation, in Nazareth. It, too, showed an upright figure, but in white, powerful and yet welcoming; one hand high above his head points to heaven, while the other stretches down to a young woman whose neck is bared not in subservience but in a loving readiness to submit to the will of God.

One image is charged with triumphalist terror, the other suffused with innate dignity.

How do we nurture that positive hope in the face of such bleak negativity? The key to what it means to be human, the book concludes, is that we weep. They can be tears of pain, of separation, of frustration, of rage, or of regret. But it is through them that we set out on the road of hope.

Perhaps, then, the duty we have to maintain a narrative of optimism in our troubled times requires us to weep when we see how the human heart can be hardened so that it will violate that innate dignity. But out of those tears must come the determination to act which is implicit in Aquinas’s definition of what it means to hope.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)