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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 8

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 8.—The Distinction Between Faith and Hope, and the Mutual Dependence of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Again, can anything be hoped for which is not an object of faith? It is true that a thing which is not an object of hope may be believed. What true Christian, for example, does not believe in the punishment of the wicked? And yet such an one does not hope for it. And the man who believes that punishment to be hanging over himself, and who shrinks in horror from the prospect, is more properly said to fear than to hope. And these two states of mind the poet carefully distinguishes, when he says: “Permit the fearful to have hope.” 1098 Another poet, who is usually much superior to this one, makes a wrong use of the word, when he says: “If I have been able to hope for so great a grief as this.” 1099 And some grammarians take this case as an example of impropriety of speech, saying, “He said sperare [to hope] instead of timere [to fear].” Accordingly, faith may have for its object evil as well as good; for both good and evil are believed, and the faith that believes them is not evil, but good. Faith, moreover, is concerned with the past, the present, and the future, all three. We believe, for example, that Christ died,—an event in the past; we believe that He is sitting at the right hand of God,—a state of things which is present; we believe that He will come to judge the quick and the dead,—an event of the future. Again, faith applies both to one’s own circumstances and those of others. Every one, for example, believes that his own existence had a beginning, and was not eternal, and he believes the same both of other men and other things. Many of our beliefs in regard to religious matters, again, have reference not merely to other men, but to angels also. But hope has for its object only what is good, only what is future, and only what affects the man who entertains the hope. For these reasons, then, faith must be distinguished from hope, not merely as a matter of verbal propriety, but because they are essentially different. The fact that we do not see either what we believe or what we hope for, is all that is common to faith and hope. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, faith is defined (and eminent defenders of the catholic faith have used the definition as a standard) “the evidence of things not seen.” 1100 Although, should any one say that he believes, that is, has grounded his faith, not on words, nor on witnesses, nor on any reasoning whatever, but on the direct evidence of his own senses, he would not be guilty of such an impropriety of speech as to be justly liable to the criticism, “You saw, therefore you did not believe.” And hence it does not follow that an object of faith is not an object of sight. But it is better that we should use the word “faith” as the Scriptures have taught us, applying it to those things which are not seen. Concerning hope, again, the apostle says: “Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” 1101 When, then, we believe that good is about to come, this is nothing else but to hope for it. Now what shall I say of love? Without it, faith profits nothing; and in its absence, hope cannot exist. The Apostle James says: “The devils also believe, and tremble.” 1102 —that is, they, having neither hope nor love, but believing that what we love and hope for is about to come, are in terror. And so the Apostle Paul approves and commends the “faith that worketh by love;” 1103 and this certainly cannot exist without hope. Wherefore there is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither love nor hope without faith.



Lucan, Phars. ii. 15.


Virgil, Æneid, iv. 419.


Heb. 11.1Heb. xi. 1


Rom. 8:24, 25Rom. 8:24, 25


Jas. 2.19Jas. ii. 19


Gal. 5.6Gal. v. 6

Next: Chapter 9

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