According to St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), the only things to seek for in religion are the answers to the following questions: what a man should believe (i.e. faith), what he should hope for, and what he ought to love.
Faith may refer to evil things as well as to good, since we believe in both the good and evil. Yet faith is good, not evil. Moreover, faith refers to things past and present and future. For we believe that Christ died; this is a past event. We believe that he sits at the Father’s right hand; this is present. We believe that he will come as our judge; this is future. Again, faith has to do with our own affairs and with those of others. For everyone believes, both about himself and other persons—and about things as well—that at some time he began to exist and that he has not existed forever. Thus, not only about men, but even about angels, we believe many things that have a bearing on religion.
But hope deals only with good things, and only with those which lie in the future, and which pertain to the man who cherishes the hope. Since this is so, faith must be distinguished from hope: they are different terms and likewise different concepts. Yet faith and hope have this in common: they refer to what is not seen, whether this unseen is believed in or hoped for. Thus in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is used by the enlightened defenders of the catholic rule of faith, faith is said to be “the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) And as for hope, the apostle says: “Hope that is seen is not hope. For if a man sees a thing, why does he hope for it? If, however, we hope for what we do not see, we then wait for it in patience.” (Rom 8:24-25) When, therefore, our good is believed to be future, this is the same thing as hoping for it.
What, then, can be said of love, without which faith can do nothing? There can be no true hope without love. Indeed, as the apostle James says, “Even the demons believe and tremble.” (James 2:19)
Yet they neither hope nor love. Instead, believing as we do that what we hope for and love is coming to pass, they tremble. Therefore, the apostle Paul approves and commends the faith that works by love and that cannot exist without hope. Thus it is that love is not without hope, hope is not without love, and neither hope nor love is without faith.
And now regarding love, which the apostle Paul says is greater than the other two—that is, faith and hope—for the more richly it dwells in a man, the better the man in whom it dwells. For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves. Now, beyond all doubt, he who loves aright believes and hopes rightly. Likewise, he who does not love believes in vain, even if what he believes is true; he hopes in vain, even if what he hopes for is generally agreed to pertain to true happiness, unless he believes and hopes for this: that he may through prayer obtain the gift of love. For, although it is true that he cannot hope without love, it may be that there is something without which, if he does not love it, he cannot realize the object of his hopes. An example of this would be if a man hopes for life eternal—and who is there who does not love that?—and yet does not love righteousness, without which no one comes to it.
Now this is the true faith of Christ which the apostle commends: faith that works through love. And what it yet lacks in love it asks that it may receive, it seeks that it may find, and knocks that it may be opened unto it. (Matt 7:7) For faith achieves what the law commands [fides namque impetrat quod lex imperat]. And, without the gift of God—that is, without the Holy Spirit, through whom love is shed abroad in our hearts—the law may bid but it cannot aid [jubere lex poterit, non juvare]. Moreover, it can make of man a transgressor, who cannot then excuse himself by pleading ignorance. For appetite reigns where the love of God does not.
When, in the deepest shadows of ignorance, he lives according to the flesh with no restraint of reason—this is the primal state of man. Afterward, when “through the law the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20) has come to man, and the Holy Spirit has not yet come to his aid—so that even if he wishes to live according to the law, he is vanquished—man sins knowingly and is brought under the spell and made the slave of sin, “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:19). The effect of the knowledge of the law is that sin works in man the whole round of concupiscence, which adds to the guilt of the first transgression. And thus it is that what was written is fulfilled: “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were.” (Rom 5:20) This is the second state of man.
But if God regards a man with solicitude so that he then believes in God’s help in fulfilling His commands, and if a man begins to be led by the Spirit of God, then the mightier power of love struggles against the power of the flesh. (Gal 5:17) And although there is still in man a power that fights against him—his infirmity being not yet fully healed—yet he [the righteous man] lives by faith and lives righteously in so far as he does not yield to evil desires, conquering them by his love of righteousness. This is the third stage of the man of good hope.
A final peace is in store for him who continues to go forward in this course toward perfection through steadfast piety. This will be perfected beyond this life in the repose of the spirit, and, at the last, in the resurrection of the body.
Of these four different stages of man, the first is before the law, the second is under the law, the third is under grace, and the fourth is in full and perfect peace. Thus, also, the history of God’s people has been ordered by successive temporal epochs, as it pleased God, who “ordered all things in measure and number and weight.” (Wis 11:21) The first period was before the law; the second under the law, which was given through Moses; the next, under grace which was revealed through the first Advent of the Mediator. (cf. John 1:17) This grace was not previously absent from those to whom it was to be imparted, although, in conformity to the temporal dispensations, it was veiled and hidden. For none of the righteous men of antiquity could find salvation apart from the faith of Christ. And, unless Christ had also been known to them, he could not have been prophesied to us—sometimes openly and sometimes obscurely—through their ministry.
Now, in whichever of these four “ages”—if one can call them that—the grace of regeneration finds a man, then and there all his past sins are forgiven him and the guilt he contracted in being born is removed by his being reborn. And so true is it that “the Spirit breatheth where he willeth” (John 3:8) that some men have never known the second “age” of slavery under the law, but begin to have divine aid directly under the new commandment.
All the divine precepts are, therefore, referred back to love, of which the apostle says, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5) Thus every commandment harks back to love. For whatever one does either in fear of punishment or from some carnal impulse, so that it does not measure up to the standard of love which the Holy Spirit sheds abroad in our hearts—whatever it is, it is not yet done as it should be, although it may seem to be. Love, in this context, of course includes both the love of God and the love of our neighbor and, indeed, “on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40)—and, we may add, the gospel and the apostles, for from nowhere else comes the voice, “The goal of this command is love,” (1 Tim 1:5) and, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16)
Let me end with a quotation by St. Augustine: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” (Wikiquote) Do we hope that we may obtain the gift of love through prayer so that our faith may be effective and fruitful? Which stage are we in our spiritual journey? Are we happy with our spiritual maturity? Do we have the courage and desire to see that we do not remain the way we are (i.e. spiritually)?
Reference: Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love (Enchiridion of Augustine)
Let us worship our Lord and Saviour with the hymn “Lord of All Hopefulness”: