On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4

We speak of hope frequently in daily talk.  Its range extends from wishful thinking to profound spirituality.  Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of hope with examples drawn from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Today we consider the difference between the passion of hope from theological hope.   

As Karen wrote

The hope seen in The Road is ultimately merely human hope, the natural passion that Aquinas says we share with the animals: the arduous pursuit of some good. Yet, while the passion of hope and the theological virtue of hope differ in both source and kind, they are not entirely unconnected.

Theological hope is an implicit surrender to the help of another—God—in obtaining a good. Theological hope requires a similar recognition of one’s own limitations as required by the natural passion of hope. The magnanimous seek greatness that is within their power based on a rational assessment of what is and is not within that power. The presumptuous, on the other hand, “habitually regard ourselves as capable of attaining through our own powers things that in fact are impossible without help from others. Untruthfully exaggerating our own capacities . . . we render ourselves unlikely (if not unable) to lean on the help of God.”

What is the difference between the natural passion of hope, shared by both humans and animals, and theological hope, which is unique to humans?

On Reading Well


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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life