Faith, Hope, Love, and Humanism

Chances are you know 1 Corinthians 13:13 even if you don’t know you know it. Here it is, in transliterated Greek:

De menei pistis, elpis, agape,
ta tria tauta;
meizon de touton he, agape.

My translation:

Of those things that stay, there is a trio —
faith, hope, and selfless love —
and the greatest of these is selfless love.

OK, my translation isn’t all that poetic, but it gets at the meaning of the verse.

If you have studied Christian theology much, you know that the Greek language distinguished between types of love. Agape is the highest form of love, because it is altruistic: agape is all about the other, not the self. Selfless love.

Pistis is the Greek word that we translate into English as faith. (Though we do well to remember that the author of these lines had no idea what Christian tradition would be or what it would come to mean by the word pistis.)

Elpis is the word translated as hope, and in Greek meant “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Our English word “hope” is from Old English, meaning “confidence in the future.”

De menei pistis, elpis, agape,
ta tria tauta;
meizon de touton he, agape.

Faith, whatever that means. And confidence in the future. Yes, and the greatest of these three is love, selfless love.

Now that is beautiful, beautiful poetry. Hear the way tauta and touton almost rhyme. Those sounds, pisTIS, elpIS, agap-A. Some scholars argue that beautiful passages such as this in the works attributed to Paul are actually excerpts from early church liturgy that have otherwise disappeared.

Be that as it may, Humanists agree with this poetic passage: there are indeed three things that stay with us —

belief in something;

hope for something;

and love of others.

Where is the self in all this? Well, that’s the point. The self believes. The self hopes. But that’s mere preparation for the self to ultimately disappear into love for others.

Thanks, St. Paul. That’s Humanism.