Although God is present everywhere, and there is no place where we are not in God’s presence (Psalm 139:8), our experience of God occurs as if God were veiled from us and therefore His presence is mediated by signs (1 Cor 13:12). Some of these signs communicate grace by virtue of the sacrament itself, such as the seven sacraments of the Church; other signs although not properly sacraments, are sacramental in that God speaks to us through them, such as the Scriptures or the lives of the saints or even silence in the depth of our hearts; and other signs point to God as creator, such as when we recognize that the order and beauty of creation point to a creator. God allows us to be in relationship with Him through these signs by the gift of faith. Faith allows us to accept the love that God offers us in Jesus Christ, to love Him in return, and to live in hope of what He promises us. Faith, love, and hope are given to us as divine gifts, and yet we can grow in them. The more we grow in them the more we walk the triune way to heaven.
The very first step to walk the triune way of faith, love, and hope is to recognize that we, human beings, are limited creatures, and only God is limitless. We human beings (because we are finite) lack the ability or capacity to reach divinity but, as Augustine says, “God being God, lowered himself to our human condition and his divinizing work continues in the mystery of Christ-the saving action of Christ through His Word” (De Trinitate 14.4). We do not enter on our own efforts, but through the work of God in Jesus Christ that through the Holy Spirit purifies us: “This purification is not our work or the outcome of our own efforts. There are those who believe they can purify themselves by their own efforts to unite themselves with and contemplate God: such people wallow in pride.” (De Trinitate 4.20) The opposite of pride is humility, and humility is to recognize the truth of who we are, namey we are in need of God and God’s assistance in order to transcend ourselves into knowing, loving, and uniting ourselves to God.
The recognition of our limitation and inability to be like God makes faith a necessity, since faith allows us to believe that despite our inability, God approaches us. We are “not yet endowed with the contemplating God, but we are nurtured by faith and led along ways to practice our faith, in order to make ourselves fit and suitable for the contemplation of God” (De Trinitate 1.3). By the mercy of God, we trust in Him and not ourselves in order to arrive at what faith promises. When that happens “faith will not exist anymore, since by faith we believe things that are not seen; and [in heaven] we will be given the vision of the realities that we now believe” (De Trinitate 14.4)
According to Augustine in De Trinitate, faith nourishes us and hope allows us to live in expectation for perfect happiness. We can live in joy even now, albeit imperfectly, yet this joy can grow the more our hope grows. Hope then allows us to bear with the hardships of life and to persevere in our faith despite challenges we may encounter. Hope tells us that in the end we will be given the peace that our restless hearts long for, and “all our desires will give way to the fullness of joy. We will see the Father and that will be enough for us.” (De Trinitate 1.17)
Augustine finds hopeful promises in the Psalms: “the desire of the soul shall be fulfilled with good things, the Trinity’s immutable goodness (Psalm 102:5), whose image the soul is; and in order that this image may never be adulterated, God will hide the soul in his presence (Psalm 30:21), and saturated with such great abundance, the soul will no longer delight in sin.” (De Trinitate 14.20)
We have seen how faith and hope weave together, and now let us see how the third theological virtue of love is the third strand woven into this triune way to heaven: Since blessed are the pure of heart, because they will see God, it is necessary to love God by faith; otherwise the heart cannot be purified and made fit and suitable to contemplate Him. Where, then, can one find the three virtues that the author of Scripture longs to build in our souls, namely faith, hope and charity, if not in the soul of the one who believes what God instructs, and hopes for and loves what is believed? (De Trinitate 8.6) God builds up our souls by enlarging them with the love given to us in Jesus Christ, which we receive in faith, and which allows us to stand in hope of a reality where already made pure we will love God with our whole heart, soul and strength, our neighbor like ourselves.