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American ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 online

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heart of the child may be quickly and strongly responsive to those
feebler rays of divine loveliness which beat idly on the callous
sur&ce of a heart hardened by worldliness and sensuality, and

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by infidelity to past light Hence the spoken word that fells
equally on many ears, is as seed sown over a tract of varying fer-
tility, yielding here nothing, there thirty, sixty, or an hundredfold.

So fer then we may regard the word, the notion, the mental
image of God as a cause of divine love whose efficacy, however,
is conditioned by the state of the heart to which the word is
spoken. It is not then without reason that, when religious
teachers or preachers come to us and tell us that we ought to, and
must, and shall love God with our whole heart and above all
things, we demand : Who is He ? Where is He ? What is He
like, that we should thus love Him on hearsay ? And then they
begin, each according to his ability, to describe to us in lame
words — not God, whom they have never seen, but that notion
or image or picture of God which they have laboriously painted
in their own minds, that poor, clumsy skeleton-conception which
they have strung together piece by piece, and joint by joint, and
set up for worship in the shrine of their hearts. And often we
could wish that they had either held their peace altogether or had
said less. He, who came from the bosom of the Father, could
have said much, and yet He said but little ; for He knew a more
living language than that of the tongue— one in which He
" showed us the Father *' by stretching out His all-embracing arms
and dying, not only, as man does, for His friends, but, as God
does, for His enemies. Hence we are but slowly and slightly
stirred by the spoken word, by the notion of God that is trans-
ferred, through language, from some other intelligence to our own.
What moves us more really in the preacher is the manner of one
who has found some treasure which he himself cannot rightly
conceive, still less express to us in words ; who has found a well
of living water, a secret fount of happiness which he would will-
ingly share with the thirsty ; who therefore excites our curiosity
and bids us come and see and taste for ourselves ; who knows
that his stammering descriptions are almost irreverently unlike
what personal experience alone can reveal to his hearers — as
unlike as a spoken description of some wonderful symphony, of
which all one ought to say is " Go and hear it." '

Therefore a deeper reason why, as a rule, a strong and supreme
love of God is quite separable from a clear intellectual conception

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GOD IN US. 593

of His nature, is to be sought in the truth that, in this life God
presents Himself to us as an object of the heart and will, rather
than as an object of the mind and intelligence ; as something to
be laid hold of by action rather than by contemplation, as some-
thing to be done, rather than as something to be gazed at or
argued about. "This is life eternal," says Christ, "that they
should know Thee ;" and certainly hereafter we hope to see God
face to face, not as our mind now sees Him in images and sym-
bols and ideas, but even as we see our departed friends in their
portraits, or in their letters, or in some work they have left behind
them. To have the veil torn away which now prevents the light
of God's face shining straight into the eyes of our soul, is indeed
what we long and labor for. But meantime the veil is there ; and
it is not by our mind but only by our action that, in this life, we
are brought into immediate contact with God. It is right and
obligatory that we should, as far as our education and ability
allow, strive to render our ideas about God, those images or pic-
tures of Him which we construct in our mind, before which we
so often pray (which is no harm), — to render those ideas less and
less unworthy and superstitious and inadequate. Still we must
ever remember that our idea of God is not God ; that it is but an
internal image and likeness that we have made of Him in our
mind ; that if in any degree it reveals or resembles Him, it also
to a far greater extent conceals or dissembles Him ; that could
we come to see Him directly as He really is, the difference
between the savage's grotesque conception of God and the phil-
osopher's more spiritual and cultivated conception would seem
of little importance in the light of the infinite inadequacy of either ;
that both alike necessarily conceive God after the likeness of man
and in the terms of things bodily and finite ; that our boasted
superiority in this respect over the savage is that of a child of
five over a child of four.

However God may work in the working of our mind, giving
it its power and act of vision, giving its objects whatever intelli-
gibility or transparency they possess ; yet He Himself is not, in
this life, a direct object of our mind ; and if here we are to touch
Him and be immediately united with Him, it is not in thinking
about Him but in acting with Him. For every good action of

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ours is His also— the offspring of the marriage of our will with
His ; the seal and pledge of the active union, the union in action,
of our soul with Him. From the first suggestion of good, to the
wish, the desire, the will, the accomplishment. He is cooperant
with every movement of our faculties.

Who would not envy the lot of Joseph who had Christ for
his fellow-laborer in the carpenter's shed at Nazareth; whose
knowledge and love of Him was fed by continual partnership in
toil, by the sense of co-authorship in the same productions, how-
ever lowly and perishable. Yet this is but a faltering symbol of
our close intimacy with God in bringing forth in our souls the
fruit of a good life — a labor in which His will and action and life
is intertwined with ours from beginning to end. We are so used
to the influence of His will upon ours that we have lost all sense
of it; just as we are so used to the drag exerted upon our bodies
by the attraction of the earth that we come to look upon weight
as part of our very constitution, and to forget that it is the effect
of an action from outside. God is that centre of goodness which
draws us ever towards closer union with itself, by a continual
magnetic attraction. Whether we climb up-hill or run down-hill
we are influenced by the earth's attraction, resisting its force in
the one case, using it in the other ; and similarly, whether we
resist the inclination or use it, in every conscious and free action
we are under the influence, however dimly acknowledged, of an
attraction towards goodness, of a wish, however feeble and inef-
fectual, to do the right thing ; and if we 'go with the attraction
there is a sense of ease ; and if we go against it, a sense of un-
rest. And this attraction is simply the felt will of God, whose
presence within us is as essentially a condition of our conscious
rational life, as air or light is of our bodily life.

And so when we talk of '* union with God " let us put aside
all childish pictures of the mind which portray that union as a
sort of local relation of two things face to face, or fastened or
fused together, inactive and unchanging; and let us rather picture
it as the meeting or mingling of two streams reinforcing one an-
other, even as when we run down-hill our own action and that of
the earth conspire to one and the same end.

So it is not in standing still, but in movement and action that

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GOD IN US. 595

we are united to God and our life mingled with His. And the
closer we come to Him the more strongly He draws us ; the
more frequently, fully^ and strenuously we act with God, the more
abundantly does He enter us ; so that action is, in a way, the
vessel into which God is received. And like every other appe-
tite, the desire for that sense of rest and peace that comes of
yielding to God's magnetism, grows keener with every indul-
gence, till it comes easily to out-sway every counter-attraction,
and till nothing irks us more than the unrest of having it re-

Thus it is that whereas not God, but only some feeble image
or symbol of His nature can be touched by our mind. He Him-
self can be touched by the heart where His will is felt striving
with our will, and His spirit with our spirit ; and He can be em-
braced and held fast in the embrace of action whereby His life
and ours are spun together and firmly co-twisted in the union of
a single and undivided process. "I am the Way," He says, *'and
the Truth and the Life " — ^but principally a Way to be trodden, a
Life to be lived ; He is also a Truth to be known, an idea to be
conceived; yet here, not directly, but through images and shadows
— as things distant and absent are known to us.

It is well to know the name, the nature, the eflfects of some
needed medicine if this knowledge will help us to procure and
apply it ; yet it is not the knowledge that heals us, but the medi-
cine ; and so a mind-knowledge of God is useful in the present
life if it helps us to take Him into our life and action and make
Him the medicine of our souls. But it is as the Way and the
Life rather than as the Truth that He heals us now ; it is not in
knowing, but in willing and doing that we realize Him.

Yet if God gives Himself to us in this life to be felt, tasted and
touched rather than seen or pictured to the mind, it must not be
forgotten that these forms of direct experience are in their way
true knowledge. Gustate et videte, says the Psalmist ; " Taste,
and by tasting see " that God is sweet ; as though he would
say: It is not the mere idea of God's sweetness that will
sweeten life's bitterness, but only the experimental proving
of it Had we no idea of what salt or sugar looked or
felt like in their crystallized state; did we but know them

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in solution, experimentally, as what makes the difference to our
palate between brakish water and fresh, or between sweet water
and tasteless, yet this would be a most real though partial knowl-
edge ; and in like manner had we no idea or mental picture of
God as a distinct Being, unrelated to our practical life, we might
yet know Him far more directly, really, and practically as that
inward attraction to every kind of goodness which it is sweet to
yield to, and bitter to resist ; we might know and feel His will
experimentally long before we could form any mental idol or
picture of His personality. And to say that the extent and clearness
of this experimental knowledge depend on the frequency, con-
stancy, and intensity of our experiences, of our active cooperation
with God's will, is to utter the veriest truism.

Hence we need trouble ourselves but little about our theoret-
ical notions of God, which are but as pictures of the absent — useful
perhaps, as the image of a Saint is useful, to steady our attention,
to stimulate memory, and devotion, through memory. " Through
memory," for there is no sanctity in the statue, nor anything to
appeal directly to our devotion ; and similarly there is no divinity
in our idea of God, nothing that we can fall down before and
worship. We may pray before it, as before a statue, but not to it,
for that were idolatry, — not less because our ideas of what God is
in Himself are somewhat less grotesque than those to which the
savage gives expression in his idols.

Another consequence of this truth is that those who have
perhaps never heard God's name — if such there be ; who have
formed no distinct notion of Him as a separate Being ; or whose
notions of Him are what we should consider utterly false and un-
worthy ; or those again who consider all such notions equally
false and to be repudiated, may yet know God experimentally and
love Him with their whole heart, and mind, and soul, and
strength ; they may put the claims of duty above life itself; they
may put truth before father, mother, child, possessions ; they may
not merely be in sympathy with God's will and way, but in
absolute reverential subjection to it; following it not simply
because they like it, but because they know it should be followed
whether they like it or not. If there are those who " profess that
they know God, but who in works deny Him," there are also

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GOD IN US. 597

many who profess not to know Him, but whose deeds contradict
their profession.

Often what men deny with their lips they confess with their
lives ; the sense in which they reject received dogmas is not the
true sense, but a travesty thereof — ^their own or another's ; it is
not God whom they refuse to worship, but some unworthy idol
of their imagination. Of our deepest convictions, our conduct is
often the truest utterance ; it is just in regard to them that our
powers of self-analysis and expression are most apt to fail.

While, then, no man can be saved without faith and knowledge
of God, yet there is a truer knowledge than that of ideas and im-
ages ; a knowledge of direct contact and experiment, a matter of
tasting, touching, and feeling. For a musician, a knowledge of
Beethoven means a skill in reproducing his music ; not an acquaint-
ance with the details of his biography, though this may be added
as a luxury. We know God in the only way essential to our nature
and destiny when we know how to reproduce the music of His life
in our own. We need to know the sun as that which gives light
and warmth and vigor, but its internal composition concerns us
ver>r little.

God is, for many, a necessity of the mind, the bond of unity
by which their view of all reality is connected into a whole. Take
away the thought of God and their philosophy falls into pieces
like a bundle of faggots when the string is cut. Yet it is not so
with all. There are imperfect and erroneous philosophies from
which He is excluded; which seek the bond of union elsewhere,
or seek it in some wholly false conception of God. So feeble and
perturbable are our best philosophies that he who holds God only
with his mind holds Him most insecurely. Until He has become
a necessity of our whole life, and not merely of our mental life,
our faith has no firm root ; Expertus potest credere ! For our life
and action has also its principle of unity, some end, some love,
some devotion for which we do actually (and not only theoretically
and professionally) live. If to part ^ith God or to deny Him
would take the meaning and point out of our existence, would
extinguish our best enthusiasms, would unidealize our friend-
ships, would cynicize our criticism, would render us hopeless,
pessimistic, frivolous, bitter, sensual, — then, little as we may be

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aware of it, He is not only our God but our All. Thus it is that
those who are least capable of an intelligent conception of God,
do as a rule love Him far more than those whose notions about
Him are far more philosophical, less obviously superstitious ; for
the knowledge which feeds their love is not conceptual or notional
but real and experimental. " I confess to Thee, O Father," says
Christ, looking on the world as it always is and shall be, the
untaught multitudes on one side, and their teachers on the
otfier ; " I confess that Thou hast hid these things from the wise
and prudent," from the scientist and metaphysician, from the
scribe, the pharisee, and the casuist, "and hast revealed them
unto babes."

GoD*s Life In Ours.

He that loveth not kooweth not God, for God is
love .... God it love, and he that abideth
in love abideth in God and God in him.—
I John 4.

Our Lord tells us that eternal life consists in knowing God ;
and if at first sight it seems strange that life should consist in
what is but a condition and means of life, namely, in knowing,
St John tells us more clearly the kind of knowing that is meant ;
— a direct experimental knowledge of God's action in us ; not an
indirect mental representation of God as He seems to Himself. So
far as our love of God is excited by consideration and reflec-
tion, — by the images and ideas of Him that we form in our mind,
— knowledge precedes love. But that knowledge in which eter-
nal life consists follows upon love. It is a knowledge of God mani*
fested in the fact of our own love of others ; of God acting in our
action ; of God, not as He might seem to other possible creatures,
or, apart from all, to the divine self-consciousness, but as He is
in us, mingling His life with ours so inextricably as to defy clear
analysis or separation. And he that loveth not his brother knoweth
not God, however correctly or sublimely he may conceive Him
with his mind ; whereas he that loveth, knoweth God, even were
his theological notions those of simple savagery or childhood.

Moreover, it is in the inward and outward exercise and opera-
tion of love that we dwell in God and He in us. The dwelling
is altogether dynamic and active ; — a process, as when one sus-

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GOD IN US. 599

tained musical note makes harmony with another ; * not ^position,
as of a jewel at rest in its setting.

Not, however, in any kind of love is the divine life carried on
in us and through us ; but in that kind only in which all our ener-
gies, impulses and appetites are subordinated to, ami pressed into
the service of, that sovereign, universal love, which is but the Will
of God seeking expression through the instrumentality and co-
operation of the rational creature, created for no other end than
this. Any other rebel love, breaking from the traces and refusing
to serve, brings misty confusion into our life and hides us from
ourselves. Only the sovereign love reveals to us what we are in
reality — solidifies the mists of self-illusion into our very truth and
substance ; wakes us from intangible dreaminess to palpable fact
and actuality. St John speaks of it, not as the direct love of
God, but as the love of our brethren, behind, and through, and
in whom God is loved ; and more particularly, as the continuance
in us and through us of Christ's love for our brethren and for the
Father in and through them.

Love is specified or characterized by its scope and aim, as a
seed is by the full-grown tree into which it tends to develop.
This love of the brethren, which constitutes our divine life, and in
which we recognize the action of God mingling with our own, has
no less universal an aim than has the love of Christ, whereof it is
but an extension in the same way that the vitality of the branches
is but an extension of that of the Vine. Slowly indeed its true
character and final expression are developed in human conscious-
ness. Felt at first as a mere push in the dark, we know not
whence the blind impulse comes or whither it would drive us ;
but as with other instincts, we make essays, seeking ease, in this
direction and in that, and as one or other satisfies the instinct
more, or thwarts it less, we follow on faithfully till some new and
fuller indication of its purpose is vouchsafed to us. And thus, in
course of time, if we obey, its meaning is gradually expanded
before us, and we pass from strength to strength, till we are face

* Mark, how one string sweet husband to another.
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering ;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing. — Shakespeare.

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to face with God, with the all-embradng universal Spirit of Love,
which strove with our spirit when we knew Him not ; when we
yet walked with Him, as with a stranger, by the way, with burn-
ing hearts and blinded ^yt,s.

Left to our own gropings we seek the satisfaction of this divine
instinct first in an enlightened egoism — in dying to mere animal-
ism, in living to truth and purity, in giving the supremacy to
spiritual over bodily excellence. Breaking from this prison of
solitude to that fuller and better self-understanding involved in the
instinct of fraternity and justice, we recognize ourselves as mem-
bers subordinated to the society of our immediate entourage ; we
seek or sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. Yet the Divine
Will cannot rest there, but ever enlarges the circle of our interest
till we come to know ourselves more and more deeply as mem-
bers of the human race, and identified with its destiny ; then, as
part of the entire universe of creatures, animate and inanimate,
from which we originate, whose secular labor we gather up into
ourselves, to whom we owe, with usury, all that we have received.
Still the heart is not at rest ; not even in the fondest Utopian
dreams of the universal well-being of all creatures is its desire
fully interpreted. It is on its way to reality, following the clue,
but has not yet arrived. What is still lacking is the keystone of
the arch which gives reality and stability to all the substructure.
Apart from God, the universal creature is an illusion, an abstrac-
tion, an incoherent, self-contradicting idea, as is the superficies of
the geometer apart from the solid body which it limits. And as
the geometrical point or line can have no greater physical reality
than the superficies, so I, as a fraction of humanity, or of the uni-
versal creature (if these be viewed as suspended in vacuo and not
as resting on the solid rock of God's reality), am but a dream
within a dream ; and the good that I live for, whether my own or
that of all my fellow-creatures, is but a less or greater dream, if
God's Will be not behind all to give reality to my shadowy aims.
Else the chain of purposes, one leading to another, ends nowhere,
and hangs on nothing ; we can answer the question : " What is
this or that for ?" but never " What is everything for ?" unless we
accept the Will of God as the solution ; Fiat voluntas Tua sicut
in coelo et in terra. That therefore which I really want, or rather.

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GOD IN US. 6oi

that Which the Divine Will in me wants, is the Divine Good —
created and uncreated. As God is the Author, so is He the end of
that Love or Charity which He Himself works in me. The good
of all creation could not satisfy that Will except in so far as it is
identical with the good of the Creator.

In la Sua volontade d nostra pace.

We want all things to be and move as God wants them to be
and move ; that is to say, in perfect harmony with His Being and
movement ; so that His Being and movement is, when we come to
understand ourselves, the first and governing object of our higher
will, apart from which the subordinate object is not coherently
thinkable. Picture a man suddenly created in some barren waste
who feels for the first time the cravings of physical hunger. We
indeed know the meaning, the full physiological interpretation of
that craving ; we know, moreover, that if it is a desire for food, it is
by presupposition, a desire or love of self, and of food only in its
relation to self, — a desire of self-sustenance, self-preservation ; but
to him it is a vague mysterious longing till experience shall have
taught him — ^till the presence of its object shall have explained
and intensified the appetite. So with this ineradicable appetite of
the soul for the food of reality, — at first vague and unintelligible,

this palpitating heart,
This blind and unrelated joy.
That rooYes me strangely like the child
Who in the flushing darkness troubled lies,
Inventing lonely prophecies.
Which even to his Mother mild
He dares not tell ;
To which himself is infidel ;
His heart, not less, on Are
With dreams impossible as wildest Arab tale.

In me life*s even flood

What eddies thus?

What in its ruddy orbit lifts the blood

Like a perturbed moon of Uranus

Reaching to some great world in ungauged darkness hid ?

( Unknmon Eros, by C. Palmore. )

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As with every other desire, the adequate object towards Which
the Divine Will within us drives and constrains us, is not something
apart from self; but self in some state of betterment, of which the
so-called object is but a condition. It is not food that we seek,
whether for soul or for body, but self-refreshment, self-develop-
ment We desire to grow ; that is, to ^^ be'' more than we are ;
to have more reality, more life, more love and action than we
have. Thus from the nature of its object we come to understand
the nature of the subject or self to which the will or desire be-

Online LibraryCatholic University of AmericaAmerican ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 → online text (page 67 of 78)