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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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Needless to say, there have been many stoics
and even professed Christians who have maintained
that virtue is its own reward, apart from all its profit-
able consequences here or hereafter ; so that if we
assume, as well we may, that Christ gives us the
very highest pattern of virtue, we can compel



160 "QUID ERIT NOBIS?"

such thinkers at least to admit that to follow Christ
were best even if there were no hereafter. Neverthe-
less, there are certain latent fallacies in their funda-
mental tenet which make us a little chary of such
allies, — fallacies, however, rather in the analysis and
expression of their sentiment, than in the sentiment
itself, which, rightly apprehended, is the noblest we
are capable of.

There is a certain proud, pharisaic self-sufficiency
that may lead a man to seek virtue, not for virtue's
sake, but for his own sake, in a spirit of acquisitive-
ness and self-culture. Virtue may be sought merely
as an adornment of an idolized self, being sub-
ordinated to self as a means to an end ; even as the
same type of character seeks learning and artistic
skill, not for love of their inherent excellence, nor
even for their advantageous results, but simply
because self must have the best of everything.
As the pagan cultivated his body by gymnastics
and made it obedient to his will, so by virtue he
sought to secure a mastery over his spiritual faculties,
enabling him to conduct himself skilfully and success-
fully through the warfare of life. If he was ashamed
of a shambling gait, he was still more, but in much
the same way, ashamed of intemperance or any
other want of self-control. This was, in one sense,
seeking virtue for its own sake, for its inherent
excellence. Yet in that it made self the best-
loved and ultimate end for whose sake virtue was
loved, it was not really a pure love of virtue as of
something greater than self, to which self should be
submitted as a servant or slave. True, it was no



"QUID ERIT NOBIS? 161

small wisdom to reckon virtue as the best of acquisi-
tions, the highest subjective perfection, to seek it,
not as a means to any other less worthy acquisition,
such as wealth or honour, and, so far, for its own
sake ; but it is only when truth and virtue are
recognized in a more or less obscure way as having
some strange, absolute claim over us, some objective
right altogether irrespective of our private interest
or subjective well-being, that they are strictly sought
for their own sake, as ultimate ends to which self is
wholly subordinated.

To the superficial this would seem to be a fallacy
of the imagination, decreeing divine honours to
personified abstractions writ large, leading the poet
to an idolatrous worship of Beauty, the philosopher
and moralist to the worship of Truth and Virtue.
But on closer thinking, we have here but a con-
fused recognition of the imperative authority of
Conscience, which tells us that we are by nature
but instruments for the working out of an end
communicated to us in detail in our own reason,
but conceived in its entirety only in the mind of
that subsistent personal Reason whose creatures
we are, and who guides and moves us through
Conscience for the execution of His will — the will,
namely, of the living and subsistent Truth and
Goodness. Hence every good man, however dark
or confused his theology may be, feels a conviction
that the cause of Truth and Right has a claim upon
him to which every private gain and pleasure must
be sacrificed ; that they are universal ends which he
must prefer to all particular ends. He cannot resist

L



162 "QUID ERIT NOBIS?"

the indistinct impression that in trespassing against
Truth and Right, he is violating not merely a
possible harmony and order, but a harmony and
order actually willed by a will other than his own,
a will with which he therefore comes into a relation
of hostility and conflict.

Wheresoever conscience is awakened even to this
extent, it is universally confessed that Truth and
Right are to be followed for their own sakes, and
apart from all other considerations of advantage ;
although when once we recognize that they are
personal and not mare personifications, then " Truth
for its own sake," means " God for His own sake."

It is sometimes contended that the joy which
springs from the sense of having done right (that is,
interpretatively, from a sense of union with God), and
which is after all a subjective pleasure, however
spiritual and exquisite, is the true and only motive
of such conduct ; and that it is because this pleasure
outbalances all the pleasures of wrong-doing that
some refined natures find virtue the best investment
for yielding good interest in the way of enjoyment.

But, in the first place, it is those who act conscien-
tiously as a matter of course and habitually, who
are least sensitive to any particular glow of self-
satisfaction when they do well ; as, on the other
hand, it is the oldest and hardest sinners who are
most utterly dead to all sense of uneasiness and
remorse. An act of virtue is one by which we
chose to do what is right because it is right, and
not because it is pleasant ; virtue sought for the
sake of the afterglow is not virtue at all, but the



QUID ERIT NOBIS?" 163



subtlest self-love. That same sweetness may be
foreseen as a side issue, and may even be desired
secondarily; but as soon as it diverts the soul's
eye from its direct intuition of right for right's sake,
and becomes itself the direct end to which virtue
is but a means, then virtue is dishonoured and its
supreme claims are disallowed.

Besides, human nature is, after all, calumniated
by this quasi-hedomist view of the matter ; and every
really good and virtuous man, and every man in
his really good and virtuous acts, implicitly con-
fesses the truth :

Ah ! Christ, if there were no hereafter,
It still were best to follow Thee.

It may even be said that in this, the verdict of
the purer and nobler refinements on Epicureanism
is not different from that of the higher stoicism.
It is possible to take the grosser sense of the maxim,
" Let us eat and drink, fcr to-morrow we die," as
a summary of historical Epicureanism ; but in the
abstract this grossness is no essential part or
product of the theory, and is indignantly repudiated
by its most authoritative exponents. " Carpe diem,
live each moment in the best way possible, get all
you can out of it, as though it were your first and
last, make the very most of every atom of time, so
as to live as fully as possible, to taste and experience
all that is really best while it is within your reach."
This is the cardinal principle, rather than any final
view as to the precise nature of the "best" in
question. To regard sensual pleasure, or any lower



i6 4 "QUID ERIT NOBIS?"

sort of enjoyment, as the best and ideal form of
experience, is, theoretically at least, no necessary
part of this philosophy. So far, at all events, there
is an accord between Epicurean and Christian
teachers as to the supreme and in some sense
independent value of each present moment of expe-
rience viewed in its isolation. If there be a duty of
looking back to the past and forward to the future,
in order that we may make the very most of the
present, there is also a dreamy, profitless retro-
spection, full of vain regrets over what is sealed up
and irremediable, and an impossible or excessive
straining into the future with anxious eyes and
doubting heart, which is altogether contrary to the
virtue of Christian hope. Each little act of the
saint is idealized, at least by the end to which it
is directed ; at every point of his conscious existence
he can, if he will, touch the highest, living the
soul's fullest life, an eternal life, each instant as it
passes. This is the lesson of three lives lived at
Nazareth, and of thousands fashioned to the same
type.

The very sorrows and crosses of life, borne rightly,
have a sweetness of their own known to the elect few;
even as what is biting and severe to ordinary taste,
pleases the discriminating palate, or as seeming
discords are harmonious to the trained ear. Surely
none ever tasted life so deeply, so fully, as the
Man of sorrow and tears ; and if there never was
sorrow like unto His sorrow, neither was there
ever a secret joy like unto His joy — the joy of a soul
that loves widely, deeply, and utters its love in



"QUID ERIT NOBIS?" 165

suffering. Take the world as it is, with its sorrow-
ing and afflicted millions — what life were so full, so
glorious, so joyful in the midst of sorrow, as the
life of one who should love all with a passionate
devotion, who should seek and find relief in suffering
for all.

Thus, following in His wake whose meat was
to do the Father's will and to perfect His work
while it was yet day ere the night came on, the
saints have made the maxim of carnal prudence
their own in a mystic and spiritual sense: " Let us
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Christ is
that food and Christ is that drink. In expressing
Christ, or the Christian ideal, in every moment of
its activity, the soul lives its highest and most
blessed life; it snatches the passing "now," that
acceptable time, that day of salvation, doing with
its might, in the highest and noblest way, all that
its hand finds to do, working while it is yet day,
ere the night cometh wherein no man can work. 1

The real fault of even the most refined form of
Epicureanism seems to be the tendency to luxuriate
in the sensation of satisfaction which accompanies
the highest life, and to pervert this side issue into
an end ; to practise self-sacrifice, not for its own
sake, but for the exquisite pleasure consequent on
the thought that we have acted nobly or beautifully.

1 Cf. " ' Live while you live,' the Epicure would say,
And taste the pleasures of the passing day ;

' Live while you live, ' the sacred preacher cries,
And give to God each moment as.it flies;

Lord, in my life let both united be,

I live to pleasure if I live to Thee."



166 "QUID ERIT NOBIS?"

As for the modern school of positivism, which
claims Comte as its founder and exponent, it is
avowedly in agreement with the principle for which
we are contending. For all to whom kindness is
the noblest and sweetest use of life, to whom it is
its own reward, are agreed that even if there were
no hereafter, yet of all lives the life of altruism is the
best. Mill and others have hopelessly failed in
their attempt to show that altruism and real
unselfishness are mere refinements of self-seeking;
for in truth the " other-regarding " instinct of our
soul is as irreducible and as primitive as the " self-
regarding," nay, more so* Nature's first care
and deepest implanted impulse is for the specific
and common good, to which the good of the indi-
vidual but ministers. That apart from Divine
sanctions, but few would embrace the life of
altruistic self-sacrifice, does not make it less true
that it were the best life to embrace. Few know
where true happiness is to be found. In philosophy,
as in faith, strait is the gate and narrow the way
that leads to life, and few there be that find it for
themselves, if they are not taught and guided. Our
chief quarrel with positivism is that, while rightly
insisting on the promotion of human happiness, it
evades the difficulty of defining that happiness ; or
still worse, it places it in conditions that can never
possibly be realized on earth for the great majority
of mankind. It deludes us with the hopes of some
distant terrestrial paradise as unsubstantial as fairy-
land. Christ, on the other hand, tells us with
terrible frankness that there is no escape from the



QUID ERIT NOBIS?' 1 167



Cross, and that all we can do is to learn to love it r
and to utilize its hidden healing power. He does
iiOt beguile us with the fond fancy that this earth
will one day cease to bring forth thorns and briers,
but teaches us to plait them into garlands. Ecce
Homo ! Behold the perfect man, the perfect human
life, the life of mighty love uttering itself in the
endurance of pain and sorrow and humiliation !

For we cannot, as Catholics, agree with those
who would commend the Way of the Cross as the
best, simply because it leads to Heaven in a life
after this ; or even because, being the way chosen
by Christ, it derives an extrinsic honourableness
from Him. We hold rather that, taking this finite
world as it is, the Way of the Cross is, in the nature
of things, the most perfect way, the best way, the
way most befitting the highest capacities of the
human mind and heart. It is not the best because
it leads to Heaven, or because Christ chose it ; but
contrariwise, Christ chose it, and God rewards it,
because it is the best. It is par excellence the way
and the truth and the life, by which alone man
comes to the Father and puts on divinity and
immortality. So far as the rewards attached to
the following of Christ are in any sense additional
to its natural consequences, it is because, that life
being the best, God wills to crown it and make it
still better — Habenti dabitur.

To return, then, to St. Paul. Truth, however
seemingly many-membered, as apprehended piece-
meal by us, in itself is one and simple. Let a single
article of the Catholic creed be tampered with, and



168 ''QUID ERIT NOBIS?"

the whole fabric crumbles to ruin. The glorious
Resurrection of Christ and His saints from the
dead, is the seal of Divine approval set on the
eternal worthfulness of the Way which He walked,
the Truth which He taught, the Life which He
lived. It is the sign, not the cause, of that worth-
fulness, which, moreover, needs this Divine affirma-
tion and sanction for the sake of the many whose
eyes are too weak to discern the secret beauty
revealed to the chosen disciples of the Cross. Nay,
even the faith of these is ever apt to fail, is ever
failing, in a world to which Christ is a fool and
His Cross folly ; and in hours of darkness and
weakness —

When our light is low,
When the blood creeps and the nerves prick
And tingle ; and the heart is sick
And all the wheels of being slow —

in such hours we need a Divine assurance that our
faith is not vain ; that we are not mere dreamers,
in love with the fictions of our own fancy, as we
might be tempted to think were it not that our
trembling soul is steadied by the solid fact of the
resurrection, which assures us that God judges as
we judge, and that our reason is true to the Divine
Reason when we say :

Ah ! Christ, if there were no hereafter,

It still were best to follow Thee.
Tears are a nobler gift than laughter ;

Who wears Thy yoke alone were free.



THE LIFE EVERLASTING.

Locum rcfrigerii, lucis, et pads.

"A place of refreshment, of light, and of peace."

Canon of the Mass.

I.

Amongst the other outworks and safeguards of
Divine charity, we must number a longing and
desire for Heaven. Heaven is counted among
those four "last things" which are to be the theme
of deep and continual meditation. As we should
pray for an abiding fear of Hell, so also should we
pray for an ardent desire of Heaven, lest at anytime
our love of God having grown cold and feeble, we
should need the assistance of a motive appealing
directly to our rational self-regard. For though
Heaven consists substantially and principally in the
love of God, wherein our soul reaches its highest
perfection and happiness, yet this desire for our
own happiness remains strong and intact even when
we have ceased to identify our happiness with the
possession of God. Charity is a purely unselfish,
" unselfing" virtue, whose object is God and God's
glory, whose motive is God's inherent goodness
and beauty ; but holy hope is self-regarding — wisely,
rightly, supernaturally — it looks to our own perfec-
tion and happiness, which, as we have said, is rightly



170 THE LIFE EVERLASTING.

to be found in Divine charity. Charity then is the
object of Christian hope; or, as we say, "grace
here and glory hereafter " — grace being the seed,
and glory the full-blown flower of Divine love. Our
happiness lies in unselfish love, in forgetting our-
selves and living in God, and in our fellow-man.
Hence, true, wise self-regard bids us cease to regard
ourselves, or rather to take a truer and wiser view
of ourselves, to recognize that we are made, not
for ourselves, but to be members of God and of one
another ; for a collective life, love, praise, and joy.

Thus when our love of God is growing cold, it is
well for us to appeal to our rational self-love ; to
remind ourselves that His ways are ways of pleasant-
ness and all His paths are peace ; that, eventually,
the yoke of the Cross is easy and the burden
light compared with the galling yoke of sin ; that
the steep and narrow way of unselfishness leads to
fuller life and joy; while the broad, easy, down-hill,
selfish road ends in destruction, death, and misery.
For when we have ceased to love, we can still
remember the joy that we found in loving, and long
to be able to love once more.

And if even on earth we find our substantial
peace and joy in the love and friendship of God, in
unselfish service and devotion to His mystical
members, we may well find a strong motive for
perseverance in the prospect of the marvellous
amplification which that charity will receive when it
breaks through the sod into the light and sunshine
of eternity and unfolds its latent treasure of leaf
and flower, of colour, form, and fragrance.



THE LIFE EVERLASTING. 171

We assume as a first principle that man was
made to praise God, and that this life of praise is
here but rudimentary or germinal ; that our present
mortal state is essentially embryonic, — a time of
development and growth ; a time of trial and
combat. Man's life on earth is a warfare. Warfare
is essentially a transitional state, being eventually a
means to secure a fuller peace. All evolution and
growth is attended with great pain and suffering.
Nature herself is said to be groaning and travailing,
expecting her deliverance. This is the Christian
view of the present life— a view abundantly denied
by the world and by the worldly. Man was created,
not for this world, but for the next ; just as the
grub does not exist for its present larval con-
dition of life, but for its final life of winged
liberty.

This in no way countenances the heresy which
denies all value to our natural and temporal
existence, as though it had no reference to the next
world or were not altogether subordinated and
directed to it. At the other extreme, we have the
base view of utilitarian Christianity, which believes,
indeed, in the life to come, yet subordinates it
to the present life, as though it were merely a
sanction, a bribe, or a threat to secure such
conduct as conduces to social and individual welfare
and prosperity in the present world ; thus making,
so to say, eternity a useful appendix to time, instead
of the condition in which the soul dwells even
already. This is a view well according with the
Erastian form of Christianity fairly prevalent in this



172



THE LIFE EVERLASTING.



Protestant country, where the Church is regarded as
a function of the State, subservient to social and
political ends, its work being to secure those public
virtues indispensable to commercial success and to
civic tranquillity and health. This it is to effect by
godly doctrine, and by an insistence on that almost
pagan aspect of the Deity which views Him as a
" State-God," as a God concerned, not principally
with the sanctification of individuals, but with the
national greatness and prosperity. Such is, of
course, the teaching of Hobbes and the British
philosophers of the Protestant era, who subordinate
the individual to the State, as though the State
could have any other raison d'etre but the perfection
of its members distributively and individually. It
is altogether in harmony with such a thought to
regard Heaven and Hell and the life to come, as
mere sanctions to secure good conduct in the
present life, as means to that end; in a word, to
invert the true order of things.

It is because we live in such an atmosphere of
unbelief and misbelief that we ourselves come to be
so listless about Heaven ; or even to think it some-
thing spiritually imperfect to dwell much upon the
theme, lest we should be reproached with holding a
"reward-and-punishment" Christianity; a reproach
which Erastianism has, not unreasonably, earned,
and which unfortunately is extended to Catholic
Christianity by those who are as ignorant of that
religion as South Sea islanders.

We are also to some extent affected by the
purist or quietist fallacies of certain Catholic



THE LIFE EVERLASTING. 173

writers, or by our false understanding of the senti-
ments of others who have written and spoken truly
enough of the self-forgetful nature of perfect love.
We think that, because hope and fear are in some
sense cast out by perfect love, that we should not
concern ourselves much about them, but should
regard them as transient phases of our spiritual
evolution, as "the things of a child," to be put
away by those who have reached manhood's
maturity.

Yet, in very truth, both hope and fear are so
indissolubly connected with love that they all grow
pari passu. Fear, as we have elsewhere said, is the
very fibre and backbone of reverential love, being
begotten of a sense of God's greatness, justice,
power, indignation, and other " masculine " attri-
butes, which very attributes are components of His
lovableness, since what wins our love is the thought
that one so great should love one so little, that
one so high should stoop so low, that one so
great should be so merciful, that so strong and
invincible an indignation should be chained down in
the bonds of a love yet stronger and more invincible.
And thus in the saints the measure of love has
always been the measure of fear, — albeit their fear is
no longer servile when it has given birth to love and
when love is matured so as no longer to need the
aid of servile fear, but to be itself an all-sufficient
spring of action. It is not fear but, as Aquinas
says, the servility of fear which is cast out by
perfect love.

And so with holy hope, as far as it too is in



1 74 THE LIFE EVERLASTING.



some sense servile and self-regarding; bound and
not free ; narrow and not universal. This servility
of hope is cast out by perfect love; though hope
itself grows pace for pace with love. It is the
rational desire of our own highest happiness and
of our spiritual development that makes us seek
to become unselfish and full of self-forgetting charity.
We come to recognize that our own happiness
must never be the direct object of our quest;
that it is by resigning it, by ceasing to seek for
it, nay, by sacrificing it, that we best secure it.
"He that seeketh his life shall lose it; he that
loseth his life shall save it." Happiness comes to
us as a side issue of a nobler end, and surprises us
by its presence just when we have at last succeeded
in putting it out of our heads as an object of con-
sideration. Even then, if we dwell on it, caress it,
foster it, and try to retain it, it eludes us like our
own shadow ; so coy is happiness, the child of self-
forgetting love.

Their hope is undoubtedly the keenest and
strongest who have tasted the peace of God which
passes all understanding, who have known the
happiness of unselfish love, — if by hope we mean
placing our whole happiness, our heart's supreme
treasure, in God. Hope and fear alike are strongest
when love is strongest. The more we realize the
loveliness of God the more must we long for Him,
that is, long to love Him more.

The quietist view falsely supposes that all self-
regard is selfishness in the bad sense. But, in truth,
these two fundamental, self-regarding impulses of



THE LIFE EVERLASTING. 175

hope and fear, even in their imperfect or servile
form, are not only blameless but laudable. The
tendency towards self-good, self-evolution, and
private interest is a force which, unlimited and
unrestrained, would tend to lawlessness and evil ;
but governed by a higher law and love to which it
subserves, it is altogether right and helpful. Nature
never intended it to be a free force ; but one essenti-
ally destined to subjection and bondage to a higher
force. Under the guidance of God the self-seeking
instinct of the individual brute-animal is subservient
and conducive to a wider interest, namely, the good
of the species, which is God's more principal care.
And this is no less true of man's spiritual self-seeking



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 12 of 31)