Copyright
George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

. (page 15 of 31)
Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 15 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the noblest and most helpful of the instincts God has
planted in our hearts. Again, there are some whose
affections are feeble by nature, and still more
enfeebled by habitual selfishness, and who are conse-
quently free from the temptation of any violent love
or hatred or grief or fear. If, through mere insensi-
bility of these kinds, men seem to endure great pains
or humiliations or sorrows or else to forego great
pleasures and honours and joys, this is but a counter-
feit courage. Nor again is it courage when one goes
out to meet danger full of self-confidence and with
a moral certainty of victory and escape, as when
Goliath came forth against David; nor when through
thoughtlessness or excitement or inexperience, one
under-estimates the risk to be encountered. There
is but little courage in hot blood, unless we are
to credit wild bulls with courage, nor does all
that passes for bravery on the battlefield deserve to



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE. 207

be confounded with that rare moral force which it
would be a miracle to find widely distributed in such
a chance assortment of men. "To fear nothing,"
says a recent writer, " and face danger, is the
courage of a noble animal ; to be afraid yet to go
through to the end, is the courage of a man." 1

At times men will face present pain simply in
order to escape far greater pain of the same kind ;
they will allow a tooth to be drawn or a limb to be
cut off, counting it good economy of suffering in the
long run. This may be excellent good sense, and
akin to courage, but it is not true courage. A poor
timid bird will often turn desperate and fight for its
life with what might seem to be courage, but is only
the very pressure of extreme fright. The miser will
go far beyond many a saint in his austerities and
self-denials, not because he is master of himself, but
because he is the slave of avarice ; and the courtier
will brook many an indignity and bitter humiliation,
not because he is master of his resentment, but
because he is the slave of ambition. And so in a
thousand ways men who are by no means insensible
to suffering will deliberately endure pain and con-
tempt and annoyance in order to avoid what they
consider greater evils, or to secure greater advan-
tages. Their action in so doing is usually prudent
and justifiable, and has certain elements of true
courage in it, since it is governed by foresight and
reason, and not merely by the pressure of present
feeling. But courage in the true sense requires that
we should endure or abstain, not for any kind of

1 Man. By Lilian Quiller Couch.



208 THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.

motive whatever, but for the sake of that highest
spiritual good to which alone our subjection as
reasonable beings is due or permissible; for the sake,
that is, of principle, of truth and right and justice,
of God's cause ; or still better, for the sake of God
Himself, explicitly known and loved and reverenced.
Non passio, says Augustine, sect causa facit martyr em —
" It is not suffering, but suffering for a good cause,
that makes a martyr."

It is in such suffering that man fully realizes
himself and attains the summit of his glory; as
indeed we see in the great Archetype of humanity
to whom Pilate, unconsciously prophetic, pointed as
He stood before the multitude, scourged, mocked,
and rejected for the cause of God, and said Ecce
Homo — " Behold the Man ! " He truly was not
insensible to pain, contempt, or grief, whose body
and soul were framed and devised by Divine Wisdom
to be the instruments of that suffering which was to
redeem the world, and who went forth to His Passion
" knowing all things that were to come upon Him,"
and yet was silent as a sheep before its shearers —
calm with seeming apathy, as if He were deaf, hard,
and senseless — " so that the governor wondered
exceedingly."

As it behoved Him to suffer and so to enter into
His glory, so it is in the act of suffering for God,
or for God's cause, that every man reaches his
best and enters into his glory as man. Because
Christ was strong to suffer and to die, therefore were
all things put under His feet ; and so far as we are
filled with a like strength are we invincible against



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE. 209

those who shrink from pain as the worst of evils.
Hence it is said that the blood of the martyrs is the
seed of the Church, and she, who knows the secret
of the Crucifix, will ever have among her children
those whose faith in the unseen good, will "overcome
the world " by suffering.

The Church, taught by Christ, bids us acquiesce
in the truth that this world is not our home, but our
school ; that it is designed to school us in that
which is best among our capacities, namely, in
courage, in an heroic endurance of suffering for
the sake of God and God's cause. For in this our
very highest capability is exerted and strengthened
and perfected.

Hence it follows that manhood is most pro-
perly manifested in the mastery of impulse. We
stigmatize one who is deficient in self-mastery as
weak, or wanting in that moral strength which is
to man what bone and sinew are to the mere
animal. The vituperatives "effeminate," "childish,"
"savage," "brutal," all confess the same conception
of man's nature, and of God's intention. God is
therefore at once the author and moving force of
pur animal impulses, and of the dictate of reason
which bids us control them. He supplies us with
the task, and with the instruments by which it is
to be accomplished. It would be indeed a difficulty
were He the author of two contrary tendencies,
unless, as is the case, He willed one to prevail, and
made provision for its prevalence. Nor is He
strictly the author, but rather the permitter, of the
contrariety ; nor does He will the useful force of



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.



passion to be wasted and extinguished, but to be
used and applied in due place and season.

It is, then, precisely as being unworthy of true
manhood, and of our nature adequately regarded,
that we feel moral shame over any exhibition of
imperfect self-control where such control is due and
possible. We blush to be detected in cowardice,
greediness, meanness, selfishness, curiosity. Pro-
fligates who brag most shamelessly of their vices,
always represent them as proofs of their bravery,
manliness, independence of superstition, of religious
fear, of human respect, but never like to allow their
sheer weakness and inability to conquer them.

The shame that we feel at our subjection to
purely involuntary animal needs and infirmities,
which neither are, nor can be under our control, is
in no sense " moral " shame as of something whose
deformity is imputable. And the same is to be said
of our shame about merely conventional disgraces,
like poverty, ill-birth, breaches of etiquette. Unruly
passions, on the other hand, even if not a self-
chosen or a self-permitted deformity, are a remedi-
able defect which may not be complacently tolerated.

Now, what is true of all controllable impulses is
more emphatically true of that which is chief among
them, in so far as it concerns that animal function
whose results are of the greatest moment both to
individual and to social life— namely, the multiplying
of human beings; the bringing of new personalities
on to the stage of human life. If it is a momentous
thing for any man to usurp the authority of God,
and by the crime of murder to cut short the allotted



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE. 211



space of a human life, surely the " to be or not to
be " ? of unborn personalities is a question of great
consequence, where it behoves man, with whom its
decision rests, to be fully master of himself. If it
is bestial that he should be so enslaved by greedi-
ness as to endanger his own health, what can be
said of his slavery to an appetite fraught with so much
more consequence to others ? In this matter to be
determined, like a brute, by pleasure alone, is surely
the most extreme irregularity, and to approve and
consent to such irregularity is, in the light of mere
reason, the gravest immorality. Proportional, then,
to the gravity of the end is man's obligation of
holding this instinct well in hand.

Still, according to the insistence she places on
the preservation of the species, Nature {i.e., God in
nature) has made this instinct the strongest of all.
Hence, while the mastery of it is most necessary,
it is also most difficult, and this it is that makes
chastity the very crown and seal of perfected man-
hood.

The usual effects, physical and moral, of sensual
indulgence on individuals and on society at large,
are sufficient indication of the sentence which
outraged nature passes on such vice, nor need we
amplify so disagreeable a topic. When man once
makes carnal pleasure an end in itself, reason enables
him to devise and organize a thousand ways of
procuring and multiplying it which are inaccessible
to unreasoning animals. He sinks not merely to their
level, but indefinitely lower.

The physical and moral degradation which



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.



results, not indeed from any one act, but from single
acts multiplied like plague-spots, is enough of itselt
to warrant a precept of nature against any exception
to their universal prohibition ; thus adding a grave
extrinsic malice to the already grave intrinsic malice
of any single act.

In fine, the root-malice of impurity, viewed in
the mere light of reason, lies in the fact that
God has given us a certain very imperative
instinct, for a certain clear purpose of the most
vitally momentous consequence. He intends to
prove and perfect us as reasonable beings in this
matter, as in many others, that we may freely choose
to resist this impulse where it is contrary to His
declared purpose, and use it where He wills us to
use it, and in the same way as He wills it. That
He wills no use of it outside wedlock is a further
question, and does not belong to the present dis-
cussion, which is general.

Any impulse to do what is irregular is itself
irregular, and cannot be approved or encouraged
by reason. If murder is wrong, I may not en-
courage a tendency to murder. If I may not take
my neighbour's property, I may not wilfully long
for it. So every impulse towards sensual satisfaction
which would be unlawful, is itself naturally un-
lawful. Man is under a natural obligation of tending
towards the perfect control of every controllable
impulse ; hence even inculpable rebellions should
displease him as being opposed to his final perfection,
i.e., to that ideal which he should aim it. They
are not matter for blame, but for regret; but to



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE. 213

approve them or not to regret them would be
blameworthy. My temper may be quite beyond
my present control, so that I am free of all self-
reproach ; but I may not acquiesce in this state of
things as long as there is room for further self-
mastery. Thus, reason is in sympathy with the
Church's high esteem of what we might call effectual
purity, as opposed to that which merely exists in
firm will and purpose ; as well as with her more
adequate view of human nature and human virtue, —
each composed of two elements, internal and external,
soul and body, neither perfect without the other,
yet the soul absolutely self-standing, self-sufficing,
while the body apart from it is wholly valueless.

Temperance in will and purpose is compatible
with dipsomania ; fortitude with physical nervous-
ness and timidity — although they lack their proper
embodiment and expression, since they have not
realized that effect which of their own nature they
tend to realize in normal circumstances. Again,
there is a mere placidity of physical temperament
that simulates peacefulness, an insensibility which
passes as continence, a general negation of passion
which looks like self- conquest ; but these are
nothing worth : virtues in no sense of the word.
The full and perfect virtue is that which is measured
and duly conceived by reason, enforced by the will,
and gradually conformed to by the passions. It is
normally the result of industry.

The efforts of the will may be partly or wholly
ineffectual, owing to obstinacy of the natural tem-
perament ; and in this case the defect is not morally



2i 4 THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.



imputable or blamable, but only regrettable; one
may not be glad of it, for it is an infirmity dis-
honouring our human dignity, a matter of humili-
ation, a defacing of God's image. Given, in two
cases, equal internal virtue, the addition of the
external virtue in one adds a certain moral dignity
or ornament which the other has not. To have it
in the one case, to lack it in the other, may not be
imputable, either as merit nor as demerit ; although
to have it may be a means of merit, and to lack it,
a safeguard of humility and therefore indirectly a
means of greater merit.

So with regard to that perfect immunity, not
merely from voluntary faults against chastity, but
even from all natural irregularities which the Church
bids us pray for. It is not a matter of merit so
much as of spiritual dignity. We should regret
(not blame ourselves for) every want of that perfect
self-control which is the final dignity after which
reason should strive, and the want of which is
contrary to God's first intention with respect to
the children of Adam and the brethren of Christ
We should regret it out of reverence to God's image
which it is our duty to educe and perfect in ourselves ;
out of reverence to this nature which the Eternal
has wedded to Himself in unity of Person ; out of
reverence to that Eucharistic Flesh and Blood which
we feed on ; out of reverence to our own flesh and
blood rendered conspecific with it by reiterated
Communions and destined to a like glorification; out
of reverence to the indwelling Spirit whose temples
we are ; out of reverence to the Mystical Body of



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE. 2I5



which we are members, and to Christ its Head, and
to Mary and to all the saints our fellow-members,
who share our honour or dishonour.

Hence, cczteris paribus, the Church prefers, not
as more meritorious, but as spiritually more exalted,
the condition of those who are thus exempt. Not
that she prizes physical impotence or defect of
passion, as possessing any beauty in the spiritual
or moral order, but rather full passions and warm
affections controlled and conquered by an over-
mastering passion of Divine love. This mastery of
the strong man by the stronger is in the case of
some saints the result of a suddenly infused strength
of charity; in most, it is of slower growth. We
should indeed do ill to conceive it as a privation
of any strength or fulness of vitality, an emascu-
lation of character in any sense. Mere immunity,
without a will firm enough to resist all rebellion,
would be only material purity; but where the
immunity is due to a continual overmastering of
the lower impulses by the higher, too firm and
strong to be sensible of any difficulty or resistance,
we are in the presence of heroic and almost super-
human virtue.

Closely connected with this high estimate of
effectual purity is the value the Church sets on
celibacy and virginity. It is no mere economical
or prudential motive that binds her priesthood to
chastity, but a sense of the spiritual dignity befitting
those who minister at the altar of the Virgin-born
and dispense the Bread of Angels to others. It is
strange how any school of Christianity can fail



21 6 THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.



to see the high esteem set upon bodily virginity by
our Saviour, and how those who were closest to
Him were graced by this ornament : His Mother,
His precursor, His foster-father, His bosom friend,
His heavenly bodyguard. Apart from this mystical
reason, there is also a reason which is eminently
practical, namely, the unfitness of a married clergy
to preach to others a continence and self-restraint
which they have little or no occasion to practise
themselves. " Keep up ! Don't give in ! " they seem
to cry to the many who are struggling in billows,
while they themselves are enjoying the comparative
security of a life-boat. With her eyes wide open
to all the sin and sacrilege that celibacy has
occasioned and may yet occasion, the Church insists
upon it for the sake of a greater good which im-
measurably outbalances all that evil, for the sake
of the encouragement of those millions upon whom
restraint is for one reason or another incumbent,
whether for a time or continually, — and that, often
in the very years when it is most difficult. Again,
she knows well that the man who fights, even
though he fall from time to time, gives more glory
to God than he who sits at home. She knows that
marriage does not create purity or the power of
restraint where it did not exist before, and that to
the impure and incontinent its liberty is rarely
sufficient, while the transgression of its restraints
is a far deadlier sin than a celibate is capable of.

Reason tells us that if the unruliness of any
controllable appetite is a grave disorder, far more
is the unruliness of sensual desire, so momentous in



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE. 217

its consequences. Even the first impulse to so
grave a disorder cannot be regarded as a slight
irregularity. This, again, bears out Catholic teach-
ing to the effect that, given full advertence and
self-control, no fault in this matter is light, although
there are various degrees of gravity. Here the
severity of the Church's teaching seems at first sight
excessive ; for indeed it comes to this, that any
deliberate and direct concession to sensual incli-
nation, however slight, whether in thought or deed,
is grievously sinful. It must, however, be fully
deliberate, a condition which supposes perfect
advertence both to what is being done or thought
about, and to the gravely sinful character of such
thoughts or actions; and also, perfect self-control,
so that the thought or act is in no way automatic
or involuntary. These conditions are, of course,
very frequently absent in the first beginnings of
sensual rebellion. Again, the concession must be
direct, that is, it must have sensual gratification for
its motive, and not some other necessary end which
would perhaps justify the toleration under protest of
an involuntary gratification.

But the practical wisdom of the Church's severity
in regarding the slightest direct and deliberate con-
cession as grievous, is evident when we reflect that
here, as in some other matters, a slight concession,
far from mitigating irregular desire, increases it ;
and if the first impulse is not resisted, it is inde-
finitely less likely that the second will be. In fact
it is like starting a boulder rolling down a hill,
which becomes more hopelessly unmanageable at



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.



every bound. It is the failure to realize this law,
or to accept it in faith from the experience and
wisdom of the Church, that lies at the root of so
much difficulty in this matter.

Here indeed the rule is the same for all, for
those who walk by the commandments or by the
counsels. But when it is a question of justifiable
occasions of involuntary gratification, there is a
wide range between the maximum and the minimum
of liberty, which leaves room for many refinements
of purity that are of counsel and not of command.
There is on the one side a point after which the
pretended justification is quite inadequate to the
resulting irregularity of which it is the occasion
or indirect cause ; on the other, a point beyond
which abstinence from lawful occasions would inter-
fere with plain duties or with greater good. As
the counsel of evangelical poverty is : " If thou
wilt be perfect, sell all ; " that is : Do not ask
how much, but how little may you keep ; so the
counsel of purity is, that we should inquire rather
how far we may reasonably avoid lawful occasions,
than how far we are free to encounter them.
Both these limits, maximum and minimum, are
relative and not absolute ; that is, the tempera-
ment, circumstances, antecedents, state of life, of
each individual determine for him to what length
he can go one way or the other without a violation
of conscience or an infringement of duty. In
practice there can be little doubt as to which is
the easier, the safer and more generous course to
adopt ; or which the Church everywhere encourages



THE ANGELIC VIRTUE.

and approves, so long as counsel is not confounded
with precept to the hurt of conscience and the
eventual injury of simple purity.

Last of all, reason goes further, and tells us
that if we have any strong vicious propensity
whose satisfaction is unavoidably occasioned in the
fulfilment of some imperative duty, we should regard
the circumstance with a certain regret, on account of
the gratification of a mortal enemy. For example,
as a magistrate one may have to condemn his mortal
foe, and thus to gratify his natural vindictiveness ;
or one prone to drunkenness may be ordered spirits
by his doctor. If there is sincere good-will in either
case, the purely involuntary gratification of these
lower propensities will be a matter of regret to the
higher part of our nature. These evil tendencies
are our spiritual foes whom we desire to starve out ;
and therefore if, in spite of ourselves, we are con-
strained to feed them in any way and so put off the
date of their extermination, we shall hardly be
pleased.

Thus even in the subtlest points we find reason
running parallel with the instincts and intuitions
of the Catholic religion touching the angelic virtue,
and confessing that God is just, and His judgments
are right: Justus es, Domine, et rectum judicium tuum.



A GREAT MYSTERY



" A help, meet for him."

We are told in the Book of Genesis that God
created man and fashioned him to His own image
and likeness, and breathed into his nostrils the
breath of life ; that He created him to have dominion
over all the other creatures on the face of the earth,
to use them in the carrying out of his own work
and end ; that in this especially man differed from
the brute animals, that by reason of his power of
thinking and choosing, he had dominion not only
over them, but over himself, over his feelings, his
passions, his instincts ; he was not to be swayed
by them, or carried along helplessly and thrown,
as an unskilled rider by a spirited horse, but
to make them serve him and carry him wherever
and however, as long, and as far as he should judge
right. And if in respect to his passions and appetites
he is in authority, with respect to God he is
under authority, God saying to him, as he to
his passions, " ' Go,' and he goeth ; ' come,' and he
cometh ; ' do this,' and he doth it." Man was
created to be God's absolute slave and servant, to
do God's will and God's work and nothing else, and



A GREAT MYSTERY



therein to find his perfection ; while every other
creature then created, was created to be man's
absolute slave and servant, to help him in the per-
formance of this work. What, then, was this work?
To prepare himself here in order to live hereafter
with God for ever, to see Him face to face; to know
as God knows, to love as God loves ; to be happy
with God's own happiness.

Fresh from God's moulding hand, man looked
round upon creation, upon the innumerable helps
that God's bounty had provided for him, sun and
moon and stars, earth and ocean, mountains and
valleys, springs and streams, glades, meadows and
forests, trees and flowers, beasts, birds and fishes,
all praising God in chorus, ''telling His glory,
showing His handiwork," speaking of His goodness,
wisdom, and power; helping man to know Him,
and, knowing, to love Him with his whole heart,
and whole mind, and whole soul, and whole strength.
And yet, gazing round upon all these helps, man
felt helpless, for there was no help found meet for
him ; there were dumb slaves in abundance, but no
companion; servants by necessity, and not by
choice. "All things were put under his feet," but
he had no partner to share his dominion and
sovereignty. He had the power of speech, but none
to speak to; the power of thought, but none to think
with ; a human heart, but no human object for its
affections; helps, therefore, in abundance, but no
help meet for him. Surely it was not good for him
to be alone, neither for body nor for spirit. As his
body, so neither could his soul increase or fructify



A GREAT MYSTERY.



in his helpless and solitary state. And yet God
created him alone that he might, as it were,
feel and experience his neediness, that he might
value and reverence the crowning gift of creation,
the highest and noblest that God had yet in store



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 15 of 31)