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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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cares of maternity. This, as a heavy tax not only
on the time but on the physical energy necessary for
severe intellectual work, will put them at a serious
disadvantage. In a word, equality of opportunity,
which is essential to fair competition, can never be
accorded to that same majority, owing to conditions



254



A GREAT MYSTERY.



fixed, not by custom, nor by male tyranny, but by
nature.

But those who would contend for an altogether
essential inferiority of intellect on the part of women
have a very difficult thesis to prove, for the simple
reason that all their instances are met either by
denying equality of opportunity, or by the contention
that diversity of intellectual gifts is not the same as
inferiority. In proportion as equal opportunities
are given from the first, we see everywhere a
practical refutation of their view.

How much the Catholic religion, which exalts a
Woman to the highest place in creation, favours
and furthers her intellectual and moral development
and ignores any such essential difference, is plain
from a retrospect of the past. Let me quote the
results of an admirable article in the Catholic World
for June, 1875, none the less appropriate because
written in reply to Mr. Gladstone's taunt to the
effect that the conquests of the Catholic Church in
England were " chiefly among women," and there-
fore of no account. After noting the homage done
to woman's intellectual power by the religions of
Greece and Rome in the worship of a woman as
the goddess of wisdom, and patroness of just and
humane warfare ; in the cultus of Vesta, of the
Muses, of the Fates, of the Graces, and in the
honouring of such names as Rhea, Alcestis, Ariadne,
Alcyone, and so forth, the article goes on to notice
her place in the Old Testament, as exemplified in
the prophetesses and wives of the patriarchs; in
Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth,



A GREAT MYSTERY. 255



Esther, and many others. Then we are reminded
how it was among women that Christ found His
most numerous, apt, and constant disciples when
on earth, thus coming under the lash of Mr. Glad-
stone's sarcasm. St. Paul speaks of the women who
laboured with him in the Gospel. Timothy learnt
the Scriptures from Lois and Eunice. St.Thecla 1
was skilled in profane and sacred science and philo-
sophy, and excelled in the various branches of
polite literature. St. Apollonia preached the faith
at Alexandria, and converted many by her eloquence.
St. Catharine devoted herself to the study of philo-
sophy, especially that of Plato, and confuted the
ablest Pagan philosophers of her day. She is
honoured as the patroness of learning and eloquence
and of scholastic theology, and art represents her as
the Christian Urania. After remarking that "the
increasing demand which we have on every side for
a more substantial and scholarly training of the sex
does not look forward to that which they never had,
but backward to what they have lost or abandoned,"
the writer reminds us how it was St. Macrina who
taught SS. Basil and Gregory; how SS. Cosmas and
Damian were instructed by Theodora. " Even as
early as the second century," writes a distinguished
scholar, "the zeal of religious women for letters
provoked the satire of the enemies of Christianity."
St. Fulgentius was educated by his mother, who
made him learn Homer and Menander by heart.
St. Paula stimulated St. Jerome to some of his
greatest writings, and St. Eustochium was a faultless

1 St. Paul's disciple.



256 A GREAT MYSTERY.



Hebrew scholar. St.Chrysostom dedicated seventeen
of his letters to St. Olympias ; and St Marcella's
acquirements won her the title of the " glory of the
Roman ladies " The convents of England in the
seventh and eighth centuries vied with the monaste-
ries in letters. St. Gertrude was skilled in Greek, and
it was a woman who introduced the study of Greek
into the monastery of St. Gall. St. Hilda was con-
sulted on theology by Bishops assembled in council.
Queen Editha, wife of St. Edward the Confessor,
taught grammar and logic. St. Boniface was the
teacher of a brilliant constellation of literary
women. 1 We are told of women who were familiar
with the Greek and Latin Fathers ; of an abbess
who wrote an encyclopaedia of all the science of her
day ; of a nun whose Latin poems and stanzas were
the marvel of the learned , of the injunction of the
Council of Cloveshoe (747) that abbesses should
diligently provide for the education of their nuns ;
of the labours of Lioba in conjunction with St. Boni-
face ; of a convent school whose course included
Latin and Greek, Aristotle's philosophy, and the
liberal arts ; of women in the Papal University of
Bologna eminent in canon law, medicine, mathe-
matics, art, literature ; of Prosperzia de' Rossi, who
taught sculpture there ; of Elena Cornaro, a doctor
at Milan; of Plautilla Brizio, the architect of the
chapel of St. Benedict at Rome. In the eighteenth
century we find women taking their degrees in juris-
prudence and philosophy at the Papal Universities.
In 1758 we have Anna Mazzolina professing anatomy
1 " Valde eruditae in liberali scientia."



A GREAT MYSTERY. 257

at Bologna, and Maria Agnese appointed by the
Pope to the chair of mathematics. Novella d'Andrea
taught canon law for ten years at Bologna, and a
woman succeeded Cardinal Mezzofanti as professor
of Greek. Still more abundant and overwhelming
is the evidence for woman's moral and spiritual
equality with man in the Church's esteem. If forti-
tude is in question, we have SS. Thecla, Perpetua,
Felicity, Agnes, Lucy, Agatha, Cecilia, Apollonia,
Catharine, and innumerable hosts of women who
faced the torments of martyrdom. If men have
forsaken their homes for the Gospel's sake in their
thousands, women have done so in their tens of
thousands, though for them the wrench, as a rule, is
far more violent and painful. In self-denial, in
austerity, in patient endurance, in silence, in un-
selfish devotion to Christ's poor, in all that is rightly
supposed to demand the highest degree of courageous
self-mastery, they have shown themselves, if not
superior, at least fully equal to the other sex.

If the number of men saints exceeds that of
women, it must be recollected that the canonized
represent but a handful of the saints, and chiefly
those whose sanctity was notorious and before the
public gaze; a fact which lessens the chances for
the official recognition of female sanctity. For the
same reason it is observable how far more frequent
is the canonization of bishops than of simple priests,
although no one would suppose that saintly priests
were less numerous than saintly bishops, considering
the numerical proportion of one order to the other.
Again, it may be plausibly contended that sanctity



258 A GREAT MYSTERY.

in men is more evidently miraculous and out of the
common than in women, who, in a sense, are
naturally devout and spiritual-minded.

It would be tiresome to enumerate the religious
orders and congregations fcunded and ruled by
women. Indeed, the extent to which the Church
has entrusted women with jurisdiction and right of
government would seem opposed to the doctrine of
Aquinas, referred to above, were it not that this juris-
diction was very rarely exercised over communities
of men, and was usually dependent on higher authority
vested in bishops or prelates.

In the light of all this, it is impossible to deny
that where the Church has her way, and is not
trammelled by local prejudices, she desires the
fullest possible mental and moral development of
women compatible with the discharge of the social
duties required by nature and God's law. Here,
as elsewhere, the natural organization of society
forbids, and will always forbid, absolute equality
of opportunity. But it is the aim of sane progress
to eliminate all unjust and unreasonable inequa-
lities, and to secure the least possible waste of
those spiritual energies in which the true power
and wealth of every society consists. Nor must we
suppose that it is only in the leisured and unmarried
that the Catholic religion desires culture. The
Church knows far too well the power and influence
of the wife and mother not to see that their elevation
means the elevation of both husband and children,
and that eventually it is they who give the moral
tone to the whole community. Woman is naturally



A GREAT MYSTERY. 259

the guardian of the spiritual wealth of the family,
and for that trust, especially in these days, mere
piety, which is not also educated and intelligent, is
of little avail. The first formation of the mind is
from the mother, and the impressions which she
leaves are indelible. It may truly be said that
whatever the Christian religion has done for the
elevation of public morals, it has done through the
instrumentality of women. A brief study of Mr.
Devas's admirable little book on Family Life will
confirm what perhaps no one with any knowledge of
human history will dispute, and will prove that where
woman is debased and basely thought of, there, in
proportion, public morality is at a low ebb.

We must not credit the Catholic religion with
the sentiments of certain recluses of the desert who,
under the bias of Oriental influence, consider a fierce
contempt for women to be a great point of virtue ;
who insist much on the priority of Eve's share in
our racial disaster, forgetting that theology regards
it as quite insignificant compared with that of
Adam, and more than abundantly counterbalanced
by the part of Mary in our redemption ; who look
upon all the immorality in the world as an evil
brought upon man by that creature which God made
to be a "help meet for him" — a little touch of
Manicheism, such as induces some to regard wine
as essentially demoniacal because men choose to
drink too much of it. A moment's reflection will
show that it is in the reverence for and not in the
contempt of woman that purity must look for its
only reliable safeguard ; and it is with this in her



260 A GREAT MYSTERY.

mind that the Church counsels a devotion to the
Virgin Mother in the interests of that virtue.

In conclusion, if we contrast the Catholic ideal
of womanhood with that of modern irreligion — one
the fair fruit of sound reason enlightened by Catholic
faith, the other the base issue of crude equalitari-
anism and sense-philosophy — there is little difficulty
in seeing that the former conception is strong and
full of energies yet to be developed, while the latter
contains within itself the principle of its own decay
and death. The downfall of the family, the pro-
fanation of marriage, means the downfall and
profanation of woman. Whether she likes to allow
it or not, it is only in virtue of a waning survival
of that chivalrous spirit which Christianity created
and fostered, that the " new woman," as she is
called, is able to elbow her way to the front as she
does. If man is ever rebarbarized by the withdrawal
of the softening influence of home, if woman becomes
nothing more to him than a competitor in the general
struggle for wealth, she will eventually be forced
down to that degradation which has always been
her lot under the reign of pure selfishness and brute
force. If it is her greater unselfishness which has
caused her so much suffering in the past, it has also
been the cause of her great power for good. Self-
ishness is brute force ; unselfishness a spiritual
force. She can never compete with man if the
contest is to be one of brute force. It is the Catholic
Church who has raised her, and, through her, has
raised the world, though both processes are still
struggling but slowly towards completion.



THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS.



11 If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; if
thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thon hast, and give to the
poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven : and come,
follow Me." — St. Matt. xix. 17, 21.

As there is a growing disposition on the part of
some to speak disparagingly of what is called the
" religious state " as though it were something
merely adventitious to the Catholic religion ; some-
thing useful and perhaps necessary for past ages but
rather out of place in our own times ; a desirable
ornament when not procured at too extravagant a
cost; it may not be amiss to say a few words on
the nature of this institution, its place in the Church
and its relation to the Christian religion. As intel-
ligent Catholics, such knowledge ought to interest us
for its own sake ; but living as we do among non-
Catholics who are continually crying down the life
of perfection and the practice of the Evangelical
Counsels, it is doubly necessary that we should
have a firm grasp of the truth both for their sake
and for our own, to silence if not to convince them,
and to satisfy ourselves. And be it noticed that our
present scope is to defend, not religious orders in
the concrete, nor monasticism, but the religious
state in general, that is, the profession of the three



262 THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS.

Evangelical Counsels, — whether independently, or
in a society with others ; whether in the world, or
in the cloister, or in the hermitage. The religious
state is a permanent and essential feature of Catholic
Christianity ; whereas the particular orders or insti-
tutions into which religious have at various times
enrolled themselves for corporate action in the
Church's service, are contingent and transitory,
varying with the necessities of the age and locality :
" They have their day and cease to be." But the
religious state lives with the life of the Church, of
which it is an essential manifestation.

St. Paul boasts — and he is a great boaster — that
the world is crucified to him and he to the world •
and " God forbid," says he, "that I should boast in
anything save only in the Cross of Christ." The
Cross has become so outwardly honoured since
those days; such an object of worship and adora-
tion; so rayed round with secular glory from the
labours of poet and painter, that his words do
not sound so mad in our ears as they did in
the ears of those who looked on crucifixion as we
do on hanging or penal servitude, and who felt as
little reverence for , the Cross as we do for the
gallows or the tread-mill. To get the full flavour
of his sentiment we should have to put the word
gallows instead of cross, and hanged instead of
crucified. His meaning is that, as far as we are
permeated with the spirit of the Gospel, so far
shall we feel an ever-growing contempt for the
life and conduct and aims of the spirit of worldli-
ness wheresoever manifested ; in Catholics or non-



THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS. 263

Catholics ; in Christians or non-Christians ; in its
professed votaries or in its professed enemies. It is
not the world but worldliness which is hateful to
God — a subtle leaven of unbelief and selfish egoism
lurking in all our hearts ; and breaking out like a
plague over the millions of humanity. And as our
contempt of worldliness increases, so too will our
reverence for the " Evangelical Counsels " and the
religious state increase. For just as the Church of
Christ took the hated giobet and lifted it above her
altars, and taught men to bow down and worship
what the world spat upon and trampled under foot ;
so by the existence of her religious she continually
sets the world at defiance ; and teaches men to love
and honour and — when it is God's will — to embrace
what the world hates and despises and flies from, —
namely, poverty, self-restraint, mortification, obedi-
ence, submission, humility.

Our Divine Saviour is rightly said to have
sanctified and exalted and imparted a sort of sacra-
mental dignity to whatever He touched, or used, or
made in any way His own. It is the instinct of
love to choose the lot, to imitate the ways of those
we love. " Lord," says Peter, " I will go with Thee
to prison and to death." It was the purpose of God
to govern and reform the world, not by theories and
philosophies, uut by this imitative power of personal
love ; to draw men's hearts to Himself so that it
should be their chief glory and joy to live as He
lived, choosing and loving the lot which He chose
and loved; walking in the paths trodden by His
blessed feet.



264 THE WAY 0F THE COUNSELS.

But the world into which He came was a world
where riches, wealth, possessions were worshipped
and idolized to the ruin of souls and the dishonour
of God. " Idolized," because they were sought as an
end in themselves ; or sought in a spirit of selfish
individualism, not for the common good, but for
the exclusive good of the unit; where accordingly
wealth was acquired by fraud and oppression of the
poor; where the labourer was despised by the
capitalist as the vanquished by the conqueror. For
it was not only the little world of Judea two thou-
sand years ago, but the great world of all the nations
and ages that He came to heal. It was in answer
to the cry which to-day goes up to the ears of God
from the oppressed millions of humanity no less
than to the cries and groanings of past ages that
He has come down as Emmanuel — God, one of
ourselves ; Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth.

To poor and rich alike the love of wealth is
the most fruitful source of misery, spiritual and
temporal.

Superabundance on the one hand is a snare to
the rich, making them feel independent of God in
so many ways, like the fool who said, " Soul,
take thy ease ; thou hast much riches laid up."
Furthermore, it is the key to endless pleasures and
enjoyments the appetite for which, when unduly
indulged, grows insatiable and tyrannical ; and
breeds that sensuality which blinds the understand-
ing to every spiritual conception and makes the
heart cruel and selfish. It is no less the passport
to vain honour and to influence, which also come



THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS. 265

quickly to be desired as ends in themselves with
a spiritual hunger less degrading but really more
soul-destroying than the craving for luxuries and
enjoyments. The mere possession of superabundant
wealth is no sin in itself, no injustice, as socialists
pretend it must necessarily be ; but it is a continual
occasion, almost a proximate occasion, of such
tendencies and temptations as we have just spoken
of. For it is all but impossible for ordinary souls
to possess wealth and yet not to love it; and "the
love of money is the root of all evil." How few
are they who not only believe but who realize that
their wealth is given them by God only for the
common good; and that if they are allowed certain
superfluities and enjoyments as the fruit of their
own or their parents' industry, it is only because
the common good requires that there should be such
reasonable differences, and that there should be a
stimulus to industry; and because social unity re-
quires that we should share often both good and evil,
wealth and poverty, reward and penalty for which
we are not personally responsible. Hence it is not
against the poor but for the poor that the rich hold
their wealth; insomuch as the poor are members
of the same body. It is in the power of doing good
that the true privilege of wealth and position lies. 1
" Let him that sitteth at meat be as him that
serveth," says our Saviour, who was at once Lord
of lords and Slave of slaves. To rule is to be great,
because to serve is to be great ; to have is happiness,

1 «' He wished to reign," says Wilhelm Meister, speaking of
Hamlet, " only that good men might be good without obstruction."



266 THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS.

because to give is happiness. " It is more blessed
to give than to receive." And besides all this, it
is the tendency of superabundant riches to ruin the
spiritual independence of man- by making him the
slave of imaginary necessities. History everywhere
testifies to the social and national decay consequent
on the selfish accumulation and selfish use of wealth.
We must not find fault with productive expenditure;
nor even with such as promotes the moral, intel-
lectual, and physical development of individuals.
For society is helped and strengthened by the multi-
plication of healthy, intelligent, and moral citizens.
We are not Vandals or Puritans to deny the
refining pleasures of fine art to those who can
afford them ; nor are we so narrow-minded as not
to see that there is such a thing as useful leisure ;
and that the existence of a leisured class is not
necessarily a source of corruption, but might be and
ought to be a helpful factor in the general well-
being. It is against the enervating effects of luxury
that we protest ; against the indulgence of sensu-
ality ; against the squandering of possibilities of
happiness and of true utilities, to no purpose or to
an evil purpose.

Again : to the poor, no less than to the rich, the
love of wealth is a source of misery. For not all
who are poor in fact, are poor in spirit ; and
grasping avarice is confined to no class of society.
No doubt where there is real insufficiency and desti-
tution it is impossible — apart from miracles of grace
— but that the heart must be eaten up with cares,
or hardened with despair. On such poverty, the



THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS. 267



fruitful mother of vice, our Saviour has pronounced
no blessing; but only a curse on those who are
responsible for it. But it is often the comfortable
poor who are most enslaved to a desire of accu-
mulating ; to a thrift that has become an end
itself, instead of reasonable means to a reasonable

end.

It was therefore needful for us that our Saviour
by embracing poverty should make that state of life
more honourable and more lovable to His followers.
He knew that it was as difficult for a rich man to
use his riches unselfishly as for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle ; He knew that for the
majority it was far better, safer, happier to be
actually poor, to have less rather than more, and
to be content with that less. And that they might
be not only content but better pleased with that
lot, He made it His own. To the anti-social,
selfish spirit of worldliness nothing is more hateful
than poverty ; none are more contemptible than the
poor ; and so, to condemn and defy the world and
to show His contempt for its judgment, our God
came among us as a poor man, labouring for His
daily bread in the sweat of His brow. He embraced
poverty and thereby made it something divine-
Holy Poverty, the Bride of Christ :

With Christ she climbed the cross of woe,
When even Mary stayed below. 1

He shared it with His Blessed Mother, with
St. Joseph, with His Apostles, and with His closest

1 Dante, Paradiso. >.«.



268 THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS.

friends. To them He says, speaking of that per-
fection which is counselled though not commanded :
" If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast
and give to the poor . . . and come and follow
Me," the Son of Man who have not where to lay My
head. And let us notice in passing that the spirit
of poverty is not a spirit of economy or parsimony ;
not a spirit of keeping, but of giving. It sells all,
in order to give to the poor ; after His example,
"who, though He was rich, yet for our sake He
became poor," and "emptied Himself of His glory."
It is the spirit of devotion, self-sacrifice, self-forget-
fulness ; the very antithesis and antidote of the love
of acquisition.

Again : it was not well possible for our Saviour
to choose any but the harder lot and the lot of the
majority. Which of us could bear to go well-clad
or to feast sumptuously, or to make merry, if one
most near and dear to us were in destitution and
pain and poverty ? Even though we could in no
way by self-privation relieve his misery, yet love
and sympathy would make the inequality intolerable
to us, and we should be restless and miserable till
we were on the same level as he. True, common-
sense has no justification of such a sentiment ; but
there is something in us, thank God, much diviner
than common sense ; something that is a spark
from that fire that burns in the Human Heart of
God Incarnate. ■ It was not merely to guide us,
to encourage us, to feel with us and for us, that our
great High Priest was tempted and tried with all
our temptations and trials ; but because love is



THE WAY OF THE COUNSELS. 26g

miserable until it shares the sorrows of the beloved ;
it feels itself false and disloyal if it enjoys any
advantage in solitude. Pauperes semper habctis vobis-
cum; He knew there would always be poor while the
world lasted ; and, furthermore, that the poor would
always be in the majority. For, whatever econo-



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 18 of 31)