George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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mists dream to the contrary, the rich will be few
and the poor will be many. But our Saviour was
necessarily with the majority; for the few are for
the many and not the many for the few ; the rich
are for the poor and not the poor for the rich ; the
gifted for the needy and not the needy for the gifted.

Again : He had come on a mission of repara-
tion to make atonement for the sins of the world.
He saw, as none other saw, the torrents of iniquity
and corruption that streamed from this one source
of avarice or the selfish love of wealth ; and there-
fore, despising what the world loved and loving
what the world despised, He willingly and freely
chose to be poor rather than to be rich.

And the Church, His Spouse, has faithfully
guarded His doctrine in this matter of poverty ; and
she proclaims it not only by word of mouth, but
by the continual object-lesson given by the pro-
fessors of voluntary poverty. She allows and en-
courages her children, if only they are called thereto
by God, to make obligatory on themselves by vow
what is of counsel and free to all ; to seal a contract
with poverty and to make her their bride as she
was the bride of Christ.

Let us pause to notice that the sacredness of the
marriage tie and the specific distinctiveness of


conjugal love depends on the bond being irrevocable
at will and perpetual. So he who gives himself to
poverty irrevocably, who locks the fetter and casts
away the key, loves her with a devotion far higher in
kind and degree than he who embraces her at will or
takes her on trial or with the possibility of a divorce
in view. And so of religious vows in general. It is
excellent to practise continence or obedience ; but
far more excellent to vow oneself to the practice.

The very idea of a vow is somewhat discordant
with many of the dominant notions and sentiments
of modern life. Any voluntary sacrifice of liberty
is looked upon with suspicion as savouring of
fanaticism. But this suspicion is at root akin to
that which looks askance at every form of asceticism
or self-imposed mortification on the grounds that
what God has given us to enjoy He cannot desire
or intend us to forego — a fallacy which destroys not
only mortification, but all self-restraint and morality.
It is no violation of our liberty to be bound by the
law of God to do right instead of wrong ; nor is it
a violation of our liberty when by a self-imposed
law we bind ourselves to do better instead of well.
Nothing curtails our liberty but what restricts our
power of doing well or doing better. There is no
such prejudice against the notion of a vow where
the service of God is not in question. History and
romance and poetry abound with instances of heroic
self-devotion to noble causes and enterprises sealed
by vow, which elicit unqualified admiration from all
who do not wish to be thought void of right senti-
ment. Who will find fault with the hero of a recent


fancy sketch of considerable merit, 1 who vowed his
life and labour to the task of bridging a mountain
torrent which had for years exacted its toll of
human life ? We are told how " he toiled day after
day, and the pains of loneliness and poverty were
ever with him ; but the pain which had brought the
man's vow to birth spurred him on and helped him
to that endurance which is always heroism." And
then we read how later he awoke to the existence
of life's pleasures and of his own latent capacities
for enjoying them which his vow had doomed to
death; how he " had mingled with his fellow-men—
with women too ; he had seen their pleasures, their
hopes, their loves, their happy lives, and he craved
the same ; " . . . how his humanity " revolted against
the self-appointed dreariness of his existence" when
"in one hour he realized that hope and love were
not for him. He had vowed a vow that swallowed
up all gentler obligations ; which demanded all his
strength, all his days. ... He had paid out the
grandest years of his life for an impulsive whim,
and what had he gained ? Was he obliged to yield
his own life— the life he could never live again . . .
for the sake of a few lives in a far-off corner of the
land, a few pangs in hearts which had quite for-
gotten him ? " But ever the thought of his vow
comes to the assistance of his better self. He lives
till the necessary wealth is realized at great sacrifice;
he returns to his country after years ; and on the
threshold of home he himself falls a victim to the
same cruel torrent whose foe he had sworn himself,

1 Man. By L. Q. Couch.



and ere he sinks overcome, his last gaze rests on
the bridge of his dreams, built easily long before by
the wealth of others.

Few perhaps will care to withhold their praise
from such an act of heroic self-devotion, even
though in the issue it was fruitless of the results
it aimed at so nobly and at such cost. But when
it is a question of devotion to the service of God,
to the salvation not of a few lives, but of many
souls, to the maintenance of the cardinal principles
of the Gospel and of the Eternal Life here and
hereafter, then and then only are men alarmed for
the interests of liberty and fearful of the encroach-
ments of fanaticism. It has never been suggested
that there was aught of servility in the profession
of knighthood in the days of chivalry, when men
bound themselves

With such vows as is a shame
A man should not be bound by, yet the which
No man can keep.

Even though it be allowed that

The vow that binds too strictly snaps itself,

And being snapped,
We run more counter to the soul thereof
Than had we never sworn,

yet the fact that a profession is high and difficult,
and that therefore a greater percentage of those who
make it must fall short, and falling from a greater
height make greater havoc, in no way argues against
its lawfulness or rightfulness, unless we are prepared
to carry the principle of dishonourable safeness to


the repudiation of Christianity itself and of the
baptismal vows.

It is then in sympathy with the intentions and
motives of Jesus Christ that souls here and there
are drawn to the profession of poverty; loving it
first of all for His sake, that is, because He loved it
and made it His own ; and then, more intelligently
entering into His mind, they love it for the sake of
mankind because it is the harder lot and the lot
of the many, and because they see that the love
of riches is the source of all kinds of social misery
and injustice; and therefore they give themselves tc
the preaching of poverty by their life and example,
giving up freely the wealth, or the opportunities of
wealth, they might otherwise have lawfully enjoyed.
And finally, in a spirit of reparation for all the dis-
honour done to God by the worship of money, they
do not merely accept the poverty that may be laid
upon them in the course of Providence contentedly
and cheerfully, but they freely make themselves poor
for ever.

But against all this doctrine economists urge
that the love of money, the desire to procure
comforts and to raise the standard of enjoyments,
is the root of all good, that is, of all progress and
increase of national wealth which eventually redounds
to the relief of destitution and poverty. Christ says :
"Sell all and give to the poor." He desires that
poverty should be relieved. He regards it therefore
as an evil. He insists strongly and frequently on
this duty. Plainly, to find the causes of poverty
and to remove them is the truest and most universal



kind of charity. May it not be said, they urge, that
He is preoccupied rather with the evil of super-
abundant riches, that is, of capitalism, than with
the excellence of poverty; that it is only freedom
from those particular evils which makes poverty
preferable, in spite of other evils of its own.

To this there is but one answer. It is most true
that where there is no love of money or of comforts
there will be industrial stagnation, much poverty,
and widespread destitution, and it would be wrong
and mischievous to allow that Christianity is in any
way hostile to true and rational progress ; or that
the real interests of this world and the next were

The world is one thing and wcrldliness another.
The latter is an enemy of the interests of Christianity;
but it is also an enemy of the interests of the world.
For though Christianity seeks first the Kingdom of
heaven, it seeks ipso facto the advent of that Kingdom
upon earth ; and that God's will may be done on
earth, in the individual, in the family, in the State,
in things temporal as it is in things eternal, " as it
is in heaven." Truth, justice, equity, charity, hap-
piness, liberty, fraternity — what are these but the
will of God ? And what are they but the rational
ends of progress, the truest interests of this world
which God so loved that He gave His only Son to
die for it ? " What God has joined together let no
man put asunder." This world and the next are
related as body and souL The body is subordinate
to the soul ; but it is not its enemy, not even its
slave, but its companion, its helper, its friend.


Both, we believe, are to be glorified together; and
we also believe that in some undreamt-of way the
kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms
of God and of His Christ ; and that a renewed and
purified heaven and earth will supervene upon
the old.

It is absurd and narrow-minded to regard
modern progress and civilization as being the pure
result either of Christian or of anti-Christian prin-
ciples and tendencies. It is a mixed product con-
taining much good and much evil inextricably
intertwined, as are the roots of wheat and tares in
the Master's field. All that is really good in it is
the fruit of the eternal and necessary principles of
the Gospel ; all that is evil is from the selfish spirit
of worldliness. Were it possible to root out the
tares, the wheat would grow more freely and fruit-
fully. What chokes and retards civilization is the
same weed of worldliness which strangles the Gospel
and forbids its full development and expansion.
What do socialists and individualists revile one
another with, except with the disregard of Gospel
principles; with avarice, with luxury, with injustice,
with tyranny ?

Many glib talkers are zealous to prove that the
Church's influence must be altogether in the interests
of progress and civilization; but the^v never pause
to define the nature of true progress and civilization,
or to question whether what passes for such really
deserves the name. That we live in an age of com-
mercial and industrial progress cannot be denied;
but it must not be assumed that the best and truest


wealth is material, or that the multiplication of
comforts and conveniences is the measure of culture.
We cannot determine the nature and direction of
true progress till we are agreed about the nature of
man, the purpose of human life, the character and
conditions of true happiness. If this world is the
best we have to hope for ; if it is our brief home ; if
pain, sorrow, and affliction are unmitigated evils;
if our only wisdom is to gather, multiply, and hoard
whatever little enjoyment can be crowded into a few
years, then, indeed, it cannot be denied that the
current notion of progress and civilization is satis-
factory. But if this life is chiefly a school of suffering
in which man is taught to master himself and to
endure all things for the love of truth and principle
and right, for the love, that is, of God and God's
cause ; if sorrow, pain, and affliction are evils only
under certain conditions, but are as often, or more
often, the very food and medicine of our spiritual
and moral development; if conscience, and faith,
and divine love, if purity, unselfishness, patience,
meekness, compassion be the highest exercise of
man's highest faculties, then indeed the civilization
which the Church could encourage and sympathize
with would be very different from the frankly godless
and animal civilization of our times.

We do not deny that amid the prevalence of
grosser principles and motives, the " Power that
makes for Righteousness" strives unceasingly to
assert itself and to mitigate the shameless impetus
of the rush for comforts. But in proportion as a
tendency is downward rather than upward and ideal,


it is strong, and universal and persistent ; so that
from the very nature of things an ideal civilization
is something indefinitely far away, and, therefore,
although the Church is not only the ally but in
some sense the mother of true civilization, and
of whatever good there is in the present civili-
zation, yet historically speaking she has always
been, and will always be, at war with that which
calls itself civilization and progress, but is not, She
can never acquiesce in the view that as selfishness
is, so it ought to be the dominant motive of human
conduct, upon which alone we can calculate, with
scientific certainty. She will not purchase the
stability of civilization by contenting herself with
aims that are safe and facile because they are low.
She prefers to fail for ever rather than lower her
standards one inch. For she knows " How far high
failure overleaps the bound of low successes."

Let it be granted then that if the Gospel forbids
us to seek more than bare sufficiency of food and
raiment ; or to make provision for the future ; or to
compete with others in the race of life ; if its ideal
is a life in the desert apart from all human interest ;
if it inculcates mortification of every sense and every
affection as an end in itself in the spirit of Buddhistic
pessimism; if it teaches us to despise the great
drama of human history as an unmeaning "tale told
by an idiot" — as though He who cares for the
individual life cared naught for the life of cities and
nations — if all this be the essential tendency of
Christianity, then indeed it is the enemy of civiliza-
tion and progress. But this is an ignorant travesty


of the Gospel which has never been accepted by
the Catholic Church, however favoured by certain
heresies which have arisen within her and broken off
from her. We are forbidden to seek temporal things
first, that is as the profane and worldly-minded seek
them, who regard them as ends and not as means ;
we are forbidden — not foresight and prudence — but
anxiety and fretfulness in these matters ; we are
forbidden to advance ourselves at the expense and
to the injury of others ; to seek our own good at the
sacrifice of the common good ; we are forbidden
even in temporal matters to seek the lower in pre-
ference to higher necessities and enjoyments; to
indulge in senseless display and luxurious, wasteful
sensuality ; we are forbidden all that degrades and
enervates the individual and thereby weakens society;
we are forbidden such aggrandizement as causes
atrophy and anemia in the lower members of the
body-social, and hypertrophy and plethora in the
higher — a double cause of social decay and death.
But nowhere does the Gospel teach us to despise
any good creature of God's which used in due
measure and season promotes human happiness and
leads us to serve and praise Him better than before.
If a corrupt and luxurious civilization deadens and
debases the soul ; yet it cannot be denied that of
itself civilization tends to the development of man's
spiritual faculties, and thereby renders him a more
fitting instrument of the Divine praise. Even know-
ledge has deservedly come into certain disrepute in
an age where it is worshipped merely as eventually
productive of multiplied comforts. But this perver-


sion does not make it less true that knowledge feeds
and ministers to wisdom ; and that extended know-
ledge is one of the principal fruits of civilization.
Civilization is a good thing ; one of God's helps to
salvation ; it is therefore a grace to be sought and
laboured for. Starvation, destitution, suffering are
not ends in themselves and if, when endured or
embraced in obedience to God's will, they are means
to the very highest end, yet charity bids us impera-
tively relieve them in others, however gladly we
might put up with them ourselves. Fight these
miseries how we will, yet the very nature of things
will always secure their prevalence, for we are but as
children building sand walls against the tide,

But there is, thank God, an unselfish love of
riches that can more than supply all that energy
which is requisite for progress and civilization. As
it is, when a man works for his family he usually
works harder than for himself alone. But it is the
tendency of Christian charity to throw down the
barriers of family and clan, and without lessening
the measure of our love for our immediate kin, or
destroying its due gradation, to allow our affec-
tions to stretch indefinitely to the furthest limit of
humanity. Indeed the extent to which the wavelets
circle out depends on the force of the central dis-
turbance ; and it is the deepest love that spreads
most widely with least diminution of intensity. Our
Blessed Saviour, whose love reached to every son of
Adam, past, present, and future, loved His Mother
and special friends with an intensity proportioned
to the same infinite reach of His world-wide love.


Is there not enough evidence in the past and present,
of the existence of nobler and wider hearts which
have preferred the general good to their own; of
men who have, like the Good Shepherd, laid down
their life for their flock ; is there not enough heroic
unselfishness even now in the world to bid us hope
that what family-love can do, a love of humanity
fed by Christian faith and hope and charity may
effect one day more abundantly ? As the false philo-
sophies of pagandom prepared the world to receive
the truths after which they were vainly groping;
so the pseudo-humanitarianism of our day seems
to be making possible a fuller declaration of the
Christian doctrine of fraternity and love than would
have been listened to last century.

Therefore as a man who understands that to rule
is to serve, may ambition rule simply out of love of the
many and a desire to serve them ; so a man may
ambition wealth just because it increases his power
of doing good, of perfecting himself and those who
are connected with him in due gradation from the
nearest to the furthest, within a sphere which is
increased by every accession to his riches.

In no sense, therefore, is the love of personal
poverty hostile to civilization. It is compatible
with the love of riches ; provided this be an unselfish
love. Plainly it is compatible with a keen desire to
get money in order to give to the poor. " Let him
that stole," says St. Paul, "steal no more; but rather
let him labour, working with his hands, that he may
have wherewith to give to him that is in need;" 1

1 Ephes. iv.


let him no longer seek wealth selfishly at the expense
of others, but let him for the love of others get all
he can by honest endeavour in order to make himself
useful and not hurtful to society. All wealth that is
reasonably and unselfishly used is for the general
good and redounds to the relief of the poor. Yet,
as has been said, it is easier for a camel to pass
through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to
use his wealth unselfishly. With God it is possible ;
and Christianity has multiplied and will yet multiply
these miracles of grace. Still we are far off from
the ideal ; and the poor if not the destitute will be
with us always. The love of the poor will lead us
not only to individual, but to corporate and social
efforts for their relief. It will urge us to study the
laws of economics, to seek out the causes and
remedies of want and suffering. And the love of
poverty, what is it after all but the love of the poor —
that compassion for the weaker members of the
body-social which should counteract the corruptive
tendency of competition.

By embracing the state of the poor, the Religious
of the Catholic Church keep before the world His
example who was poor Himself and has chosen the
poor to be His representatives ; and they choose
what He chose, they love what He loved — not
blindly, for love of being like Him exteriorly ; but
intelligently, for the same reasons as He; being
like Him in their mind and in their heart.



" No man could say the canticle but those hundred and
forty-four thousand who were purchased from the earth, for
they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever He
goeth." — Apoc xiv 3, 4

The second great vice of the world is sensual
licence and impurity. We need scarcely enlarge on
so unsavoury a theme. Commenting on the words
" Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the
sin of the world," some have thought that this
sin of the world is nothing else but impurity
Be that as it may, it is certain that it has at
all times been the commonest form of sin ; and
that those who pass through life untouched by its
contamination are few and far between. We
know, moreover, that it is the gravest and most
persistent of social evils ; the chiefest hindrance to
collective happiness It is not only the conditions
of civilization but the exigencies of Nature herself
that demand restraint in this most difficult matter,
and that, for most men, and at most times. It is
not our intention here to explain this apparent
anomaly, but simply to take it as we find it.
Look at it how we will, we see that restraint is
one of the necessities of human life, as much as
labour, or sorrow, or death.

It is the harder lot and the lot of the many ; and
He who would have His friends feel for that lot and
make it their own, came among us, not as an
example of conjugal perfection, but as a virgin, born
of a Virgin ; His foster-father, a virgin ; His herald,


a virgin ; the friend of His bosom, a virgin ; His
heavenly body-guard, virgins — virgins not in mind
only, but in body. It was that He might sanctify
and exalt virginity that He embraced it and gave it
to His choicest friends to embrace ; so that a weak
and impure world might be strengthened to honour
and reverence virginity ; to see in it the very crown
of human dignity, the absolute mastery of the spirit
over the most imperious exactions of the flesh ; to
emulate it and approach as near to it as possible by
perfect chastity and spotlessness according to each
one's state of life ; or even to embrace it, if called
thereto, as a higher and holier state than that of
matrimony. For it is higher and holier to serve
the many than to serve the few ; to forsake home
and kindred for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God
on earth, and thereby to find a hundred-fold even in
the present life.

Here, as in the case of poverty, Christ took what
was bitter and sweetened it by making it His own.
For the love of being like Christ and His Mother
and His friends, thousands in every age have
embraced freely and gladly that hardship which is
imposed upon so many whether they will it or no.
And still more do they resemble Him when they do
so for like motives, amongst which, though not
principal, is " compassion for the multitude." With
what face can the wealthy preach contentment to
the poor ? and with what face could the Church
preach continence to the world, did she not practise
it in the persons of her priests and religious ?

A married clergy may preach chastity by word of


mouth, but not by the most effectual method of
preaching. By marriage a man does not overcome
in the conflict, but simply withdraws from it.
Plainly the mere fact of marriage does not infuse
the difficult virtue of chastity into one who was
previously unchaste. Indeed, there is some fear
that even matrimonial chastity will prove too severe
a yoke for such a one. One who was a coward
while the battle raged does not instantly become
brave because peace is proclaimed. He may talk
more valiantly, even as a father, forgetful of his own
unmarried days, may treat the delinquencies of his
son with the austerity of a Stoic.

Always and everywhere, even in the most
corrupted ages the Church has preached an
object-lesson to the world by the existence of
her voluntary celibates of both sexes, who by vow

Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 19 of 31)