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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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by the baser sort for their own baser ends. On the
other hand, the corruption, which to many is a cause
of ruin and scandal, is an occasion of strength and
resurrection to not a few whose faith is proved and
whose love and hope are deepened by holding out
against the downward drag of universal example.
Hence, as the richest flowers often grow from the
foulest refuse, so the greatest saints have shone out
in the darkest nights of the Church's history.

What, then, should be the attitude of mind of a
good Catholic Christian under such painful circum-
stances as we are imagining ? Is he bound in any



364 IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE.

sense to love, reverence, and obey the concrete
Church in which he finds himself? or will it suffice
that he retain a love and reverence for the ideal,
giving birth and strength to a hatred and detestation
of the contrasted reality ? There can be but one
answer. Terrible as is the evil and perversion, yet
that which is thus perverted and degraded is by
organic continuity a part of the body founded by
Jesus Christ, a branch of that tree which He
planted, and watered with His Blood. While it
keeps the Catholic faith, and is as yet unsevered
from the centre of unity, it retains its vital principle
and root of recovery, even as does the most degraded
and fallen Catholic who still clings to the faith of
his baptism. It has that in its very nature which
tends, in due conditions, to the realization of the
Divine ideal of the Spouse of Christ. It is part of
the same body of which Christ is the Head, and of
which Mary, with all the apostles, martyrs, con-
fessors, virgins, and holy souls on earth and in
Heaven, are members. That wild beasts have
preyed upon it and devoured it may fill us with just
indignation against those through whose fault such
corruption has come about ; but for the body itself
our sentiments should only be those of Christ when
He wept over Jerusalem — sentiments of sorrow and
anguish, born of an unalterable love and affection.
Where one has both the power and Divine com-
mission to act, and to apply remedies, one is bound
to move heaven and earth in the cause of God ; but
where one is powerless or unauthorized one can but
stand by helpless with Mary at the side of the



IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE. 365

Cross and pray. Bonum est prcestolari cum silentio
salutare Dei — " It is good to wait in silence for the
salvation of God." Ten thousand are strong enough
to draw the sword with Simon Peter, and to rush
into the midst of Christ's enemies hacking and
hewing right and left, for one who has the strength
to wait and be silent. Doubtless there is a silence
and an expectation, which only means apathy or
indifference, or timidity, where there is nothing to
suppress and therefore no self-suppression ; or there
is the silence of the fatalist. But apart from such
cases it is the weak man who gives way to violence
in speech and action ; whose first impulse is revolu-
tion, rebellion, secession ; it is the strong man who
keeps silence and waits and hopes and obeys. They
that take the sword, be it the sword of the tongue
or the sword of steel, perish by the sword ; violence
defeats itself; but the meek possess the earth
because they are the really strong, and because
they husband those energies which the passionate
squander in fruitless impulsiveness. Theirs is the
violence which takes the Kingdom of Heaven by
storm.

Secession, when it is not a work of malice, is the
child of crude thought and moral cowardice. It is
to fly from a temptation which it is our duty to face
and to conquer ; the temptation of scandal, of seeing
ourselves deprived of the support of public example
and edification, and left in comparative isolation as
idealists and dreamers. It is the act of a soldier
who deserts, lest he should be involved in the defeat
of his regiment which he foresees, or share the



366 IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE.

suspicion of having failed in his duty ; or is it the
act of a son who denies and disowns the mother
that bore him, lest he should be partaker in her
disgrace ? It is, therefore, shirking the conse-
quences of our contract of membership, which
requires that we should be willing to share evil
things no less than good things in common with
others ; and which holds, like the marriage-bond,
" for richer, for poorer ; for better, for worse ; in
sickness, or in health ; till death us do part."

Little as we may like it, we are of necessity social
beings, and our life and lot is bound up with the
life and lot of others, whose burdens we have to
bear even as they have to bear ours. We may
secede from the Church because of scandals, lest we
should be rated according to the average of its
public, but we cannot secede from our membership
with the human family, or disown our ineffably
close brotherhood with the erring multitudes of our
Father's children. If we isolate ourselves from the
multitudes, we isolate ourselves from God.

But if the weak no less than the wicked fall
away in such crises, the strong stand firm and by
resistance become stronger ; and the love that holds
them back strikes root yet deeper in their hearts ;
even as true affection is called forth in its highest
form by the afflictions, needs, sorrows, and sins of
those we love. However their hands be tied through
lack of the ability or the authority to correct others,
they know well that the perfection of the multitude
depends chiefly on the perfection of its component
units, and that no change of regimen, no legislation



IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE. 367



will bring any remedy unless there be virtue and
probity in those who administer it and in those
who submit to it. Until each member is imbued
with the true ideal of the whole, at least in outline,
and is zealous for its realization in preference to all
isolated and private interests, there will always be
the disorders and diseases that spring from selfish-
ness and pride. This, therefore, is the first and
most essential work — the intellectual and moral
betterment of individuals one by one — a work
effected often quietly and noiselessly; at first very
slowly, one here and there ; then with geometrically
increasing rapidity as each torch becomes a new
centre for the dissemination of light and heat ; and
the whole face and tone of a community is changed,
we know not how. For it is with growth as with
decay; more depends on individuals than on
systems ; and men are led by their affections rather
than by principles ; by example and fashion rather
than by theories and views.

This being so, there is no question as to the
immediate task which it is in every true reformer's
power to apply himself to vigorously, namely, the
task of self-reformation ; and this not in an exclusive,
self-regarding spirit, as though, in despair of the
republic, one had cynically resolved to live for one's
own highest good, and let the world go its way ; but
in a spirit of true, universal apostolic charity, clearly
recognizing that this is the nearest, the surest, the
most imperative way to help others; and subordinat-
ing one's own self-care as a means to that nobler
and greater end. " First, keep yourself in peace,



3 68 IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE.

and then you will be able to bring peace to others •
first be zealous about yourself, and then you will
have some right to be zealous about your neighbour "
— Tene te primo in pace et tunc poteris alios pacificare.
Habe primo zelum super teipsum et tunc juste zelare
poteris etiam proximum tuum. This is indeed no easy
task, and the very attempt will teach a man to be
more patient with others. " If you cannot make
yourself what you fain would be, how can you force
others to be as you would have them ? " No man
is fit to teach others with any effect who has not
learnt what he is teaching by experience. He can
give directions learnt from a book, he can deal in
phrases, but phrases they are and nothing more.
We do not deny the utility of such repeating-
machines, which is precisely the utility of a book :
but it is nothing comparable to the animating
influence of one who has himself first tried and
failed ; and then tried and succeeded. This is the
secret of a Kempis' Imitation or of Augustine's
Confessions, and of the words of saints as contrasted
with the words of scribes.

Speaking now in general of the way in which we
should meet such difficulties and seeming scandals,
whether universal or local, whether in the Church
or in the State, or in particular institutions sub-
ordinated to the one or to the other, the first
question we are bound to ask ourselves is : Are
things really as bad as they seem ? Before we
attempt to solve the problem, let us be quite
sure that it exists. There is such a thing as
subjective colouring; and to the jaundiced eye all



IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE. 369



things are yellow. It cannot be denied that the
prophetic regime and mode of life, with its austerity
and solitude, its introspection and reflection, its
concentration on one only aspect of things, may
tend to dehumanize and pervert the judgment;
and prophets, whether of the study or of the cell,
would often keep their spiritual vision all the keener
and clearer for an occasional day in the country.
Like round numbers, or sweeping statements and
generalities, extreme views, whether optimist or
pessimist, are much simpler ; when we have neither
the ability, nor the justice, nor the patience requisite
for exact measurements, it saves a deal of trouble
to include all things under a general anathema.
Moreover, the appeal to sensation is not without its
attraction. Mediocrity is uninteresting to contem-
plate, but extremes are thrilling. Again, it is just
possible that the particular ideal which we are
pleased to regard as the sole measure of what ought
to be, may be but one of many alternatives, all
equally good. It may be indifferent whether a
man carries out his chief end in life as a doctor,
or a lawyer, or as a merchant; and so of a
government, or an institution, or an order, there
may be paths indifferently converging to the same
centre. All is not lost because the end is reached
by some path I had not fixed on or dreamt of.
Often our pessimistic estimate of facts has no
other reason than this, that our own ideas have
not been preferred to others equally good or
better. A Tory will never allow that the country
is prospering under a Radical Government ; nor



37 o IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE



will a Radical Opposition be more generous in its
turn.

If, however, there is still a heavy residue of evils
that refuse to be resolved into phantasms of the
imagination, the next question is as to what pro-
portion of them is due to wilful malice, and what to
inevitable circumstances and limitations over which
even the Almighty has no control. Without weaken-
ing our belief in the existence of free-will, our self-
experience and our experience of life tends ever to
narrow the sphere in which free-will has action, and
to make us see that the ocean of apparent iniquity
which deluges the world owes far less to sin, far
more to circumstances, than we had ever thought.
Our early judgments are as a rule narrow and
severe ; and they become gentler and wider in exact
proportion to our experience and reflection.

It would be well, for this reason, to consider that
the end which a society or institution proposes to
itself is sometimes very high and very complex,
depending on a great number of individuals being
each ideal in his own department ; and on the
exact balance of a very delicate organization, easily
disturbed by the defection of even one member.
A society for the manufacture of match-boxes or
broom-sticks can be very easily organized. The
gifts needed for membership are common and well-
nigh universal. The stimulus to co-operation and
labour is tangible, and one that appeals to the
universal instinct of acquisition. Little marvel if
such a society prospers ; if it abounds in individuals
who arrive at the highest degree of skill in their



IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE. 371



profession ; if all the members co-operate cordially
each for his own interest ; or if there is little
diversity of judgment as to the best mode of
production.

If we turn, for example, to the Army, or the
Navy, or the Civil Service, the end in view is much
more complex, especially in the last. Still, the
killing of men and the battering of ships — the proxi-
mate end of the first two — is a fairly simple end,
however intricate the machinery brought to bear
upon it. The gifts required for such a service are
not so very rare. The motives in most cases are
simply worldly advancement and a good position ;
and were these insufficient to secure faithful service,
the sanction of very tangible penalties is at hand to
supplement their weakness. Nor has the Govern-
ment to go begging for recruits, but has only to pick
and choose the best from the eager crowds that are
pressing into its service from all quarters of the
empire. With these we may contrast the high and
difficult end which the Church (to take the extremest
example) sets before her, a work to be wrought
upon the minds and hearts of men, of her own
subjects and of those to whom they minister. Even
were she only occupied with the secular education
of youth, how difficult and complex are the problems
suggested by that task, how far from solution, even
in these days of pretended enlightenment ; and how
few are the men with the requisite learning, how
still fewer those with the more requisite skill to
form the minds of the young ! But if in addition to
this she aims at the moral and spiritual education



372 IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE.



of all, young and old, and at other ends even more
public and universal, the difficulty becomes indefi-
nitely greater. What sort of men ought not they to
be who would minister to the very highest good and
happiness of humanity ; what almost impossible
combinations of gifts and graces are needed ! How
scarce even the raw material fit to be shaped for
such purposes ! how easily spoilt in the shaping !
And then the motives which draw men to work for
religion or spiritual ends, if they are higher, yet
being invisible, supernatural, distant, they appeal
to a smaller number, and to those, comparatively
feebly. We must take men as we find them. It is
only in our exceptional states of vivid faith and
spiritual exaltation that the supernatural tells on us
effectively and intensely, whereas temporal self-
interest, the love of gain and reputation, act upon
all men at all times. Men of the world have at all
times found cheap and abundant material for caustic
satire in the ludicrous contrast between the profes-
sion and practice of those who aim at higher and
more spiritual standards. They forget how easy it
is to be consistent in sliding downhill ; how hard, in
clambering up. When there is no struggle, there is
no cause for weariness and failure ; nor need he fear
a fall who lies flat on the earth. As the height
aspired to is more exalted, so will the percentage of
those who fail in their attempt to reach it be
greater; and the failure itself be more lamentable
and disastrous. Many a fallen priest would have
made a respectable layman, or at least would never
have fallen so low ; and the rottenness of a Catholic



IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE. 3 ?3

country is worse perhaps than that of a Protestant.
For in these cases the forces disorganized are
stronger, and the light sinned against, clearer.

The success of a religious society like the Church
depends ultimately on the extent to which its several
members are imbued with and possessed by the
spirit and enthusiasm of its founder, and this spirit
is difficult to enkindle, and more difficult to sustain.
We have Gospel-warrant for saying that the children
of the world are wiser, more watchful, more energetic
in their interests than the children of God. In a
way it must be so with mortal man ; with this
mixture of spiritual and animal, where the lower
element is so often preponderant. The higher
element in us is the feebler, and our whole task in
life is to develop it laboriously and slowly. It is
easy to be enthusiastic and successful in the things
of the body; but hard in things of the soul. Just
then as our self-experience convicts us of being
subject to this law of sin in our own individual life,
so we should expect to find it in the world around
us. God's work will be done slothfully, meanly,
unsuccessfully, while temporal interests will be
sharply looked to. Those who enter the active
service of the Church are not chosen by competitive
examination from a crush of eager candidates ; they
have no salary which can be forfeited ; nor can they
be coerced to their duty by physical force or fear.
All depends on spiritual fervour and intelligent
spontaneity. Often, moreover, the public from which
in particular localities the Church has to draw her
recruits, is a very small one, and yet the work to be



374 IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE.

done is extensive and diversified. The harvest is
great, b \t the labourers are few. It therefore becomes
necessary to accept as labourers many who are very
imperfectly qualified for the work, for sheer lack of
hands.

Finally, so far as the Church's work brings her
into relation with the world, the rapid changes in
her environment may demand continual adaptations
and modifications, which are hard to effect con-
sistently with the ancient traditions of a world-wide
and necessarily centralized institution which moves
slowly because of its very bulk.

These and a thousand similar reasons ought to
convince us that much of our dissatisfaction is rather
with circumstances than with persons ; in a word,
our quarrel is with Almighty God, and with the
finite nature of things.

If, after eliminating what is due to these im-
personal causes, we still find matter for blame and
censure, it remains for us to ask whether there may
not be much excuse for such wilful faults as we
seem to have detected ; humanum est errare, and
perhaps a little self-knowledge would dispose us not
to be altogether surprised, if here and there others
misuse the liberty that we ourselves so often misuse.

If we ever expected, we never had a right to
expect to find an ideal state of things in this world.
The Church of the Saints is one in which men
profess to tend to sanctity, not to have attained it.
We are not scandalized at the inefficiency of a
hospital because we find that all the occupants of
the beds are more or less sick and disabled. We



IDEALISM, ITS USE AND ABUSE. 375

only require that they should for the most part be
on the road to recovery ; or at least under medical
treatment.

This world is not the place where we are to look
for the ideal. Here and there little glimpses of it
are given us to whet our appetite for higher things,
and to lead us from dissatisfaction to dissatisfaction,
and thence to a desire for the great archetype of all
ideals, in whom at last and alone the Real and the
Ideal are identified



DISCOURAGEMENT.

" Great is the facile conqueror,
Yet haply he who wounded sore,
Breathless, unhorsed, all covered o'er

With blood and sweat,
Sinks foiled, but fighting evermore
Is greater yet."

Watson.

The young and the inebriate, according to
Aquinas, have it in common that they abound in
hope ; that is, so far as hope is classed among the
emotions or passions enumerated by Aristotle. The
reason in both cases is to be found in their inability
to estimate the difficulties to be encountered, and
the limits of their own powers and resources — an
ignorance due to inexperience in the one case, to
alcoholic influence in the other. Obviously this is
to be accounted foolhardiness rather than courage —
the body and semblance of hope without its soul
and substance. For hope as a virtue of the intelli-
gence, and spiritual will is no blind optimism, but a
confidence that faces the cruelest facts, unmoved,
undismayed. Ultimately it is grounded in an
unshaken faith as to the eventual victory of truth
over error, of right over wrong, of good (that is, 01
God) over evil. Its noblest opportunity is when
the manner of that victory is most obscure and the



DISCOURAGEMENT. 377



odds against it most overwhelming. So far as its
object is the triumph of God in our own soul, a
triumph which depends upon the grace of God and
upon our own co-operation therewith, hope excludes
certainty; for though God is faithful, our will is
incalculably mutable, as we have learnt by past
experience. Yet hope requires that we should
consider our salvation, not merely possible, but as
most probable — nay, practically, though not intellec-
tually, certain ; and that the consciousness that we
are " working out our salvation with fear and
trembling "should itself allay that deeper fear which
drives peace from the heart. We cannot be as
certain of salvation as we are of to-morrow's
sunrise ; but it is not enough to hope for it only as
for to-morrow's sunrise, which may be or may not
be— who can tell ? Rather, it should be as we hope
for summer and autumn in due season, with a hope
which ignores the scarce appreciable possibility of
disappointment.

But on what is such hope grounded, since God's
fidelity to His promise of needful grace is abso-
lutely certain — a matter of faith rather than hope ;
while our own co-operation depends on the freaks
of a will whose past history should incline us rather
towards despair ?

It is, however, from a closer study of our past
that we draw sustenance for hope, since there
we see how in all His dealings with us God is not
only just and faithful, but better than His word,
giving more and far more than He had promised.
Day by day uncovenanted graces have been rained



378 Discouragement.

upon us, and it is chiefly through them that we are
what we are ; " it is the mercy of God that we have
not been consumed " and cast away for our sins.
And though we know not the measure or the law
of these quickening showers, we know that in some
sense they are without measure ; that it is only
those who wilfully presume upon them that forfeit
the right to hope in them ; while the very hoping
in them, without presumption, almost merits and
demands them.

If hope's counterfeit is easy when we are young,
when we still think that to know right is to will
right ; and that to will once is to will for ever ;
hope's reality is hard when we are older, when we
have learnt the wide difference between these things,
when time after time we have been beaten back
almost to the very starting-point, and when the
distant hills of our early ideals look further and
more inaccessible than ever ; still more, when
from knowledge of ourselves and of others this
defeat of our hopes is felt to be the result of almost
natural causes, whether working in our own nature
or in the nature of things around us. "Was not
ignorance," we ask, "the ignorance of an untaught
mind, stranger to the notion of law, confident in the
omnipotence of free-will, the parent of our crude
hopes ? Is it not ruthless knowledge, bitter experi-
ence, that has strangled them?" Our first repent-
ances and recoveries are easy and hopeful, for we
know not how sin has injured us and poisoned our
will ; our next, more difficult, less hopeful ; and so
of the successive efforts, until at last the strongest



DISCOURAGEMEST. 379

stimulus can elicit from us no more than some
sluggish response like faint stirring of a life flicker-
ing out.

Then it is that the lethargy of discouragement
supervenes ; and if a process of rapid decay does
not follow at once, if the soul remains in statu quo,
sulky and sullen, it is only because lethargy is not
death ; because the discouragement is not absolute ;
because there is still, unperceived save by God, a
feeble pulse of hope which fights against death and
despair.

This lethargy and state of supine inaction is
often falsely confounded with that tepidity or half-
heartedness which characterizes those caitiff souls
which Heaven cannot stomach and even Hell
disgorges. But the lukewarm, from the very little-
ness of his heart and paltriness of his ideals, is all
self-satisfied ; he winks inwardly for that he has
made a sharp bargain with Heaven and has skirted
the edge of Hell without slipping in. Discourage-
ment, on the other hand, is never self-satisfied ; it is
the parasite of idealism. " Woman, why weepest
thou ? whom seekest thou ? They have taken away
my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him."



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 25 of 31)