George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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to express one's mind, but also to express one's will
that the hearer should listen. God utters His mind
in creation and in our conscience, and designs these
books for our instruction ; but only so far as He
also signifies that this message is expressly directed
to us can He be said to speak to us ; He rather
soliloquizes in our presence ; He speaks in us, or
outside us, but not to us.

And what sort of sign is it that changes the
voice of reason and of nature into a supernatural
revelation ; and by which God enters into personal
relation with the soul and becomes her friend, her
teacher, her support ?


Were I in dire need of a very precise sum of
money, and were I on the same day to find more or
less the required amount, I should have no solid
reason to think that it had been left in my way by
design; but were I to find the exact sum to the
very farthing, I could hardly resist the inference
that it was intended for me by some one who knew
my need, or if none knew it, by God who is over all.
The exact correspondence of the sum to my need
would change a " find " into a gift ; it would equiva-
lently address the money to me and mark it with
my name.

It is peculiar to God, whose own the soul is, to
call her by her most secret name known to Him
alone. This was the reason of Christ's spell over
Nathaniel, over the woman of Samaria, over all
whom He has called. "Whence knowest thou me?"
they say, or, " Sir, I perceive Thou art a prophet."
And so it is that God brings a truth home to
a man, and changes it from a dead to a living
word, when by its preternatural opportuneness, its
altogether providential and otherwise unaccount-
able correspondence to his complex spiritual
needs, it proves itself to be a message from One
who knows him through and through, in all his

This waking up to the recognition of God's voice
whether in conscience or in nature, or in the inspired
word, this sense of its being directed to ourselves is
well exemplified in what we so often read in saints'
lives, where some text lighted on by chance, some
naturally derived thought or suggestion presents


itself irresistibly as a Divine message and is listened
to as such. Who does not remember St. Augustine's
Tolle et lege, the words of a child at play ; or how
St. Anthony, as the Breviary says, took as said to
himself (tamquam ea sibi dicta essenf), the words heard
on entering a church : " Go sell all and follow Me."
And besides innumerable instances in hagiography
there is perhaps no religious-minded person who
has not had some such experience real or fancied.
And if those who habitually seek such signs, forcing
God's hand, as it were, and not waiting for the time
of His free visitation, will be often deluded ; and if
even those who do not seek them may often doubt
as to what is coincidence and what is design, yet
there are many instances where there is no room
for prudent or justifiable doubt.

However simple, frequent, and universal these
Divine utterances may be, in obedience to which
the soul which " hears from the Father," learns and
comes to Christ, yet they can be no more claimed
as a strict exigency of our nature, than any other
preternatural and personal intervention of Provi-
dence ; they, and the faith they generate, are " the
gift of God."

It is not hard to believe that the fundamental
religious truths touching God the Rewarder which
are written in the secret of conscience and over
the face of Nature are brought home, not once in
a lifetime, but over and over again to every soul,
as a Divine message from without, claiming an
obedient voluntary assent, a will-certainty stronger
than death. God speaks in divers manners ; but to


all who are to be judged as to faith, speak He must
in some form or other.

"No difficulty," says Aquinas, ''follows from
the position that one brought up in the woods among
the wild beasts should be bound to certain explicit
beliefs; for it is incumbent on Divine Providence
to provide each soul with all necessary conditions
for salvation, unless some hindrance is offered on
the soul's part. For were one so brought up, to
follow the lead of natural reason in the pursuit of
good and the avoidance of evil, it is to be held for
a perfect certainty (certissimum tenendum est), that
God would either reveal all necessary beliefs to him
by an internal inspiration, or He would send some
one to preach the faith to him, as He sent Peter
to Cornelius." 1

In other words, where the fuller revelation is
denied, where the light of the Gospel never
penetrates, yet the internal revelation of the funda-
mental and germinal truths of all religion will surely
never be wanting ; one need not ascend into Heaven
to bring it down, nor descend into Hell to bring it
up, for the word is ever nigh to each human heart,
ever whispering into the soul's ear, ever knocking
at the gate of its love.

Wheresoever then and whensoever there is found
a man who listens obediently and humbly to the voice
of conscience ; who bows to its sovereign authority as
to a power above him and distinct from him, who
admits its unqualified claims, not only in theory but
in practice, there we may be sure that God, however

» De Veritate, xiv. a. ii. ad 1.


dimly recognized, has spoken and has been listened
to ; since without faith it is impossible to please
God, impossible to live that life of sacrifice and
conflict which obedience to conscience entails.
This surely is the meaning of Peter's vision of all
manner of living creatures brought together in one
vessel knit at the four corners ; a figure of all
nations, of all sorts and conditions of men, from the
four winds of heaven, and from the dawn of our
race till its consummation, all cleansed by God
through the Blood of Christ, all subjected to Peter
as the Vicar of Christ ; even as was Cornelius whose
prayers and alms, ascending for a memorial in the
sight of God, were emblematic of the sacrifice of
justice offered daily by that large portion of the
invisible Church on earth, which stretches north,
south, east, and west, beyond the limits of the
visible. " In very deed," says Peter, interpreting
the vision, " I perceive that God is not a respecter
of persons ; but in every nation, he that feareth
Him and worketh justice, is accepted of Him."


11 The House of God, which is the Church of the living
God, the pillar and ground of the truth." — i Timothy iii. 15.

But if all this, which is matter rather of opinion
than of authoritative teaching, be admissible, it may
seem that we are letting in the heresy of moral and
dogmatic indifferentism, unless we also hold fast to
the truth that no one who professes indifferentism
is in good faith. A man who avowedly does not


care whether what he does is right or wrong so long
as he believes it right, who professes not to care
about breaking God's law so long as he does so
unintentionally, is plainly an immoral man, and has
no sympathy with justice for justice' sake, no wish
to be like-minded with God. Similarly he who
protests that it is indifferent what a man thinks or
believes so long as he believes it sincerely, is an
untruthful man, altogether insincere in his very
profession of sincerity. It is preposterous to
maintain that because conscious wrong-doing and
error is a worse evil, therefore that which is uncon-
scious is no evil. Good faith requires us to love
truth and right not only where we recognize it, but
everywhere and universally ; and that we should
give no sleep to our eyes till we have found out
what is true and right. None, therefore, can be
counted a member of the invisible Church who
through any fault or negligence of his own remains
outside the communion of the visible Church.

What, then, do we understand by the visible
Church ? It is the visible union of the faithful,
under one visible head or government ; understand-
ing by the faithful those who with their lips and
outward conduct subject themselves to the teaching
and laws of the Church, in short, those who would
be numbered in a census of Catholics. It is as
definite an institution as the Roman or the British
Empire, notorious in the history of the world for
the last two thousand years. What need to define
that which we have only to point to ?

Here, too, we have an articulated organized


body, calling itself the mystical body of Christ,
claiming in some measure His mediatorial office,
making incorporation with itself a condition of
salvation, and yet differing from the invisible Church
in that it is wholly on earth, and nowise in Heaven ;
that its perpetuity is to the end of time but not to
all eternity; that it numbers sinners as well as
saints among its members, as a net containing good
fish and worthless, or a field of wheat and tares;
that it passes like a wave along the river of time,
continually renewing its matter, while preserving its
form, as succeeding generations creep up noiselessly
and pass by.

Are these, then, two Churches, two mystical
Bodies, two spouses of Christ, or are they one ?

We have already seen to what extent they can
be said to be related as soul and body, and where
that metaphor falls short. For while neither soul
nor body alone is a complete nature, each of these
Churches is a complete society with a distinct con-
stitution and bond of union. Yet this distinctness
does not prevent one being wholly dependent upon
and subordinate to the other, just as particular
departments of a complex government are subjected
to it, though distinctly organized ; or as a religious
order which exists only to serve the Church is, as a
society, quite distinct from it. Though not pre-
cisely related as soul and body, yet we may say that
the invisible and visible Church are two parts of
one nature ; that they are like the inner word of
the mind and the outer word of the lips, distinct
yet most intimately connected as symbol and reality,


as sacrament and grace signified ; that the visible
Church is vicarious and the invisible is principal ;
that the one is the instrument of the other, as the
hand is the instrument of the body, or even as the
body is the instrument, the symbol, the sacrament,
the expression of the soul.

The Church is the extension and body of Christ
her Head, who is both God and Man, two natures
in one person, the human being the organ and finite
manifestation and sacrament of the Divine, effecting
what it signifies, making us, by its touch, partakers
of His Divinity, who vouchsafed to become a sharer
of our humanity. And so the invisible Church is
the extension of His Divinity, as the visible Church
is of His sacred humanity, both being united in the
personal unity of their head, and being related to
one another as the two natures are in Him ; the
human being entirely organic and subordinate tc
the service and manifestation and communication of
the divine.

The visible Church is pre-eminently a great
sacrament and type, whose organization, whose
indissoluble unity, whose perpetuity signifies dimly
that of the Heavenly Church and archetype ; even
as the semblance of the Eucharistic bread signifies
the Body of Christ. Moreover, incorporation and
membership with the visible Church not only
symbolizes but in due conditions effects that incor-
poration with the invisible, in which our salvation
consists. Not, however, unconditionally or exclu-
sively ; for what is true of all particular sacraments
holds here in like manner. God indeed has not tied


His grace to the sacraments, and as there is a
baptism and communion of desire for those who for
one reason or another are inculpably cut off from
the rites of the Church, so there is a membership of
desire through which (though not without which)
the graces of actual membership can be secured.
Again, the sacraments may be not merely fruitless,
but spiritually destructive to those who use them
profanely ; and similarly outward membership with
the Church may be to many a cause of more
grievous condemnation than that of Tyre and Sidon,
or of Sodom and Gomorrah.

As of old, before Christ's advent, God worked in
the souls of men unsacramentally, yet not without
dependence on, and reference to, the coming
Mediator and the sacraments, so now more freely
does He lavish His saving grace broadcast wherever
the Church is locally or intellectually inaccessible,
though not without reference to the Church from
whose treasury and for whose sake, as it were, every
grace is conferred. Not indeed that all rudimentary
faith is destined or intended by God to reach on
earth its last development in the full light of Catholic
belief; but that it is a seed, of its own nature
tending to that development when duly environed ;
it is the true religion in germ.

Since God has wedded into the human family
and has become one of ourselves, the whole race,
whether touched by the waters of baptism or left
in the darkness of nature, has been raised to a
supernatural dignity and favour quite independent
of the internal dignity of sanctifying grace. As one


of God's "poor relations" the most degraded
savage, the "least of His brethren," has a dis-
tinction denied to the angels. If for ten just men
God would have spared Sodom, what mercy will
not the presence of the God-Man, of the Catholic
Church and her sacraments, win for all humanity,
for those even who trample them underfoot and
revile them ? For the Church is in the world as a
tree that is rooted in the earth and whose secret
fibres spread far and wide. God cannot draw the
Church to Himself, but He must, in some sense,
draw the whole world with her. She will not loose
her grip : " If thou wilt not forgive them," she says,
"then blot me out of the book of life."

But if those who do not know the visible Church
can be saved without being actually incorporated
with her and bound to her laws, it might seem that
such knowledge profits nothing, except to make
salvation more difficult for those to whom the
obligation is revealed. This is an objection which
might be urged against all the sacraments, against
every additional means of light and grace. The
instructed catechumen must seek water and a
minister in order to be regenerated ; whereas the
pagan can be born again of the Holy Ghost in the
fountain of his own tears. But plainly we must
distinguish between the amply sufficient grace for
salvation which God in His fidelity offers to all,
and that superabundant grace which in His gene-
rosity He offers to millions, though not to all.
Contrition in every case forgives our sins in the
very moment we propose to seek absolution ; but


in the sacrament God overwhelms us with the
grace of remission, He puts upon us the best robe,
and a ring on our ringer, and shoes on our feet,
and banquets us, and rejoices over us with His
angels. To every soul God supplies the daily bread
of good thoughts and good desires, but in the
Eucharist he satiates the hungry with the Bread
of Angels, and causes the chalice of the thirsty to
overflow and inebriate. To all in every religion
He reveals Himself as God the rewarder of them
that seek Him, but in the Catholic revelation these
•'broken lights" are gathered up and intensified
into one steady ray of pure truth ; and the corn that
is meted in simple sufficiency to some is given to
us in full measure, pressed down, shaken together,
and running over.

Moreover, the sacraments are said to work their
effect ex opere operato, i.e., theirs is an effect produced
in us by an external agency, not by ourselves ;
although as a condition they demand a certain
receptivity, a certain disposition of the soil which
multiplies the yield thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold.
That their effect is not directly, but only indirectly
ex opere operantis and measured by our own industry,
may seem to be but little advantage or gain ; yet
it is no small gain- that instead of our waiting on
God, as it were for the troubling of the waters, God
should wait upon us, ready to serve us with His
graces as often as we choose to approach the
sacraments and dispose ourselves to receive them.
Herein God has opened for us the fountains of
salvation, that we may approach and draw living


water when we will : " Whosoever will, let him
come and drink freely."

Dare we then, even on these prudential grounds,
and putting aside all question of the sovereign and
universal authority of the Church over every soul
upon earth, and of her commission to compel men
to enter into her fold so far as Divine jurisdiction
can compel them ; dare we then refuse such a
proffer of spiritual wealth, dare we hope even for
the bare sufficiencies of salvation if we wilfully
neglect this call to higher things ?

Once more whether we regard ourselves as
isolated units, or as members of the body, our
union with the visible Church enables us both to
get more and to give more than would be otherwise
at all possible. For viewing the Church ministerially,
as even Nonconformists view her, it is evident that
by her ministration and government, and by the
co-operation of our fellow-members, we are enlight-
ened, guided, helped, prayed for, encouraged, and
secure all the advantages which the individual gains
in a society and loses in isolation, and are, there-
fore, able to serve and praise God with a fuller
personal service. We profit by the accumulated
experience of multitudes transmitted and added to
from generation to generation ; we are the inheritors
of all that is meant by the Catholic tradition so far
as we are capable of appropriating it. There is
all the difference that exists between genius which
has to teach itself everything from the beginning,
and that which enters into the labours of others
and starts where they have left off.


Still more as members of a living body do we
participate in those special blessings and graces
which God bestows on the Church collectively,
seeing as He does the image of the Blessed Trinity,
the Many in One, set forth in the society as it can
never be set forth in the unit ; " How good and
pleasing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity
... for there the Lord hath promised His blessing
and life for evermore." And as happens analogously
in the kingdoms of this world, there are benefits
accruing to the faithful collectively in which even the
wickedest and most unworthy members partake in
such sort that their membership is to them a source
of many graces otherwise denied them. Further
there is a collective praise and service which we
can give to God or participate in giving as parts
and factors of a joint result, and which is wholly
out of the power of those who praise and serve God
singly and in isolation. The very same melody
receives a new meaning and richness when sung in
concert with others. And there is a collective
prayer where many are gathered together as one,
in His Name, a prayer which the Holy Ghost offers
by the lips of the Universal Church in her liturgy,
whose fruit is applied to our soul as often as we
join in it or unite our intention with it.

All these considerations, and others that might
be adduced, make it evident that membership with
the visible Church is the condition and occasion of
innumerable helps and graces otherwise inaccessible;
and that to neglect wilfully such an offer of greater
salvation would be an act, not only of rebellion


against Divine authority, but also of presumption,
meriting the forfeiture of all other but the most
ordinary and barely sufficient means.


11 For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not
of yourselves, for it is the gift of God." — Ephes. ii. 8.

We may now inquire for our own sakes rather
than for theirs, how it comes to pass that so many
of our fellow-Christians, who are to all appearances
in perfect good faith, feel themselves in no way
obliged to submit themselves to the Catholic Church:
for we are bound in all justice — not to speak of
charity — to find every excuse for them before we
dare to condemn in our minds those whom perhaps
God acquits as more faithful to their little light,
than we to our abundance.

Why we ourselves believe is not a question
whose discussion can interest us much more than
a discussion of our own identity. We may dispute
and deny the proofs usually alleged, but our belief
is not shaken because our analysis of its origin is
unsuccessful. A dogma is simply the skeleton of
a living concrete reality which it but outlines and
formulates ; and the same might be said of the
array of reasons we put forth for our recognition
of the Church's claims. Our faith in her is the
effect of an impression produced on our mind and
heart by her whole concrete reality. We can never
make another see what we see, or feel what we feel,
by any verbal description however elaborate and


detailed. To the Catholic born and bred, the
claim of any other body to represent and continue
the work of Christ is unthinkable ; to the convert —
if he has really grasped the point at issue — it is a
dream sincerely accepted for truth, until set side
by side with the facts of daylight when one wakens.
For this very cause we are often indifferent,
unsympathetic and harsh in our controversy; we
are careless in our reasons, as the consciousness of
certainty always makes men, we are inaccurate and
slovenly in our answers, or else we are simply
impatient of all discussion, feeling the hopeless
inadequacy of language in the matter ; we ourselves
see, touch, and taste, but to convey that experience
to others seems simply an interminable task.

First of all let us remember that in the expression
of his reasons for not believing, the non-Catholic
is as much embarrassed by this inadequacy of logic
and languages as we are. His assigned reasons
are at best the merest skeleton of that subjective
impression about the Church by which he is really
influenced in his heart. Very often they are not even
so much ; they have really no connection with it
whatever, if they do not actually belie it. We may
refute every reason he can put forth without touch-
ing the one true reason which he does not know
how to disentangle or express.

It would betray a lamentable ignorance of the
principles governing Divine election and favour, not
to say of patent and notorious facts, to suppose that
our seeing what so many are blind to is due in any
degree to superior intellectual acumen or to more


extensive information and erudition on our part ;
or even to our superior fidelity to grace and light.
Though the Church has always had intellect and
learning on her side in greater or less degree, she
has never had a monopoly, and there is undoubtedly
more arrayed against her than is with her. God
has chosen the foolish and weak to confound the
wise and strong ; and it is so far as we are content
to throw in our lot with that majority that we
receive or retain the gift of faith. Nor are there
many of us who have not been far more unfaithful
to grace and light than some whom God has left
outside the fold of Peter. Our faith is obviously
matter for thanksgiving but not for boasting ; it is
not of works but of the gift of God.

But if the Church is conspicuous as a city set on
a hill, how are they excusable who fail to see it ?

Truly the Church is conspicuous and the features
that distinguish her are broadly marked and recog-
nizable by all. Were they subtle, microscopic,
elusive, ambiguous ; did they depend for their
existence on niceties of history and exegesis and
criticism ; were it needful to be versed in the
theology of valid orders, or to be competent to
judge the precise requirements of unity, catholicity,
sanctity, apostolicity — conceptions which theologians
discuss and elaborate interminably — then indeed the
trumpet might be said to give an uncertain sound.
But we know it is not so, and that the evidence of
the Church is like the evidence of the sun to those
that have eyes. But eyes they must have, and here
we come to the solution of our problem. For if



we search for some object, and are not clear as to
the nature and appearance of what we are searching
for, it may confront us time after time and be
passed over; not because its characteristics are
obscure, but because we do not know what to look

Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 29 of 31)