George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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for. And so it is that the distinctive characteristics
of the Catholic Church are manifest to all, friends
and foes alike, but the latter find in them evidence
of her falsehood, while the former find in them
evidence of her truth.

For example, it is natural that every great
organization for universal and spiritual ends should
be brought to the birth by preaching ; for it is the
embodiment and organ of an idea, and this idea
must be first preached to the ear, received in the
mind, and embraced by the affections of many,
before it can take shape in an institution or society.
So it was with the Christian Church. It is not,
therefore, wonderful that millions who have been
educated to believe that the Catholic Church
pretends to be the unchanged representative of the
Church as seen in the pages of the New Testament,
— a Church whose worship consisted of simple
eucharistic suppers, of informal, and even disorderly
prayings and prophesyings, of continual open-air
preaching and exhortation ; a Church as yet soft
and formless, innocent of all definition in disci-
pline or dogma or ritual, altogether in its general
exterior aspect far more like Methodism, or the
Salvation Army, than anything else ; — it is not
wonderful that looking about for such a Church
as this they should fail to recognize it in the


Catholic Church, with her elaborate ecclesiastico-
political organization, her complex and definite liturgy
and canon law and dogma, her world-wide extension
and authoritative government. They seek a tender
sapling, and they find a gnarled, weather-beaten
oak; they seek a babe in its crib, and they find a
man on his cross.

We, on the other hand, seek a body that
claims to carry on the work of Him who came
to teach not the few but the millions, not the
learned but the rude ; to teach them, not the
science of earth or the philosophy of man, but
the wisdom of God and the mysteries of Heaven ;
and who, therefore, of necessity taught, not as the
scribes by reasonings and discussion, but with
authority as God, claiming the obedience of the
mind, not its patronage ; the assent of faith, not the
critical approval of reason.

Looking for such a Church, our own eyes,
and friend and foe alike lead us to Rome. Her
exclusiveness and dogmatism is at once conspicuous
and altogether distinctive. It is to us the mark or
characteristic of Christ, to others of anti-Christ.
But all alike allow that it is notorious and peculiar
to Rome alone. Other bodies claim to have the
true interpretation of Christianity ; for such a claim
is their raison d'etre. But there is some modesty
in their claim ; they do not pretend to be infallibly
right ; they are open to conviction ; they allow
outsiders a right to their opinion. But Rome alone
claims living infallibility, to be not only true, but
certainly true, and alone true.


For this reason all antagonists join hands against
her; whoever else is right she is infallibly wrong.
She is the Ishmael of Christendom ; a sign spoken
against by all. And while this very concursus of
opprobrium is for so many a conclusive proof of her
imposture, it is for us the very impress of the
stigmata of Christ.

But perhaps the commonest error is that which
leads men to look for such a congregation of saints
as we find in existence during the first days of the
Church's infancy ; before the tares had yet begun
to make themselves noticeable to any great extent ;
to seek for the characteristics of the invisible
Church in the visible. They forget, if they ever
knew, that though the one Spirit which dwells in,
quickens, and unites the members of the visible
Church, as the source of its doctrinal light and of
its sacramental grace, is unfailing and imperishable,
yet it is as treasure stored in earthen and corruptible
vessels ; it is as leaven buried in an unleavened mass,
slowly and with difficulty asserting its influence ;
and transforming into its own nature alien matter
which cannot be leavened if separated from the
mass. Christ surely was explicit enough on
this point, to take away all surprise at the
weakness or wickedness of the members of the
visible Church of whatever degree or dignity. He
came as the friend of publicans and sinners, to call,
not the just, but sinners to repentance. We are
not shocked to find the inmates of a hospital ailing
and weakly ; and the Church is little better than a
hospital for sick and wounded souls, in whose midst


Christ sits down daily to meat. In this she
emulates the patience as she shares the reproach of
her Master. Those who come to her she will in no
wise cast out ; and if ever she excommunicates, it
is only lest the disease spread from one to many,
or else for the chastisement and ultimate healing of
the sinner himself. While there is life there is
hope. However dead and fruitless, yet until it is
severed from the vine, the branch may yet be
quickened; "although he hath sinned yet he hath
not denied the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost." 1

Much schism has originated in pharisaic scandal
and a perverse application of the argument from
fruits ; and many still are kept outside the fold
because they are offended that the following of the
Church is so like the following which gathered
round her Master when the righteous stood apart
and drew close their garments from defiling contact.

Let us then be sure that if men of intelligence,
learning, and good faith, hold aloof from us, it is
simply because that of the countless aspects under
which Christ and His Church can be viewed, they
have not yet caught that one in which their resem-
blance or rather identity is so unmistakable. It is
ever so with the seeing of likeness between face
and face, what is missed by one is self-evident to
another. Out of thousands there is some one angle
to be taken, and the light breaks upon us irre-
sistibly. We might call it chance were it not rather
the free gift of God — donum Dei est.

1 Commendation of the Dying.


Faith is the work of a massive impression pro-
duced by a concrete personality. We recognize, we
believe, we trust, we love not in obedience to
arguments and reasonings ; but to a perception
which wakes a response in every corner of our soul.
We follow the Church for the same kind of reason
that Peter of Galilee followed Christ. Had he
been asked his reasons he would wisely have said :
" Come and see ; " and yet many who came, saw
not, for their eyes were dim.

Perceptions whole like that he sought

To clothe, reject so pure a work of thought

As language ; thought may take perceptions place

But hardly coexist in any case,

Being its mere presentment, — of the whole

By parts ; the simultaneous and the sole,

By the successive and the many. 1

No man has ever yet uttered the whole, the real
reason of his belief or of his unbelief. Therein he
is alone with God, " to his own Maker he standeth
or falleth." " Whatever be the happy arrangement
of theses," writes a French Jesuit, a propos of
Huysman's En Route, "according to which the
theologian studies the preambles of faith, and plans
a route for that abstract soul which he syllogizes
about, the subject upon whom the touch of Divine
grace is working makes little account of these
scientific tactics. He is drawn by the cords of
Love and by that bait which suits his particular
appetite if he will but yield himself to follow ; and
the efficacity which the co-operation of his obedient
will lends to grace, suffices to sanctify and justify

1 R. Browning, Sordello


him without inquiring for a moment whether or not
he has numbered his steps in strict agreement with
the theses or making sure that he has fallen into the
Church's motherly arms according to all the pre-
scribed rules." 1 And by way of illustration the
critic quotes, without approving in every detail,
the words in which the hero gives expression to
some of the features of the Church by which he was
most strongly drawn back to her bosom :

" Is it not then strange this invariable weakness
on the part of defunct heresies ? All of them from
the very first have had the flesh enlisted in their
service. Logically and naturally they should have
triumphed for they pretended to allow men and
women to follow their passions without condem-
nation, and even, in the case of Gnostics, with
profit to their sanctity, doing honour to God by the
vilest excesses.

"And what has become of them? They have
all gone to the bottom, while the Church, so rigid
in this matter, is still to the fore, whole and entire.
She commands the body to submit and the soul to
suffer, and, contrary to all likelihood, human nature
listens to her and sweeps aside as so much filth, the
seductive pleasures which present themselves for
And a'gain :

" Is not this vitality which the Church preserves,
in spite of the unfathomable stupidity of her
children, something quite decisive ? She has
survived the alarming folly of her clergy (Quoi qu'on

1 J. Pacbeu, S.J., De Dante a Verlaine.


pense, says the critic, de cette assertion incivile et
outree, elle a sa valeur), she has not even been slain
by the blunder? and witlessness of her defenders !
That is truly wonderful ! "

Temper the irony, and this is only what St. Paul
confesses and glories in when he says : " See your
vocation, brethren, that there are not many wise
according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many
n6ble ; but the foolish things of the world hath God
chosen that He may confound the wise ; and the
weak things of the world hath God chosen that He
may confound the strong; and the base things of
the world and the things that are contemptible hath
God chosen and the things that are not, that He
might bring to nought things that are." 1

* I Cor i 26 — 26.



It may not be amiss to state a little more clearly
the Christian doctrine of pain, which holds a position
midway between two erroneous views. According
to the hedonist and the stoic, pain is never in itself
a means or cause of good, be that good pleasure
or virtue. In this limited finite existence of ours,
however, it is inseparably annexed to the means
by which happiness is reached. In other words,
bitterness, we are told, is never in itself medicinal,
but being attached to other properties which are
medicinal, it must be endured by those who desire
health for themselves ; it must be inflicted by those
who desire health for others. Thus, if these
thinkers profess any sort of Christianity, they regard
Christ's mission of redemption as a mission pri-
marily for the relief of suffering. If He calls on us
to take up our cross and follow Him to Calvary
and hang beside Him there, it is not because suffer-
ing is useful, but because it is inevitable if we would
eventually minimize suffering for ourselves and for
others. And therefore, though suffering is useless,
sufferance is good, i.e., being able to face suffering
and fight it with a view to its extinction. Christ,
in their view, is the exemplar philanthropist, who




found joy in suffering, for the end that others
might not suffer, who bore their burdens and
griefs and sorrows, and imposed a like altruism on
His disciples, as the Great Precept of the New
Law. He bids the rich give to the poor, and those
that have to those that have not. He promises life
to those who devote themselves to the relief of pain
and suffering, who feed the hungry, and clothe the
naked, and minister to the needy. If this, then,
be the true spirit of Christ, is it not evident that
though it is good for us to be able and willing to
suffer when necessary, yet the necessity of suffering
is itself something to be deplored, something
abnormal, irregular, the fruit of sin and disorder ;
that it is like the rust of a key which simply makes
it difficult to turn it in the lock, and in no possible
way helps to that effect ; that suffering makes the
food and medicine of life bitter, but is not itself
nourishing or medicinal ; that it is the great obstacle
to holiness and goodness, and that were it not for
the difficulty and pain to be encountered, the whole
world would be virtuous and happy ?

There is so much plausibility in this presentment
of Christianity as to deceive at times even those
whose spiritual instincts are truer than their reason-
ing, and who in attempting to formulate their religion
do it scant justice.

Certain, indeed, it is that pain is never an
ultimate end ; that God never delights in suffering,
even when He Himself inflicts it or wills it to be
inflicted; that in some equivalent way, His love
for the least of His creatures makes their pains His


own, even as the father may suffer more than the
child whom he chastises, yet shrinks not from doing
what is for the child's greater good.

True it is also, that Christ went about relieving
pain and sorrow, and that He requires like com-
passion from all His disciples ; that He is the
physician of the body no less than of the soul;
that He cares for the temporal as well as for the
eternal ; for the State as well as for the Church ;
for the multitudes as well as for individuals. This
aspect of Christianity is only too often ignored by
those who would divorce grace and nature, Heaven
and earth, Christianity and civilization, and set
them at enmity one with another. No man need
pretend to love God who has no pity for the

This is true, but it is not the whole truth.
" Seek ye first God's Kingdom and its justice." This
justice is the only supreme and unqualified good, by
which all else is to be measured and estimated.
Other things are to be sought or avoided according
as they help or hinder the one thing needful.
Nothing- is absolute evil for man but what violates
his humanity, the higher life of his reason. Were
he mere animal, then pain would be an unquali-
fied misfortune, and in no possible way a good
or cause of good ; though possibly it might be
a condition of good. But belonging as he also
does to the order of the Eternal and Absolute,
and finding his highest perfection and happiness
in the love of truth and right, of God and of
God's cause — a love which is exerted, and thereby


strengthened, in suffering and self-denial, — temporal
and transitory crosses are evil only in a relative and
conditional sense, i.e., just so far as they hinder his
higher and eternal life. But they may as often,
perhaps more often, be not merely the condition
but the very cause and direct means of his advance
in the Kingdom of God and its justice; not merely
something tolerated as inseparably annexed to the
means, but themselves the means, — the very bitter-
ness itself, and not merely the bitter thing, being
medicinal. In a word, suffering is in itself good
and useful, though not an ultimate and final good.
The pain of the lance does the patient no good,
and so perhaps we employ narcotics. But the pain
of the lash does the criminal good, nor has philan-
thropy so far insisted on administering chloroform
to him.

It seems, then, that " Humanitarianism " makes
what is commonly understood as philanthropy the
chief end of Christ's teaching and example; whereas
Catholicity looks upon it as necessary indeed, but
as secondary and subordinate. Where pain is an
inseparable condition, still more where it is a direct
cause and means of greater good, it must be
embraced, not under protest, but with the love due
to that which in itself is good and useful; which,
though repugnant to feeling, is welcome to reason
and faith.

No doubt there is a superstitious pain-worship
connected with dualist religions, which, as they
acknowledge an ultimate principle of evil, so also
do they view pain as pleasing for its own sake to


a cruel deity; or rather, because it tends to the
destruction of the animal body, and of separate
personal existence, which are regarded as of evil
origin. Christian asceticism rests on no such
foundation, but maintains that pain itself purifies
the heart, as fire purifies gold.

For the heart is purified by detachment. Its
purity is its perfect liberty from all that impedes its
complete subjection to the Divine love, and reason,
and will. Such subjection requires that it should be
able to endure the pain of leaving what it likes, of
embracing what it abhors — a power which may be
possessed to an indefinite degree. Apart from
supernatural intervention, the strength of Divine
love in the soul, like every other habit, is increased
by every act in advance of previous acts in point of
intensity; by lesser acts it is sustained up to a
corresponding point of capacity, but no further. It
is not by the removal but by the graduated increase
of obstacles that Divine love is exercised and
strengthened ; not by the extinction but by the
mastery of rebellious feeling. Every new victory
of Divine love over such rebellion is a new degree
of liberty acquired, a further purification from
hampering affections, another tie to earth and the
lower life loosened.

As resistance draws out physical exertion and
strengthens our muscles, so pain increases our
moral strength, which is prized, not because to be
able to endure pain is useful (that were a vicious
circle), but because our perfection lies in loving
God with our whole heart and strength, and



drawing out every inch of our capacity in that
respect. Normally, it is only by pain that this can
be effected. 1 A life of pleasure unbroken by pain is
in the moral order like a life of absolute bodily
inactivity. It is the explicit teaching of Christianity
that a man is sent into this world for no other end
but to perfect himself in the love of God and of
every form and aspect of Divine goodness ; and if
that love can be perfected and uttered only through
labour and pain and suffering, it is hard to see why
this life should be very much pleasanter than Purga-
tory, where the process which death finds imperfect
is taken up and finished according to somewhat the
same method. There is, indeed, true joy and peace
mid the purgatorial pangs ; and if there is any
solid joy and peace on earth it is that which the
saints have known in the midst of their many
tribulations, and which the world could neither
give nor take away. To say that life is but an

1 Needless to say we speak of the natural order of things such
as prevails now in consequence of the forfeiture of the preternatural
through Adam's fall, and would have prevailed always had man
not been created in Paradise. Even there man was not to be
spiritually perfected, he could not make grace his own until it was,
so to say, burnt into his soul by that mysterious temptation to
which he, with all his advantages and helps, succumbed. We may
be sure that the trial on which the destiny of the whole human
race depended was one which could be borne only at the cost of
great suffering, — since temptation implies suffering whether in
the way of abstinence or of endurance. Thus the law of sanctifi-
cation through suffering seems to be saved everywhere. As to the
process by which the soul of the baptized infant is developed
intellectually and morally and makes manifest the graces latent in
it, we know too little to be certain that even here we have an


inchoative purgatory may sound pessimistic to the
thoughtless, but, in truth, it is very kindest optimism,
the one answer that fits the riddle. Not, indeed,
that there is any continuance of probation or increase
of grace after death, but that the seeds of love here
sown are there watered and matured, and spread
their shoots and fibres to every corner of our
spiritual being ; it is a work, not of development as
here on earth, but of simple evolution.

If once we accept the probation theory of life, it
ought no longer to surprise us to find that the soul
is so often on the rack, that every circumstance
and condition of its existence is devised either to
unite it more closely to God or else to separate it
from God, — the latter purposes being seemingly
contrary but really subordinate to the former,
insomuch as the greater the force of the strain that
would drag us away from God, i.e., from faith, or
hope, or charity, or justice, or purity, or truth, or
any form of Divine goodness, the more firmly do we
need to cling to Him and the stronger grows our
grasp, if we are but faithful in clinging.

If the practice of Divine love were not painful, it
would never take root or grow. No doubt it is the
very idea of virtue that good actions should become
easy ; yet this is only because the habit of enduring
pain has become deep-seated. "Easy" is not "pain-
less." The pain is felt as much as ever, but the
feeling is disregarded and promptly defied, owing to
the strength of the counter-motive. Just as the
strong man delights to exert his strength in order
both to give expression to it, and to maintain and


increase it, so the love of God, when it is strong,
delights to give expression to itself, to exercise and
perfect itself. The giant will not be satisfied to
beat the air, but looks for something that will resist
him, and if he finds no obstacle will make one ; and
the lover will not be satisfied with unresisting, easy
tasks, but looks for something painful and hard ;
and if he finds it not to hand will devise it for
himself. The Christian ascetic naturally, instinc-
tively, reasonably (always supposing it be not to the
hurt of greater good) takes to self-sought austerities
simply and only to express, and incidentally therein
to strengthen, his love of God, his sorrow for sin.
In this he but co-operates in the dispensation
whereby God Himself uses pain and suffering
directly as a means for the spiritual formation of
His saints.

In the mere fact of practising and inculcating
fast and vigil, Christ our Saviour has allowed and
taught asceticism ; nor is there any difference in
kind between His fast in the desert and the
severest self-inflicted austerities of Catholic saints.
It is quite immaterial whether we afflict ourselves
by hunger, or thirst, or wakefulness, or scourge,
or haircloth, if once we pass the boundary of mere
temperance and uphold the lawfulness and the duty
of fasting.

Christ's primary mission with respect to the
sufferings and sorrows of life was, not to relieve
them, but to teach men to bear them, to value
them, to thank God for them. There are two
ways of dealing with difficulties and trials — by


changing ourselves or by changing our surround-
ings ; by running away from hardships or by
adapting ourselves to them and nerving ourselves
to bear them. There is no question as to which is
the wisest course. If we fly from one cross it is
only to fall into the arms of another. Go where
we will we carry ourselves with us, the source of
most of our trouble. Until we change ourselves, no
change of circumstances will avail. Imaginatio locorum
et mutatio multos fefellit, says a Kempis — many have
been deluded by the imaginary advantages of a
change. Men are constantly laying the blame of their
own faults on their surroundings; ever fancying that
they would be perfectly happy in some other place ;
ever keen-eyed to their present grievances and
prospective advantages ; ever blind to their present
advantages and prospective grievances ; always loth
to face the inevitable truth, that life is a warfare
upon earth ; that it is essentially a cross which must
be borne, whether willingly or unwillingly ; that
" there is no other way to life and to true internal
peace but the way of the Holy Cross and of daily
mortification. Walk where you will, seek what you
will ; yet you will find no higher way above, no safer
way below than the way of the Holy Cross. Arrange
and order everything after your own likings and
fancies, and yet you will always find something that
you have to suffer, whether willingly or unwillingly,
and thus you will always find the Cross. You will
have to put up either with bodily pain or with
spiritual troubles. At one time you will feel
abandoned by God ; at another you will be tried by


your neighbour; and, what is worse, you will often be
troublesome to yourself. Nor yet can you be released
or relieved by any remedy or comfort, but needs
must bear it as long as God wills. . . . Run where

Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 30 of 31)