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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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ness of the sun intensified a thousand-fold is
of the vision of some dark-loving animal, an
owl or a bat. Raised by grace to powers above
all their natural exigencies, the saints and angels
face that brightness boldly, without the medium
of any darkened glass ; they see God and yet
live. And that vision fascinates their gaze and
holds them spell-bound, so that they can never for
an instant cease to behold the face of the Father.



36 THE PRESENCE OF GOD.

And whatever else they do or think is the result of
that vision ; is consciously caused by it, and no
more interrupts it than an object seen in the light
interrupts my consciousness of the light. It is in
God as in a mirror, it is in the mind of God and in
the heart of God, that our angels always behold us.
They do not turn away from God to look at us ; but
rather they see us with the Divine eyes in con-
sequence of their union with God. It is through
God, moreover, that they act upon us and minister
to us ; their will being altogether merged in His ;
even as love makes us one thing, having one thought,
one operation with those we love.

The blessed are thus continually conscious of
God's face ; and that, with a full and direct con-
sciousness ; not as we are conscious of the light or
of the air, in an indirect manner, as of one ot
numerous elements in our present experience ; but
as of the principal and central object of their atten-
tion to which everything else is secondary and
subordinate.

As we cannot enjoy this face to face vision, so
neither is it possible for us during our mortal life to
be continually conscious even of God's veiled
presence. For, in the first place, whereas the
brightness of His face draws the eyes of the blessed
so irresistibly that they are absolutely unable to
avert their gaze, the contemplation of His hidden
presence needs an exertion of the attention.

In the former case, as far as attention is con-
cerned, the mind is passive; it is difficult, nay,
impossible not to attend ; but in the latter, the



THE PRESENCE OF GOD. 37

mind is active, and not to attend is easier. It is
well to observe this difference between passive and
active attention. Abstraction may be either a
power or a weakness, a matter of self-control, or
of want of self-control. In the latter case, when
it diverts the attention from something else, wholly
or in part, it should rather be called distraction.
Albeit the blessed are passive in their enrapt
abstraction, yet the rapture is not of defective
weakness, since no finite will can resist the draw
of infinite beauty.

But in this life we have to seek God if we would
find Him ; we have, to some little degree, to exert
ourselves, to open our eyes and keep them open ;
to watch and to listen ; to school ourselves to a
greater delicacy and readiness of perception.

There have been indeed men of holiness and deep
thought, who have maintained that God is always
confusedly present to our consciousness, that He is
mingled in our every momentary experience as the
central strand round which the rest are woven; that
as we are always conscious of our own weight, though
normally it makes no separate impression on our
memory but only in states of weakness and weariness,
or as we are always conscious of the air we breathe
or of the light in which we walk, or of the health
which we enjoy, although no disturbance of these
conditions concentrates our attention upon them
as upon a principal object, so God is the most
universal, constant, and essential condition of all
our experiences, the spiritual light without which
we can see nothing; and yet just because of this



3 8 THE PRESENCE OF GOD.

unbroken regularity, evenness, matter-of-courseness,
it is impossible for us to separate this light from
the objects which it reveals to us, or to attend to
it as to a distinct and principal object. As all the
colours which we see with our bodily eyes are but
various limitations of the colourless light under
which we behold them ; so (they conceive) all finite
being is but a limitation of one infinite Being, in
which it lives, moves, and exists ; and is intelligible
just so far and no further. God is, as it were, the
intellectual light, by sharing which all these finite
things become visible to the eye of the mind. We
do not see that light apart, in its purity ; but only
in combination with the object which it illumines,
and which shows off, so to say, some one or other
of its infinite potentialities. As open to misunder-
standing, through want of sufficient accuracy ol
expression, this teaching has been authoritatively
condemned. For indeed it would seem to imply
that God, or the Divine substance, in some way
actually entered into the constitution of creatures
or received into Himself those limitations whereby
they differ from one another in kind ; whereas this
can only be said of a certain abstraction of all finite
being which we call " Being-in-general," which is in
a wholly different and infinitely lower plane than the
Divine being. This " Being-in-general " is a mere
chimera of the mind whereby we give consistency
to God's creative activity after it has issued from
the Divine will and before it has been determined
to any specified effect ; as though God said Fiat,
leaving the object undetermined. It is of this



THE PRESENCE OF GOD. 39

"being" only that every creature is rightly con-
ceived as partaking, or as limiting it to some one
phase of its infinitely various potentiality, even as
everything we see with our bodily eyes singles out
and reflects some one ray of those splendours of
which the seven-stranded sunlight is woven. Now,
in truth, God is the Sun from which the light of
finite being proceeds ; but He is the cause of that
light, not the light itself. It is through His presence
and His influence that all creatures have existence
and intelligibility; but what they partake is not
divinity, but an effect of divinity.

Close as He is to all things, intimately as He
permeates all finite existences; yet He is a Light
infinitely different in kind from the light which He
imparts to them ; to us, unthinkable, ineffable. We
can at most touch the hem of His garment, but we
dare not face Him in our infirmity and littleness,
until He call us and bid us come: "Thou shalt call
me and I will answer Thee."

Still it must be our chief aim and study to live
as much as possible in His veiled presence. If we
cannot see His form, we can see His shadow ; if we
cannot hear His voice, we can hear His footfall ; if
we cannot touch His hands and side, we can touch
His vesture. We are surrounded by the signs of
His presence; and we must learn to read them
quickly, to pass swiftly from the sign to that which
it signifies, so as at last to forget the sign and dwell
wholly on God. For a sign is first something
absolute in itself and afterwards something relative,
carrying the mind on to that which it points to ;



4 o THE PRESENCE OF GOD.

and therefore it is possible for the mind to rest in
the sign finally without passing on at all. And this
is more true of those signs which are not entirely
designed and intended to lead our thought else-
where. Smoke betrays the presence of fire ; and
a red light betrays the 'presence of danger on the
line ; but in the latter case the betrayal is designed,
which it is not in the former. God's works are in
some true sense designed and intended to reveal His
presence to us ; but still it is not their only end ;
and therefore it is most possible and easy for us to
think of them without thinking of Him, to rest in
the sign without passing on to the thing signified.

As children we read books without taking any
interest in the personality of the author ; but the
cultured and matured mind cares for literature
chiefly as a revelation of the soul from which it
sprang. Similarly with regard to music or painting,
which are loved best when they are loved as forms
of expression, as utterances of a spirit like our own.
How absolutely uninteresting, because soulless, is
all manner of machine-music and mock art, just
for the reason that the connection with the originat-
ing mind is so remote, so much more than second-
hand. It is not a sign of the presence of the artist.
We applaud the violinist or the pianist himself, and
not the instrument nor even the music regarded in
its own perfection. We pass straight from the
excellence of the product to the greater excellence
of the producer. But who would ever dream of
applauding the most finished performance on a
musical-box or a piano-organ ? The distance from



THE PRESENCE OF GOD. 4*



effect to cause is too great ; and we rest simply in
the effect. Now, if we cleave to our childish pictures
of God. if we take what might irreverently be
called a " clock-maker " view of the Deity, accord-
ing to which He is conceived to have made the
world once for all, and wound it up, and set it
a-going, and to have retired to rest in an infinitely
distant Heaven ; then indeed we shall never be
able to cultivate a sense of the Divine presence.
But if we hold firmly to the truth of reason and
faith, and reflect on it, time after time, until it
becomes not only a truism of the mind, but also
well worked into our imagination ; if we remind
ourselves repeatedly that all the play of nature and
the play of our own being, body and soul, is the
effect of God's most intimate presence ; who, if He
is not the Soul of Nature, nor part of Nature, yet is
more intimate to all nature and more necessary to
its being and movement than our soul is to our
body ; then we shall gradually find ourselves passing
easily from the creature to God, with ever lessening
effort, and at last spontaneously with no effort at
all. And certainly love will accelerate the growth
of this habit. For where the treasure is, there will
the heart be also. We dwell most easily on that
which is most interesting. As has just been said,
our childish interest, unlike that of our riper
thought, is in the performance rather than the
performer; but when we have realized that there
is nothing really interesting on earth but the human
soul, then we are carried from the lesser to the
stronger attraction. Who cares, of all on board,



42 THE PRESENCE OF GOD.

what hand has kindled the lighthouse-lamp, save
one perchance who knows that it has been kindled
by the loving hand of wife or mother, and who
while others cry, " There it is ! " whispers in his
heart, " She is there ! " Such is the different mind
with which men view the world according as they
have not or have learnt to read God's presence
everywhere. Dominns est — " It is the Lord," says
the keen-sighted love of St. John. For as the
sensual by a selective sympathy find sensuality in a
thousand places where the pure-minded pass by
untainted ; or as the suspicious and resentful are
quick, too quick, to detect an affront ; so those
whose eyes are sharpened by love find God lurking
everywhere.

Let us not look on this exercise of the presence
of God as an affair of the imagination, as though it
consisted in a certain fictitious picturing of God
ever beside us, or before us, or behind us. Such
efforts tire the head and give a sense of unreality
to religion. It is really a question of opening the
sealed eyes of our reason and seeing what is every-
where to be seen, within us and without us, above
and below, on the right hand and on the left ;
in all being, and life, and movement ; in Heaven
and earth ; on sea and on land, and in everything
they contain ; in all beauty and grace and strength ;
in all loveliness of form and colour ; in all sweetness
of melody and harmony, in all delicacy of fragrance
and flavour ; in all sensation, and reason, and
intelligence ; in all love, and tenderness, and affec-
tion ; in the fruit of man's mind and hand ; in the



THE PRESENCE OF GOD. 43

utilities of industrial art ; in the elegancies of
culture and refinement ; in the spirituality of liberal
arts ; in the discoveries of science ; in the high
dreamings of philosophy. Still more is God to be
seen in the moral attributes of the soul, in what-
soever things are pure, true, lovely, virtuous,
praiseworthy. Above all, is He to be seen and
heard in that highest point of our soul, where our
being runs into His as the stalk which buries itself
in the earth that begets, supports, and nourishes it,
namely, in conscience, which cries to us, " Cleave
to the right," with a voice that is in us, but not of
us ; the voice of one who is with us yet over us.

For we walk not alone, but ever side by side
with God, whose arm is round us, whose lips are at
our ear, even when we are deaf to His whisper :
Lava ejus sub capitc meo et dextra illius ample xabitur
me—" His left hand is under my head and His right
hand embraceth me." So it is the soul walks through
the desert of life leaning on her Beloved. Etsi
ambulavcro in medio umbra mortis, non timebit cor
meum quia tu mecum es ; virga tua et baculus tuus
ipsa me consolata sunt — " Though I walk in the
midst of death's shadow my heart will not fear,
for Thou art with me, Thy rod and the staff have
consoled me." Conscience is the rod and staff
of our gentle Shepherd, who thereby checks and
stimulates us alternately that we may not run
forward or lag behind, or in any way be parted
from His side ; and if we have not grown callous
to this salutary sting and discipline, what greater
consolation can we have than such evidence of the



4 4 THE PRESENCE OF GOD.

presence and care of the Shepherd and Lover of our
souls? "Thy crook and Thy staff are my conso-
lation."

" Enoch walked with God ; and was not ;
for God took him." Such is the history of those
souls who listen to the voice of the Shepherd,
who are conscious continually of a sort of double
personality, of being God's yoke-fellows, one of a
twain, of suffering and acting with God, thus
splitting up the simple " I " of their unreflecting
thought into "we," and finding another personality
intertwined with their own.

Finally, God is to be seen by those whose eyes
are open, in all the workings and dispositions oi
His providence, from the least to the greatest ; and
when the unenlightened cry out : " It is fate ; it is
fortune ; it is necessity of nature," faith and reason
say, " It is the Lord ; let Him do what seemeth
good unto Him ; " and : " Into Thy hand I com-
mend my spirit," and, " My lots are in Thy hand."

Let us not then look on this practice of the
presence of God as one of many devotions which
we are at liberty to take or leave ; for it is the
great work we have come into this world to do.
To see God is eternal life, both here and hereafter ;
here, through a glass darkly; there, face to face.
We are here for a while that our weak eyes may be
gradually accustomed to that dim but growing light
which heralds the sunrise of eternity ; that we may
not be blinded by the brightness of His coming.



GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

11 Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet
in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest
in its blessings and anathemas, and even though the eternal
priesthood throughout the Church should cease to be, in it
the sacerdotal principle would remain and have a sway."
—Newman.

It is much to be regretted that the word " conscience "
or " dictate of conscience " has come to be used
indiscriminately for two very distinct acts or utter-
ances of the mind — for the moral judgment which
indicates to us what is right or wrong in human
conduct; and for the command which bids us follow
that indication. In either sense conscience may be
called the "voice of God," though more properly in
the latter.

In our moral judgments God speaks to us no
otherwise than in any ordinary utterance of our
understanding or our reason. Inasmuch as He
has created our mind to be in some finite way
a mirror of His own, and co-operates with all its
vitality and movement, and tries, so far as we will
permit Him, to flood and permeate it with His
light, it follows that whatever truth it tells us,
He may be said to tell us indirectly, and through
the instrumentality of the mind : indirectly— for
in every judgment the mind truly speaks, and is
not a mere passive instrument of conveyance. It



46 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

originates in itself, not indeed without Divine assist-
ance, the word of truth which falls upon our inward
ear. But except with regard to a few first principles,
which are in a certain qualified sense inborn an</
irresistibly evident, the mind is subject to much
contingency in its inferences and deductions about
right and wrong ; in which there is room for endless
deviation and error. So far as the mirror of our
reason is flawed or flaws itself, and thereby distorts
and perverts the Divine Reason which it is made to
reflect, it can in no sense be said to speak to us with
the voice of God. It is indeed, in virtue of its office,
God's appointed messenger, delivering to us the
determinations of His will respecting our conduct
and happiness, but it is a fallible messenger, whose
ear, whose memory, whose tongue may be often at
fault ; and who thus may convey to us a very garbled
version of the Divine message or command. Yet
conscience, in the sense of our moral judgment, is
not so absolutely untrustworthy as might seem.
There are tests and rules to be applied here, as well
as in the case of human witnesses, whose testimony,
under due conditions and restrictions, is a source of
certainty. There are occasions without number
where it is intellectually possible to doubt the
verdict of our conscience, yet where it would be
culpably imprudent to pay any practical heed to
such doubt ; and there are other cases in which the
message is so palpably ambiguous and obscure as
to leave our liberty of action intact.

It is not our purpose here to examine the notion
of moral Tightness in conduct, which all know by



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 47



intuition to be so distinct from any other kind of
Tightness. Men wrangle over the analysis and state-
ment of the idea, but as to its existence and separate
character all are agreed. Like every other Tightness,
it implies an end to be reached, and an order to be
observed in reaching it. A right action is one which
preserves or promotes a certain desirable order in
our conduct, that is, in our words and outward
behaviour, or in the inner working of our mind and
heart, so far as they are under our free government.
And a wrong action, contrariwise, is one which
induces a disorder in our conduct.

The end with reference to which our conduct is
said to be morally right or wrong, is that chief and
supreme end which God has created us to attain,
namely, the salvation of our soul here and hereafter
in the exercise of the highest and most ideal love.
This end is in a strict sense obligatory and morally
necessary, and therefore such conduct as is required
to secure it has a corresponding and dependent
necessity. But this necessity and obligation is made
up of two very distinct factors ; of two forces which
exert a sort of compulsion upon our will. Of these
one is our irresistible attraction towards our ulti-
mate and complete happiness, and all that we
conceive to be inseparably connected therewith ; the
other is the urgency of the Divine will brought to
bear upon us in the dictate of conscience.

First then there is this implanted desire for our
own fulness of joy, our true well-being, our ideal of
rest and happiness — a desire which we cannot resist
or put aside in any moment of our conscious activity.



GOD IN CONSCIENCE.



When once we recognize any action as inseparably
bound up with the realization of that desire, the
thought of that action begins to exercise a sort of
dominion over us, nor can we resist its power until
by some reversion or perversion of judgment we
divest it of that connection with our happiness
which was the secret of its sway.

" If you will enter into life," says Reason,
" keep the commandments." It is not possible
for us to deny our wish to enter into eternal
life, and to attain the solid joy that attends that
life ; but we can shut our eyes to the necessity
of keeping the commandments, and in this way
we can resist the pressure and obligation which
Tightness exerts upon our will. Nature obliges us
to desire happiness, but does not oblige us to desire
any one method of life, except so far and so long as
we judge it to be requisite to our happiness. What
ever necessity and obligation there is, is from Nature ;
that is, from God as the author of the soul's essence.
To eat and drink is a necessity of our nature, but to
eat or drink this rather than that is left largely to
our choice.

Yet all this necessity and pressure is from our-
selves, from that implanted appetite which is part of
our being. So far, wrong-doing is only shown to be
high treason against our own truest interest, an
offence against self. But we cannot subvert any
designed and established order without offending
him who has established and willed it. If while
I am waiting in the library for a friend whom I am
visiting I amuse myself by deliberately disarranging



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 49

and mixing up the books which I see he has care-
fully set in order, I cannot but be aware that besides
the material disorder and mischief I am producing,
there is another evil of a totally different and more
serious kind for which I am responsible, namely,
the ruffling of my friend's temper. There is nothing
we should value so much as the reasonable esteem
and affection of others; and therefore the thing we
should dread most is the just censure and anger of
those whom we love and reverence. Whatever
servility there may sometimes be in the dread of the
consequences of their anger, yet there is nothing
servile in the dread of the anger itself. Children
playing at keeping school will patiently accept
punishments, which inflicted in anger by their
parents or teachers would be received with passionate
tears ; showing that it is the implied censure and
displeasure which gives the punishment its worst
sting. Hence, the annoyance of my friend is the
worst consequence of my wanton mischief; com-
pared with which the disarrangement of the books
is small and remediable. I can put the books in
order again, or can make some equivalent restitu-
tion ; but I cannot force my friend to be towards
me as before.

Every thinking creature is sensible, at least dimly
and confusedly, of being dependent on some personal
power which has put him into this world among his
fellow-men, and has given him a definite nature
with a definite work and a definite end, however
imperfectly recognized ; and therefore that the
ascertaining and carrying out of that purpose is
E



5 o GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

not merely his own concern, but a duty which he
owes to another to whom he belongs ineffably and
absolutely. He finds, moreover, in his awakened
reason an instinctive love and desire for the objective
interests of reason and right order, quite irrespective
of his private and personal interests, which have at
times to give way to the more universal and impera-
tive good. He finds himself angry against injustices,
which touch neither him nor his belongings, and
aglow for the cause of right and truth and order,
where no egoistic bias is assignable. And the growth
of this objective, disinterested love of Tightness is
checked or accelerated in the measure in which the
God-given instinct is yielded to or resisted. All this
points to the fact that his reason and will are given
him only to be instruments of the will of the
personal, subsistent Reason of God Himself, who
presses continually on the created spirit, guiding it
to an end of which it can have at most a partial and
instinctive perception, such as a horse may have of
the purpose of his rider.

Recognizing, therefore, that the order which
reason demands in our conduct with respect to
ourselves and to others is something dependent on
the nature of things established and willed by the
Supreme Reason, it is impossible for us to disturb
that order without being aware, at least in some
dim way, that we are incurring the anger and dis-
pleasure of that personal Reason whose creatures
and instruments we are. And if the just censure
and anger of our parents and rulers is something we
should dread as a great evil, how far greater an evil



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 51

is it to incur the anger of our Father who is in
Heaven, in whom we live and move and have our
being, on the breath of whose love our soul hangs
for every instant of its existence and movement,



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 4 of 31)