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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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who should be the supreme object of our love and
reverence and praise, in friendship with whom our
final happiness consists. To have made God angry,
this is the greatest evil of sin. The disorder we
have caused in God's work, in our own soul, in
human society, however evil in itself, however
hateful to God, is a finite evil, for which a repara-
tion is conceivable. But by what means shall we
force God to turn to us again with favour, and to
restore to us the priceless treasure of His love ?

Here then is a new pressure brought to bear
upon us of quite a distinct order; an appeal to our
need of being loved by God, to our dread of being
hated by God ; or, if we are still servile and selfish,
to our desire of the consequences of being loved ;
to our dread of the consequences of being hated.
It is the pressure of will against will, and person
against person. It is no longer a question of treason
against self, but of treason against God. No man
can really sin against himself, except in a meta-
phorical sense, which splits his personality in two ;
or which treats his lower and higher will as two
distinct persons. But conscience puts him en rapport
with a personality other than his own, and thus
deprives him of his falsely imagined liberty and
independence. It tells him he is chained fast to
another who is in a certain sense affected for good
or evil by his every movement, and that that other



GOD IN CONSCIENCE.



is no less than his God and Lord ; that he must no
longer think of himself as I, but rather as we; since
no act of his soul bears upon self alone, but upon
self and God.

It is in this sense of the pressure of God's will
upon ours that the obligation of conscience chiefly
consists. Whatever imperfect pressure may be put
upon us by our innate self-regard, it is as nothing
compared with that which is exerted upon us by our
equally natural regard for the Divine favour.

Let us then carefully distinguish conscience as the
sense of what is right, from conscience as the sense
of obligation or of a pressure exerted upon our will.
In the former case God speaks to us indirectly and
often fallibly through our reason, and tells us " This
is right, that is wrong." In the latter God reveals
to us infallibly His own will, and says, " Do what
you believe to be right ; do not, what you believe to
be wrong; " and by this revelation our will is brought
into immediate contact with His, whether to yield
to its pressure or to resist it. Who does not know
from human intercourse, the difference between a
mere communication and exchange of ideas in con-
versation, and the far closer shock of soul with soul
when anger or love is excited, and will meets with
will in conflict or in embrace ? It is as bringing
us into will-relations with God that conscience
differs so generically from any other act of our
mind.

But why, it may be asked, should we treat the
impulse of conscience as the voice of God, rather
than the impulse of passion or of any lower instinct



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 53

which is as certainly indicative of the will of Nature,
whose will is no other than the will of God ? The
fallacy of this objection lies in taking some one part
of our nature, some single spring of action, and
treating it as though it were the whole. Human
excellence is not the perfection of this faculty or of
that, but of all united under the rule of conscience.
Virtue for man means the subjection of the lower to
the higher, their harmonious blending. Meekness,
for example, or chastity, could not exist were there
not strong passions to curb, a self-centred attraction
to combat. All indeed is from God — the force that
is curbed, and the force that curbs ; but it is for
man to see that the thought of God's mind and
love, the Divine intention or ideal is fully, not
partially, uttered in his own conduct. The speech
may be marred and broken in the utterance, and
convey a distorted sense. No natural desire is
wrong or evil so long as it is shaped and modified
according to the pattern present to conscience ; but
when suffered to run riot, though the wasted force
is God's gift, yet its lawlessness is the fault of man.
We have different duties with regard to our
conscience, according as we mean by " conscience "
the sum total of our moral judgments, or the pressure
of God's will upon ours urging us to follow those
moral judgments. The very same imperative obli-
gation which forces us to do what we believe to be
right, forces us no less, and as it were inclusively,
to find out what is right, to correct, perfect, and
develop our moral judgment by all means in our
power. It will not hear of that moral " indiffer-



54 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

entism " which considers it but little matter what
we do, so long as we do it bond fide, believing it to
be right. He is no sincere friend of Right and
Truth, no sincere friend of God, who cares little
what offence he commits, what pain he gives, so
long as it is unintentional, who is indifferent to
" material " sin. True, the chief guilt, which
consists in the conflict of will with will, is absent,
if the fault be committed in blameless ignorance ;
but the lesser harm is not inconsiderable ; nor can
it be a matter of indifference to one whose soul is
in sympathy with God and His ways. Such a soul
will make it its first duty and most earnest desire
to learn the will of God in the minutest detail. Its
whole aspiration will be that of the 118th Psalm:
"Oh, let my ways be directed to the observance ot
Thy justifications; then shall I not be ashamed
when I shall have looked into all Thy command-
ments. In my heart have I hid Thy Word that
I might not sin against Thee. Blessed art Thou,
O Lord, teach me Thy justifications ; unveil
my eyes that I may behold the wonders of Thy
law."

In all other matters we are to some extent
bound to secure that our mind and reason shall
be, in its measure, a faithful mirror of the mind of
God, without fiVw or tarnish ; but we are bound,
without any qualification, to a like care, where the
truth to be attained concerns the imperative will 01
God touching the hourly conduct of our lives. It
is therefore our first duty to educate and instruct
our moral judgment continually ; to observe, to



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 55



listen, to read, to ponder, to examine, to compare,
that by all means we enjoy the fullest attainable
light in a matter so paramount. Our sources of
information are the first principles of morality and
their legitimate consequences, applied to our own
experience and the experience of others ; the tradi-
tions of society, the examples of the good and
great; the advice of those whose wisdom and
experience give weight to their words ; and then
for us Christians there is the revealed law of God,
the teaching and example of Christ and His saints,
the guidance of the Catholic Church in the con-
sensus of her approved writers, and in the private
direction whereby her priests apply and modify
general principles to individual cases.

Obviously, as long as life lasts, our mind will be
capable of further perfection and exactitude in this
as in other matters. Never shall we be so skilled
as not at times to experience perplexities and to
need the counsel of others. Yet our progress should
ever be towards a greater self-helpfulness and inde-
pendence of judgment in the affairs of our own
conscience. There is no doubt a false independence
which despises the ordinary means of light and
information, and strives to weave a priori cobwebs
for its own use. But there is also a false depend-
ence which springs from a certain mental laziness
and timidity, and which seeks to throw the whole
burden of one's decisions on other shoulders. As
in the practical affairs of every-day life, so in the
problems of conscience and self-government our aim
should be to profit in every way by the experience



56 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

and wisdom of others in order to advance beyond
it, and to form a power of judging for ourselves.
While we are yet without experience, and while our
reasoning faculty is as yet rudimentary, we must
submit to the direction of others who know better.
But if the child's hand is always held and guided by
the teacher, if he is never told that the end of such
help is to enable him eventually to dispense with it,
he will never learn how to write. Similarly those
who make the voice of their spiritual director a
substitute for their own conscience, who never use
the light that God has given them in their own
reason and in the information they already possess,
become crippled and paralyzed as far as the faculty
of moral judgment is concerned. For the difference
between death and life is the difference between
that which is moved passively by another from
outside, and that which moves itself in virtue of
some inward principle which is part of itself.
Doubtless, as has been said, there are crises and
problems where the wisest and most experienced
are at a loss, and then it becomes a duty to have
recourse to those who are in a position to help us
to see for ourselves — which is the best kind of
direction — or else to command our faith and confi-
dence in their claim to see what we cannot see.
But short of such extremes, it is the part of the
good educator and adviser not to help those who
can help themselves, and who in so doing advance
themselves towards a more perfect self-helpfulness.

Perhaps there is no more essential condition to
our growth in clearness of moral discernment, than



GOD IN CONSCIENCE.



57



that of practical fidelity to the light that is in us.
Nor is the reason far to seek. It is repugnant to
our natural and almost laudable pride, to sin in the
full face of our better knowledge ; whence comes
the inevitable tendency to justify our faults both
before and after we commit them — a process which
involves a certain violent twisting or at least an
obscuring of our moral judgments about right and
wrong. Let these perversions be sufficiently frequent
and grievous and we soon fall under the natural
penalty of "judicial blindness," a state in which we
are culpably but really incapable of seeing the truth,
and rush blindfold to our own spiritual ruin. Nay,
even in smaller matters of counsel and higher per-
fection, we are all continually tarnishing the clear
surface of that mirror wherein the pure of heart see
God and the will of God, as the sky is seen in
smooth water. The edge of our spiritual discern-
ment is ever being blunted by rough usage, and
needing to be refined by self-examination and
correction.

Moreover, if mere intellectualism sometimes
makes us skilful casuists and gives us a sort of
delicacy of touch in dealing with the niceties of
conscience, yet practical fidelity to the right, and
an earnest desire to live up to our ideals, will give
us a far surer guide in that instinct wherewith love
feels and apprehends what will be most pleasing to
the Beloved. Not that the act is purely blind and
instinctive, but so swift is the inference, so minute
and complex the data from which it is drawn, so
prompt the following up of the will, that memory



58 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

has no time to record the process, and leaves us
with the impression that we have been inspired or
impelled from without. This " taste " or " tact,"
which love begets in us, is certainly a far safer
and more useful guide than any power of reflex
reasoning, however highly cultivated. The latter
is not only more fallible in its process, but also is
confined to problems where the data can be fully
and distinctly grouped as the premises of a formal
argument — a condition hardly ever realized in the
concrete. The way in which we recognize the
character of our own actions as right or wrong, is
something like the way a child discerns its mother's
pleasure or displeasure. It is done at a glance, and
with infallible certitude, but who shall give a satis-
factory statement of the process, or answer all the
difficulties another might bring against the inadequate
reasons given for the decision? For our mind appre-
hends an action not under some one or more of its
formal aspects, but in its concrete entirety, in the
full clothing of its circumstances, amongst which
are our own character, personality, and antecedents,
the sum total of our innumerable and complex
motives, the clearness or unclearness of our vision
at the instant of action, the fulness or the imper-
fection of our deliberation, the precise degree of
attraction or repugnance we experienced. This is
what we can never convey to another, what we
can never fully express to ourselves, so as to make
any formal and logical inference available against
the certainty of our intuitive judgment.

It is then by fidelity to the light which is in us,



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 39



and by availing ourselves of the means of instruction
provided for us, that we may hope ever to progress
towards a greater refinement in our power of moral
iudgment. And upon this refinement our religious
faith largely depends. For the more we see in God,
and the more sensitive we are to His beauty, the
stronger is the bond which enslaves us to Him.
But it is in proportion as we ourselves are just and
merciful and patient and pure, that the purity,
justice, and meekness of God and of His Church is
appreciated and loved by us. Without that, no
dialectic founded on prophecy and miracle, no
" natural theology," will be of any service to us,
either to win us, or to preserve us, or to recover
us. On the other hand, fidelity to conscience must
infallibly bring with it sufficient faith for salvation,
and moreover will change the dry stick of barren
orthodoxy into an ever-growing intelligence of the
things of God. " If thy heart were right, then
would every creature be unto thee a mirror of life
and a book of sacred lore ; for there is no creature
how small and mean soever, but reflects some ray
of God's goodness. Wert thou but inwardly good
and pure, thou wouldst see everything easily and
understand it clearly. A pure heart pierces Heaven
and Hell with its gaze. According to what we
ourselves are inside, so do we judge of that which
is outside/' 1

Moreover, faith rests on and springs from an
abiding sense of the duty of belief, from a permanent
recognition of God's will and command that we

1 A Kempis, ii. 4.



60 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

should hold on blindly in the hour of darkness and
obscurity to the truths we were convinced of in the
hour of light and of clear intuition. For faith is a
hearing and an obeying. But the conscience which
has grown deaf to God's voice in other matters, is
in danger of this last degree of deafness, when
the soul no longer recognizes the voice of the
Shepherd ; nor hears, nor follows, but wanders into
the darkness.

Up to this we have been dealing with our duty to
" conscience " regarded as the faculty of moral judg-
ment ; and we have seen how this department of
our reason demands special care and cultivation,
that it may become to its utmost capacity a reflex
of the mind of God, of that ideal which God desires
to realize in us if we will but suffer Him to show
us His will and to help us to follow it.

But conscience stands even more properly for
the pressure and inclination exerted upon our will
by the will of God, which is brought to bear upon
it as soon as the mind recognizes " right " to be the
term and expression of a Will. This pressure is a
reverential fear of God's anger as in itself the worst
of evils and a self-regarding fear of the consequences
of that anger ; and also a love of God's good-will
and favour as in itself our chief good, besides a
desire for the resulting advantages of His favour.
Here, again, we owe a duty to our conscience,
regarded now, not as a judgment of the under-
standing, but as an inclination or bent of the will.
Every time we yield to this Divine stimulus, we
not only maintain, but increase our sensitiveness to



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 61



its influence. We become more and more filled with
a reverential fear of God's expressed will. Contrari-
wise, if we resist we grow callous and unimpression-
able. Every time we brave God's anger we fear it
less, till at last we lose all fear, and become stone
deaf to that still small voice whose whisper is
caught by those only who are on the alert.

Let us notice how distinct these two forms of
"conscientiousness" are one from another. For
we may find a great delicacy of moral judgment
combined with a certain callousness of the will;
and, on the other hand, a remarkable sensitiveness
of will where the judgment is very ignorant and
erroneous. So, too, the words, lax. rigorous,
scrupulous, wide, and the like, are open to the same
ambiguity. Given the same moral judgment as to
the malice of a lie, one man will shrink from it far
less than another; and given equal reverence for
the Divine will, one will judge that to be grievous,
or at least sinful, which another thinks little or
nothing of.

It is precisely in conscience viewed as an incli-
nation of the will, that the soul comes in contact
with God as the author of its moral life. In our
physical and psychical life, and to a large extent in
our intellectual life, God enters into us and displays
His attributes in us in spite of ourselves. His
power, His wisdom, His spiritual attributes, are
declared in the existence and operations of our
nature, in which He utters Himself in a finite
manner. But if He would display His moral attri-
butes — those, namely, which are essentially perfec-



62 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.



tions of the free-will, perfect ways of choosing, He
must stand at the door and knock until by consent
we draw the bolt and let Him in. Then indeed He
enters in to sup with us, to permeate our soul with
His light and love, to fill her with a beauty not hei
own save so far as she has not hindered the entrance
of Him whose presence is her sole beauty. Nigra
sum sedformosa — she is of herself dark, but in virtue
of her Spouse she is full of beauty and brightness.

Conscience is then, as it were, the little stalk by
which the soul is united to God as to the parent
of its moral life ; hanging upon Him as the fruit
hangs on the tree. Through that narrow channel
the Divine life is poured into our spiritual veins, and
gives us our vigour and expansion, and full develop-
ment ; and all that hinders that quickening inflow
impoverishes and weakens our soul. Through con-
science God's ideal of our individual destiny, of that
final state which each one of us is capable of rising
to, is gradually transferred to our moral judgment,
wherein His thought is more or less imperfectly
reflected ; through conscience again, our will is
urged to realize the ideal thus set before us, and to
suffer God to assert Himself within us.

It is in recognizing God's will and presence in
the urgency of conscience that interior life consists.
Union and peace with God is but union and peace
with conscience viewed in a higher and truer light.
Here it is that God speaks to us ; not indeed as man
to man, but with a far closer and more intimate
communing, whereby without words or symbols we
are directly made conscious of His will. To the



GOD IN CONSCIENCE 63

unreflecting, conscience seems part of themselves;
its voice seems their own — so closely are God's
workings intertwined with those of their will and
reason. But reflection tells us that we cannot in
any true sense command ourselves, or disobey
ourselves, or fear our own anger, no more than we
can run after ourselves, or tell lies to ourselves, or
steal from ourselves.

The " otherness " of God from ourselves, and of
the voice of conscience from the voice of our own
free resolves, needs but be clearly stated in order to
be clearly recognized ; and when once recognized,
our solitude is gone. " It is not good for man to be
alone," is only so far true that, short of some
exempting condition or higher vocation, man is
fashioned and designed for the married state. But
of man's spiritual being it is absolutely and essen-
tially true that he is not made to be alone, or to
live alone for one moment of his conscious life. He
is by his whole nature and destiny an instrument in
the hand of God, even as the pen I write with is
wholly and altogether an instrument in my hand
designed to express my thought. Conscience is the
point of contact where God lays hold of this instru-
ment, and inclines it to His own purpose. " Inclines "
it, for it is free; and herein is not like the pen,
which has no self-perverting, self-destroying power.
And He inclines it not by a blind instinct, but by an
intelligent whisper, gentle in expression, but strong
and terrible in authority. And the resulting action
is of us twain, whether in agreement or in disagree-
ment ; we are tied together — God and myself, the



64 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

Creator and the created instrument which He
chooses to wield; we are joint principles of one and
the same act by which He seeks to express Himself
in my conduct and life. While God is to us " He,"
or even "Thou," we have not yet realized that
intimacy which excludes all sense of distance and
separateness other than personal, and which dares
to couple together in thought as " we " and " us,"
God and the soul which He has wedded.

The sense of God's nearness and inseparable
intimacy to the hidden roots of our spiritual life has
been prominent in good men of all times, places,
and religions, who in one form or another have
re-echoed David's sentiments where he likens himself
to a sheep whom God leads forth to green pastures
and beside still waters, checking him with His crook,
or urging him with His staff, so as to keep him ever
close to His side. " Though I walk through the
valley of death's shadow I will fear no evil, for
Thou art with me, Thy crook and Thy staff are my
consolation." It is precisely in conscience that we
feel these alternative checks and urgings, and find
therein an assurance of the presence and careful
watchfulness of " the Great Shepherd and Bishop of
our souls." It is in the obedient following of con-
science that we arrive at the green pastures, arid lie
down in peace by the waters of rest, and lack for
nothing. It is the sense that God is with him that
enables the conscientious man to bear calmly all
manner of temptations and persecutions and in-
justices. " A good man prides himself only in the
witness of a good conscience. Have a good conscience



GOD IN CONSCIENCE. 65

and you will have an abiding joy. A good con-
science can stand a great deal, and be very cheerful
in spite of troubles. A bad conscience is always
timid and fidgetty. You will rest very sweetly if your
heart reproach you not. Never be glad except when
you have done the right thing."

If there is a false independence savouring of
selfish arrogance, there is also a certain true inde-
pendence and " scorn of consequence," which has
characterized the really great and good of all ages ;
and this is due mainly to the sense of yielding
obedience to no creature but to conscience alone, or
else for conscience's sake. The Christian (explicit or
implicit) can never yield to wealth or position, or
force or numbers ; he is no respecter of persons ; to
God alone will he bend ; and thus he is fearless
when conscience justifies him, and he bears himself
towards all unjust usurpation with the pride of a
free son of God : Gloria justorwn in conscientia sua et
noji in ore hominum — "The pride of the just is in
their own conscience, not in the prate of men."

We have compared conscience to a little stalk
which ties us to God, the source of our spiritual
life, as the fruit is tied to the parent tree. To push
this illustration, we may notice that this bond may
be wholly severed, so that the fruit falls to earth
and loses vital connection with the branch ; or else
it may be merely weakened ; or, finally, it may be
strengthened indefinitely. Here we have a picture
of the bearing of our actions upon our vital union
with God through conscience. There is a fatal
disobedience which separates us wholly from Him ;



66 GOD IN CONSCIENCE.

and a lesser disobedience which disposes us for a
fall ; and then there is a close following of the mere
wishes and suggestions of conscience, whereby we
are knit ever more firmly to God, and the channel
of communication between the soul and her Spouse
grows ever wider and freer. But whether in
matters of command or of counsel and suggestion,
the voice of conscience unheeded grows fainter and
fainter, and sounds as from a great distance, until
at last it dies away altogether. The change is in



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 5 of 31)