George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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us and not in God. He has not gone far from us,
but we have gone far from Him, " into a far
country," where we seek freedom from the restraint
of His presence, and find slavery among the swine.
And if there He finds us out and pities and calls us,
and puts it into our heart to arise and return to
Him, still we have a long and painful journey
before us. We came downhill in the fulness of our
strength, we return uphill in the extremity of our
exhaustion. What hope is there for us, unless He
see us yet a long way off and run to meet us and
to cut short our weary labour ? In other words, to
recover the lost sensitiveness to conscience is a slow
and difficult task, impossible without God's grace.
The restoration of our perverted moral judgment is
comparatively easy. It is not hard to recognize
the fact that God was right and that we were
wrong; that the result of our "private judgment"
is that we are perishing with hunger, while the
mere hirelings of Heaven abound with bread. This
Peccavi, which is but the sentence of our own reason
upon our own folly, is the very first dawn of a con-


version (be it in small matters or in great), which
is perfected in that Peccavi uttered in the bosom of

But it is hard to quicken a sentiment that has
once been killed by resistance. It is hard to feel at
will a fear of what we have schooled ourselves to
brave. We seem to need some new and far
stronger stimulus, if our heart is to be stirred. If
God should break the silence around us, and speak
to us with human voice and human words, we
should doubtless fall down terror-stricken and cry :
" What wouldst Thou have me to do ? " Yet the
same God, heard in the far closer voice of con-
science, has no terrors for us, — so dependent are we
on habit and wont.

It is therefore to preserve us from this callous-
ness, and in some measure perhaps to restore or
increase our reverential fear of conscience, that the
practice of examining our conscience is of such
vital importance. Plainly this does not mean com-
paring our moral judgments (as manifested in our
conduct) with received standards, such as the
Decalogue or the teaching of moralists. This is a
duty and an important one, as we have already
insisted ; but is quite distinct in its object and end
from that of examining our relation of obedience or
disobedience to that voice which says : " Do what
you believe to be right, here and now." It is one
thing to inquire : Did I do what was objectively
right ? another : Did I do what I sincerely believed
to be right ? The first inquiry concerns the truth of
our moral judgments ; the second, the reverential


submission of our will to God's. This latter is the
all-important inquiry which should be made, not
merely at stated times, which is well, but at all
times. Am I strictly conscientious ? Am I afraid
of my conscience ; afraid of God ? Or am I
growing callous and indifferent, and to what extent?
Often, indeed, when the substance of the trans-
gression is comparatively light, yet the harm done
to ourselves by violating conscience is considerable
and not easily undone; just as in the matter of
perseverance, an offence which its isolation is trivial,
is most serious when viewed as a breach in that
chain of virtuous acts by which a good habit is

To notice an infidelity will not undo the harm
inflicted upon the will, — there, indeed, it seems that
God's medicinal skill is needed, — but it will stimulate
us to turn to God for forgiveness ; to beg restitution
to our former state or to a better ; to make repara-
tion to His Divine Majesty ; and, above all, to arrest
further downward progress. The wholesale and
persistent neglect of this natural duty is to induce
eventually that blindness and hardness of heart
through which a man comes at last to crucify his God
without knowing what he is doing. This is the
natural result, but it is no less, en that account, a
divinely inflicted punishment, since all natural
laws are but the expression of the necessary will
of God.


" He was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood
not in the truth ; because truth is not in him. When he
speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the
father thereof. But if I say the truth you believe Me not."
— St. John viii. 44.

"Cut it down, why doth it cumber the ground ? "
says the master of the vineyard to his husbandman ;
speaking of the fig-elm which had disappointed him
year after year. "Nay," says the other, "let me
dig about the roots and nourish them ; and if then
it is still fruitless, let it fall." It is the work of
meditation to dig about the roots of our spiritual
life and to nourish them, to go deep into first
principles and strengthen our grasp of them, — not
very attractive or easy work, nor productive of any
very sudden or sensibly violent moral revolution ;
yet in the long run, slowly and surely bearing
abundant and lasting fruit. Nor is it enough to
review, examine, and deepen our principles. We
must also judge ourselves by them ; contrasting with
them our practice; clearing the mirror of conscience
and setting it before our face ; convincing ourselves
of sinfulness and of sin. But especially will it
conduce to that penitential spirit which is the very
root of self-reform, to clear and deepen our notion


of the nature and malice of sin, whether regarded
in itself and its effects, or as an offence against the
fear and reverence and worship we owe to God ;
still more, against that absolute love and devotion
which is His due.

And here revelation comes in largely to aid the
insufficiency of reason and to secure that, what
otherwise would be known only with difficulty and
hesitation by a few, may be known easily, certainly,
and universally ; and though we may never say that
revelation is a strict exigency of human nature, yet
in this matter it is almost evident that if revelation
were denied to us, some substitute would need to
have been provided if our race was to rise from
barbarism to any sort of higher moral development.

Children, having no experience and only the
rudiments of reason, are not expected to know what
is good and expedient for them in conduct, or what
is hurtful and dangerous. They must therefore
believe and obey those who do know. We assign
sanctions to their conduct, we threaten them with
penalties and hold out rewards which will appeal
to them, and will supply the place of intrinsic
reasons until such time as they shall be able to see
for themselves, and to justify the judgments which
now seem to them arbitrary and severe. But are
we not all far less than children in respect to God ?
Surely the babe just born knows as much of the
world and its ways as the wisest of us can know
of the ways of God, whose sway stretches over
heaven and earth, time and eternity. How can
one whose eye rests but on the surface of things,


and ranges within the narrowest of circles for the
briefest of moments, pretend to join issue with Him
whose thought penetrates all things, and estimates
the bearing of the first instant of created time upon
the last ? What definite notion can we possibly
have of that final result to which we and all other
creatures are being moved as instruments in His
hand, guided by a thought which is in His mind
and not in ours ? What likelihood is there of our
clearly divining the meaning and scope of the
primary instincts of our conscience, of those in-
explicable yet irresistible impulses in the interests
of right and truth and order, even at the expense
of our private and separate gain ; of those unselfish
sympathies with objective goodness dimly recognized
as the will of Him who creates us, whose we are,
and whom we serve ? Nor are we more likely to
grasp adequately the end and purpose of those
Divine commands and prohibitions which only reve-
lation makes known to us. If nowhere else, at
least in the direction of our life to that end for
which God has given it to us, we need faith, the
simple obedient faith of little children. Our first
parents failed in this very point. They would be
as God, knowing good and evil, judging right and
wrong for themselves ; they, from the level of earth,
would equal their view to His who is enthroned
above the highest Heaven. They would know the
why and wherefore of this arbitrary and irksome
prohibition and of this threat of death ; or else they
would take no notice of it, as being a violation of
their dignity as intelligent and self-governing agents.


That this spirit of private judgment and unbelief
enters into every formal sin is what we shall see
a little later, when we come to consider sin in
the light of reason, as a disorder in itself and as
a personal offence against God. But reason is
useful in this matter rather as testing and verifying
the teaching of revelation, than as a guide or
exponent of the full truth. After it has told us all
it can tell, there still remains a large residue of
mystery which we must accept on faith ; nor is the
grasp of reason sufficiently firm and unfaltering to
offer a purchase for the will when under the pressure
of acute temptation and blinding passion. In such
crises our reason is soon dazed and bewildered, and
if we cannot hold fast to God's Word we are lost.
Even could we reason correctly, from the fullest
data, on the subject of sin, yet we cannot always
be reasoning, least of all in the hour of temptation.
Besides this, our data are hopelessly inadequate,
while few care to face the trouble of thought and
reflection, and fewer still can think successfully and
fruitfully. Obviously, therefore, faith is God's
appointed means for our guidance ; we must receive
the Kingdom of God into our soul as little children,
or not at all.

It is certainly the weak point of modern Christi-
anity that there is so little of this faith in us, filled
as we are with the narrow rationalizing spirit of
protestant self-sufficiency. It is in the air, and we
inhale the poison at every breath. We are disposed
to make, each of us, a god for himself, accommo-
dated to the subjective peculiarities of his under-


standing, who shall be entirely comprehensible and
free from mystery, whose commands and prohi-
bitions shall be perfectly explicable by the principles
of human conduct and government ; but the notion
of receiving God as He has revealed Himself
objectively, of taking difficulties as an indication,
not of error in that revelation, but of error in
our own mind, is far from us. In this spirit we
argue, as Eve did, not from the revealed punish-
ment of sin to its internal and natural malice ; but
conversely we examine sin itself, weighing it in our
faulty balance, and then rise up in rebellion and
declare we will not believe that it can ever merit
eternal punishment. We do not see what harm
can come of our transgression ; and hence we
boldly pass to unbelief: "Hath God said ye shall
surely die ? Ye shall not surely die."

Now it is the nature of our finite intellect to
judge the seed by its fruits, and not by an intui-
tion of its hidden capacities. We argue from
effects to causes ; from appearances to their parent
realities ; from shadows and consequences to sub-
stances and antecedents. We cannot see directly
into the heart of a thing as God can, but we have
to wait until it unfolds itself. And therefore, that
we might not have to learn the nature of sin by
bitter experience, and when perhaps it was too late,
God gave us a revelation of the ultimate fruits and
consequences of sin. He showed us how, of its own
nature, it led to eternal death, so that believing His
word we might be assured that sin is a far greater
evil than we can ever expect to understand for


ourselves. So it is that a good Catholic should
view the question, and in the same day that we
cease to be guided herein as little children, and
insist on judging for ourselves, "we shall surely
die" — Morte moriemini.

It is, then, by meditating on these revealed con-
sequences of sin that we shall most solidly establish
in ourselves that spirit of holy fear in which we are
so wanting in these days.

Yet fear, like hope, has a double object, one
direct and impersonal, the other indirect and
personal. I hope for eternal happiness ; and it is
to God I look for the realization of this hope.
Again, I fear eternal death, and it is before God I
tremble as the Just Judge who will inflict this
punishment on the unrepentant sinner. Here, for
the moment, it is our aim to cultivate a fear of the
person rather than of the thing ; of the anger of
God rather than of the consequences of that anger.
For as it is essential to our happiness to be loved
of God, so it is destructive of the same to be the
object of God's hatred and anger. In other words,
God's anger is a greater evil to us than any of its
consequences ; though when we are utterly hardened
and indifferent as to how God regards us, the fear
of the consequences of His wrath will sometimes
prevent us from falling, or will recall us to repent-
ance. The fear of God is therefore a higher motive
than the fear of Hell.

Either fear, however, is rightly said to be the
"beginning of wisdom," or of that perfect love
which casts out fear. St. Augustine likens it to the


needle which passes through the texture, but leaves
the thread behind it. For when fear is wakened in
the sinner, he begins forthwith to cast about for a
road of escape from the consequences of his sin.
whereby he may " flee from the wrath to come."
And there is but one road open. " If thou wilt
enter into life, keep the Commandments ; " and
these Commandments can be reduced to one — the
sovereign law of love : " Thou shalt love the Lord
thy God with thy whole heart and soul and strength."
Hence by recourse to prayer and to the sacraments
he seeks to kindle in his heart once more the flame
of Divine love.

And while this love is yet feeble and imperfect,
it needs often to be backed up and supplemented
by fear ; not being of itself strong enough to with-
stand the more violent assaults of temptation.

But when love is mature and perfect, then fear
is said to be cast out ; " for," says St. John, " fear
hath torment," i.e., he who needs the spur of fear
always acts with repugnance and unwillingly, as
one who chooses the less of two evils and finds no
joy in his choice. Whereas he who endures out of
love alone, counts the suffering as nothing.

Yet, as Aquinas explains, it is not strictly fear,
but the servility of fear, which is cast out by perfect
love. It is called servile, because it is the motive
of a slave who obeys because he must, and not ot
a son who obeys with love and has one common
interest with his father, or of a free soldier who
obeys his captain for love of their common country.
When we obey and serve God for love of His glory,


and out of sympathy with Him and His cause — the
cause of Truth and Love and Justice and Holiness
and Order — then our obedience is filial and not
servile. But as long and as far as we need the lash
of fear, we are slaves. Yet even when love is
perfect and fear can afford to be idle and rest from
active co-operation in our life, we must not suppose
that the motives of fear have been in any way
weakened, or that, like a disused organ, it becomes
atrophied and withers away. It is there all the
time, as an inner barrier, ready to come into use,
should the outworks give way through any mis-
fortune. Thus St. Ignatius, in his Book of the
Exercises, bids me pray that if at any time, through
my fault, the love of God should grow cold in my
heart, at least the fear of Hell may check me in
my downward path, and turn my steps upward once

In truth, the fear and the love of God must
grow step by step together, because fear is the very
back-bone and strength of that love. It is not
something to which love is added and superimposed,
but is a constitutive element of love. For love is
not excited by some of the Divine attributes, as fear
is by others, but by the whole complexus, by the
Divine character in its entirety. Servile fear, indeed,
is begotten of a partial and imperfect view of God's
face ; it sees only the severer attributes — justice,
might, majesty, wrath; it hears only the lower
notes of the chord, but is deaf to the higher and
sweeter tones which combine with them into a
perfect harmony. Those who do not know the


greatness of God do not know His condescension ;
those who have no conception of His justice have
no conception of His mercy. We must tremble at
His wrath, before we can marvel at His patience
and gentleness ; we must be deafened by the thunders
of Sinai, before we can be subdued by the still small
voice of conscience. And all that nourishes love,
nourishes fear also; for indeed, who were more
alive to the severity of God's judgments, and the
heinousness of sin, than those who were furthest
removed from the servility of fear — the saints and
the Blessed Mother of God herself? Let us be
assured that no tenderness of emotion, no thrills
of ecstatic ardour, are any proof of Divine love if
the spirit of fear is absent. The Seraphim, who
are on fire with love, veil their faces before God ;
and when St. John saw Him he fell at His feet as
one dead. Now-a-days men have made themselves
a god who is all indulgence, softness, weakness,
fashioned in their own image and likeness ; a god
who is as agnostic, as indifferent to truth and right
as they are themselves ; whose love is as unrestrained
by self-denial as their own. But we worship a
Father who chastens those whom He loves and
scourges every son whom He receives; 1 who is
a fierce fire, consuming utterly whatever it cannot
convert into its own nature ; who is an invincible
force, crushing to powder whatever it cannot carry
along with it. It is either a blessed thing or a
fearful thing " to fall into the hands of the living
God "—a blessed thing to fall into the hands of His

1 Hebrews xii.


love ; a fearful thing to fall into the hands of His
anger. For anger and hatred of all evil is but
another dimension of the love and desire of all
good ; and where this latter is absolute, irresistible,
infinite, the former must be no less so.

In his Exercise on Sin, St. Ignatius 1 would have
us dwell first of all upon the fall of the apostate
angels, of which we have no obscure statement in
revelation, albeit the details are not given to us.
It is commonly and very reasonably believed that
whereas man, the lowest spiritual creature, comes
to his fulness of knowledge gradually, and through
a process of alternate blunders and rectifications,
the unembodied spirits receive the full measure of
their natural light in the first instant of their
creation. Existing out of time, free from the slow
successions of natural change, they have no infancy
or adolescence, but are produced in their perfect
maturity. Thus, the good and the true is presented
to their choice fully and clearly in the first instant
of their being, to accept or to reject ; nor does there
await them any new aspect of the question which
might alter their judgment. Whereas to every
man, the good and the true is offered under a
thousand inadequate aspects, time after time, until
the appointed measure of light by which he is to
be judged has been accorded to him — a measure
manifestly differing for different individuals.

Hence it is accepted usually that the fall of the
angels was the work of one sin, accomplished in

1 This and the following discourse are developments of the first
two exercises of the " First Week."


one instant. The precise nature of that sin, or
how temptation could originate in a purely spiritual
being where bodily concupiscence and mental in-
firmity found no place, does not directly concern us
here. They are rightly said to have fallen through
pride. For pride is nothing else than the rebellion
of the member against the head ; the desire to be
absolute and independent instead of subject ; the
preference of one's separate and solitary advantage
to the good of the whole whereof one is but a part.
It is the self-centralizing, self-exalting tendency let
loose from the yoke of reason to run its course, and
not restrained to the service of God, and by the
higher law of universal good.

Nor must we confound the conflict between
nature and grace, between the higher and the
lower will, between truth and error, between
reason and disorder, with the struggle of mind
against matter, of spirit against sense, which goes
on in our human nature, compounded as it is 01
soul and body. In the worst of men we may at
times, not often perhaps, find the flesh subdued to
the spirit, or at least not rebellious. There may
be a complete control of the passions and feelings
induced by pride, ambition, or even diabolic malice.
There is such a thing as a victoria vitiosa, when one
vice dominates over all the rest and subdues them
in its own interest. But where passion is absent or
subdued, there may still be sin in the spirit ; for its
tendency is not simple but complex. And so in the
disembodied spirit, merely because it is a creature and
finite, there is not a simple, but a double appetite or


tendency — a resultant of two forces, one making for
self-preservation, self-preference, self-development ;
the other, using this force, checking it and directing
it to the universal and objective good, that is, to
the glory of God, whereof every creature is before
all else an instrument. I do not say two appetites,
but one complex appetite, which sin can resolve
into discordant elements. For the good or " end ,r
of every being corresponds exactly to its nature-
Every finite being is primarily for God, secondarily
for itself in order to God. Were these two ends
wholly disconnected, there would be two appetites.
But since one is subordinate to the other, they
harmonize into one complex appetite. If there is
discord through sin, then as death is the severence
of body and soul, neither being complete without
the other, so here also severance is moral death.
And it is in approving or in disturbing the due
balance of these component forces that free-choice
is exercised. Pride consents to the claims of self
and turns a deaf ear to the claims of God and

It is our love that is free. It is not enough to
see the truth and to see it clearly; we must also
love it. The angels saw with perfect clearness their
true position as creatures of God. They saw that
their own good should be subordinate to the universal
good ; that they were intended and designed primarily
for God and secondarily for themselves. They
recognized clearly in themselves fundamental in-
stinctive tendencies in harmony with this double
nature and destiny of theirs. And yet being free


to know and love this plan, and throw themselves
into it, they chose otherwise.

And now we have to pause and see the terrible
ruin wrought by one sin in these the most glorious
of God's creatures, and then learn what a deadly
poison sin must be. As was the excellence of their
nature, the height to which they were called, such
was the depth to which they fell, and the vileness
of their corruption. Human nature, falling from a
lesser height, was not so irreparably shattered to
pieces, nor can any lost soul of man know the full
anguish of that "fire prepared for the devil and his
angels." For the capacity of suffering, like the
capacity of joy, is in proportion to the fineness and
delicacy of the spiritual nature. What are the pains
and pleasures of some sluggish reptile compared
with those of the highly organized frame of man ?
Similarly the angelic intellect suffers a perversion in
such sort that they who are by nature full of intelli-
gence and understanding, and ministers of light, are
now changed into powers of darkness — " the rulers
of the darkness of this world." This is notoriously
the effect of sin, to induce a judicial blindness, so
that they who will not see when they can, cannot
see when they will. Once bring a false principle
into any mind, and in proportion as that mind is
more active and vigorous it will be reduced to a
completer and more utter confusion. A torpid mind
will hold the poison of a lie unassimilated long

Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 6 of 31)