George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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enough ; but where reason works actively, either
the false principle must be thrown out, or else the
whole mind brought into conformity with it. Now



what is effected in the human mind by a gradual
process of leavening, is effected instantaneously in
minds unfettered by time and cerebral limitation?
such as those of the angels. Hence we can imagine
the total and radical revolution caused by sin in the
angelic intellect, inducing a confusion like that of a
panic-stricken army in retreat. Nor does this mean
a change in their essential nature ; but only a state
induced by their irrevocable free choice of a lie, to
which they must cleave for ever, having passed into
their eternal and unchanging condition.

What tastes sweet to a healthy palate tastes
bitter to one which is disordered. God, who is the
final perfection, the supreme desire and the joy of
the sound and healthy will, is the torment and horror
and death of the will perverted by sin. For it is at
once violently drawn towards Him by the funda-
mental and ineradicable instinct of its nature, and
yet driven back in consequence of its self-induced
antagonism to truth and goodness ; and thus it is
racked and straitened unceasingly. It is as when
one whose eyes are weak with disease is compelled
to endure a glare of light tolerable to none but the
strongest vision. Thus the whole force of the angelic
will is turned from love to hatred ; and there is no
hatred so bitter as that of what we once loved most
ardently. To the fallen angels, God, and man (the
image of God), and love, truth, justice, holiness,
order, beauty, harmony (the cause and interest of
God), are all as hateful as they are dear to the saints
and unfallen angels. And all this ruin is in a true
sense the natural effect of sin ; of trying to stand in


stiff opposition against the irresistible onrush of
God's will and God's love. And when we say it is
the natural effect, we do not deny that such penalties
of sin are inflicted by the will of God. For all
natural effects result from the will or inclination of
nature, which is in truth the will of Him on whose
nature all natural laws depend. For it is indeed
the personal will of God which moves in all nature,
physical and spiritual, and is expressed in the laws
of nature. There are certain unessential determina-
tions of the law of sin's penal consequences which
may depend on God's free-will, but the substance of
the law is from His necessary will, from the very
nature of things in themselves, that is, of God in
Himself. If a man leaps over a precipice, he cannot
blame the rocks below for dashing him to pieces ;
nor can we blame God .if, when we wilfully fling
ourselves against the immoveable rock of His truth
and love, we are shattered to atoms and eternally
destroyed. We can only blame ourselves, our own
free choice.

But how can a God of love entrust His creatures
with such a power of self-destruction ? Here again
we are complaining of the necessary will of God, as
though it were His free-will. The power of choice,
like every other grace, is given in resurrectionem ; for
our help, not for our hurt — it is intended for use, not
for abuse. If it is used for our hurt, in ruinam, that
is no part of God's will or design. Yet from the
very nature of the gift it must be capable of abuse in
those who are yet in a state of imperfection and


Self-formation, self-movement is the very idea of
life. An animal is not a machine moved by God as
by an outside force ; but it forms and moves itself
in virtue of internal principles which obey God's
will, and God's will is no physical or mechanical

It is also the dignity and privilege of the created
spirit and of intelligent life, to be self-forming. We
become what we love ; we are true and good and
great by freely loving and choosing goodness and
truth and greatness ; we become divine by choosing
God. He puts before our eyes as an end to be
reached, as an ideal to be realized, a true self as
opposed to a false self. He offers us life and death,
sweet and bitter, and leaves us free to enter into
one heritage or the other.

The human spirit determines and forms itself to
some degree in its every free choice. Each act is of
its own nature a step taken in the right direction or
the wrong. It is implicitly a choice of an ideal
happiness in which God holds, either the sole
place, or at least the first place, or else in which
something takes precedence of God. But the angels
formed or misformed themselves finally and irre-
vocably in their first choice made in the full light
of all the knowledge of which they were capable.

The contemplation of this ruin which the fallen
spirits wrought in themselves by their sin ought to
breed in us that double fear of which we spoke
above ; first, a fear of those evil consequences them-
selves, which is altogether prudential and self-
regarding; secondly, a great personal fear of God,


from whose necessary will and law all these terrors
proceed, and of whose past anger they are the effect
and expression. For indeed that anger itself is
more to be dreaded than any of its consequences,
since our greatest good is to be loved by God ; and
our greatest evil to be hated by Him.

We must therefore look back over our life of
continual rebellion against the voice of our conscience
and of our better self, against the voice of God
within us, and think how great a weight of indig-
nation we have been storing up against ourselves,
albeit God's mercy has so far restrained the storm
from bursting upon us. No man ever violates the
laws of nature with impunity. The vengeance may
be slow, but it is sure. And the law of conscience
is just as inexorable, being no less an expression of
the same invincible will and love.

Yet in both orders there is room for miracle ;
for the intervention of God's free-will, which can
supplement and determine, without contradicting
the natural and necessary course of things. He
who can heal the sick and raise the dead with His
word, can call the soul back from corruption ; He
who made a way through the Red Sea, can hold
back the billows of wrath already curving over the
sinner, ere they break and overwhelm him.

If we now turn to the story of the fall of our
first parents, the same lesson of sin's deadly character
is brought home to us again. We must dwell upon
the world as it would have been had Adam never
sinned nor forfeited all those preternatural pre-
rogatives and conditions of nature by which God


designed to raise this earth to a paradise, to make
it the vestibule of Heaven itself. We must eliminate
sin,and concupiscence, and ignorance, and sickness,
and death from this world, and people it with
inhabitants who in happiness and holiness would be
more akin to angels than to men such as we are.
And with all this we have to contrast, not the
present world, whose corruption is mitigated with
the leaven of Christianity, whose despair is quelled
by the hope of redemption, but rather with such a
world as this would have been without the Gospel
and without all that light and grace by which it was
and is educated and prepared, so to say, for the

And this contrast presents us with a measure of
the evil of sin and of the vehemence of God's
abhorrence of sin, of His natural and necessary
antagonism to wickedness and pride. He had in
Adam raised man from the dust of his unassisted
frail humanity, to set him with the princes of his
people, almost on a level with the angels in respect
of light, and self-control, and immortality; their
equal in point of supernatural grace ; their superior
in virtue of the prospective Incarnation of God and
His alliance with our family. He had made him
little less than a god, crowning him with glory and
honour. But being in honour man had no under-
standing. He would not be less than a god, but
equal to God in the discernment of good and
evil ; and thus in the pride of knowledge he became
as the beasts that perish. He would clamber to a
yet higher eminence than God had allowed to him,


and in the very act fell headlong to earth again,
maimed and crippled.

Finally, we may consider the revealed conse-
quences of one single unrepented deadly sin. And
by a deadly sin we mean an act whereby the will
aims at an ideal of ultimate happiness in which the
possession of God and submission to Him does not
hold the first place, but is sacrificed to something
else. For in every free act, as has already been
said, we implicitly make for some such ideal. If
the act of its own nature and tendency is incom-
patible with God's supremacy among the objects of
our final bliss, it is a mortal or deadly sin. If it is
compatible with that supremacy and yet is directed
to some final object which is not itself referred and
subordinated to God, but loved besides and together
with God, in such sort that it makes for an ultimate
state of bliss whereof God is the chief, but not the
only factor — then the sin is venial.

" He who loves father or mother more than Me
is not worthy of Me," says God. It may be that
such a man loves God very tenderly and sincerely.
But he does not love Him with the love due to God
if God holds the second place to any creature or to
all creatures put together. If, however, God does
hold the first and supreme place in his scheme of
happiness, then the welfare of his parents or children
may be an object of desire in two ways. First, in
such sort that he loves his child just in the way
God wishes him to love it, in sympathy with God's
mind and will in the matter; recognizing his own
affection as God-given and as indicating God's will ;


seeing God in the creature and the creature in God.
And such love is only an extension of the love of
God; and its object is in away united with God
into one complex object, and loved in harmony with
God. When all creatures are so loved, then a man
loves God not only supremely, but solely, with his
whole heart. And this is the perfection of sanctity ;
a state which we have to strive to attain. Secondly,
loving God supremely, and being willing if necessary
to make the sacrifice of Abraham, a man may love
his child or his reputation or some other creature
ultimately and for its own sake, and in some way
co-ordinately with God, albeit in no sense supremely.
He may be willing for the sake of that creature, not
indeed to break with God, but to sacrifice God's
lesser interests in certain matters, just as a man who
would die for his country ma) 7 shirk paying taxes and
other small duties of a good citizen. And such sins
are venial ; incompatible with perfect love, but not
incompatible with sufficient and substantial love.
God preponderates in the affections, but He does
not satisfy and absorb them entirely. 1

1 As the difference between venial sin and imperfection is a
source of difficulty to many, it may be well to note that "imper-
fection " is used positively and negatively. Positively, for a
deficiency of some perfection that is due and obligatory ; as e.g., we
speak of an imperfectly formed letter, meaning a misformed letter.
It implies, however, that the defect is slight and not substantial. So
used, an imperfection in our moral conduct is the same as a venial sin.
Negatively, the term is used to denote the absence of some perfec-
tion which is in no way due or obligatory, but which would add a
certain fulness and richness to the good action in question, and is a
matter perhaps of counsel. God is pleased if I am generous to the
poor : more pleased if I am more generous ; but not displeased if I


Our Saviour reveals to us the natural conse-
quences of deadly sin when He says, " I say unto
you, My friends : Fear not them that can kill the
body, and after that have nothing more that they
can do. But I will tell you whom you shall fear :
fear Him who, after He hath killed, hath power to
cast both soul and body into Hell, yea, I say unto
you, fear Him." And here notice that He speaks
to His friends ; to those whose hearts are now full
of loyal love for their Master. Yet neither they, nor
any of us, however fervent and devoted, can afford
to dispense with this safeguard of holy fear. And
who is it that speaks? Jesus Christ, the very

am not more generous. If in some sense the more perfect act is
also the more reasonable, it does not mean that the less perfect is
positively unreasonable, but merely less reasonable, provided it be
entirely good, so far as it goes, and contain no positive disorder.
To make the better course always obligatory, to deny that an
action is good because it might be better, to exclude all possibility
of exercising free generosity by works of counsel and supererogation,
is also to open the door to interminable scrupulosity and to make
our every action sinful — as Luther would have it.

Thus when we speak of " perfect love" as a matter of precept,
and when we imply that in some sense it is necessary and obligatory
that God should entirely satisfy and absorb our affections, we mean
that to love ourselves or any creature with a love which is not
referable and at least implicitly referred to the love of God, is,
however venial, a positive imperfection. Such love is " perfect "
because it lacks nothing due to it. But that we should love God
with an heroic intensity of fervour, that we should explicitly and
frequently refer all our affections and interests to Him, that we
should be devoted and enthusiastic in His service, that we should
embrace the counsels as well as fulfil the precepts— all this adds a
perfection and fulness to our love which, however reasonable, is in
no way due or obligatory, and the withholding of which, though
less reasonable, is in no positive way unreasonable, imperfect, or
inordinate ; but only in a negative way.


Truth ; so calm and moderate and faithful in all
His utterances ; the same God who made man and
who made Hell ; who became Man and died that
He might save man from Hell. He does not think
it a sordid thing to stand in awe of Him who is a
" consuming fire." He knows that such fear is the
very foundation and fibre of the tenderest and only
enduring filial love and self-forgetful devotion.
" Fear Him ; yea, I say to you, fear Him." How
He insists upon it ! Nor are we to forget that the
body is to bear its share in the soul's destiny for
evil as well as for good ; and that the fire prepared
for fallen spirits will contain all the virtuality of
bodily fire.

And again He says, " If thy right hand or right
foot cause thee to stumble, cut it off and cast it
from thee ; " that is, if your chief means of helpful-
ness or of livelihood should be to you an occasion
of deadly sin; or if that on which your pre-eminence
and success in the race of life depends should
separate you from your allegiance to God, " cut it
off" — a sharp, decisive, painful sacrifice — "and cast
it from you ; " put it as far from you as you can ;
shake it off like a poisonous viper ; no regrets, no
looking back to the city of sin ! " And if thy right
eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee ; "
if father, mother, child, spouse, or friend, if one who
is dear to you as the apple of your eye, dearer far
than life itself, even if such a one should stand
between you and salvation, " pluck it out and cast
it from you ; " no compromise, no quarter. Surely
" this is a hard saying : who can bear it ? " Yet it is


only what is said elsewhere: "He that loveth father,
or mother, or child more than Me is not worthy of
Me." It is only what the conscience of great and
good men, pagan or Christian, in all .ages have told
them, that the claims of truth and justice are
paramount ; that he who refuses if need be to
sacrifice his only son rather than lie, is not worthy
of the truth ; that death is a less evil than merited

And why am I to nerve myself to such anguish ?
" It is better for thee," says our Lord. He does not
appeal to His own goodness, which claims my entire
love and service, but simply to my prudential self-
regard. And He assures me, as one who knows
and sees the Hell He is speaking of, that all I can
suffer in this life through loss of livelihood, through
failure, through poverty and contempt, through
loneliness and separation and the rending of my
heart-strings, is not worth a thought compared with
the misery and anguish of that eternal, unchanging
state of destruction and spiritual death, that
"gehenna of fire where the worm dieth not and
the fire is not quenched." And if that is what
mortal sin means; if that is the measure of its
hidden malice and of its vehement antagonism to
God's goodness, and, therefore, the measure of the
Divine anger and indignation which it necessarily
excites, have I not great reason to feel shame and
confusion at the thought of myself as I must appear
in the eyes of God, seeing what my past life has
been, and how persistently I have opposed God's
almighty will and love, constraining me through my


conscience, urging me ever onward and upward,
yet ever repulsed or at best unheeded.

And so I betake myself to the Cross whereon
God is dying in torments to save me from Hell ; and
I marvel and wonder why it is He has singled me
out for so much mercy, and patience, and forgiveness.
I think what He might have done to me a thousand
times over, in all justice, leaving me to the natural
consequences of my madness and folly; and I look up
to His bleeding brow and wounded hands and feet and
pierced Heart, and see what He has done instead.
viira circa nos tucz pietatis dignatio ! inestimabilis
dilectio caritatis, ut servum redimeres F ilium tradidisti !
— " O wondrous condescension of Thy pity in our
regard ! O unspeakable tenderness of charity ! to
ransom Thy slave Thou didst deliver up Thy
Son ! " And if the thought of His merited wrath
and indignation filled me with shame and confusion,
my shame is multiplied a hundred-fold when I
contemplate His patience and love. And then at
His feet with Mary Magdalene and in the presence
of His Blessed Mother weeping for my sins, I ask
myself what have I done for Christ in the past ; or
rather what have I not done against Him ? What
am I doing for Christ now ? What am I going to
do for Christ in the future ? And then I offer
myself to be His for ever. Domine, quid me vis
facer e ? — " Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to


" We have never been slaves to any man : how say est
thou : You shall be free ? Jesus answered them : Amen,
amen, I say unto you, that whosoever committeth sin is the
servant of sin." — St. John viii. 33.

We have now to ask ourselves what mere reason
can tell us about the nature of sin. Not that reason
unassisted could ever have got as far as it can now
get since faith has gone before and pointed out the
way. Faith tells us many things that are well
within the compass of reason ; but reason would
never have thought of them if faith had not suggested

There are times and moods for all of us — all who
are human, and not wanting in that frailty which,
mingling with the higher and nobler elements of our
nature, gives it its characteristic pathos — there are
times when we think that if there were no God, no
future life, no restrictions and prohibitions, life
would be aimless indeed, inexplicable, unmeaning,
vet for its brief span so much easier, more painless,
more enjoyable, that we almost regret our high
destiny as sons of God, and envy those whose
consciences have grown callous to scruples and
remorse. The constant peace and blessedness of
God's service makes but a slight dint in our memory,


compared with the occasional crosses and restraints
which are the small price we pay for it. To our
ingratitude it seems that all that is right is hard,
all that is wrong is easy, that God's ways are
perversely uphill and narrow, and the ways of sin
broad and downhill ; and we never look to the fruit
and issue of one and the other.

It is the policy of Satan to represent our loving
Father as an arbitrary tyrant, ruling us as slaves in
His own interest, or as an austere Master, reaping
where He has not sown and gleaning where He has
not scattered ; as one delighting in restrictions and
prohibitions for their own sake, and, as it were, in
order to find new occasions for the exercise and
display of authority. So it was that the tempter
argued with our first parents in Paradise, and so it
is that he tempts us all daily by whispered insinua-
tions to that same effect. Well does St. Ignatius
speak of him as the "enemy of human nature."
Hating God, he necessarily hates God's image and
likeness and all that God loves ; and his one aim is
to obliterate and defile the likeness, since his malice
is impotent against the original. Still more, ever
since God in Christ has wed to Himself the human
family, and thus raised man above the highest
angels, does the " enemy of human nature " long to
degrade and profane what God has so exalted and

No, God is not arbitrary ; and if His command-
ment and discipline is grievous to us in our present
state, it is only because all growth and development
is necessarily attended with pain — moral growth no


less than physical. It involves the death of the old,
and the birth of the new, a continual process ot
ceasing and becoming. It must be so in finite
creatures drawn forth from nothing and reaching
their last perfection in process of time. It is the
nature of time itself, which is but the dying and
passing away of the present to give place to the
future. " Except a grain of wheat fall into the
ground and die, it remaineth alone ; but if it die it
beareth much fruit." Wherefore if God afflicts and
chastens us, it is not willingly (that is, with pleasure),
but reluctantly ; it is not merely because He chooses,
but because He must. It is not because He forbids
sin that it is evil ; but because it is hurtful to us,
therefore He forbids it. As necessarily and as
vehemently as He loves His own nature, so neces-
sarily, does He love man, the image of His nature,
and hate all that profanes and defiles that image ;
so that God's absolute detestation and abhorrence
of sin is only another aspect and dimension of that
infinite love, wherewith He necessarily loves His
own Divine goodness. Nor even are the sanctions
with which He enforces His necessary laws alto-
gether arbitrary. Hell itself is as much the fruit
and outcome of sin as death is of starvation or of
mortal disease ; it is as much a natural law as the
sequence of poverty upon prodigality ; it is dependent
indeed upon the will of God, but not upon His free-
will. Men are not sent to Hell, but they go there.
That he who walks over a precipice should fall to
the bottom, or that he who plucks out his eyes
should be blind, is necessarily the will of God — as


are all natural sequences — but it is not a result of
His free choice and arbitrary decree. " Concupis-
cence when it is conceived bringeth forth sin, and
sin when it is finished generates death," — by a
natural and necessary process.

However, it is not merely because it leads to the
everlasting torments of Hell that the path of sin is
thorny and perilous. Hell is the natural issue of
sin, just because sin is so bad in itself; it is the evil
fruit of an evil tree ; it is sin worked out to its full
and unimpeded consequences, and given unrestrained
dominion over us. And, in like manner, it is not
simply because the steep and narrow way leads to
Eternal Life that it is to be preferred and followed,
but because it is the right way, the best way, and
really the happiest way ; because, notwithstanding a
certain amount of surface suffering, the yoke of
Christ is easy, and the burden of His Cross is light
compared with the yoke and burden of sin ; because
Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all
her paths are peace.

Limited as our point of view must be, and feeble
as are our powers of intuition and reasoning, yet we
can, to some little extent, see for ourselves that what
God forbids is really bad for us in the long run,
however pleasant it may seem at first. If we cannot
always understand the evil of one solitary sinful act
itself, and apart from all its consequences, yet we can

Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 7 of 31)