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George Tyrrell.

Hard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies online

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constitution ; driven, in virtue of the self-induced
distortion of that nature ; driven, by those same
forces and energies which we were left free either
to bring into harmony with our primary impulse or
else into conflict and discord with it. The pain of
conscious loss 1 is no mere negation, but a sharp

1 There is conscious and unconscious loss ; and there is the con-
sciousness of a loss apprehended distinctly (as when one has lost his
sight) and that of a loss vaguely guessed at (as in one born blind).



SIN AND SUFFERING. 113

agony, whose poignancy, no doubt, is proportioned
to the clearness and deliberateness of the soul's
aversion from God. The same impetus of Divine
love which hurries along to their bliss those souls
that yield themselves to its sway, crushes to
powder those who dare to oppose it, or stand stiff
against it ; the same light which fills the eyes of the
saints with glory, dazzles and darkens and withers
the eyes unanointed by grace ; the same fire which
warms and gladdens and comforts God's friends,
scorches, torments, and consumes His enemies.
God is the life of the soul, and God is the death of
the soul, "for our God is a consuming fire." 1 No
one, save those to whom it is given, can see Him
and live. When the unpardoned soul passes " from
out the bourne of time and space " into the change-
less instant of eternity, where longer and shorter
have no meaning, and joy and sorrow no divisible
dimension of duration, it finds itself for ever fixed
in a state of destruction; "for ever shattered, and
the same for ever." In that first eternal pang its
punishment is complete, for it is not more shattered
because it is longer shattered. " As the tree falls
there shall it lie."

And now we turn to the other element of sin —
the material element, as it used to be called. We
must view it as a disarrangement of God's plans ; a
spoiling of His designs ; a disturbance of the order

1 We do not mean, of course, that God is to be identified with
the "fire which is not quenched," but that the thought of God's
goodness torments the soul of the wicked as much as it gladdens
the soul of the saint.

I



ii 4 STN AND SUFFERING.

of creation ; an interference with God's created
glory. For God in His goodness has willed to
surround Himself with creation as with a halo of
glory which in no way indeed can add to His own
uncreated brightness and beauty, but of which glory
He is truly the subject, even as a king receives an
extrinsic glory from his retinue and the pageantry
of his royal Court. Here it is that God can in a
true sense be said to be dependent upon us ; we
can further or hinder His designs ; we can make
reparation for our own transgressions and the
transgressions of others.

When we examine most of God's precepts
and prohibitions we find, as far as our poor
reason carries us, that they are all directed by
His loving wisdom to the good of creation in
general and of man in particular ; and we can often
see how sin is naturally fraught with mischievous
consequences for the individual and for society.
Yet until we can mount up to God's throne and
view things with the eyes of Him " whose wisdom
reaches from end to end, and disposes of all things
sweetly," we can never hope to see more than an
infinitesimal fraction of the consequences of any
single human act. For example, a man tells a lewd
story — a little sin perhaps for him. He may mention
it in confession or he may forget it. It is passed
from mouth to mouth as time goes on, and gives
birth to a foul thought here and there; and this
springs up in the fancy unbidden a thousand times,
and draws others in its train ; and perchance the
thought fructifies in deeds and actions, themselves



SIN AND SUFFERING.



"5



fruitful of others. Who can compute the harm or
tell where it will stop, if ever ? And so of many a
lie; many a harsh and unkind word; many a slander
and calumny; many a theft or injustice; many a
negligence and omission. How terrible it would be
were God to disclose to us the sum total of that
harm in the world which shall eventually be traceable
to our faults ! I think we should be driven to despair
at once. Still more when we consider that a blemish
is more hateful according as the beauty which it mars
is greater. Could we but enter into the grandeur
and glory of God's design, we should be utterly
confounded to see how stupendous a work we had
spoilt and profaned. Of course, when we sin we do
not know all this ; nor do we always think very
explicitly of what we do know. Yet we are justly
blamed and held accountable, like little children
who are told not to meddle with the clock or with
some other piece of machinery which they don't
understand. We know very well that sin is
forbidden for good reasons, by God, whose provi-
dence is over all ; and that we ourselves are not
likely to form any adequate notion of those reasons,
since they are as wide-reaching as creation. But
in our littleness we want to be as God, knowing
good and evil for ourselves and measuring it by out
own ken.

This disorder which sin produces in creation,
great as it may be, is yet a finite evil. It is
an injury done to God's garment, but not touch-
ing His Person. As forbidden by Him, it cannot
be committed without an accompanying personal



n6 SIN AND SUFFERING.

offence. But the two elements must not be
confounded. If I annoy my friend by upset-
ting his house and furniture, I cannot undo his
annoyance. That is for him to do in his free
forgiveness. But if after I am forgiven I neglect to
re-arrange his affairs so far as I can, I tacitly
reiterate my offence. Similarly, after God has
forgiven us, if we neglect to set right, as far as we
can, what we have set wrong ; if we fail to restore
the order which we have destroyed, or to make any
compensation that is in our power, we thereby
relapse into our former offence. And by harm done
we must not understand the mere social effects of
sin, but the disturbance of that moral order which
requires the subjection of our own passions to the
rational will, and of the rational will to God. For
this too is a finite disorder, to be compensated by a
corresponding repression of the same rebellious
faculties ; in a word, by their punishment — for we
all feel at once that indulgence is balanced by
restriction, and over-feeding by a fast.

And this is what we mean by the temporal punish-
ment due to sin. We say " temporal," because it is
finite, and we express finitude in terms of time. For
those who die in deadly sin, the temporal punishment
is said to become eternal. Not that it lasts time
without end, nor yet does it cease after a time — for
time is no more ; but because, as Aquinas points
out, the state of the departed is unchangeable,
unprogressive. They are stayed, and, as it were,
petrified in their first conscious instant of other-
world existence. And over and above the pain of



SIN AND SUFFERING. 117

personal antagonism and opposition to God — their
lost treasure — there recoils upon them all the evil
that they have caused in God's creation, in them-
selves and in others, so that the balance of the
moral order is restored, and truth and right are
triumphant — Deposuit potentes de sede, et cxaliavit
humiles — The lofty are brought low, and the lowly
uplifted. Yet compared with the anguish of
antagonism to God, which is the very death of the
soul, this penalty for the disorder of sin is finite.
As to the precise nature of that timeless torment it
is vain for us to speculate. In a modified sense we
may say of it : " Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
nor heart conceived." For although it is not a
supernatural mystery like the Beatific Vision, yet it
belongs to that spirit world outside time and space,
whereof we have at best remotely analogical con-
ceptions. Our Saviour speaks of a " fire unquench-
able ; " and Holy Church forbids us to confine
the torments simply to remorse, or to deny that it
will penetrate to every corner of our conscious
being, so that the senses shall expiate their unlawful
indulgence by a consciousness of sense suffering.

The more we learn to look upon the whole
physical and visible world as the self-expression
and symbol of that world which is spiritual and
invisible, and to regard this frail body of our
humiliation as not merely the earthly tenement
of our immortal part, but as in some sense its
creation and its sacrament — even as the whole
world is God's creation and sacrament — the easier
does it become to conceive that the element whose



SIN AND SUFFERING.



infusion transforms and spiritualizes the risen bodies
of the saints, releasing them from the fetters of
time and space, is no other than the sanctified soul
transfused with the fulness of the Divine indwelling;
and that as the natural soul fashions to itself a
fitting garment of flesh and blood, and commu-
nicates its own nature and idea for the time being
to the matter which it stealthily draws from its
environment, so the same soul transfigured and
glorified, glorifies and transfigures that which it
assumes and subdues to itself. If this be so, it is
not incongruous to believe that when eternal death
is perfected in the soul, its sting should send its
poison into every fibre of our double nature. But
in all this we are simply groping after some less
inadequate statement of truths belonging to a world
wholly unimaginable, and are safe only in holding
to the words of the Gospel and of the Church, to
those divinely authorized expressions of a mystery
which is above and beyond our adequate appre-
hension, which can never be exactly translated into
the language of the senses. " It belongeth to the
royal lordship of God," says Mother Julian of
Norwich, "to have His privy counsels in peace,
and it belongeth to His servants for obedience and
reverence not to will to know His counsels. Our
Lord hath pity and compassion on us for that some
creatures make themselves so busy therein ; and
I am sure if we wist how greatly we should please
Him and ease ourselves to leave it, we would. The
saints in Heaven they will nothing wit but what
our Lord will show them."



SIN AXD SUFFERING. 119

There is yet another consequence of sin, that is,
of repeated sin, which we must take notice of;
namely, vice. Vice is a propension or inclination
towards sinful actions ; begotten chiefly by our own
sins, though perhaps to some extent inherited from
our sinful ancestors. There are also propensions to
sin which in no way owe their origin to personal
fault, but are merely constitutional. Now, as
virtue is an adornment of the soul — for we all
feel that a good disposition is a spirftual charm
distinct from that of good conduct, and that
good conduct is better if it proceeds from good
inclination and does not need to be forced — so
vice is undoubtedly a blemish which unfits the
soul for the presence of God ; not, indeed, a blemish
comparable to the stain of actual sin, but still
a deformity and disfigurement in point of dis-
position. It was the error of Pelagianism to rate
men by their disposition rather than by their actual
conduct, to fix their eternal destiny by the considera-
tion of what they would have done in hypothetical
circumstances, and not by what they did in their
actual circumstances. It is by our works that we
have to be judged, by our deliberate thoughts, and
resolves, and words, and actions; not by our habits,
inclinations, and dispositions. These latter are indeed
important, but wholly for the sake of the actions
to which they give birth. But so far as morality
stands for virtues, good habits, and inclinations, it
may be said that our whole moral evolution consists
in the gradual elimination of all evil inclinations, and
in the cultivation of contrary dispositions. Sin not



SIN AND SUFFERING.



only retards but undoes our progress in this respect
However rich the repentant soul may be in grace,
yet until it is purged of all vicious tendencies it is
not fit for God's presence. For flesh and blood
shall not inherit that Kingdom ; nor corruption
incorruption. Our mortality and frailty must put
on strength and immortality. And as all birth and
growth and refinement is, for us earth-bound
limited creatures, at the cost of much suffering and
tribulation— />£r multas tribulationes — so the purifica-
tion of our soul from vice and infirmity is a bitter
and laborious task.

It has been disputed 1 whether the purgatorial
fire is merely expiatory of the pains due to forgiven
sins, or is also perfective of the heart and mind of
the sufferer. But in truth the difference of view is
more apparent than real. It is certain that nothing

1 sc, Between Bellarmine and Suarez. The former thinks that
even the guilt of venial sin is remitted in Purgatory : the latter
holds that such guilt, together with all vicious tendencies, is burnt
out of the soul at the Particular Judgment by an act of sovereign
love, leaving nothing but temporal debts for the purgatorial
fire. Plainly it is largely a matter of words. Both agree that
these three things — venial guilt, vicious inclination, and temporal
debt — need to be purged away, the two former by some intense act
of love (whose natural language is suffering or contrition), the third
by pain. Bellarmine views the three processes as simultaneous,
and calk it all Purgatory ; Suarez regards the third as subsequent
to the two first, and reserves to it the name of Purgatory. We know
too little about duration in the spirit world to make the controversy
very profitable. St. Catherine of Genoa seems to take a middle
position and to apply the term "Purgatory" to the second and
third processes. Needless to say, this discourse of ours is founded
on her classical treatise : In Us qua de Purgatorio determinates non
sunt ab Ecclesia, standum est Us qua sunt magis conformia dictis et revela-
tionibus sanctorum. (Aquinas, in 4. Sent. d. 21. q. 1. a. 1.)



SIN AND SUFFERING.



defiled can enter Heaven, and that this refers not
only to the defilement of sin or to the debt of
temporal pain, but also to those vicious habits and
tendencies of the soul which remain after the fullest
absolution and indulgence, and are called the
reliquice peccati. These spiritual diseases and indis-
positions must be cured before the soul can see
God ; and they are cured as soon as the medicine
of grace, already received, works its full effect ; that
is, when by strong, painful acts of love the soul has
corresponded to and utilized the secret forces
conveyed to it through the sacraments, and has thus
been perfected through suffering. Now, when we
say that temporal pain is due to forgiven sin —
that justice requires it, it is not to be thought that
pain as such can satisfy justice ; but rather pain as
atoning for that lack of reverence and love involved
in sin ; pain, as an expression and embodiment of
love and reverence. It is because there is no love
or reverence in the lost, because all they suffer is
against their will, that their pains cannot in the
strict sense satisfy justice, even as in this world the
wicked who rebel against God's lash rather increase
than remedy their guilt.

It is only love that can expiate the unjust with-
holding of love ; and therefore the temporal punish-
ment due to forgiven sin is really in the long run
medicinal, or at all events nutritive in respect to
the soul of the sufferer, whether on earth or in
Purgatory.

As it is but a superficial and utilitarian view of
Christianity which regards it principally as a system



SIN AND SUFFERING.



of morality whose end is social and political peace
and prosperity, and which therefore looks on the
life to come as a mere sanction subordinated to the
securing of those temporal effects; (whereas, in truth,
Christianity wholly subordinates this life to the
next, making it little better than a pre-natal
existence, a time of secret moulding and fashioning)
so it is a mistake to regard Purgatory as a sort of
accidental stage, a mere finishing process by which
the last touches are put upon a work which has
been substantially completed on earth. Truly in
some sense it is in this life that the foundation of
our salvation is laid, that its lines and dimensions
are determined and fixed, that our free-will accepts,
or rejects, or modifies the plans and ideals of the
Divine mind in our regard. But if the seed is sown
here, it is only in the glow of suffering that it
germinates and sends up its stalk; and if in some
few exceptional cases that work of development is
to a great extent completed in the furnace of
earthly tribulation, yet for the most, and as a
general law, it is in Purgatory that the causes here
freely set in motion, find due conditions in which to
work out their necessary effects in the soul. Doubt-
less the love of the martyrs, which, like that of their
Master, finds expression in absolute self-sacrifice
and in the bearing of unspeakable torments, perfects
the labour of many years in a little space ; but
though such extreme suffering is not for all men the
price of grace and salvation, yet it does not seem
likely that grace can yield its full fruit or that the
soul, already saved, can be fitted for the King's



SIN AND SUFFERING. 123

embrace short of an equal purification by pain.
The martyrs and confessors are those who to some
extent received here that purgatory which we all
must receive sooner or later. But the many are too
weak to purchase grace at such a cost, and God
condescends to their frailty by veiling from them
the full burden they have taken upon themselves
till such times as they shall be able to bear it
willingly.

We are now in a better position to appreciate
the sufferings of the blessed souls in Purgatory.
When the pardoned soul passes out of this life it is
ushered into the presence of our Saviour,

And with the intemperate energy of love
Flies to the dear feet of Emmanuel :
But ere it reach them, the keen sanctity
Which with its effluence, like a glory, clothes
And circles round the Crucified, has seized
And scorched and shrivelled it ; and now it lies
Passive, and still, before the awful throne.
O happy, suffering soul ! for it is safe ;
Consumed, yet quickened by the glance of God. 1

For it is thrust through with the sharp and fiery
sword of contrite love. Who has not at times been
filled with self-hatred, with a passion for self-
inflicted suffering, on the sudden conviction of
baseness and ingratitude towards some noble and
loving soul ! What then must be the anguish, the
thirst for self-vengeance, when the whole lovableness-
of God and the whole extent and depth of its own
sinfulness is first flashed upon the soul — a pain that
is saved from being remorse, and yet is increased

1 Newman's Dream of Gerontius.



124 SIN AND SUFFERING.

by the knowledge that in spite of all God loves it
still, loves it infinitely. And proportioned to the
awful force with which the disembodied and
pardoned soul is drawn towards the bosom of God,
is the strain and agony of that violent separation
which must last till it is perfected and purified.

This then is the first and chiefest pain of
Purgatory, the pain of bitter, though love-born
sorrow for past unlovingness ; the agony of violent
present separation from an embrace just missed. I
do not know if in the nature of things this suffering
can be alleviated by our prayers ; or that the Holy
Souls would willingly be spared a pang of that sweet
saving sorrow whereby every vice is burnt out by
the roots and every virtue burnt in. 1 We do not
know if this process be measurable in terms of time,
or if it be, as Suarez seems to have thought, the
work of an instant. It is, indeed, a fiery trial,
whereby the gold is freed from its dross in the
scorching flame of Divine love, and as long as
there is dross and impurity there will be sharp
agonizing suffering.

But the same light which discloses to us our sin
as a treason against our Eternal Lover, also shows
it to us as to its intrinsic malice. There for the first
time we are set face to face with God's fair plan of
creation ; and we see what it is we have helped to
spoil, and to what extent. We trace the ramifica-
tions of our guilty acts like ugly black lines spreading

1 Not that this involves any increase of sanctifying grace ; but
only that the grace and love already there should work its effect and
spread itself to every corner of the spiritual frame.



SIN AND SUFFERING. 125

out on all sides, and stretching forward to the last
syllable of recorded time. And if now our memory
leaves us conscious of only a big blot here and there,
then the whole story will stand out clear as to its
minutest detail; and half-smothered motives that
we refused to admit to ourselves will be dragged
forth into clear light; and we shall see ourselves
contrasted not only with what our inmost conscience
told us, but with what it might have told us if we
had used our opportunities of knowing better. And
our rectified will, in full sympathy with God's, will
be shocked and horrified at the hideous moral ruin
we have worked ; and it will be ardent and restless
in its desire to compensate and atone by its own
suffering and submission, for the disorder caused by
its past indulgence and rebellion. But how measure-
less and all but infinite a task will this appear ! And
will it not be the earnest desire of such a soul that
all should by love and patient suffering make repara-
tion to God in every possible way for this great
dishonour He has received ; and especially that for
the harm whereof it has itself been the author, it
may, by its own sufferings, or by those of others
near and dear to it, make due restitution. If I see
my friend's house on fire, I will get all I have any
claim on, to help me to put it out — still more, if it
is on fire through my carelessness ; or through some
past fault that I am now sorry for. In this it is
that the souls in Purgatory so earnestly desire our
help, that we may hasten the day when God's
honour shall be satisfied ; and when they will no
longer feel the intolerable pain of responsibility for



126 SIN AND SUFFERING.

a disorder not remedied, for a debt still unpaid;
and when they will at last be able to enter into the
joy of God's presence purified, not only from the
relics of sin, from evil or imperfect inclinations, but
also from that debt of personal penalty whereof they
shall then have paid the last farthing.

Against the practice of assisting the souls in
Purgatory our laziness suggests, with some ingenuity,
that after all they are happy and blessed : Beati
mortui — " Happy are the dead." They are safe in
port ; out of all risk and danger. Would God we
were as well off! Let us therefore pray and work
for those who are still storm-tossed and uncertain of
salvation. What comparison can there be between
the two needs ?

First of all, this objection is not usually urged by
those who are very earnest in their intercession for
the living ; or who have, in consequence, no moment
of time left for the needs of the dead. On the
contrary, the charity which urges to the one form of
intercession, usually urges to the other. Then, it is
true that the souls in Purgatory are happy sub-
stantially, fundamentally. But, as these words
suggest, our happiness lies in layers and is divisible.
Fundamental happiness is compatible with super-
ficial or less fundamental misery. The saints on
earth had this fundamental happiness of being right
with God ; but they also had great sufferings and
tribulations of soul and body to endure. And these
sufferings were very real ; and very worthy of pity.
I know there is a spirituality which despises — in the
case of others — any trouble that is not spiritual;



SIN AND SUFFERING. 127

which is so impressed with the advantages of trials
and pains for other people, that it can see nothing
in them to pity. " If a man has the grace of God, he
has a treasure of infinite worth. Why should we
pity him because he has got all the sorrows of Job
on his head ; because he has lost his home, and
children, and influence, and health ? These are but
temporal sorrows ; these but the thorns of a
heavenly crown. Why pluck them out?" This is not
God's way, who made body and soul, and redeemed
both alike ; who desires not our fundamental happi-
ness alone, but our entire happiness ; who afflicts
always with regret, and only " for greater gain of
after-bliss ; " who feels the least of our pains far
more than we feel it ourselves, being " afflicted in
all our afflictions ; " who pities the pitiful, and



Online LibraryGeorge TyrrellHard sayings; a selection of meditations and studies → online text (page 9 of 31)