Part 3 out of 5
his body or his soul maimed by the excess. Instead the vital wave had
carried him on its bosom out of himself and back again when it receded:
and no part of body or soul had been maimed but a dark peace had been
established between them. The chaos in which his ardour extinguished
itself was a cold indifferent knowledge of himself. He had sinned
mortally not once but many times and he knew that, while he stood in
danger of eternal damnation for the first sin alone, by every
succeeding sin he multiplied his guilt and his punishment. His days and
works and thoughts could make no atonement for him, the fountains of
sanctifying grace having ceased to refresh his soul. At most, by an
alms given to a beggar whose blessing he fled from, he might hope
wearily to win for himself some measure of actual grace. Devotion had
gone by the board. What did it avail to pray when he knew that his soul
lusted after its own destruction? A certain pride, a certain awe,
withheld him from offering to God even one prayer at night, though he
knew it was in God's power to take away his life while he slept and
hurl his soul hellward ere he could beg for mercy. His pride in his own
sin, his loveless awe of God, told him that his offence was too
grievous to be atoned for in whole or in part by a false homage to the
All-seeing and All-knowing.
--Well now, Ennis, I declare you have a head and so has my stick! Do
you mean to say that you are not able to tell me what a surd is?
The blundering answer stirred the embers of his contempt of his
fellows. Towards others he felt neither shame nor fear. On Sunday
mornings as he passed the church door he glanced coldly at the
worshippers who stood bareheaded, four deep, outside the church,
morally present at the mass which they could neither see nor hear.
Their dull piety and the sickly smell of the cheap hair-oil with which
they had anointed their heads repelled him from the altar they prayed
at. He stooped to the evil of hypocrisy with others, sceptical of their
innocence which he could cajole so easily.
On the wall of his bedroom hung an illuminated scroll, the certificate
of his prefecture in the college of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin
Mary. On Saturday mornings when the sodality met in the chapel to
recite the little office his place was a cushioned kneeling-desk at the
right of the altar from which he led his wing of boys through the
responses. The falsehood of his position did not pain him. If at
moments he felt an impulse to rise from his post of honour and,
confessing before them all his unworthiness, to leave the chapel, a
glance at their faces restrained him. The imagery of the psalms of
prophecy soothed his barren pride. The glories of Mary held his soul
captive: spikenard and myrrh and frankincense, symbolizing her royal
lineage, her emblems, the late-flowering plant and late-blossoming
tree, symbolizing the age-long gradual growth of her cultus among men.
When it fell to him to read the lesson towards the close of the office
he read it in a veiled voice, lulling his conscience to its music.
QUASI CEDRUS EXALTATA SUM IN LIBANON ET QUASI CUPRESSUS IN MONTE SION.
QUASI PALMA EXALTATA SUM IN GADES ET QUASI PLANTATIO ROSAE IN JERICHO.
QUASI ULIVA SPECIOSA IN CAMPIS ET QUASI PLATANUS EXALTATA SUM JUXTA
AQUAM IN PLATEIS. SICUT CINNAMOMUM ET BALSAMUM AROMATIZANS ODOREM DEDI
ET QUASI MYRRHA ELECTA DEDI SUAVITATEM ODORIS.
His sin, which had covered him from the sight of God, had led him
nearer to the refuge of sinners. Her eyes seemed to regard him with
mild pity; her holiness, a strange light glowing faintly upon her frail
flesh, did not humiliate the sinner who approached her. If ever he was
impelled to cast sin from him and to repent the impulse that moved him
was the wish to be her knight. If ever his soul, re-entering her
dwelling shyly after the frenzy of his body's lust had spent itself,
was turned towards her whose emblem is the morning star, BRIGHT AND
MUSICAL, TELLING OF HEAVEN AND INFUSING PEACE, it was when her names
were murmured softly by lips whereon there still lingered foul and
shameful words, the savour itself of a lewd kiss.
That was strange. He tried to think how it could be. But the dusk,
deepening in the schoolroom, covered over his thoughts. The bell rang.
The master marked the sums and cuts to be done for the next lesson and
went out. Heron, beside Stephen, began to hum tunelessly.
MY EXCELLENT FRIEND BOMBADOS.
Ennis, who had gone to the yard, came back, saying:
--The boy from the house is coming up for the rector.
A tall boy behind Stephen rubbed his hands and said:
--That's game ball. We can scut the whole hour. He won't be in till
after half two. Then you can ask him questions on the catechism,
Stephen, leaning back and drawing idly on his scribbler, listened to
the talk about him which Heron checked from time to time by saying:
--Shut up, will you. Don't make such a bally racket!
It was strange too that he found an arid pleasure in following up to
the end the rigid lines of the doctrines of the church and penetrating
into obscure silences only to hear and feel the more deeply his own
condemnation. The sentence of saint James which says that he who
offends against one commandment becomes guilty of all, had seemed to him
first a swollen phrase until he had begun to grope in the darkness
of his own state. From the evil seed of lust all other deadly
sins had sprung forth: pride in himself and contempt of others,
covetousness in using money for the purchase of unlawful pleasures,
envy of those whose vices he could not reach to and calumnious
murmuring against the pious, gluttonous enjoyment of food,
the dull glowering anger amid which he brooded upon his longing, the
swamp of spiritual and bodily sloth in which his whole being had sunk.
As he sat in his bench gazing calmly at the rector's shrewd harsh face,
his mind wound itself in and out of the curious questions proposed to
it. If a man had stolen a pound in his youth and had used that pound to
amass a huge fortune how much was he obliged to give back, the pound he
had stolen only or the pound together with the compound interest
accruing upon it or all his huge fortune? If a layman in giving baptism
pour the water before saying the words is the child baptized? Is
baptism with a mineral water valid? How comes it that while the first
beatitude promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor of heart the
second beatitude promises also to the meek that they shall possess the
land? Why was the sacrament of the eucharist instituted under the two
species of bread and wine if Jesus Christ be present body and blood,
soul and divinity, in the bread alone and in the wine alone? Does a
tiny particle of the consecrated bread contain all the body and blood
of Jesus Christ or a part only of the body and blood? If the wine
change into vinegar and the host crumble into corruption after they
have been consecrated, is Jesus Christ still present under their
species as God and as man?
--Here he is! Here he is!
A boy from his post at the window had seen the rector come from the
house. All the catechisms were opened and all heads bent upon them
silently. The rector entered and took his seat on the dais. A gentle
kick from the tall boy in the bench behind urged Stephen to ask a
The rector did not ask for a catechism to hear the lesson from. He
clasped his hands on the desk and said:
--The retreat will begin on Wednesday afternoon in honour of saint
Francis Xavier whose feast day is Saturday. The retreat will go on from
Wednesday to Friday. On Friday confession will be heard all the
afternoon after beads. If any boys have special confessors perhaps it
will be better for them not to change. Mass will be on Saturday morning
at nine o'clock and general communion for the whole college. Saturday
will be a free day. But Saturday and Sunday being free days some boys
might be inclined to think that Monday is a free day also. Beware of
making that mistake. I think you, Lawless, are likely to make that
--I sir? Why, sir?
A little wave of quiet mirth broke forth over the class of boys from
the rector's grim smile. Stephen's heart began slowly to fold and fade
with fear like a withering flower.
The rector went on gravely:
--You are all familiar with the story of the life of saint Francis
Xavier, I suppose, the patron of your college. He came of an old and
illustrious Spanish family and you remember that he was one of the
first followers of saint Ignatius. They met in Paris where Francis
Xavier was professor of philosophy at the university. This young and
brilliant nobleman and man of letters entered heart and soul into the
ideas of our glorious founder and you know that he, at his own desire,
was sent by saint Ignatius to preach to the Indians. He is called, as
you know, the apostle of the Indies. He went from country to country in
the east, from Africa to India, from India to Japan, baptizing the
people. He is said to have baptized as many as ten thousand idolaters
in one month. It is said that his right arm had grown powerless from
having been raised so often over the heads of those whom he baptized.
He wished then to go to China to win still more souls for God but he
died of fever on the island of Sancian. A great saint, saint Francis
Xavier! A great soldier of God!
The rector paused and then, shaking his clasped hands before him, went
--He had the faith in him that moves mountains. Ten thousand souls won
for God in a single month! That is a true conqueror, true to the motto
of our order: AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM! A saint who has great power in
heaven, remember: power to intercede for us in our grief; power to
obtain whatever we pray for if it be for the good of our souls; power
above all to obtain for us the grace to repent if we be in sin. A great
saint, saint Francis Xavier! A great fisher of souls!
He ceased to shake his clasped hands and, resting them against his
forehead, looked right and left of them keenly at his listeners out of
his dark stern eyes.
In the silence their dark fire kindled the dusk into a tawny glow.
Stephen's heart had withered up like a flower of the desert that feels
the simoom coming from afar.
* * * * *
--REMEMBER ONLY THY LAST THINGS AND THOU SHALT NOT SIN FOR EVER--
words taken, my dear little brothers in Christ, from the book of
Ecclesiastes, seventh chapter, fortieth verse. In the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Stephen sat in the front bench of the chapel. Father Arnall sat at a
table to the left of the altar. He wore about his shoulders a heavy
cloak; his pale face was drawn and his voice broken with rheum. The
figure of his old master, so strangely re-arisen, brought back to
Stephen's mind his life at Clongowes: the wide playgrounds, swarming
with boys; the square ditch; the little cemetery off the main avenue of
limes where he had dreamed of being buried; the firelight on the wall
of the infirmary where he lay sick; the sorrowful face of Brother
Michael. His soul, as these memories came back to him, became again a
--We are assembled here today, my dear little brothers in Christ, for
one brief moment far away from the busy bustle of the outer world to
celebrate and to honour one of the greatest of saints, the apostle of
the Indies, the patron saint also of your college, saint Francis
Xavier. Year after year, for much longer than any of you, my dear
little boys, can remember or than I can remember, the boys of this
college have met in this very chapel to make their annual retreat
before the feast day of their patron saint. Time has gone on and
brought with it its changes. Even in the last few years what changes
can most of you not remember? Many of the boys who sat in those front
benches a few years ago are perhaps now in distant lands, in the
burning tropics, or immersed in professional duties or in seminaries,
or voyaging over the vast expanse of the deep or, it may be, already
called by the great God to another life and to the rendering up of
their stewardship. And still as the years roll by, bringing with them
changes for good and bad, the memory of the great saint is honoured by
the boys of this college who make every year their annual retreat on
the days preceding the feast day set apart by our Holy Mother the
Church to transmit to all the ages the name and fame of one of the
greatest sons of catholic Spain.
--Now what is the meaning of this word RETREAT and why is it allowed
on all hands to be a most salutary practice for all who desire to lead
before God and in the eyes of men a truly christian life? A retreat, my
dear boys, signifies a withdrawal for awhile from the cares of our
life, the cares of this workaday world, in order to examine the state
of our conscience, to reflect on the mysteries of holy religion and to
understand better why we are here in this world. During these few days
I intend to put before you some thoughts concerning the four last
things. They are, as you know from your catechism, death, judgement,
hell, and heaven. We shall try to understand them fully during these
few days so that we may derive from the understanding of them a lasting
benefit to our souls. And remember, my dear boys, that we have been
sent into this world for one thing and for one thing alone: to do God's
holy will and to save our immortal souls. All else is worthless. One
thing alone is needful, the salvation of one's soul. What doth it
profit a man to gain the whole world if he suffer the loss of his
immortal soul? Ah, my dear boys, believe me there is nothing in this
wretched world that can make up for such a loss.
--I will ask you, therefore, my dear boys, to put away from your minds
during these few days all worldly thoughts, whether of study or
pleasure or ambition, and to give all your attention to the state of
your souls. I need hardly remind you that during the days of the
retreat all boys are expected to preserve a quiet and pious demeanour
and to shun all loud unseemly pleasure. The elder boys, of course, will
see that this custom is not infringed and I look especially to the
prefects and officers of the sodality of Our Blessed Lady and of the
sodality of the holy angels to set a good example to their
--Let us try, therefore, to make this retreat in honour of saint
Francis with our whole heart and our whole mind. God's blessing will
then be upon all your year's studies. But, above and beyond all, let
this retreat be one to which you can look back in after years when
maybe you are far from this college and among very different
surroundings, to which you can look back with joy and thankfulness and
give thanks to God for having granted you this occasion of laying the
first foundation of a pious honourable zealous christian life. And if,
as may so happen, there be at this moment in these benches any poor
soul who has had the unutterable misfortune to lose God's holy grace
and to fall into grievous sin, I fervently trust and pray that this
retreat may be the turning point in the life of that soul. I pray to
God through the merits of His zealous servant Francis Xavier, that such
a soul may be led to sincere repentance and that the holy communion on
saint Francis's day of this year may be a lasting covenant between God
and that soul. For just and unjust, for saint and sinner alike, may
this retreat be a memorable one.
--Help me, my dear little brothers in Christ. Help me by your pious
attention, by your own devotion, by your outward demeanour. Banish from
your minds all worldly thoughts and think only of the last things,
death, judgement, hell, and heaven. He who remembers these things, says
Ecclesiastes, shall not sin for ever. He who remembers the last things
will act and think with them always before his eyes. He will live a
good life and die a good death, believing and knowing that, if he has
sacrificed much in this earthly life, it will be given to him a
hundredfold and a thousandfold more in the life to come, in the kingdom
without end--a blessing, my dear boys, which I wish you from my heart,
one and all, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
As he walked home with silent companions, a thick fog seemed to compass
his mind. He waited in stupor of mind till it should lift and reveal
what it had hidden. He ate his dinner with surly appetite and when the
meal was over and the grease-strewn plates lay abandoned on the table,
he rose and went to the window, clearing the thick scum from his mouth
with his tongue and licking it from his lips. So he had sunk to the
state of a beast that licks his chaps after meat. This was the end; and
a faint glimmer of fear began to pierce the fog of his mind. He pressed
his face against the pane of the window and gazed out into the
darkening street. Forms passed this way and that through the dull
light. And that was life. The letters of the name of Dublin lay heavily
upon his mind, pushing one another surlily hither and thither with slow
boorish insistence. His soul was fattening and congealing into a gross
grease, plunging ever deeper in its dull fear into a sombre threatening
dusk while the body that was his stood, listless and dishonoured,
gazing out of darkened eyes, helpless, perturbed, and human for a
bovine god to stare upon.
The next day brought death and judgement, stirring his soul slowly from
its listless despair. The faint glimmer of fear became a terror of
spirit as the hoarse voice of the preacher blew death into his soul. He
suffered its agony. He felt the death chill touch the extremities and
creep onward towards the heart, the film of death veiling the eyes, the
bright centres of the brain extinguished one by one like lamps, the
last sweat oozing upon the skin, the powerlessness of the dying limbs,
the speech thickening and wandering and failing, the heart throbbing
faintly and more faintly, all but vanquished, the breath, the poor
breath, the poor helpless human spirit, sobbing and sighing, gurgling
and rattling in the throat. No help! No help! He--he himself--his
body to which he had yielded was dying. Into the grave with it. Nail it
down into a wooden box, the corpse. Carry it out of the house on the
shoulders of hirelings. Thrust it out of men's sight into a long hole
in the ground, into the grave, to rot, to feed the mass of its creeping
worms and to be devoured by scuttling plump-bellied rats.
And while the friends were still standing in tears by the bedside the
soul of the sinner was judged. At the last moment of consciousness the
whole earthly life passed before the vision of the soul and, ere it had
time to reflect, the body had died and the soul stood terrified before
the judgement seat. God, who had long been merciful, would then be
just. He had long been patient, pleading with the sinful soul,
giving it time to repent, sparing it yet awhile. But that time had
gone. Time was to sin and to enjoy, time was to scoff at God and at the
warnings of His holy church, time was to defy His majesty, to disobey
His commands, to hoodwink one's fellow men, to commit sin after sin and
to hide one's corruption from the sight of men. But that time was over.
Now it was God's turn: and He was not to be hoodwinked or deceived.
Every sin would then come forth from its lurking place, the most
rebellious against the divine will and the most degrading to our poor
corrupt nature, the tiniest imperfection and the most heinous atrocity.
What did it avail then to have been a great emperor, a great general, a
marvellous inventor, the most learned of the learned? All were as one
before the judgement seat of God. He would reward the good and punish
the wicked. One single instant was enough for the trial of a man's
soul. One single instant after the body's death, the soul had been
weighed in the balance. The particular judgement was over and the soul
had passed to the abode of bliss or to the prison of purgatory or had
been hurled howling into hell.
Nor was that all. God's justice had still to be vindicated before men:
after the particular there still remained the general judgement. The
last day had come. The doomsday was at hand. The stars of heaven were
falling upon the earth like the figs cast by the fig-tree which the
wind has shaken. The sun, the great luminary of the universe, had
become as sackcloth of hair. The moon was blood-red. The firmament was
as a scroll rolled away. The archangel Michael, the prince of the
heavenly host, appeared glorious and terrible against the sky. With one
foot on the sea and one foot on the land he blew from the arch-
angelical trumpet the brazen death of time. The three blasts of the
angel filled all the universe. Time is, time was, but time shall be no
more. At the last blast the souls of universal humanity throng towards
the valley of Jehoshaphat, rich and poor, gentle and simple, wise and
foolish, good and wicked. The soul of every human being that has ever
existed, the souls of all those who shall yet be born, all the sons and
daughters of Adam, all are assembled on that supreme day. And lo, the
supreme judge is coming! No longer the lowly Lamb of God, no longer the
meek Jesus of Nazareth, no longer the Man of Sorrows, no longer the
Good Shepherd, He is seen now coming upon the clouds, in great power
and majesty, attended by nine choirs of angels, angels and archangels,
principalities, powers and virtues, thrones and dominations, cherubim
and seraphim, God Omnipotent, God Everlasting. He speaks: and His voice
is heard even at the farthest limits of space, even In the bottomless
abyss. Supreme Judge, from His sentence there will be and can be no
appeal. He calls the just to His side, bidding them enter into the
kingdom, the eternity of bliss prepared for them. The unjust He casts
from Him, crying in His offended majesty: DEPART FROM ME, YE CURSED,
INTO EVERLASTING FIRE WHICH WAS PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS.
O, what agony then for the miserable sinners! Friend is torn apart from
friend, children are torn from their parents, husbands from their
wives. The poor sinner holds out his arms to those who were dear to him
in this earthly world, to those whose simple piety perhaps he made a
mock of, to those who counselled him and tried to lead him on the right
path, to a kind brother, to a loving sister, to the mother and father
who loved him so dearly. But it is too late: the just turn away from
the wretched damned souls which now appear before the eyes of all in
their hideous and evil character. O you hypocrites, O, you whited
sepulchres, O you who present a smooth smiling face to the world while
your soul within is a foul swamp of sin, how will it fare with you in
that terrible day?
And this day will come, shall come, must come: the day of death and the
day of judgement. It is appointed unto man to die and after death the
judgement. Death is certain. The time and manner are uncertain, whether
from long disease or from some unexpected accident: the Son of God
cometh at an hour when you little expect Him. Be therefore ready every
moment, seeing that you may die at any moment. Death is the end of us
all. Death and judgement, brought into the world by the sin of our
first parents, are the dark portals that close our earthly existence,
the portals that open into the unknown and the unseen, portals through
which every soul must pass, alone, unaided save by its good works,
without friend or brother or parent or master to help it, alone and
trembling. Let that thought be ever before our minds and then we cannot
sin. Death, a cause of terror to the sinner, is a blessed moment for
him who has walked in the right path, fulfilling the duties of his
station in life, attending to his morning and evening prayers,
approaching the holy sacrament frequently and performing good and
merciful works. For the pious and believing catholic, for the just man,
death is no cause of terror. Was it not Addison, the great English
writer, who, when on his deathbed, sent for the wicked young earl of
Warwick to let him see how a christian can meet his end? He it is and he
alone, the pious and believing christian, who can say in his heart:
O grave, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?
Every word of it was for him. Against his sin, foul and secret, the
whole wrath of God was aimed. The preacher's knife had probed deeply
into his disclosed conscience and he felt now that his soul was
festering in sin. Yes, the preacher was right. God's turn had come.
Like a beast in its lair his soul had lain down in its own filth but
the blasts of the angel's trumpet had driven him forth from the
darkness of sin into the light. The words of doom cried by the angel
shattered in an instant his presumptuous peace. The wind of the last
day blew through his mind, his sins, the jewel-eyed harlots of his
imagination, fled before the hurricane, squeaking like mice in their
terror and huddled under a mane of hair.
As he crossed the square, walking homeward, the light laughter of a
girl reached his burning ear. The frail gay sound smote his heart more
strongly than a trumpet blast, and, not daring to lift his eyes, he
turned aside and gazed, as he walked, into the shadow of the tangled
shrubs. Shame rose from his smitten heart and flooded his whole being.
The image of Emma appeared before him, and under her eyes the flood of
shame rushed forth anew from his heart. If she knew to what his mind
had subjected her or how his brute-like lust had torn and trampled upon
her innocence! Was that boyish love? Was that chivalry? Was that
poetry? The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils.
The soot-coated packet of pictures which he had hidden in the flue of
the fireplace and in the presence of whose shameless or bashful
wantonness he lay for hours sinning in thought and deed; his monstrous
dreams, peopled by ape-like creatures and by harlots with gleaming
jewel eyes; the foul long letters he had written in the joy of guilty
confession and carried secretly for days and days only to throw them
under cover of night among the grass in the corner of a field or
beneath some hingeless door in some niche in the hedges where a girl
might come upon them as she walked by and read them secretly. Mad! Mad!
Was it possible he had done these things? A cold sweat broke out upon
his forehead as the foul memories condensed within his brain.
When the agony of shame had passed from him he tried to raise his soul
from its abject powerlessness. God and the Blessed Virgin were too far
from him: God was too great and stern and the Blessed Virgin too pure
and holy. But he imagined that he stood near Emma in a wide land and,
humbly and in tears, bent and kissed the elbow of her sleeve.
In the wide land under a tender lucid evening sky, a cloud drifting
westward amid a pale green sea of heaven, they stood together, children
that had erred. Their error had offended deeply God's majesty though it
was the error of two children; but it had not offended her whose beauty
IS NOT LIKE EARTHLY BEAUTY, DANGEROUS TO LOOK UPON, BUT LIKE THE
MORNING STAR WHICH IS ITS EMBLEM, BRIGHT AND MUSICAL. The eyes were
not offended which she turned upon him nor reproachful. She placed
their hands together, hand in hand, and said, speaking to their hearts:
--Take hands, Stephen and Emma. It is a beautiful evening now in
heaven. You have erred but you are always my children. It is one heart
that loves another heart. Take hands together, my dear children, and
you will be happy together and your hearts will love each other.
The chapel was flooded by the dull scarlet light that filtered through
the lowered blinds; and through the fissure between the last blind and
the sash a shaft of wan light entered like a spear and touched the
embossed brasses of the candlesticks upon the altar that gleamed like
the battle-worn mail armour of angels.
Rain was falling on the chapel, on the garden, on the college. It would
rain for ever, noiselessly. The water would rise inch by inch, covering
the grass and shrubs, covering the trees and houses, covering the
monuments and the mountain tops. All life would be choked off,
noiselessly: birds, men, elephants, pigs, children: noiselessly
floating corpses amid the litter of the wreckage of the world. Forty
days and forty nights the rain would fall till the waters covered the
face of the earth.
It might be. Why not?
--HELL HAS ENLARGED ITS SOUL AND OPENED ITS MOUTH WITHOUT ANY LIMITS--
words taken, my dear little brothers in Christ Jesus, from the book of
Isaias, fifth chapter, fourteenth verse. In the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The preacher took a chainless watch from a pocket within his soutane
and, having considered its dial for a moment in silence, placed it
silently before him on the table.
He began to speak in a quiet tone.
--Adam and Eve, my dear boys, were, as you know, our first parents,
and you will remember that they were created by God in order that the
seats in heaven left vacant by the fall of Lucifer and his rebellious
angels might be filled again. Lucifer, we are told, was a son of the
morning, a radiant and mighty angel; yet he fell: he fell and there
fell with him a third part of the host of heaven: he fell and was
hurled with his rebellious angels into hell. What his sin was we cannot
say. Theologians consider that it was the sin of pride, the sinful
thought conceived in an instant: NON SERVIAM: I WILL NOT SERVE. That
instant was his ruin.
He offended the majesty of God by the sinful thought of one instant and
God cast him out of heaven into hell for ever.
--Adam and Eve were then created by God and placed in Eden, in the
plain of Damascus, that lovely garden resplendent with sunlight and
colour, teeming with luxuriant vegetation. The fruitful earth gave them
her bounty: beasts and birds were their willing servants: they knew not
the ills our flesh is heir to, disease and poverty and death: all that
a great and generous God could do for them was done. But there was one
condition imposed on them by God: obedience to His word. They were not
to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree.
--Alas, my dear little boys, they too fell. The devil, once a shining
angel, a son of the morning, now a foul fiend came in the shape of a
serpent, the subtlest of all the beasts of the field. He envied them.
He, the fallen great one, could not bear to think that man, a being of
clay, should possess the inheritance which he by his sin had forfeited
for ever. He came to the woman, the weaker vessel, and poured the
poison of his eloquence into her ear, promising her--O, the blasphemy
of that promise!--that if she and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit they
would become as gods, nay as God Himself. Eve yielded to the wiles of
the archtempter. She ate the apple and gave it also to Adam who had not
the moral courage to resist her. The poison tongue of Satan had done
its work. They fell.
--And then the voice of God was heard in that garden, calling His
creature man to account: and Michael, prince of the heavenly host, with
a sword of flame in his hand, appeared before the guilty pair and drove
them forth from Eden into the world, the world of sickness and
striving, of cruelty and disappointment, of labour and hardship, to
earn their bread in the sweat of their brow. But even then how merciful
was God! He took pity on our poor degraded parents and promised that in
the fullness of time He would send down from heaven One who would
redeem them, make them once more children of God and heirs to the
kingdom of heaven: and that One, that Redeemer of fallen man, was to be
God's only begotten Son, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity,
the Eternal Word.
--He came. He was born of a virgin pure, Mary the virgin mother. He
was born in a poor cowhouse in Judea and lived as a humble carpenter
for thirty years until the hour of His mission had come. And then,
filled with love for men, He went forth and called to men to hear the
--Did they listen? Yes, they listened but would not hear. He was
seized and bound like a common criminal, mocked at as a fool, set aside
to give place to a public robber, scourged with five thousand lashes,
crowned with a crown of thorns, hustled through the streets by the
jewish rabble and the Roman soldiery, stripped of his garments and
hanged upon a gibbet and His side was pierced with a lance and from the
wounded body of our Lord water and blood issued continually.
--Yet even then, in that hour of supreme agony, Our Merciful Redeemer had
pity for mankind. Yet even there, on the hill of Calvary, He founded
the holy catholic church against which, it is promised, the gates of
hell shall not prevail. He founded it upon the rock of ages, and
endowed it with His grace, with sacraments and sacrifice, and promised
that if men would obey the word of His church they would still enter
into eternal life; but if, after all that had been done for them, they
still persisted in their wickedness, there remained for them an
eternity of torment: hell.
The preacher's voice sank. He paused, joined his palms for an instant,
parted them. Then he resumed:
--Now let us try for a moment to realize, as far as we can, the nature
of that abode of the damned which the justice of an offended God has
called into existence for the eternal punishment of sinners. Hell is a
strait and dark and foul-smelling prison, an abode of demons and lost
souls, filled with fire and smoke. The straitness of this prison house
is expressly designed by God to punish those who refused to be bound by
His laws. In earthly prisons the poor captive has at least some liberty
of movement, were it only within the four walls of his cell or in the
gloomy yard of his prison. Not so in hell. There, by reason of the
great number of the damned, the prisoners are heaped together in their
awful prison, the walls of which are said to be four thousand miles
thick: and the damned are so utterly bound and helpless that, as a
blessed saint, saint Anselm, writes in his book on similitudes, they
are not even able to remove from the eye a worm that gnaws it.
--They lie in exterior darkness. For, remember, the fire of hell gives
forth no light. As, at the command of God, the fire of the Babylonian
furnace lost its heat but not its light, so, at the command of God, the
fire of hell, while retaining the intensity of its heat, burns
eternally in darkness. It is a never ending storm of darkness, dark
flames and dark smoke of burning brimstone, amid which the bodies are
heaped one upon another without even a glimpse of air. Of all the
plagues with which the land of the Pharaohs were smitten one plague
alone, that of darkness, was called horrible. What name, then, shall we
give to the darkness of hell which is to last not for three days alone
but for all eternity?
--The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful
stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the
world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the
terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The
brimstone, too, which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all
hell with its intolerable stench; and the bodies of the damned
themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that, as saint Bonaventure
says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world. The
very air of this world, that pure element, becomes foul and
unbreathable when it has been long enclosed. Consider then what must be
the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse
that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass
of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse a prey to flames, devoured
by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of
nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then imagine this sickening
stench, multiplied a millionfold and a millionfold again from the
millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the
reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine all this,
and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.
--But this stench is not, horrible though it is, the greatest physical
torment to which the damned are subjected. The torment of fire is the
greatest torment to which the tyrant has ever subjected his fellow
creatures. Place your finger for a moment in the flame of a candle and
you will feel the pain of fire. But our earthly fire was created by God
for the benefit of man, to maintain in him the spark of life and to
help him in the useful arts, whereas the fire of hell is of another
quality and was created by God to torture and punish the unrepentant
sinner. Our earthly fire also consumes more or less rapidly according
as the object which it attacks is more or less combustible, so that
human ingenuity has even succeeded in inventing chemical preparations
to check or frustrate its action. But the sulphurous brimstone which
burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for
ever and for ever with unspeakable fury. Moreover, our earthly fire
destroys at the same time as it burns, so that the more intense it is
the shorter is its duration; but the fire of hell has this property,
that it preserves that which it burns, and, though it rages with
incredible intensity, it rages for ever.
--Our earthly fire again, no matter how fierce or widespread it may be,
is always of a limited extent; but the lake of fire in hell is
boundless, shoreless and bottomless. It is on record that the devil
himself, when asked the question by a certain soldier, was obliged to
confess that if a whole mountain were thrown into the burning ocean of
hell it would be burned up In an instant like a piece of wax. And this
terrible fire will not afflict the bodies of the damned only from
without, but each lost soul will be a hell unto itself, the boundless
fire raging in its very vitals. O, how terrible is the lot of those
wretched beings! The blood seethes and boils in the veins, the brains
are boiling in the skull, the heart in the breast glowing and bursting,
the bowels a red-hot mass of burning pulp, the tender eyes flaming like
--And yet what I have said as to the strength and quality and
boundlessness of this fire is as nothing when compared to its
intensity, an intensity which it has as being the instrument chosen by
divine design for the punishment of soul and body alike. It is a fire
which proceeds directly from the ire of God, working not of its own
activity but as an instrument of Divine vengeance. As the waters of
baptism cleanse the soul with the body, so do the fires of punishment
torture the spirit with the flesh. Every sense of the flesh is tortured
and every faculty of the soul therewith: the eyes with impenetrable
utter darkness, the nose with noisome odours, the ears with yells and
howls and execrations, the taste with foul matter, leprous corruption,
nameless suffocating filth, the touch with redhot goads and spikes,
with cruel tongues of flame. And through the several torments of the
senses the immortal soul is tortured eternally in its very essence amid
the leagues upon leagues of glowing fires kindled in the abyss by the
offended majesty of the Omnipotent God and fanned into everlasting and
ever-increasing fury by the breath of the anger of the God-head.
--Consider finally that the torment of this infernal prison is
increased by the company of the damned themselves. Evil company on
earth is so noxious that the plants, as if by instinct, withdraw from
the company of whatsoever is deadly or hurtful to them. In hell all
laws are overturned--there is no thought of family or country, of
ties, of relationships. The damned howl and scream at one another,
their torture and rage intensified by the presence of beings tortured
and raging like themselves. All sense of humanity is forgotten. The
yells of the suffering sinners fill the remotest corners of the vast
abyss. The mouths of the damned are full of blasphemies against God and
of hatred for their fellow sufferers and of curses against those souls
which were their accomplices in sin. In olden times it was the custom
to punish the parricide, the man who had raised his murderous hand
against his father, by casting him into the depths of the sea in a sack
in which were placed a cock, a monkey, and a serpent. The intention of
those law-givers who framed such a law, which seems cruel in our times,
was to punish the criminal by the company of hurtful and hateful
beasts. But what is the fury of those dumb beasts compared with the
fury of execration which bursts from the parched lips and aching
throats of the damned in hell when they behold in their companions in
misery those who aided and abetted them in sin, those whose words sowed
the first seeds of evil thinking and evil living in their minds, those
whose immodest suggestions led them on to sin, those whose eyes tempted
and allured them from the path of virtue. They turn upon those
accomplices and upbraid them and curse them. But they are helpless and
hopeless: it is too late now for repentance.
--Last of all consider the frightful torment to those damned souls,
tempters and tempted alike, of the company of the devils. These devils
will afflict the damned in two ways, by their presence and by their
reproaches. We can have no idea of how horrible these devils are. Saint
Catherine of Siena once saw a devil and she has written that, rather
than look again for one single instant on such a frightful monster, she
would prefer to walk until the end of her life along a track of red
coals. These devils, who were once beautiful angels, have become as
hideous and ugly as they once were beautiful. They mock and jeer at the
lost souls whom they dragged down to ruin. It is they, the foul demons,
who are made in hell the voices of conscience. Why did you sin? Why did
you lend an ear to the temptings of friends? Why did you turn aside
from your pious practices and good works? Why did you not shun the
occasions of sin? Why did you not leave that evil companion? Why did
you not give up that lewd habit, that impure habit? Why did you not
listen to the counsels of your confessor? Why did you not, even after
you had fallen the first or the second or the third or the fourth or
the hundredth time, repent of your evil ways and turn to God who only
waited for your repentance to absolve you of your sins? Now the time
for repentance has gone by. Time is, time was, but time shall be no more!
Time was to sin in secrecy, to indulge in that sloth and pride, to
covet the unlawful, to yield to the promptings of your lower nature, to
live like the beasts of the field, nay worse than the beasts of the
field, for they, at least, are but brutes and have no reason to guide
them: time was, but time shall be no more. God spoke to you by so many
voices, but you would not hear. You would not crush out that pride and
anger in your heart, you would not restore those ill-gotten goods, you
would not obey the precepts of your holy church nor attend to your
religious duties, you would not abandon those wicked companions, you
would not avoid those dangerous temptations. Such is the language of
those fiendish tormentors, words of taunting and of reproach, of hatred
and of disgust. Of disgust, yes! For even they, the very devils, when
they sinned, sinned by such a sin as alone was compatible with such
angelical natures, a rebellion of the intellect: and they, even they,
the foul devils must turn away, revolted and disgusted, from the
contemplation of those unspeakable sins by which degraded man outrages
and defiles the temple of the Holy Ghost, defiles and pollutes himself.
--O, my dear little brothers in Christ, may it never be our lot to
hear that language! May it never be our lot, I say! In the last day of
terrible reckoning I pray fervently to God that not a single soul of
those who are in this chapel today may be found among those miserable
beings whom the Great Judge shall command to depart for ever from His
sight, that not one of us may ever hear ringing in his ears the awful
sentence of rejection: DEPART FROM ME, YE CURSED, INTO EVERLASTING FIRE
WHICH WAS PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS!
He came down the aisle of the chapel, his legs shaking and the scalp of
his head trembling as though it had been touched by ghostly fingers. He
passed up the staircase and into the corridor along the walls of which
the overcoats and waterproofs hung like gibbeted malefactors, headless
and dripping and shapeless. And at every step he feared that he had
already died, that his soul had been wrenched forth of the sheath of
his body, that he was plunging headlong through space.
He could not grip the floor with his feet and sat heavily at his desk,
opening one of his books at random and poring over it. Every word for
him. It was true. God was almighty. God could call him now, call him as
he sat at his desk, before he had time to be conscious of the summons.
God had called him. Yes? What? Yes? His flesh shrank together as it
felt the approach of the ravenous tongues of flames, dried up as it
felt about it the swirl of stifling air. He had died. Yes. He was
judged. A wave of fire swept through his body: the first. Again a wave.
His brain began to glow. Another. His brain was simmering and bubbling
within the cracking tenement of the skull. Flames burst forth from his
skull like a corolla, shrieking like voices:
--Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell!
Voices spoke near him:
--I suppose he rubbed it into you well.
--You bet he did. He put us all into a blue funk.
--That's what you fellows want: and plenty of it to make you work.
He leaned back weakly in his desk. He had not died. God had spared him
still. He was still in the familiar world of the school. Mr Tate and
Vincent Heron stood at the window, talking, jesting, gazing out at the
bleak rain, moving their heads.
--I wish it would clear up. I had arranged to go for a spin on the
bike with some fellows out by Malahide. But the roads must be
--It might clear up, sir.
The voices that he knew so well, the common words, the quiet of the
classroom when the voices paused and the silence was filled by the
sound of softly browsing cattle as the other boys munched their lunches
tranquilly, lulled his aching soul.
There was still time. O Mary, refuge of sinners, intercede for him! O
Virgin Undefiled, save him from the gulf of death!
The English lesson began with the hearing of the history. Royal
persons, favourites, intriguers, bishops, passed like mute phantoms
behind their veil of names. All had died: all had been judged. What did
it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lost his soul? At last he
had understood: and human life lay around him, a plain of peace whereon
ant-like men laboured in brotherhood, their dead sleeping under quiet
mounds. The elbow of his companion touched him and his heart was
touched: and when he spoke to answer a question of his master he heard
his own voice full of the quietude of humility and contrition.
His soul sank back deeper into depths of contrite peace, no longer able
to suffer the pain of dread, and sending forth, as he sank, a faint
prayer. Ah yes, he would still be spared; he would repent in his heart
and be forgiven; and then those above, those in heaven, would see what
he would do to make up for the past: a whole life, every hour of life.
--All, God! All, all!
A messenger came to the door to say that confessions were being heard
in the chapel. Four boys left the room; and he heard others passing
down the corridor. A tremulous chill blew round his heart, no stronger
than a little wind, and yet, listening and suffering silently, he
seemed to have laid an ear against the muscle of his own heart, feeling
it close and quail, listening to the flutter of its ventricles.
No escape. He had to confess, to speak out in words what he had done
and thought, sin after sin. How? How?
The thought slid like a cold shining rapier into his tender flesh:
confession. But not there in the chapel of the college. He would
confess all, every sin of deed and thought, sincerely; but not there
among his school companions. Far away from there in some dark place he
would murmur out his own shame; and he besought God humbly not to be
offended with him if he did not dare to confess in the college chapel
and in utter abjection of spirit he craved forgiveness mutely of the
boyish hearts about him.
He sat again in the front bench of the chapel. The daylight without was
already failing and, as it fell slowly through the dull red blinds, it
seemed that the sun of the last day was going down and that all souls
were being gathered for the judgement.
--I AM CAST AWAY FROM THE SIGHT OF THINE EYES: words taken, my dear
little brothers in Christ, from the Book of Psalms, thirtieth chapter,
twenty-third verse. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Ghost. Amen.
The preacher began to speak in a quiet friendly tone. His face was kind
and he joined gently the fingers of each hand, forming a frail cage by
the union of their tips.
--This morning we endeavoured, in our reflection upon hell, to make
what our holy founder calls in his book of spiritual exercises, the
composition of place. We endeavoured, that is, to imagine with the
senses of the mind, in our imagination, the material character of that
awful place and of the physical torments which all who are in hell endure.
This evening we shall consider for a few moments the nature of the
spiritual torments of hell.
--Sin, remember, is a twofold enormity. It is a base consent to the
promptings of our corrupt nature to the lower instincts, to that which
is gross and beast-like; and it is also a turning away from the counsel
of our higher nature, from all that is pure and holy, from the Holy God
Himself. For this reason mortal sin is punished in hell by two
different forms of punishment, physical and spiritual.
Now of all these spiritual pains by far the greatest is the pain of
loss, so great, in fact, that in itself it is a torment greater than
all the others. Saint Thomas, the greatest doctor of the church, the
angelic doctor, as he is called, says that the worst damnation consists
in this, that the understanding of man is totally deprived of divine
light and his affection obstinately turned away from the goodness of
God. God, remember, is a being infinitely good, and therefore the loss
of such a being must be a loss infinitely painful. In this life we have
not a very clear idea of what such a loss must be, but the damned in
hell, for their greater torment, have a full understanding of that
which they have lost, and understand that they have lost it through
their own sins and have lost it for ever. At the very instant of death
the bonds of the flesh are broken asunder and the soul at once flies
towards God as towards the centre of her existence. Remember, my dear
little boys, our souls long to be with God. We come from God, we live
by God, we belong to God: we are His, inalienably His. God loves with a
divine love every human soul, and every human soul lives in that love.
How could it be otherwise? Every breath that we draw, every thought of
our brain, every instant of life proceeds from God's inexhaustible
goodness. And if it be pain for a mother to be parted from her child,
for a man to be exiled from hearth and home, for friend to be sundered
from friend, O think what pain, what anguish it must be for the poor
soul to be spurned from the presence of the supremely good and loving
Creator Who has called that soul into existence from nothingness and
sustained it in life and loved it with an immeasurable love. This,
then, to be separated for ever from its greatest good, from God, and to
feel the anguish of that separation, knowing full well that it is
unchangeable: this is the greatest torment which the created soul is
capable of bearing, POENA DAMNI, the pain of loss.
The second pain which will afflict the souls of the damned in hell is
the pain of conscience. Just as in dead bodies worms are engendered by
putrefaction, so in the souls of the lost there arises a perpetual
remorse from the putrefaction of sin, the sting of conscience, the
worm, as Pope Innocent the Third calls it, of the triple sting. The
first sting inflicted by this cruel worm will be the memory of past
pleasures. O what a dreadful memory will that be! In the lake of
all-devouring flame the proud king will remember the pomps of his
court, the wise but wicked man his libraries and instruments of
research, the lover of artistic pleasures his marbles and pictures and
other art treasures, he who delighted in the pleasures of the table his
gorgeous feasts, his dishes prepared with such delicacy, his choice
wines; the miser will remember his hoard of gold, the robber his
ill-gotten wealth, the angry and revengeful and merciless murderers
their deeds of blood and violence in which they revelled, the impure
and adulterous the unspeakable and filthy pleasures in which they
delighted. They will remember all this and loathe themselves and their
sins. For how miserable will all those pleasures seem to the soul
condemned to suffer in hellfire for ages and ages. How they will rage
and fume to think that they have lost the bliss of heaven for the dross
of earth, for a few pieces of metal, for vain honours, for bodily
comforts, for a tingling of the nerves. They will repent indeed: and
this is the second sting of the worm of conscience, a late and
fruitless sorrow for sins committed. Divine justice insists that the
understanding of those miserable wretches be fixed continually on the
sins of which they were guilty, and moreover, as saint Augustine points
out, God will impart to them His own knowledge of sin, so that sin will
appear to them in all its hideous malice as it appears to the eyes of
God Himself. They will behold their sins in all their foulness and
repent but it will be too late and then they will bewail the good
occasions which they neglected. This is the last and deepest and most
cruel sting of the worm of conscience. The conscience will say: You had
time and opportunity to repent and would not. You were brought up
religiously by your parents. You had the sacraments and grace and
indulgences of the church to aid you. You had the minister of God to
preach to you, to call you back when you had strayed, to forgive you
your sins, no matter how many, how abominable, if only you had
confessed and repented. No. You would not. You flouted the ministers
of holy religion, you turned your back on the confessional, you
wallowed deeper and deeper in the mire of sin. God appealed to you,
threatened you, entreated you to return to Him. O, what shame, what
misery! The Ruler of the universe entreated you, a creature of clay, to
love Him Who made you and to keep His law. No. You would not. And now,
though you were to flood all hell with your tears if you could still
weep, all that sea of repentance would not gain for you what a single
tear of true repentance shed during your mortal life would have gained
for you. You implore now a moment of earthly life wherein to repent: In
vain. That time is gone: gone for ever.
--Such is the threefold sting of conscience, the viper which gnaws the
very heart's core of the wretches in hell, so that filled with hellish
fury they curse themselves for their folly and curse the evil
companions who have brought them to such ruin and curse the devils who
tempted them in life and now mock them in eternity and even revile and
curse the Supreme Being Whose goodness and patience they scorned and
slighted but Whose justice and power they cannot evade.
--The next spiritual pain to which the damned are subjected is the
pain of extension. Man, in this earthly life, though he be capable of
many evils, is not capable of them all at once, inasmuch as one evil
corrects and counteracts another just as one poison frequently corrects
another. In hell, on the contrary, one torment, instead of
counteracting another, lends it still greater force: and, moreover, as
the internal faculties are more perfect than the external senses, so
are they more capable of suffering. Just as every sense is afflicted
with a fitting torment, so is every spiritual faculty; the fancy with
horrible images, the sensitive faculty with alternate longing and rage,
the mind and understanding with an interior darkness more terrible even
than the exterior darkness which reigns in that dreadful prison. The
malice, impotent though it be, which possesses these demon souls is an
evil of boundless extension, of limitless duration, a frightful state
of wickedness which we can scarcely realize unless we bear in mind the
enormity of sin and the hatred God bears to it.
--Opposed to this pain of extension and yet coexistent with it we have
the pain of intensity. Hell is the centre of evils and, as you know,
things are more intense at their centres than at their remotest points.
There are no contraries or admixtures of any kind to temper or soften
in the least the pains of hell. Nay, things which are good in
themselves become evil in hell. Company, elsewhere a source of comfort
to the afflicted, will be there a continual torment: knowledge, so much
longed for as the chief good of the intellect, will there be hated
worse than ignorance: light, so much coveted by all creatures from the
lord of creation down to the humblest plant in the forest, will be
loathed intensely. In this life our sorrows are either not very long or
not very great because nature either overcomes them by habits or puts
an end to them by sinking under their weight. But in hell the torments
cannot be overcome by habit, for while they are of terrible intensity
they are at the same time of continual variety, each pain, so to speak,
taking fire from another and re-endowing that which has enkindled it
with a still fiercer flame. Nor can nature escape from these intense
and various tortures by succumbing to them for the soul is sustained
and maintained in evil so that its suffering may be the greater.
Boundless extension of torment, incredible intensity of suffering,
unceasing variety of torture--this is what the divine majesty, so
outraged by sinners, demands; this is what the holiness of heaven,
slighted and set aside for the lustful and low pleasures of the corrupt
flesh, requires; this is what the blood of the innocent Lamb of God,
shed for the redemption of sinners, trampled upon by the vilest of the
vile, insists upon.
--Last and crowning torture of all the tortures of that awful place is
the eternity of hell. Eternity! O, dread and dire word. Eternity! What
mind of man can understand it? And remember, it is an eternity of pain.
Even though the pains of hell were not so terrible as they are, yet
they would become infinite, as they are destined to last for ever. But
while they are everlasting they are at the same time, as you know,
intolerably intense, unbearably extensive. To bear even the sting of an
insect for all eternity would be a dreadful torment. What must it be,
then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell for ever? For ever! For all
eternity! Not for a year or for an age but for ever. Try to imagine the
awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore.
How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny little grains
go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now
imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from
the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad,
extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness;
and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand
multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water
in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on
animals, atoms in the vast expanse of the air: and imagine that at the
end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and
carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions
upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away
even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages
before it had carried away all? Yet at the end of that immense stretch
of time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended.
At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would
have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been
all carried away, and if the bird came again and carried it all away
again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there
are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea,
leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon
animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of
that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity
could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period,
after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain
reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun.
--A holy saint (one of our own fathers I believe it was) was once
vouchsafed a vision of hell. It seemed to him that he stood in the
midst of a great hall, dark and silent save for the ticking of a great
clock. The ticking went on unceasingly; and it seemed to this saint
that the sound of the ticking was the ceaseless repetition of the
words--ever, never; ever, never. Ever to be in hell, never to be in heaven;
ever to be shut off from the presence of God, never to enjoy the
beatific vision; ever to be eaten with flames, gnawed by vermin, goaded
with burning spikes, never to be free from those pains; ever to have
the conscience upbraid one, the memory enrage, the mind filled with
darkness and despair, never to escape; ever to curse and revile the
foul demons who gloat fiendishly over the misery of their dupes, never
to behold the shining raiment of the blessed spirits; ever to cry out
of the abyss of fire to God for an instant, a single instant, of
respite from such awful agony, never to receive, even for an instant,
God's pardon; ever to suffer, never to enjoy; ever to be damned, never
to be saved; ever, never; ever, never. O, what a dreadful punishment!
An eternity of endless agony, of endless bodily and spiritual torment,
without one ray of hope, without one moment of cessation, of agony
limitless in intensity, of torment infinitely varied, of torture that
sustains eternally that which it eternally devours, of anguish that
everlastingly preys upon the spirit while it racks the flesh, an
eternity, every instant of which is itself an eternity of woe. Such is
the terrible punishment decreed for those who die in mortal sin by an
almighty and a just God.
--Yes, a just God! Men, reasoning always as men, are astonished that
God should mete out an everlasting and infinite punishment in the fires
of hell for a single grievous sin. They reason thus because, blinded by
the gross illusion of the flesh and the darkness of human
understanding, they are unable to comprehend the hideous malice of
mortal sin. They reason thus because they are unable to comprehend that
even venial sin is of such a foul and hideous nature that even if the
omnipotent Creator could end all the evil and misery in the world, the
wars, the diseases, the robberies, the crimes, the deaths, the murders,
on condition that he allowed a single venial sin to pass unpunished, a
single venial sin, a lie, an angry look, a moment of wilful sloth, He,
the great omnipotent God could not do so because sin, be it in thought
or deed, is a transgression of His law and God would not be God if He
did not punish the transgressor.
--A sin, an instant of rebellious pride of the intellect, made Lucifer
and a third part of the cohort of angels fall from their glory. A sin,
an instant of folly and weakness, drove Adam and Eve out of Eden and
brought death and suffering into the world. To retrieve the
consequences of that sin the Only Begotten Son of God came down to
earth, lived and suffered and died a most painful death, hanging for
three hours on the cross.
--O, my dear little brethren in Christ Jesus, will we then offend that
good Redeemer and provoke His anger? Will we trample again upon that
torn and mangled corpse? Will we spit upon that face so full of sorrow
and love? Will we too, like the cruel jews and the brutal soldiers,
mock that gentle and compassionate Saviour Who trod alone for our sake
the awful wine-press of sorrow? Every word of sin is a wound in His
tender side. Every sinful act is a thorn piercing His head. Every
impure thought, deliberately yielded to, is a keen lance transfixing that
sacred and loving heart. No, no. It is impossible for any human being to
do that which offends so deeply the divine majesty, that which is punished
by an eternity of agony, that which crucifies again the Son of God and
makes a mockery of Him.
--I pray to God that my poor words may have availed today to confirm
in holiness those who are in a state of grace, to strengthen the
wavering, to lead back to the state of grace the poor soul that has
strayed if any such be among you. I pray to God, and do you pray with
me, that we may repent of our sins. I will ask you now, all of you, to
repeat after me the act of contrition, kneeling here in this humble
chapel in the presence of God. He is there in the tabernacle burning
with love for mankind, ready to comfort the afflicted. Be not afraid.
No matter how many or how foul the sins if you only repent of them they
will be forgiven you. Let no worldly shame hold you back. God is still
the merciful Lord who wishes not the eternal death of the sinner but
rather that he be converted and live.
--He calls you to Him. You are His. He made you out of nothing. He
loved you as only a God can love. His arms are open to receive you even
though you have sinned against Him. Come to Him, poor sinner, poor vain
and erring sinner. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the hour.
The priest rose and, turning towards the altar, knelt upon the step
before the tabernacle in the fallen gloom. He waited till all in the
chapel had knelt and every least noise was still. Then, raising his
head, he repeated the act of contrition, phrase by phrase, with
fervour. The boys answered him phrase by phrase. Stephen, his tongue
cleaving to his palate, bowed his head, praying with his heart.
--O my God!--
--O my God!--
--I am heartily sorry--
--I am heartily sorry--
--for having offended Thee--
--for having offended Thee--
--and I detest my sins--
--and I detest my sins--
--above every other evil--
--above every other evil--
--because they displease Thee, my God--
--because they displease Thee, my God--
--Who art so deserving--
--Who art so deserving--
--of all my love--
--of all my love--
--and I firmly purpose--
--and I firmly purpose--
--by Thy holy grace--
--by Thy holy grace--
--never more to offend Thee--
--never more to offend Thee--
--and to amend my life--
--and to amend my life--
* * * * *
He went up to his room after dinner in order to be alone with his soul,
and at every step his soul seemed to sigh; at every step his soul
mounted with his feet, sighing in the ascent, through a region of
He halted on the landing before the door and then, grasping the
porcelain knob, opened the door quickly. He waited in fear, his soul
pining within him, praying silently that death might not touch his brow
as he passed over the threshold, that the fiends that inhabit darkness
might not be given power over him. He waited still at the threshold as
at the entrance to some dark cave. Faces were there; eyes: they waited
--We knew perfectly well of course that though it was bound to come to
the light he would find considerable difficulty in endeavouring to try
to induce himself to try to endeavour to ascertain the spiritual
plenipotentiary and so we knew of course perfectly well--
Murmuring faces waited and watched; murmurous voices filled the dark
shell of the cave. He feared intensely in spirit and in flesh but,
raising his head bravely, he strode into the room firmly. A doorway, a
room, the same room, same window. He told himself calmly that those
words had absolutely no sense which had seemed to rise murmurously from
the dark. He told himself that it was simply his room with the door
He closed the door and, walking swiftly to the bed, knelt beside it and
covered his face with his hands. His hands were cold and damp and his
limbs ached with chill. Bodily unrest and chill and weariness beset
him, routing his thoughts. Why was he kneeling there like a child
saying his evening prayers? To be alone with his soul, to examine his
conscience, to meet his sins face to face, to recall their times and
manners and circumstances, to weep over them. He could not weep. He
could not summon them to his memory. He felt only an ache of soul and
body, his whole being, memory, will, understanding, flesh, benumbed
That was the work of devils, to scatter his thoughts and over-cloud his
conscience, assailing him at the gates of the cowardly and
sin-corrupted flesh: and, praying God timidly to forgive him his
weakness, he crawled up on to the bed and, wrapping the blankets
closely about him, covered his face again with his hands. He had
sinned. He had sinned so deeply against heaven and before God that he
was not worthy to be called God's child.
Could it be that he, Stephen Dedalus, had done those things? His
conscience sighed in answer. Yes, he had done them, secretly, filthily,
time after time, and, hardened in sinful impenitence, he had dared to
wear the mask of holiness before the tabernacle itself while his soul
within was a living mass of corruption. How came it that God had not
struck him dead? The leprous company of his sins closed about him,
breathing upon him, bending over him from all sides. He strove to
forget them in an act of prayer, huddling his limbs closer together and
binding down his eyelids: but the senses of his soul would not be bound
and, though his eyes were shut fast, he saw the places where he had
sinned and, though his ears were tightly covered, he heard. He desired
with all his will not to hear or see. He desired till his frame shook
under the strain of his desire and until the senses of his soul closed.
They closed for an instant and then opened. He saw.
A field of stiff weeds and thistles and tufted nettle-bunches. Thick
among the tufts of rank stiff growth lay battered canisters and clots
and coils of solid excrement. A faint marshlight struggling upwards
from all the ordure through the bristling grey-green weeds. An evil
smell, faint and foul as the light, curled upwards sluggishly out of
the canisters and from the stale crusted dung.
Creatures were in the field: one, three, six: creatures were moving in
the field, hither and thither. Goatish creatures with human faces,
hornybrowed, lightly bearded and grey as india-rubber. The malice of
evil glittered in their hard eyes, as they moved hither and thither,
trailing their long tails behind them. A rictus of cruel malignity lit
up greyly their old bony faces. One was clasping about his ribs a torn
flannel waistcoat, another complained monotonously as his beard stuck
in the tufted weeds. Soft language issued from their spittleless lips
as they swished in slow circles round and round the field, winding
hither and thither through the weeds, dragging their long tails amid
the rattling canisters. They moved in slow circles, circling closer and
closer to enclose, to enclose, soft language issuing from their lips,
their long swishing tails besmeared with stale shite, thrusting upwards
their terrific faces...
He flung the blankets from him madly to free his face and neck. That
was his hell. God had allowed him to see the hell reserved for his
sins: stinking, bestial, malignant, a hell of lecherous goatish fiends.
For him! For him!
He sprang from the bed, the reeking odour pouring down his throat,
clogging and revolting his entrails. Air! The air of heaven! He
stumbled towards the window, groaning and almost fainting with
sickness. At the washstand a convulsion seized him within; and,
clasping his cold forehead wildly, he vomited profusely in agony.
When the fit had spent itself he walked weakly to the window and,
lifting the sash, sat in a corner of the embrasure and leaned his elbow
upon the sill. The rain had drawn off; and amid the moving vapours from
point to point of light the city was spinning about herself a soft
cocoon of yellowish haze. Heaven was still and faintly luminous and the
air sweet to breathe, as in a thicket drenched with showers; and amid
peace and shimmering lights and quiet fragrance he made a covenant with
--HE ONCE HAD MEANT TO COME ON EARTH IN HEAVENLY GLORY BUT WE SINNED; AND
THEN HE COULD NOT SAFELY VISIT US BUT WITH A SHROUDED MAJESTY AND A
BEDIMMED RADIANCE FOR HE WAS GOD. SO HE CAME HIMSELF IN WEAKNESS NOT IN
POWER AND HE SENT THEE, A CREATURE IN HIS STEAD, WITH A CREATURES
COMELINESS AND LUSTRE SUITED TO OUR STATE. AND NOW THY VERY FACE AND
FORM, DEAR MOTHER SPEAK TO US OF THE ETERNAL NOT LIKE EARTHLY BEAUTY,
DANGEROUS TO LOOK UPON, BUT LIKE THE MORNING STAR WHICH IS THY EMBLEM,
BRIGHT AND MUSICAL, BREATHING PURITY, TELLING OF HEAVEN AND INFUSING
PEACE. O HARBINGER OF DAY! O LIGHT OF THE PILGRIM! LEAD US STILL AS
THOU HAST LED. IN THE DARK NIGHT, ACROSS THE BLEAK WILDERNESS GUIDE US
ON TO OUR LORD JESUS, GUIDE US HOME.
His eyes were dimmed with tears and, looking humbly up to heaven, he
wept for the innocence he had lost.
When evening had fallen he left the house, and the first touch of the
damp dark air and the noise of the door as it closed behind him made
ache again his conscience, lulled by prayer and tears. Confess!
Confess! It was not enough to lull the conscience with a tear and a
prayer. He had to kneel before the minister of the Holy Ghost and tell
over his hidden sins truly and repentantly. Before he heard again the
footboard of the housedoor trail over the threshold as it opened to let
him in, before he saw again the table in the kitchen set for supper he
would have knelt and confessed. It was quite simple.
The ache of conscience ceased and he walked onward swiftly through the
dark streets. There were so many flagstones on the footpath of that
street and so many streets in that city and so many cities in the
world. Yet eternity had no end. He was in mortal sin. Even once was a
mortal sin. It could happen in an instant. But how so quickly? By
seeing or by thinking of seeing. The eyes see the thing, without having
wished first to see. Then in an instant it happens. But does that part
of the body understand or what? The serpent, the most subtle beast of
the field. It must understand when it desires in one instant and then
prolongs its own desire instant after instant, sinfully. It feels and
understands and desires. What a horrible thing! Who made it to be like
that, a bestial part of the body able to understand bestially and
desire bestially? Was that then he or an inhuman thing moved by a lower
soul? His soul sickened at the thought of a torpid snaky life feeding
itself out of the tender marrow of his life and fattening upon the
slime of lust. O why was that so? O why?
He cowered in the shadow of the thought, abasing himself in the awe of
God Who had made all things and all men. Madness. Who could think such
a thought? And, cowering in darkness and abject, he prayed mutely to
his guardian angel to drive away with his sword the demon that was
whispering to his brain.
The whisper ceased and he knew then clearly that his own soul had
sinned in thought and word and deed wilfully through his own body.
Confess! He had to confess every sin. How could he utter in words to
the priest what he had done? Must, must. Or how could he explain
without dying of shame? Or how could he have done such things without
shame? A madman! Confess! O he would indeed to be free and sinless
again! Perhaps the priest would know. O dear God!
He walked on and on through ill-lit streets, fearing to stand still for
a moment lest it might seem that he held back from what awaited him,
fearing to arrive at that towards which he still turned with longing.
How beautiful must be a soul in the state of grace when God looked upon
it with love!
Frowsy girls sat along the curbstones before their baskets. Their dank
hair hung trailed over their brows. They were not beautiful to see as
they crouched in the mire. But their souls were seen by God; and if
their souls were in a state of grace they were radiant to see: and God
loved them, seeing them.
A wasting breath of humiliation blew bleakly over his soul to think of
how he had fallen, to feel that those souls were dearer to God than
his. The wind blew over him and passed on to the myriads and myriads of
other souls on whom God's favour shone now more and now less, stars now
brighter and now dimmer sustained and failing. And the glimmering souls
passed away, sustained and failing, merged in a moving breath.
One soul was lost; a tiny soul: his. It flickered once and went
out, forgotten, lost. The end: black, cold, void waste.
Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract
of time unlit, unfelt, unlived. The squalid scene composed itself
around him; the common accents, the burning gas-jets in the shops,
odours of fish and spirits and wet sawdust, moving men and women. An
old woman was about to cross the street, an oilcan in her hand. He bent
down and asked her was there a chapel near.
--A chapel, sir? Yes, sir. Church Street chapel.
She shifted the can to her other hand and directed him; and, as she
held out her reeking withered right hand under its fringe of shawl, he
bent lower towards her, saddened and soothed by her voice.
--You are quite welcome, sir.
The candles on the high altar had been extinguished but the fragrance
of incense still floated down the dim nave. Bearded workmen with pious
faces were guiding a canopy out through a side door, the sacristan
aiding them with quiet gestures and words. A few of the faithful still
lingered praying before one of the side-altars or kneeling in the
benches near the confessionals. He approached timidly and knelt at the
last bench in the body, thankful for the peace and silence and fragrant
shadow of the church. The board on which he knelt was narrow and worn
and those who knelt near him were humble followers of Jesus. Jesus too
had been born in poverty and had worked in the shop of a carpenter,
cutting boards and planing them, and had first spoken of the kingdom of
God to poor fishermen, teaching all men to be meek and humble of heart.
He bowed his head upon his hands, bidding his heart be meek and humble
that he might be like those who knelt beside him and his prayer as
acceptable as theirs. He prayed beside them but it was hard. His soul
was foul with sin and he dared not ask forgiveness with the simple
trust of those whom Jesus, in the mysterious ways of God, had called
first to His side, the carpenters, the fishermen, poor and simple
people following a lowly trade, handling and shaping the wood of trees,
mending their nets with patience.
A tall figure came down the aisle and the penitents stirred; and at the
last moment, glancing up swiftly, he saw a long grey beard and the
brown habit of a capuchin. The priest entered the box and was hidden.
Two penitents rose and entered the confessional at either side. The
wooden slide was drawn back and the faint murmur of a voice troubled
His blood began to murmur in his veins, murmuring like a sinful city
summoned from its sleep to hear its doom. Little flakes of fire fell
and powdery ashes fell softly, alighting on the houses of men. They
stirred, waking from sleep, troubled by the heated air.
The slide was shot back. The penitent emerged from the side of the box.
The farther side was drawn. A woman entered quietly and deftly where
the first penitent had knelt. The faint murmur began again.
He could still leave the chapel. He could stand up, put one foot before
the other and walk out softly and then run, run, run swiftly through
the dark streets. He could still escape from the shame. Had it been any
terrible crime but that one sin! Had it been murder! Little fiery
flakes fell and touched him at all points, shameful thoughts, shameful
words, shameful acts. Shame covered him wholly like fine glowing ashes
falling continually. To say it in words! His soul, stifling and
helpless, would cease to be.
The slide was shot back. A penitent emerged from the farther side of
the box. The near slide was drawn. A penitent entered where the other
penitent had come out. A soft whispering noise floated in vaporous
cloudlets out of the box. It was the woman: soft whispering cloudlets,
soft whispering vapour, whispering and vanishing.
He beat his breast with his fist humbly, secretly under cover of the
wooden armrest. He would be at one with others and with God. He would
love his neighbour. He would love God who had made and loved him. He
would kneel and pray with others and be happy. God would look down on
him and on them and would love them all.
It was easy to be good. God's yoke was sweet and light. It was better
never to have sinned, to have remained always a child, for God loved
little children and suffered them to come to Him. It was a terrible and
a sad thing to sin. But God was merciful to poor sinners who were truly
sorry. How true that was! That was indeed goodness.
The slide was shot to suddenly. The penitent came out. He was next. He
stood up in terror and walked blindly into the box.
At last it had come. He knelt in the silent gloom and raised his eyes
to the white crucifix suspended above him. God could see that he was
sorry. He would tell all his sins. His confession would be long, long.
Everybody in the chapel would know then what a sinner he had been. Let
them know. It was true. But God had promised to forgive him if he was
sorry. He was sorry. He clasped his hands and raised them towards the
white form, praying with his darkened eyes, praying with all his
trembling body, swaying his head to and fro like a lost creature,
praying with whimpering lips.
--Sorry! Sorry! O sorry!
The slide clicked back and his heart bounded in his breast. The face of
an old priest was at the grating, averted from him, leaning upon a
hand. He made the sign of the cross and prayed of the priest to bless
him for he had sinned. Then, bowing his head, he repeated the CONFITEOR
in fright. At the words MY MOST GRIEVOUS FAULT he ceased, breathless.
--How long is it since your last confession, my child?
--A long time, father.
--A month, my child?
--Three months, my child?
--Eight months, father.
He had begun. The priest asked:
--And what do you remember since that time?
He began to confess his sins: masses missed, prayers not said, lies.
--Anything else, my child?
Sins of anger, envy of others, gluttony, vanity, disobedience.
--Anything else, my child?
There was no help. He murmured:
--I... committed sins of impurity, father.
The priest did not turn his head.
--With yourself, my child?
--And... with others.
--With women, my child?
--Were they married women, my child?
He did not know. His sins trickled from his lips, one by one, trickled
in shameful drops from his soul, festering and oozing like a sore, a
squalid stream of vice. The last sins oozed forth, sluggish, filthy.
There was no more to tell. He bowed his head, overcome.
The Priest was silent. Then he asked:
--How old are you, my child?
The priest passed his hand several times over his face. Then, resting
his forehead against his hand, he leaned towards the grating and, with
eyes still averted, spoke slowly. His voice was weary and old.
--You are very young, my child, he said, and let me implore of you to
give up that sin. It is a terrible sin. It kills the body and it kills
the soul. It is the cause of many crimes and misfortunes. Give it up,
my child, for God's sake. It is dishonourable and unmanly. You cannot
know where that wretched habit will lead you or where it will come
against you. As long as you commit that sin, my poor child, you will
never be worth one farthing to God. Pray to our mother Mary to help
you. She will help you, my child. Pray to Our Blessed Lady when that
sin comes into your mind. I am sure you will do that, will you not? You
repent of all those sins. I am sure you do. And you will promise God
now that by His holy grace you will never offend Him any more by that
wicked sin. You will make that solemn promise to God, will you not?
The old and weary voice fell like sweet rain upon his quaking parching
heart. How sweet and sad!
--Do so my poor child. The devil has led you astray. Drive him back to
hell when he tempts you to dishonour your body in that way--the foul
spirit who hates our Lord. Promise God now that you will give up that
sin, that wretched wretched sin.
Blinded by his tears and by the light of God's mercifulness he bent his
head and heard the grave words of absolution spoken and saw the
priest's hand raised above him in token of forgiveness.
--God bless you, my child. Pray for me.
He knelt to say his penance, praying in a corner of the dark nave; and
his prayers ascended to heaven from his purified heart like perfume
streaming upwards from a heart of white rose.
The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an
invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all
he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was
made fair and holy once more, holy and happy.
It would be beautiful to die if God so willed. It was beautiful to live
in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.
He sat by the fire in the kitchen, not daring to speak for happiness.
Till that moment he had not known how beautiful and peaceful life could
be. The green square of paper pinned round the lamp cast down a tender
shade. On the dresser was a plate of sausages and white pudding and on
the shelf there were eggs. They would be for the breakfast in the
morning after the communion in the college chapel. White pudding and
eggs and sausages and cups of tea. How simple and beautiful was life
after all! And life lay all before him.
In a dream he fell asleep. In a dream he rose and saw that it was
morning. In a waking dream he went through the quiet morning towards
The boys were all there, kneeling in their places. He knelt among them,
happy and shy. The altar was heaped with fragrant masses of white
flowers; and in the morning light the pale flames of the candles among
the white flowers were clear and silent as his own soul.
He knelt before the altar with his classmates, holding the altar cloth
with them over a living rail of hands. His hands were trembling and his
soul trembled as he heard the priest pass with the ciborium from
communicant to communicant.
--CORPUS DOMINI NOSTRI.
Could it be? He knelt there sinless and timid; and he would hold upon
his tongue the host and God would enter his purified body.
--IN VITAM ETERNAM. AMEN.
Another life! A life of grace and virtue and happiness! It was true. It
was not a dream from which he would wake. The past was past.
--CORPUS DOMINI NOSTRI.
The ciborium had come to him.
Sunday was dedicated to the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Monday to the
Holy Ghost, Tuesday to the Guardian Angels, Wednesday to saint Joseph,
Thursday to the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, Friday to the
Suffering Jesus, Saturday to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Every morning he hallowed himself anew in the presence of some holy
image or mystery. His day began with an heroic offering of its every
moment of thought or action for the intentions of the sovereign pontiff
and with an early mass. The raw morning air whetted his resolute piety;
and often as he knelt among the few worshippers at the side-altar,
following with his interleaved prayer-book the murmur of the priest, he
glanced up for an instant towards the vested figure standing in the
gloom between the two candles, which were the old and the new
testaments, and imagined that he was kneeling at mass in the catacombs.
His daily life was laid out in devotional areas. By means of
ejaculations and prayers he stored up ungrudgingly for the souls in
purgatory centuries of days and quarantines and years; yet the
spiritual triumph which he felt in achieving with ease so many fabulous
ages of canonical penances did not wholly reward his zeal of prayer,
since he could never know how much temporal punishment he had remitted
by way of suffrage for the agonizing souls; and fearful lest in the
midst of the purgatorial fire, which differed from the infernal only in
that it was not everlasting, his penance might avail no more than a
drop of moisture, he drove his soul daily through an increasing circle
of works of supererogation.
Every part of his day, divided by what he regarded now as the duties of
his station in life, circled about its own centre of spiritual energy.
His life seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word,
and deed, every instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate
radiantly in heaven; and at times his sense of such immediate
repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion
pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see
the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a
number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower.
The rosaries, too, which he said constantly--for he carried his beads
loose in his trousers' pockets that he might tell them as he walked the
streets--transformed themselves into coronals of flowers of such vague
unearthly texture that they seemed to him as hueless and odourless as
they were nameless. He offered up each of his three daily chaplets that
his soul might grow strong in each of the three theological virtues, in
faith in the Father Who had created him, in hope in the Son Who had
redeemed him and in love of the Holy Ghost Who had sanctified him; and
this thrice triple prayer he offered to the Three Persons through Mary
in the name of her joyful and sorrowful and glorious mysteries.
On each of the seven days of the week he further prayed that one of the
seven gifts of the Holy Ghost might descend upon his soul and drive out
of it day by day the seven deadly sins which had defiled it in the
past; and he prayed for each gift on its appointed day, confident that
it would descend upon him, though it seemed strange to him at times
that wisdom and understanding and knowledge were so distinct in their
nature that each should be prayed for apart from the others. Yet he
believed that at some future stage of his spiritual progress this
difficulty would be removed when his sinful soul had been raised up
from its weakness and enlightened by the Third Person of the Most
Blessed Trinity. He believed this all the more, and with trepidation,
because of the divine gloom and silence wherein dwelt the unseen
Paraclete, Whose symbols were a dove and a mighty wind, to sin against
Whom was a sin beyond forgiveness, the eternal mysterious secret Being
to Whom, as God, the priests offered up mass once a year, robed in the
scarlet of the tongues of fire.
The imagery through which the nature and kinship of the Three Persons
of the Trinity were darkly shadowed forth in the books of devotion
which he read--the Father contemplating from all eternity as in a
mirror His Divine Perfections and thereby begetting eternally the
Eternal Son and the Holy Spirit proceeding out of Father and Son from
all eternity--were easier of acceptance by his mind by reason of their
august incomprehensibility than was the simple fact that God had loved
his soul from all eternity, for ages before he had been born into the
world, for ages before the world itself had existed.
He had heard the names of the passions of love and hate pronounced
solemnly on the stage and in the pulpit, had found them set forth
solemnly in books and had wondered why his soul was unable to harbour
them for any time or to force his lips to utter their names with
conviction. A brief anger had often invested him but he had never been
able to make it an abiding passion and had always felt himself passing
out of it as if his very body were being divested with ease of some
outer skin or peel. He had felt a subtle, dark, and murmurous presence
penetrate his being and fire him with a brief iniquitous lust: it, too,
had slipped beyond his grasp leaving his mind lucid and indifferent.
This, it seemed, was the only love and that the only hate his soul
But he could no longer disbelieve in the reality of love, since God
Himself had loved his individual soul with divine love from all
eternity. Gradually, as his soul was enriched with spiritual knowledge,
he saw the whole world forming one vast symmetrical expression of God's
power and love. Life became a divine gift for every moment and
sensation of which, were it even the sight of a single leaf hanging on
the twig of a tree, his soul should praise and thank the Giver. The
world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer existed for
his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.
So entire and unquestionable was this sense of the divine meaning in
all nature granted to his soul that he could scarcely understand why it
was in any way necessary that he should continue to live. Yet that was
part of the divine purpose and he dared not question its use, he above
all others who had sinned so deeply and so foully against the divine
purpose. Meek and abased by this consciousness of the one eternal
omnipresent perfect reality his soul took up again her burden of
pieties, masses and prayers and sacraments and mortifications, and only
then for the first time since he had brooded on the great mystery of
love did he feel within him a warm movement like that of some newly
born life or virtue of the soul itself. The attitude of rapture in
sacred art, the raised and parted hands, the parted lips and eyes as of
one about to swoon, became for him an image of the soul in prayer,
humiliated and faint before her Creator.
But he had been forewarned of the dangers of spiritual exaltation and
did not allow himself to desist from even the least or lowliest
devotion, striving also by constant mortification to undo the sinful
past rather than to achieve a saintliness fraught with peril. Each of
his senses was brought under a rigorous discipline. In order to mortify
the sense of sight he made it his rule to walk in the street with
downcast eyes, glancing neither to right nor left and never behind him.
His eyes shunned every encounter with the eyes of women. From time to
time also he balked them by a sudden effort of the will, as by lifting
them suddenly in the middle of an unfinished sentence and closing the
book. To mortify his hearing he exerted no control over his voice which
was then breaking, neither sang nor whistled, and made no attempt to
flee from noises which caused him painful nervous irritation such as
the sharpening of knives on the knife board, the gathering of cinders
on the fire-shovel and the twigging of the carpet. To mortify his smell
was more difficult as he found in himself no instinctive repugnance to
bad odours whether they were the odours of the outdoor world, such as
those of dung or tar, or the odours of his own person among which he
had made many curious comparisons and experiments. He found in the end
that the only odour against which his sense of smell revolted was a
certain stale fishy stink like that of long-standing urine; and
whenever it was possible he subjected himself to this unpleasant odour.
To mortify the taste he practised strict habits at table, observed to
the letter all the fasts of the church and sought by distraction to
divert his mind from the savours of different foods. But it was to the
mortification of touch he brought the most assiduous ingenuity of
inventiveness. He never consciously changed his position in bed, sat in
the most uncomfortable positions, suffered patiently every itch and
pain, kept away from the fire, remained on his knees all through the
mass except at the gospels, left part of his neck and face undried so
that air might sting them and, whenever he was not saying his beads,
carried his arms stiffly at his sides like a runner and never in his
pockets or clasped behind him.
He had no temptations to sin mortally. It surprised him however to find
that at the end of his course of intricate piety and self-restraint he
was so easily at the mercy of childish and unworthy imperfections. His
prayers and fasts availed him little for the suppression of anger at
hearing his mother sneeze or at being disturbed in his devotions. It
needed an immense effort of his will to master the impulse which urged
him to give outlet to such irritation. Images of the outbursts of
trivial anger which he had often noted among his masters, their
twitching mouths, close-shut lips and flushed cheeks, recurred to his
memory, discouraging him, for all his practice of humility, by the
comparison. To merge his life in the common tide of other lives was
harder for him than any fasting or prayer and it was his constant
failure to do this to his own satisfaction which caused in his soul at
last a sensation of spiritual dryness together with a growth of doubts
and scruples. His soul traversed a period of desolation in which the
sacraments themselves seemed to have turned into dried-up sources. His
confession became a channel for the escape of scrupulous and unrepented
imperfections. His actual reception of the eucharist did not bring him
the same dissolving moments of virginal self-surrender as did those
spiritual communions made by him sometimes at the close of some visit
to the Blessed Sacrament. The book which he used for these visits was
an old neglected book written by saint Alphonsus Liguori, with fading
characters and sere foxpapered leaves. A faded world of fervent love
and virginal responses seemed to be evoked for his soul by the reading
of its pages in which the imagery of the canticles was interwoven with
the communicant's prayers. An inaudible voice seemed to caress the
soul, telling her names and glories, bidding her arise as for espousal
and come away, bidding her look forth, a spouse, from Amana and from
the mountains of the leopards; and the soul seemed to answer with the
same inaudible voice, surrendering herself: INTER UBERA MEA
This idea of surrender had a perilous attraction for his mind now that
he felt his soul beset once again by the insistent voices of the flesh
which began to murmur to him again during his prayers and meditations.
It gave him an intense sense of power to know that he could, by a
single act of consent, in a moment of thought, undo all that he had
done. He seemed to feel a flood slowly advancing towards his naked feet
and to be waiting for the first faint timid noiseless wavelet to touch
his fevered skin. Then, almost at the instant of that touch, almost at
the verge of sinful consent, he found himself standing far away from
the flood upon a dry shore, saved by a sudden act of the will or a
sudden ejaculation; and, seeing the silver line of the flood far away
and beginning again its slow advance towards his feet, a new thrill of
power and satisfaction shook his soul to know that he had not yielded
nor undone all.
When he had eluded the flood of temptation many times in this way he
grew troubled and wondered whether the grace which he had refused to
lose was not being filched from him little by little. The clear
certitude of his own immunity grew dim and to it succeeded a vague fear
that his soul had really fallen unawares. It was with difficulty that
he won back his old consciousness of his state of grace by telling
himself that he had prayed to God at every temptation and that the
grace which he had prayed for must have been given to him inasmuch as
God was obliged to give it. The very frequency and violence of
temptations showed him at last the truth of what he had heard about the
trials of the saints. Frequent and violent temptations were a proof
that the citadel of the soul had not fallen and that the devil raged to
make it fall.
Often when he had confessed his doubts and scruples--some momentary
inattention at prayer, a movement of trivial anger in his soul, or a
subtle wilfulness in speech or act--he was bidden by his confessor to
name some sin of his past life before absolution was given him. He
named it with humility and shame and repented of it once more. It
humiliated and shamed him to think that he would never be freed from it
wholly, however holily he might live or whatever virtues or perfections
he might attain. A restless feeling of guilt would always be present
with him: he would confess and repent and be absolved, confess and
repent again and be absolved again, fruitlessly. Perhaps that first
hasty confession wrung from him by the fear of hell had not been good?
Perhaps, concerned only for his imminent doom, he had not had sincere
sorrow for his sin? But the surest sign that his confession had been
good and that he had had sincere sorrow for his sin was, he knew, the
amendment of his life.
--I have amended my life, have I not? he asked himself.
* * * * *
The director stood in the embrasure of the window, his back to the
light, leaning an elbow on the brown crossblind, and, as he spoke and
smiled, slowly dangling and looping the cord of the other blind,
Stephen stood before him, following for a moment with his eyes the
waning of the long summer daylight above the roofs or the slow deft
movements of the priestly fingers. The priest's face was in total
shadow, but the waning daylight from behind him touched the deeply
grooved temples and the curves of the skull.
Stephen followed also with his ears the accents and intervals of the
priest's voice as he spoke gravely and cordially of indifferent themes,
the vacation which had just ended, the colleges of the order abroad,
the transference of masters. The grave and cordial voice went on easily
with its tale and in the pauses Stephen felt bound to set it on again
with respectful questions. He knew that the tale was a prelude and his
mind waited for the sequel. Ever since the message of summons had come
for him from the director his mind had struggled to find the meaning of
the message; and, during the long restless time he had sat in the
college parlour waiting for the director to come in, his eyes had
wandered from one sober picture to another around the walls and his
mind wandered from one guess to another until the meaning of the
summons had almost become clear. Then, just as he was wishing that some
unforeseen cause might prevent the director from coming, he had heard
the handle of the door turning and the swish of a soutane.
The director had begun to speak of the dominican and franciscan orders
and of the friendship between saint Thomas and saint Bonaventure. The
capuchin dress, he thought, was rather too...
Stephen's face gave back the priest's indulgent smile and, not being
anxious to give an opinion, he made a slight dubitative movement with
--I believe, continued the director, that there is some talk now among
the capuchins themselves of doing away with it and following the
example of the other franciscans.
--I suppose they would retain it in the cloisters? said Stephen.
--O certainly, said the director. For the cloister it is all right but
for the street I really think it would be better to do away with it,
--It must be troublesome, I imagine.
--Of course it is, of course. Just imagine when I was in Belgium I
used to see them out cycling in all kinds of weather with this thing up
about their knees! It was really ridiculous. LES JUPES, they call them
The vowel was so modified as to be indistinct.
--What do they call them?
Stephen smiled again in answer to the smile which he could not see on
the priest's shadowed face, its image or spectre only passing rapidly
across his mind as the low discreet accent fell upon his ear. He gazed
calmly before him at the waning sky, glad of the cool of the evening
and of the faint yellow glow which hid the tiny flame kindling upon his
The names of articles of dress worn by women or of certain soft and
delicate stuffs used in their making brought always to his mind a
delicate and sinful perfume. As a boy he had imagined the reins by
which horses are driven as slender silken bands and it shocked him to
feel at Stradbrooke the greasy leather of harness. It had shocked him,
too, when he had felt for the first time beneath his tremulous fingers
the brittle texture of a woman's stocking for, retaining nothing of all
he read save that which seemed to him an echo or a prophecy of his own
state, it was only amid soft-worded phrases or within rose-soft stuffs
that he dared to conceive of the soul or body of a woman moving with
But the phrase on the priest's lips was disingenuous for he knew that a
priest should not speak lightly on that theme. The phrase had been
spoken lightly with design and he felt that his face was being searched
by the eyes in the shadow. Whatever he had heard or read of the craft
of jesuits he had put aside frankly as not borne out by his own
experience. His masters, even when they had not attracted him,
had seemed to him always intelligent and serious priests,
athletic and high-spirited prefects. He thought of them as men
who washed their bodies briskly with cold water and wore clean cold
linen. During all the years he had lived among them in Clongowes and in
Belvedere he had received only two pandies and, though these had been
dealt him in the wrong, he knew that he had often escaped punishment.
During all those years he had never heard from any of his masters a
flippant word: it was they who had taught him christian doctrine and
urged him to live a good life and, when he had fallen into grievous
sin, it was they who had led him back to grace. Their presence had made
him diffident of himself when he was a muff in Clongowes and it had made
him diffident of himself also while he had held his equivocal position
in Belvedere. A constant sense of this had remained with him up to the
last year of his school life. He had never once disobeyed or allowed
turbulent companions to seduce him from his habit of quiet obedience;
and, even when he doubted some statement of a master, he had never
presumed to doubt openly. Lately some of their judgements had sounded a
little childish in his ears and had made him feel a regret and pity as
though he were slowly passing out of an accustomed world and were
hearing its language for the last time. One day when some boys had
gathered round a priest under the shed near the chapel, he had heard
the priest say:
--I believe that Lord Macaulay was a man who probably never committed
a mortal sin in his life, that is to say, a deliberate mortal sin.
Some of the boys had then asked the priest if Victor Hugo were not the
greatest French writer. The priest had answered that Victor Hugo had
never written half so well when he had turned against the church as he
had written when he was a catholic.
--But there are many eminent French critics, said the priest, who
consider that even Victor Hugo, great as he certainly was, had not so
pure a French style as Louis Veuillot.
The tiny flame which the priest's allusion had kindled upon Stephen's
cheek had sunk down again and his eyes were still fixed calmly on the
colourless sky. But an unresting doubt flew hither and thither before
his mind. Masked memories passed quickly before him: he recognized
scenes and persons yet he was conscious that he had failed to perceive
some vital circumstance in them. He saw himself walking about the
grounds watching the sports in Clongowes and eating slim jim out of his
cricket cap. Some jesuits were walking round the cycle-track in the
company of ladies. The echoes of certain expressions used in Clongowes
sounded in remote caves of his mind.
His ears were listening to these distant echoes amid the silence of the
parlour when he became aware that the priest was addressing him in a
--I sent for you today, Stephen, because I wished to speak to you on a
very important subject.
--Have you ever felt that you had a vocation?
Stephen parted his lips to answer yes and then withheld the word
suddenly. The priest waited for the answer and added:
--I mean, have you ever felt within yourself, in your soul, a desire
to join the order? Think.
--I have sometimes thought of it, said Stephen.
The priest let the blindcord fall to one side and, uniting his hands,
leaned his chin gravely upon them, communing with himself.
--In a college like this, he said at length, there is one boy or perhaps
two or three boys whom God calls to the religious life. Such a boy is
marked off from his companions by his piety, by the good example he
shows to others. He is looked up to by them; he is chosen perhaps as
prefect by his fellow sodalists. And you, Stephen, have been such a boy
in this college, prefect of Our Blessed Lady's sodality. Perhaps you
are the boy in this college whom God designs to call to Himself.
A strong note of pride reinforcing the gravity of the priest's voice
made Stephen's heart quicken in response.
To receive that call, Stephen, said the priest, is the greatest honour
that the Almighty God can bestow upon a man. No king or emperor on this
earth has the power of the priest of God. No angel or archangel in
heaven, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, has the power of
a priest of God: the power of the keys, the power to bind and to loose
from sin, the power of exorcism, the power to cast out from the
creatures of God the evil spirits that have power over them; the power,
the authority, to make the great God of Heaven come down upon the altar
and take the form of bread and wine. What an awful power, Stephen!
A flame began to flutter again on Stephen's cheek as he heard in this
proud address an echo of his own proud musings. How often had he seen
himself as a priest wielding calmly and humbly the awful power
of which angels and saints stood in reverence! His soul had loved
to muse in secret on this desire. He had seen himself, a young
and silent-mannered priest, entering a confessional swiftly,
ascending the altarsteps, incensing, genuflecting, accomplishing