The swift December dusk had come tumbling clownishly after its dull day
and, as he stared through the dull square of the window of the
schoolroom, he felt his belly crave for its food. He hoped there would
be stew for dinner, turnips and carrots and bruised potatoes and fat
mutton pieces to be ladled out in thick peppered flour-fattened sauce.
Stuff it into you, his belly counselled him.
It would be a gloomy secret night. After early nightfall the yellow
lamps would light up, here and there, the squalid quarter of the
brothels. He would follow a devious course up and down the streets,
circling always nearer and nearer in a tremor of fear and joy, until
his feet led him suddenly round a dark corner. The whores would be just
coming out of their houses making ready for the night, yawning lazily
after their sleep and settling the hairpins in their clusters of hair.
He would pass by them calmly waiting for a sudden movement of his own
will or a sudden call to his sin-loving soul from their soft perfumed
flesh. Yet as he prowled in quest of that call, his senses, stultified
only by his desire, would note keenly all that wounded or shamed them;
his eyes, a ring of porter froth on a clothless table or a photograph
of two soldiers standing to attention or a gaudy playbill; his ears,
the drawling jargon of greeting:
--Hello, Bertie, any good in your mind?
--Is that you, pigeon?
--Number ten. Fresh Nelly is waiting on you.
--Good night, husband! Coming in to have a short time?
The equation on the page of his scribbler began to spread out a
widening tail, eyed and starred like a peacock's; and, when the eyes
and stars of its indices had been eliminated, began slowly to fold
itself together again. The indices appearing and disappearing were eyes
opening and closing; the eyes opening and closing were stars being born
and being quenched. The vast cycle of starry life bore his weary mind
outward to its verge and inward to its centre, a distant music
accompanying him outward and inward. What music? The music came nearer
and he recalled the words, the words of Shelley's fragment upon the
moon wandering companionless, pale for weariness. The stars began to
crumble and a cloud of fine stardust fell through space.
The dull light fell more faintly upon the page whereon another equation
began to unfold itself slowly and to spread abroad its widening tail.
It was his own soul going forth to experience, unfolding itself sin by
sin, spreading abroad the bale-fire of its burning stars and folding
back upon itself, fading slowly, quenching its own lights and fires.
They were quenched: and the cold darkness filled chaos.
A cold lucid indifference reigned in his soul. At his first violent sin
he had felt a wave of vitality pass out of him and had feared to find
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