Excerpts from
Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
TAN Books and Publishers

Book I: The Greatest Work of God


THE beauty of a justified soul is hidden from the bodily eye. Even the understanding is only able to appreciate it very faintly, and by its consequences, rather than as it is in itself. We know that it is a change from spiritual death to life, from the anger of God to His intense complacency, and that it has already in itself the germs of heaven which death alone is needed to develop. Hence we infer its transcending beauty. Nay, even our Christian discernment does not appreciate it, as it deserves to be appreciated. We still feel personal antipathies and repulsions, such as are possibly without sin or damage to charity, for souls which we believe to have been now justified. This alone proves that we do not so clearly discern the spiritual beauty of a justified soul as that it should instantaneously overbear all past associations and repugnances, and turn them, as it does with God, into positive and abounding love. But if the beauty of justification is hidden in its plenitude, even from Saints, what shall we say of the beauty of that other work of God, the Glorification of the Just? If it be true that he was the frequent companion of the Boy of Nazareth, long years had St. John the Evangelist been conversant with Jesus. As the novice of the Baptist, he had gazed with love and awe upon his master's form of sanctity, solitary, austere, silent, a growth of the wilderness, of miraculous loneliness, of astonishing abstinence, of companionship with the wild beasts, and of familiarity with the Angels. Then he had passed into that other school of Jesus. He had seen the beauty of His actions, and the celestial loveliness of His life and conversation. He had felt himself many a time breathless and absorbed in the mere atmosphere of sanctity which encompassed him round about. EUCHARISTIC ANGELHe had climbed Tabor, and had shaded his dazzled eyes from the white light of the Transfiguration. Yet, even to his beauty-practised eye, so glorious was the beatified spirit of an Angel that he was fain, as he tells us in the Apocalypse, to full down before his feet and worship him. Well might St. Philip, as a vision faded from him, say that words could not tell the beauty of a soul that has died in a state of grace. Think of the stains that are washed out of it, of the marks of grace that furrow it, of the sacramental characters that are impressed upon it, of the lineaments of the soul of Jesus that are reflected in it. Count up the imperfections and infirmities that are annihilated in it, or rather that have bloomed into the opposite graces and perfections. Measure its new powers, its height and breadth and depth of science, vision, immortality and love, and above all its safe immutability, which no intrinsic faculty, but the beaming Face of the Vision ensures to it now. Picture the infused habits and engrafted virtues, that were so beautiful, so indescribable in the saint on earth, and which have now broken out in refulgent blossoms for which earth's language has no names, and whose odour may inebriate the spirits of angelic choirs themselves. See how it traverses vast regions of the Divine Perfections, not open to the ken of mortal scholarship, how it sounds the depths, and bathes itself in the light, and drinks of the beauty, and seems as though it were itself magnified to a grandeur resembling His who has clothed it with Himself! And can this be our own soul, the same soul which we knew to be so poor, so little, so weakly, so limited in its range, so untrustworthy in its resolutions, so feeble in its perseverance, so ignoble a lover of itself? Calculate, and allow for, the mighty action of the cleansing fires of Purgatory for centuries and centuries if you will: yet even then, what must the majesty of that process be, which can make so marvellous a change?

But the work is not yet complete. The Body has to be glorified as well. The corruptible has to dawn into incorruptibility, the mortal to put on immortality. The four superb gifts of our glorified bodies, of which theology speaks, what are they, but almost a new nature to us? Certainly a new mode of being. What is impassibility to him who has forgotten in the long years what the abounding sense of robust health is like, and who has weakness in every limb, and a pain in every nerve, and a languor in every sense, and a head that aches always? What is charity to the age-worn face, to the care-marked brow, to the pain-dulled eye? What is agility to our slow, toiling, contracted, imprisoned efforts, but as if a portion of God's omnipotence had been imparted to us? What is subtlety to us, but as if we had been called to enjoy with God the privilege of His immensity, the secret of His omnipresence? Look at the whole world today, unroll the chronicles of its past history, and see the might of sensual pleasure, and the enormous revolutions, physical, moral, and intellectual, which its bewildering intoxication has brought about: and reflect, that as the worm is to the seraph, so are our souls here, their keenness, delicacy, spirituality, intensity of delights, compass of objects, rapidity of transition, permanence of impressions, to what they will be when they have burst the hampering ligaments of mortality, and are developed in the mystery of a glorious resurrection. Language will hardly help us to ideas here, because all these things stretch out so far beyond our present comprehension. They belong to another world, to another state of being, to the Glorification of the Just. How lovely must the soul be which is modelled on the Soul of Jesus, how glorious the body of which His is the exemplar and the type! And all this, leaving out of account that one gift, which when we think of it casts all the rest into the shade, the rapturous all-sufficient Vision of the Undivided Trinity! It needs only that death should find us in a state of grace, and that to one benign touch of his cold wand, we should superadd or not, as the case may be, the sifting action of the purgatorial fires, and all this unutterably heavenly work is accomplished in ourselves. Oh nothing makes us feel the likelihood of our being lost, so much as realizing the grandeur of being saved!

O dear mystery of Glory! why do we not call thee to mind more often than we do? Surely we stand in need of it. How weary we grow in well-doing. What a strange life is the spiritual life; to overcome one obstacle is only a guarantee that a worse one will be given us to overcome; labour leads to labour and away from rest. A temptation vanquished is only a miraculous multiplication of temptations; and the devils, like the flies, come in greater crowds the more we beat them away. How long can we go on? It seems desperate, an affair of moments, like the struggles of a drowning man to keep himself on the surface. The longer we persevere the more impossible does perseverance seem. Of many things it may be true that the first blow is half the battle; who will dare to say it is so with the spiritual life? Yet sometimes we turn from the thought of glory as if it were a selfish and unworthy thought, a not loving God for His own sake, nor an exclusive seeking of His sole glory. But is this wisdom? Is it humility? Alas! who has not found out that they who talk most of the necessity of bodily mortifications, are just those who practise fewest of them? So they who would have nought but disinterested love and perfect self-oblivion, as an abiding and habitual state, and who cast away the hope of glory as too low for them, an imperfect motive, a reflection upon God, too often fall so much lower still, that sometimes it would have been well for them if they had kept to the humble and restraining fear of Hell. Not such was the lowly wisdom of the Psalmist, I have inclined my heart to perform Thy justifications for ever, because of the retribution! Set but the thought of Heaven to fight with the sight of earth, and we ourselves in our inmost souls shall have peace to think of God.

But it is time for us to compare this mystery of Glorification with that of Transubstantiation; and if we look at the parts which compose the former, we shall see that the latter possesses them all, and further, that it possesses them in a more excellent way, and further still, that it possesses them with circumstances which greatly enhance its value and heighten its beauty as a work of God. For what is the soul of the greatest Saint, or even of the prince of the Apostles, or still more, of the Immaculate Mother herself, compared with the Human Soul of Jesus, so peculiarly present in the Blessed Sacrament? Of all glorified souls His is the king and first-born. Whatsoever of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of holiness, can be predicated of any soul, or of all souls together in glory, must be said of His multiplied a thousand fold, and even then its highest excellencies would remain unsaid. So among the glorified bodies of His servants, those few that may have been raised to glory already, and those multitudes that shall be raised at the last day, can any compare with His, which possesses not only all the gifts of glorified bodies in the highest degree, but has those five beautiful and sunlike wounds, as so many peculiar fountains of incomparable sweetness and attraction, and is as it were translucent and radiant with the beauty of the Eternal Word? Nay, His Soul and His Body are the very models upon which ours are to be glorified when doomsday comes. It is the image of His Body into which we ourselves are to be transformed. And that Body and that Soul, with all the splendours of the plenitude of glory, are in the Blessed Sacrament. The object of the mystery of glory, the everlasting Godhead, the source of all beatitude, the cause of heavenly joys, that sea in which all the glorified live and love and rejoice for evermore, that too is in the Blessed Sacrament. The Vision of the Godhead, the Beatific Vision, which is something separable from the Object seen and from the Soul that sees,-----the Vision itself is also there; for the Soul of Jesus is enjoying it beneath the species. And when we remember that this Soul, Body, Godhead and Vision are all brought to us in this poor world, on this earth, before death, and at a mortal's word, by the mystery of Transubstantiation: and that through Holy Communion it is not merely outside of us, but inside us, by a union so close and intimate that it cannot adequately be expressed, who can doubt but that amid the glory of the works of God, where all are glorious, all supremely beautiful, the glory of Transubstantiation is greater than the glory of everlasting blessedness in Heaven? For what is that but saying that His glory is more beautiful than ours?

Having thus ventured to compare these great works of God one with another, let me repeat the warning and the protest which I made at the beginning. Such an examination cannot be made, as if we could detect some flaw or imperfection in the works of God, or a method of operation which might have been more spiritual or more to the purpose. Although the liberty of God is not bound, as the optimists teach, to do everything in the most perfect way, it is certain that all His works are perfect, all of them complete, all of them admirable, and the least of them beyond our understanding. The very words of God are works, for they accomplish infallibly the ends whereto they are sent: and His works attain their precise effect with a fittingness which His infinite wisdom alone can appreciate. It is a consequence of God's immensity that with Him there is no such thing as great and small, because all things are without measure in Him. Thus when we compare one work of God with another, it is not as if one cast the other into the shade, or as if we could do better without one than without another, or as if the brightness of one paled and faded away in the mastering light of another. Neither by instituting such a comparison do we pretend to suppose that we can exhaust the ends which God had in view in any particular work, or say that He had but one end in view, and that one end is commensurate with the entire work, or select one end out of many as the chief end at which God aimed, the primary object to which all others are secondary and subordinate. All this would be presumption, would be wanting in the deep reverence which all the vestiges of God are calculated to excite, and would be contrary to that spirit of adoration which all intelligent research into the Divine ways necessarily brings along with it. All the external operations of God are doubtless marked by the same unity, which is the privilege of His inferior life, as Three Persons and One God. One mystery grows out of another; they touch upon each other; they gravitate towards or revolve round each other. We cannot map them out, as we do the stars of heaven, and assign to each its fixed and proper path. If we endeavour to ascertain their influence upon each other, it is only because Holy Scripture and the Church furnish us with certain data to proceed upon. And as to their weight, we may weigh in our scales the bulk of the enormous sun, but never can we weigh the bulk of the least of God's external operations. The object therefore of all such comparisons is not so much to decide and dogmatize, as to teach ourselves, and to worship God while we are learning. We look at the Divine mysteries from such points of view as are open to us. We apply our own methods of reasoning to them, our own standards, measures, quantities, canons; and holding fast to the analogy of faith, we seem by all this investigation to obtain a clearer idea of God's works, fresh grounds for loving Him, and more intelligent methods of devotion. Tradidit mundum disputationibus, says the Wise Man; and in like manner as He gave over to our disputations His material creation, so in Catholic theology has He invited us to the far more sublime discussion of His spiritual creation. But it must be in no light spirit that we venture on such a comparison. It must be our delight to stand by the side of God, and watch Him work in the fields of nature, grace, and glory. Yet while the benignant skill and affectionate provision of our compassionate Father move us many times to tears of burning love, it is the spirit of adoration which reigns as supremely as love itself over our hearts and understandings. The neighbourhood of God, the wonder of His ways, the magnitude of His operations, the awfulness of His peaceful and unstraining labour, the way in which unpliant matter, or resisting spirits, or unproductive nothingness, flow into His Hands, silent, obedient, ready, the all-holy presidency of unutterable justice over all he does,-----these things seem almost to annihilate us, almost to reduce us into the void from which He once lovingly evoked us. Vain thoughts and rash words and frivolous judgments all stand rebuked in the presence of the Most High; and after all, when even our thoughts have been adoration, and our words prayers, and our judgments thanksgivings, we can never speak of God and of His ways but, when we have done, we are fain to kneel down and implore Him to forgive us for the curiosity of our eyes and the presumption of our words. In this way let us close our present enquiry; for when we love, we love Him so unworthily, and when we praise, we praise Him so ungracefully, that our very love and praise themselves stand in need of his fatherly compassion.

We may now sum up the results of this Book, and see what progress we have made. We have first of all examined the various works of God and the admirable multitude of His external operations, as He has been pleased Himself to manifest them in His Church, His Word, and His World. From these, their diversities, their similitudes, and their obviously Divine unity, there have resulted certain canons of the beautiful and the sublime in the operations of the Divine Artist; and while these are drawn from the whole assemblage of the works of the Almighty, we can apply them again to each of his masterpieces, in order to determine, not so much the perfection, as the character of their beauty. The result has been the discovery that the mystery of Transubstantiation satisfies in itself each one of these canons, unites in itself everyone of them, and fulfills them all in the most excellent way and to the highest degree. But this was not enough for our purpose. We then selected those great and characteristic works of God, which seem necessary in addition to His own intrinsic perfections to complete the idea of Him which we have in our minds; such as Creation, Incarnation, justification, Glorification, and Transubstantiation. We examined each of them separately; and Transubstantiation, as our proper subject, at considerable length and with great minuteness; and then comparing these five works together, it seemed as if each of them had a characteristic excellence of its own; that Transubstantiation met each of them in the matter of this very excellence and overpassed them; that thus it united in itself, and in itself surpassed, all the characteristic excellences of the other four, and finally remained with peculiar prerogatives of its own to which the other works of God afforded not so much as a parallel. The enquiry was an interesting one in itself, as it led us to follow Catholic theologians through many fruitful questions and discussions, and filled us full of new love, admiration, and devotion for divine things, as it seemed to multiply and magnify the Hand of God whichever way we turned. But our chief object was to lay an intelligent basis for a great and seraphic devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It was to win greater confidence, even if for the while it fatigued your attention; and it was to prepare you to receive hereafter strong language and glowing description, as in reality the moderate expression of doctrinal sobriety, the unavoidably cold understatement of the real truth, and not as the mere pardonable rhetoric of devotional exaggeration.

In one word, what is the upshot of it all? The Blessed Sacrament is God. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is simply Divine worship. Turn it which way we will, throw the light of love and knowledge now on one side of it, now on another, still the result is the same, the one inexhaustible sweet fact, the Real Presence. In the hands of the priest, behind the crystal of the monstrance, on the tongue of the communicant, now, and for a thousand times, and almost at our will and pleasure, there are the Hands and Feet, the Eyes and Mouth, the swift Blood and living Heart of Him Whom Thomas touched and Magdalen was fain to touch, the Soul that delighted Limbus with its amazing beauty and set the prisoners free, nay the Eternal, Incomprehensible, Almighty Word who is everywhere and yet fixed there, the flashing fires of whose dear glory we could not bear to see, and so for love of us He stills them and He sheathes them in the quiet modesty of the Blessed Sacrament.


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