Tyrrell, George (DNB12)

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TYRRELL, GEORGE (1861–1909), modernist, born at 91 Dorset Street, Dublin, on 6 Feb. 1861, was younger and posthumous son of William Henry Tyrrell, a Dublin journalist of some repute, by his 'second wife, Mary Chamney. Dr. Robert Yelverton Tyrrell of Trinity College, DubUn, was his first cousin. At Rathmines School, George, unlike his brother William, whose brilliant career as a scholar was cut short by death, gave no promise of future distinction. His religious training was of the evangelical type, but from his brother he early imbibed sceptical ideas. In 1875, however, he came under the influence of Dr. Maturin of Grange-gorman, whose moderate and devout high churchmanship sowed in him a seed that was afterwards quickened by Father Robert Dolling [q. v. Suppl. II]. Dolling did not oppose Tyrrell's eventual predilection for the Roman communion. He was received into that church on 18 May 1879, and forthwith became a postulant for admission into the Society of Jesus. After a year's probation in their college at Malta, he entered the novitiate at Manresa House, Roehampton, in September 1880, and in 1882 took the first vows. After a course of scholastic philosophy at Stony hurst College, he emerged in 1885 an ardent Thomist, and returned to the college at Malta, where he was employed as a school-master. Then followed, at St. Beuno's College, North Wales, the usual four years' theological course; which ended, he was ordained priest on 20 Sept. 1891, and served his tertianship at Manresa House in 1891-2. The next two years he spent in mission work at Oxford, Preston, and St. Helens; after which he lectured on philosophy at St. Mary's Hall, Stonyhurst, until his transference in 1896 to the literary staff at Farm Street, London. During Ins residence in London he produced three works of unimpeachable orthodoxy, viz. 'Nova et Vetera : Informal Meditations' (1897; 3rd edit. 1900); 'Hard Sayings: a Selection of Meditations and Studies' (1898); and 'External Religion: its Use and Abuse ' (1899). His views, no doubt, had been gradually broadening, but an article on Hell, entitled 'A Perverted Devotion,' which he contributed to the 'Weekly Register,' 16 December 1899, was the first unmistakable indication of the change. It raised a storm which compelled his retirement to the Mission House of his order at Richmond, Yorkshire, where he continued to reside in great seclusion so long as he remained a Jesuit. There he completed 'Oil and Wine' (1902; new edit. 1907) and 'Lex Orandi' (1903), the latter, the last of his works that bears the imprimatur, being an expansion of a pamphlet written under the pseudonym Dr. Ernest Engels and entitled 'Religion as a Factor of Life.' A sequel, 'Lex Credendi,' also appeared in 1906. In these two volumes the influence of the pragmatic school of philosophy is apparent, though Tyrrell resented being classed with the Pragmatists. 'The Church and the Future,' a translation privately printed about this time of an essay of a strongly liberal character, which he had written in French under the pseudonym Hilaire Bourdon, retained its pseudonymity until after Tyrrell's death; but the wide circulation incautiously given to a privately printed 'Letter to a Professor of Axithropology,' in which he dealt with the relations between faith and culture, brought about the final crisis in Tyrrell's relations with his order. Some passages from the 'Letter,' not altogether accurate but substantially authentic, were printed in the 'Corriere della Sera' of Slilan, 1 Jan. 1906. The authorship of the 'Letter' was imputed to Tyrrell, and as the passages in question amounted to an acknowledgment of the total untenability of the position of conservative Catholicism, and Tyrrell was unable to disavow them, he was dismissed from the Society of Jesus (February 1906). The subsequent publication of the peccant opuscule under the title 'A much abused Letter' (1906), with copious annotations by Tyrrell, completed his estrangement from the church. Unable to obtain episcopal recognition, he thenceforth resided chiefly at Storrington, Sussex, immersed in literary work. In 1907 the Vatican fulminated against modernism in the decree 'Lamentabili' (2 July) and the encyclical 'Pascendi' (8 Sept.), to which Tyrrell replied in two powerful and pungent letters to 'The Times' (30 Sept., 1 Oct.). This temerity brought upon him the minor excommunication, with reservation of his case to Rome. Meanwhile he recorded the development of his religious opinions in 'Through Scylla and Charybdis; or the Old Theology and the New' (1907), a work which thus corresponds to Newman's 'Apologia.' In 1908 Cardinal Mercier, archbishop of Mahnes, made modernism and Tyrrell as its protagonist the subject of an attack in his Lenten pastoral, which TyrreU repelled with great animation in a volume entitled 'Medievalism' (1908). This work was followed by 'Christianity at the Cross-Roads' (1909), in which he essayed to vindicate his essential fidelity to the 'idea' of Catholicism. It was hardly finished, when he was disabled by a severe illness, which terminated in his death at Storrington on 15 July 1909. As his case was reserved to Rome, and he had made no sign of retractation, the bishop of Southwark prohibited his interment with catholic rites. The funeral therefore took place on 21 July at the parish cemetery, Storrington, where his friend. Abbe Bremond, officiated, paid an eloquent tribute to his great qualities of mind and character, and blessed his grave.

The cardinal principle of Tyrrell's modernism is the strict delimitation of the contiguous provinces of revelation and theology. By revelation he means the evolution of religious experience as such. In his view that evolution, initiated by the deeper self-reflection commonly called mysticism, by man's recognition of himself as a being transcending space and time, and by his consequent inability to 'rest but in a conscious relation to the Universal and Eternal,' reached its final consummation in the spiritual life which Christ communicated to His apostles, and which in a lesser degree has been and still is shared by all the saints. The truth of revelation being thus 'not the truth of theological statement, but that of fact and experience,' it is, in Tyrrell's view, 'a patent fallacy to speak of a "development" of revelation as though it were a body of statements or theological propositions,' and the sole legitimate function of theology is ' the protection and preservation of revelation in its original form and purity.' Even to the dogmatic decisions of councils he therefore allows only a 'protective' value, as reassertive, by no means as ampliative. of revelation (Through Scylla and Charybdis, pp. 200 seq., 273-4, 291-3 seq.).

The actual doctrinal system of the church he regards as a 'pseudo-science' begotten of the ’dogmatic fallacy ' by which the 'figurative,' 'artless,' 'symbolic' and rather 'pragmatical' than 'speculative' utterances of revelation are tortured into a spurious logical exactitude and then employed as premisses of deductive reasoning. This system, 'full blown in all its hybrid enormity,' he dubs theologism (ib. pp. 204, 210-12, 231, 234 et seq.). Nor does he shrink from affirming that in regard to the mysteries of the Trinity in unity, the Incarnation and the Real Presence, the refinements of scholastic metaphysics are even further from the truth than the simple faith of the peasant (ib. pp. 97-103).

But after all Tyrrell finds himself unable to dispense with development. Some measure of doctrinal development he admits, but it is determined not by the subtle speculations of the schools, but by ’the spirit of Holiness' (Lex Orandi, pp. 209-13 ; Lex Credendi, pp. 1-3, 9-10). He also recognises a development, not dialectical but morphological, of the Christian idea as distinguished from the Christian revelation ; and thereby, in common with Newman and M. Loisy, he maintains the essential identity of the modern catholic church with the church of the apostles ; while as against the liberal protestant view of Jesus as merely the ideally just man, and of the Kingdom of Heaven as merely the reign of righteousness in men's hearts, he insists on the predominance of the 'otherworldly' over the ethical elements in the gospel. Neither in his ethics nor in his 'otherworldliness 'was Christ, indeed, original. The ethics were common to' the prophets, psalmists, and saints of the Jewish people, not to speak of the pagan moralists and saints,' the 'otherworldliness' was but 'the religious idea in a certain stage of development along a particular line,' i.e. the line of Jewish-^apocalyptic eschatology, e.g. the Book of Enoch {Christianity at the Cross-Roads, pp. 30-51, 65 et seq., 91). It is the emphasis that Jesus laid on the otherworldly idea, and his sense of oneness with God that effectually distinguish Him from all other religious teachers (ib. pp. 66, 80, 81). Moreover, the Christian idea, as conceived by Tyrrell, has in it the potentiality not only of indefinite development but inexhaustible symbolism, for he contends that 'its meaning' is to be 'rendered by each age in its own terms' (ib. pp. 137, 214). And in such 'rendering' he makes some rather startling experiments. Thus the Messiahship of Christ is symbolic of certain spiritual experiences of Jesus and His followers, 'transcendent realities' that defy theological definition. Hence it follows that the atonement is a corollary of the compiunion of saints (ib. pp. 178-184 et seq., 199 et seq.). And again, though the JaeUef in the physical resurrection and ascension of Christ was founded only on certain phenomena of the subjective order which the apostles in accordance with their apocalyptic prepossessions misconstrued and 'intercalated into those of the physical series,' yet the subjective phenomena thus fallaciously objectified were 'signs and symbols of Christ's spiritual transformation, of the fulness of His eternal and transcendent life,' and by consequence 'of the eternity and plenary expansion of that super-individual life that Ues hid in the depths of our being ' (ib. pp. 145-6, 150-3).

As to the character of the future life Tyrrell is in the main faithful to the idea in its traditional form. He prefers 'the conception of eternal life as a super-moral life, as a state of rest after labour, of ecstatic contemplation of the face of God' to the Tennysonian 'glory of going on,' and regards even 'the bric-a-brac, rococo Heaven of the Apocalypse of St. John' as 'a truer symbol of man's spiritual aspirations than the cold constructions of intellectualism' (ib. pp. 78, 150, 207).

'The compendium of all heresies' was the pope's sorrowful verdict on modernism ; and the apophthegm is no less just than felicitous ; for, as frankly avowed by Tyrrell himself, modernism is but the critical spirit of the age in the specific form in which it has tardily manifested itself within the Roman church (ib. p. 10).

By Tyrrell's untimely death, modernism suffered a serious if not irreparable loss. He was unquestionably the leader of the movement, and a leader not readily to be replaced; for, much as he owed to Newman's inspiration, in learning, critical acumen, and mystical depth the disciple far surpassed the master.

Besides the works mentioned above Tyrrell was author of 'Versions and Perversions of Heine and others' (1909); and joint author with Miss Maude D. Petre of 'The Soul's Orbit' (1904). A reprint of 'The Church and the Future' appeared in 1910.

The more important of Tyrrell's contributions to periodical Uterature are collected in 'The Faith of the Millions' (1901-2, 2 vols.) and 'Through Scylla and Charybdis' (1907). Many others appeared in 'The Month' between Feb. 1886 and Dec. 1903; in the 'Weekly Register,' 1899; the Catholic Truth Soc. Publ. ser. 1 and 2, 1905-6; 'Quarterly Review,' 1909; 'The Mystical Element of Religion' (posthumous); 'Contemporary Review,' 1909; 'The Quest,' 1909; 'Grande Revue,' 1909; 'Hibbert Journal,' 1908-9; 'E Rinnovamento' (Milan), 1907; 'Home and Foreign Review,' 1908-9; 'Nova et Vetera' (Rome), 1906-8; 'Harvard Theological Review,' 1908.

[Autobiography and Life of George Tyrrell, by Maude D. Petre, 1912; private information from Miss Petre; Memorials by Baron F. von Hügel and Reminiscences by the Rev. Charles E. Osborne in Hibbert Journal, January 1910, pp. 233-52 and 252-63; R. Gout, L'Affaire Tyrrell, 1910; The Times, 16, 17, 22 July, 5 Aug. 1909; Hakluyt Egerton (pseud.), 'Father Tyrrell's Modernism,' 1909; Tablet, 28 Sept. 1907, 24, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug. 1909.]

J. M. R.