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George Tyrrell

George Tyrrell

George Tyrrell (1861-1909) was an Irish-English Jesuit priest best known for his contributions to the Catholic "Modernist" movement that sought to revise traditional views of revelation and church teaching so as to bring out better their historical dimensions.

George Tyrrell was born February 6, 1861, in Dublin, Ireland. He was raised as an Anglican, but he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1879 and joined the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order devoted to teaching, in 1880. Following lengthy studies, he was ordained a priest in 1891 and assigned to teach at Stonyhurst, a Jesuit college in Lancashire, England. Intellectually, Tyrrell was influenced by John Henry Newman, Maurice Blondel, Baron Friedrich von Hugel, and other Modernists who had proposed departing from the scholastic forms of theology dominant until that time so as to allow for more historical development in the interpretation of both scripture and doctrinal theology.

The Modernists were repudiated by Popes Leo XIII and Pius X, to whom the notion of historical change in church teaching was anathema. Tyrrell himself was roundly attacked for his views in 1901 and expelled from the Jesuits in 1906. In 1907 Pope Pius X issued an encyclical letter, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, that condemned Modernism, which it (erroneously) presented as a coherent movement and theological outlook. Tyrrell denounced the encyclical and was in consequence excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He refused to retract his positions but to the end of his life continued to consider himself a Catholic and to write explanations of the Modernist outlook.

Inasmuch as Modernist positions have entered the mainstream of late 20th-century Catholic theology, Tyrrell may be seen as a precursor of views that later became taken for granted. Especially, the majority of Catholic theologians have come to agree with Tyrrell that church teachings always have an historical dimension. They arise at a given moment, within a given cultural horizon, and ever afterwards their formulations bear the marks of their origins. The Scriptures themselves are expressions of given historical assumptions.

More clearly than Tyrrell, however, most present-day Catholic theologians argue that this historicity need not mean that either the Scriptures or official church teachings do not come from God as divine revelation. It simply means that all human formulations of divine revelation occur in time and so are historically conditioned. Just as Christian doctrine considers Jesus himself to be fully human as well as fully divine, so mainstream contemporary Christian theology considers both biblical interpretation and church teaching to be fully human (historically conditioned) as well as inspired by God's spirit.

Tyrrell and the other Modernists sought to explain Christian faith in light of the understanding of human historicity that had arisen by the end of the 19th century. They were convinced that a static, unhistorical, universalist explanation of Christian teaching, such as prevailed among scholastic theologians at the time, rendered it incredible to modern intellectuals, for whom both change in nature and historical development in human culture had become standard assumptions. Books by Tyrrell, namely Religion as a Factor in Life (1902) and The Church and the Future (1903), argued for this position with some elegance.

The intellectual violence with which their scholastic opponents attacked the Modernists assured that Catholic scholars would become polarized. When the Roman authorities took the side of the ahistorical scholastics and branded the historicism of the Modernists heretical, an era of intellectual repression swept over Catholic culture. Theologians were required to swear an oath of loyalty against the Modernist positions, and to be held suspect of Modernism was to fall into considerable disfavor.

Tyrrell's disfavor wore heavily upon him and contributed to his relatively early death on July 15, 1909, at Storrington, England. Students of his life debate whether he was wise to refuse to accommodate to the demands of his superiors, but it seems clear that he considered maintaining his positions a matter of intellectual integrity. He was far from standing alone, but many who held positions similar to his did trim their sails and avoid excommunication. Few analysts now consider Tyrrell as substantial a thinker as Blondel or von Hugel, let alone Newman, but he was an effective apologist in his day and so one of the major factors in the overall victory that the Modernists finally won.

Further Reading

Gabriel Daly, Transcendence and Immanence: A Study in Catholic Modernism and Integralism (1980), and A.R. Vidler, A Variety of Catholic Modernists (1970), tell well the story of the movement that gave Tyrrell his significance. M. D. Petre's Autobiography and Life of George Tyrrell (1912) and Letters (1920) suggest the contemporary flavor of the struggles that absorbed Tyrrell.

Additional Sources

Sagovsky, Nicholas, On God's side: a life of George Tyrrell, Oxford England: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Leonard, Ellen, C.S.J., George Tyrrell and the Catholic tradition, London: Darton, Longman, and Todd; New York: Paulist Press, 1982. □

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Tyrrell, George

Tyrrell, George (1861–1909). Modernist theologian. An Irish Protestant by birth, he became a Roman Catholic and joined the Jesuits in England. He became increasingly dissatisfied with scholasticism, and stressed the experiential aspects of religion and the relativity of theology and doctrinal formulations (e.g. in Through Scylla and Charybdis, 1907, and more radically in Christianity at the Crossroads, 1909). Expelled from the Jesuits in 1906, he suffered minor excommunication in 1907, and was refused Roman Catholic burial.

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Tyrrell, George

TYRRELL, GEORGE

Modernist, writer; b. Dublin, Ireland, Feb. 6, 1861; d. Storrington, England, July 15, 1909. Tyrell, who assessed himself as melancholic, impatient, and restless, was born into a Low Church Anglican family and raised as a Calvinist, but in 1879 converted to Roman Catholicism in England. A year later he joined the English province of the Society of Jesus. Following ordination to the priesthood in 1891 he taught moral philosophy to Jesuit seminarians at Stonyhurst College, where he proved himself an enthusiastic follower of St. Thomas Aquinas (189496). He was assigned in 1896 as a writer for the English Jesuit review the Month, for which he wrote 39 articles over a period of seven years. While on the Month's staff, he was also a popular spiritual director and preacher of retreats.

Two important events in Tyrrell's life occurred in 1907: the publication of his first book of spiritual musings, Nova et Vetera, and the beginning of his long friendship and correspondence with Baron Friedrich von Hügel. The baron introduced Tyrrell to the works of authors from across the channel: Blondel, Laberthonniére, Bergson, Loisy, Troeltsch, Rudolf Eucken, and Paul Wernle. About this time Tyrrell began his close friendship with Henri Bremond. Others of Tyrrell's early works were: Hard Sayings (1898), a collection of spiritual conferences and meditations, and External Religion (1899), a series of instructions for Catholic undergraduates at Oxford. In 1899 his article "A Perverted Devotion" drew sharp criticism from Jesuit censors at Rome. Tyrrell was removed from the Month's staff in 1900 and assigned to a quiet parish in Richmond, where he remained until 1906. In 1900 he became a close friend of Maude D. Petre, who sympathized with the Modernist movement in the Catholic Church. During 1901 there appeared two volumes called The Faith of the Millions, composed mostly of articles that had originally appeared in the Month. When Tyrrell attempted that same year to publish a series of meditations in a book entitled Oil and Wine, he met opposition from English and Roman censors. He then proceeded to publish and circulate the work privately, not beyond the notice of his religious and ecclesiastical superiors. Now that he was under a cloud as a religious writer, he began to use pseudonyms. Religion as a Factor of Life appeared in 1902 under the name of Dr. Ernest Engels. In 1903 Tyrrell privately printed The Church and the Future, which he called a restatement of Catholicism, under the pseudonym Hilaire Bourdon. Lex Orandi (1904) attempted to show the relationship between prayer and creed; its sequel, Lex Credendi, appeared in 1906. An anonymous work by Tyrrell, A Letter to a Professor of Anthropology, which circulated privately in 1904, advised a "professor" whose identity remains obscure, to continue in the Church despite difficulties in reconciling Church teaching with the results of scientific research. After an Italian translation appeared in the Corriere della Serra of Milan in 1906, Father Martin, Jesuit Superior General, asked Tyrrell to repudiate publicly the doctrine in the Italian translation. When Tyrrell refused, he was dismissed from the order and suspended a divinis (1906). Unable to find a bishop who would accept him as a diocesan priest, Tyrrell finally settled at Storrington, England, on property owned by Maude Petre (1907). His literary activity continued. In 1907 he published his most famous book, Through Scylla and Charybdis, which stressed with characteristic bitterness his favorite themes: insistence on the importance of interior religious experience, anti-intellectualism, and the distinction between dogma and revelation, which for Tyrrell amounted to distinguishing between theology and revelation. Because of his public criticism of the condemnation of Modernism by Pius X in 1907, he was excommunicated, his case being reserved to the Holy See. Shortly afterward, he stopped assisting at Mass. In Mediaevalism (1908) he answered an attack against Modernism by Cardinal Mercier. Tyrrell died of Bright's disease shortly after receiving the Anointing of the Sick and conditional absolution. Because he had not publicly retracted his teachings, burial in a Catholic cemetery was forbidden. His old friend Abbé Henri Bremond recited prayers at a burial service in an Anglican cemetery at Storrington and was punished for this by the bishop of Southwark, who suspended him from priestly functions. This suspensio a divinis was later withdrawn.

Bibliography: Autobiography and Life, arr. m. d. petre, 2 v. (New York 1912); Letters, selected and ed. m. d. petre (London 1920). m. d. petre, Von Hügel and Tyrrell (New York 1938). e. f. sutcliffe, comp., Bibliography of the English Province of the Society of Jesus 17731953 (Roehampton 1957), this gives a list of Tyrrell's Jesuit writings. Works by those sympathetic to Modernism include a. loisy, George Tyrrell et Henri Brémond (Paris 1936). r. gout, L'Affair Tyrrell (Paris 1910). See also h. egerton, Father Tyrrell's Modernism (London 1909). d. grasso, "La Conversione e l'apostasia di George Tyrrell," Gregorioanum 38 (Rome 1957) 446480, 593629. d. g. schultenover, George Tyrell: In Search of Catholicism (Shepherdstown 1981). e. leonard, George Tyrell and the Catholic Tradition (New York 1982).

[f. m. o'connor]

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Tyrrell, George

TYRRELL, GEORGE

TYRRELL, GEORGE (18611909), leading Roman Catholic theologian of the so-called modernist movement. Adversity and agitation marked Tyrrell's life from the beginning. Born in Dublin on February 6, 1861, two months after his father had died, Tyrrell was raised in penury and vagabondage by his devoted mother and schooled in gospel kindness by Charles W. Benson of Rathmines School, but was swayed oppositely by the acerbity and agnosticism of his elder brother William.

William's untimely death sent Tyrrell on a search for stable footing in the externals of religion. Experimentation with Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism led to friendship with Robert Dolling, the later famous "Father Dolling," who served briefly as Tyrrell's mentor and spiritual director, first securing his matriculation at Trinity College (1878), then inviting him to London to see sane Anglo-Catholicism at work, hoping thereby to prevent his anticipated conversion to Roman Catholicism. Dolling's strategy failed. On May 18, 1879, Tyrrell was received into the Catholic church and a year later into the Jesuit order as well.

Although Tyrrell felt confirmed in those momentous decisions, he was unprepared to conform to the rigid ultramontanism and rationalist neoscholasticism of the postVatican I church and to the mechanistic spirituality of the "restored" Society of Jesus. Two of Tyrrell's seminary professors suggested more congenial paths. Thomas Rigby encouraged him to bypass the scholastics and to read Thomas Aquinas for himself, while Joseph Rickaby was no doubt the one who gave him John Henry Newman's Grammar of Assent in 1885 and thus occasioned "a profound revolution in my way of thinking." From Thomas, Tyrrell learned the principle of modernization, or aggiornamento; from Newman, he derived an experience-based psychology of religion and an inductive, historical method, as opposed to the a priori, deductive method of scholasticism.

In 1894 Tyrrell was appointed to the chair of ethics at the Jesuit school of philosophy at Stonyhurst, but two years later, no longer tolerable to the established faculty, he was removed to London and the staff of the Jesuit religious periodical, the Month. Thus began a writing career that would propel him into ever-widening circles of liberals, modernists, and modernist sympathizers (among them Wilfrid Ward, Friedrich von Hügel, Maude Petre, and Henri Bremond) and lead him to the thought of a host of nonscholastic scholars (Bergson, Blondel, Dilthey, Harnack, Loisy, Sabatier, Schweitzer, Troeltsch, and Weiss).

Tyrrell's work anticipated Vatican II's effort to bring church polity and doctrine into constructive dialogue with the best and most enduring elements of post-Enlightenment thought. Initially Tyrrell allied himself with Ward's mediating tactic of palliating ascendant policies with liberal doses of Newmanism, but as he encountered historical and biblical criticism, he concluded that Newmanism could not be made to answer questions it had never asked. In Christianity at the Cross-Roads (1909) Tyrrell sought to establish Newman's assumed identity between the "idea" of Christ and Christianity and the "idea" of Roman Catholicism by showing that the categories of apocalyptic and eschatology had carried the "idea" of Christianity unadulterated from epoch to epoch. He also went beyond Newman in criticizing not only the doctrinal expression of faith but the act of faith itself.

On February 19, 1906, Tyrrell was dismissed from the Society of Jesus for refusing to retract a published excerpt from his Letter to a University Professor (1903). The following year, on October 22, 1907, he was excommunicated for publicly criticizing Pius X's encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, which condemned modernism. Tyrrell died on July 15, 1909, a victim of Bright's disease, and was buried in the Anglican churchyard in Storrington, Sussex.

Bibliography

Tyrrell's early apologetic essays are collected in The Faith of the Millions, 2 vols. (New York, 1901), while his later essays on the revelation-dogma-history issue are given in Through Scylla and Charybdis (London, 1907). His most substantive monographs are Lex Orandi, or Prayer and Creed (New York, 1903), on psychology of religion; The Church and the Future (1903; reprint, London, 1910), originally published under the pseudonym Hilaire Bourdon, an apologetic for Roman Catholicism; and Christianity at the Cross-Roads (London, 1910), an attempt to incorporate the implications of eschatology and apocalypticism. M. D. Petre's Autobiography and Life of George Tyrrell, 2 vols. (London, 1912), of which Tyrrell wrote volume 1, is an indispensable, if biased, account. My own book, George Tyrrell: In Search of Catholicism (Shepherdstown, W.Va., 1981), with extensive notes and bibliography, provides the fullest introduction to Tyrrell's thought.

David G. Schultenover (1987)

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