CELT document E890000-018

Known by Fruits

Patrick Augustine Sheehan

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Known by Fruits. 1

Tremendous responsibility is thrown upon us Catholics to prove to an unbelieving world the Divinity of our Faith by the divine loftiness of our lives. For men, to-day seek not for doctrines, but for deeds, forgetting, of course, that the deeds will be high and noble, or base and ignoble, according to the principles from which they proceed. The controversy runs thus between the children of light and the sons of darkness. We have a right to be the aggressors, for we have authority, antiquity, history, and every precedent on our side.

And we argue thus. We say: Behold the desolation your rebellious unbelief has made. For Faith you have substituted political economy; for charity, you give us reports and statistics; for Divine Providence,  p.22 you give us Boards; for the monastery you give us the workhouse; for monks and nuns you have given us paid officials; and you have tried to face the world-old and the world-wide problem of how to deal with poverty, disease, and crime, by Acts of Parliament, and the laboured theories of your statesmen and economists. Have you succeeded? Is poverty less prevalent, because you can tell us to the fraction of a penny how much an in-door and how much an out-door patient costs the rates? Is crime less extended and enormous, because your penal codes have undergone revision a thousand times, and are still only worthy of some new-born civilisation? Is there perfect peace in your society, guarded by forests of bayonets, and protected by the terrors of the law? Is there no murmuring amongst the poor, no secret hissing of curses on the hearths of the labourer and the artisan? And do your millionaires sleep in peace, for the rumblings of the coming revolution are yet afar off? Have you grasped the social evil and corrected it? and have the theories of your great thinkers brought about the millennium? You need only read the ghastly statistics of your morning papers, which are eloquent rather in what they conceal, than in what they reveal, and you will find that when you rejected Christ you adopted Belial; he is your father; it is by his power you seek to cast out the devils of poverty, disease, and crime.

But your adversary will fairly retort: “True! there is no content in the land. The poor rage against the rich; labour is pitted in a desperate struggle with capital; and from the depths of our workhouses come forth the angry accents of disgust and discontent. But can you do better? Come. Show us your works for progress, civilisation, society, and let us see Christ!”

And we accept the challenge, and say: “Come, we shall show you the far-flashing splendours of the Church of God; and if not blinded by their effulgence, you may enter.” Behold what our faith has wrought. From end to end of Europe we have lifted up the noblest Cathedrals, we have filled them with statues of our nobility — the saints of God — and we have put into our windows colourings that match the glory of the heavens, and faces and figures of which angels are envious. Witness Cologne and Milan, Amiens and Tours, York and Salisbury; and we have crowned all our architectural triumphs in that last wonder of the world — the dome under which our martyred princes an Apostles sleep. Lift up  p.23 our eyes and behold, and admit that the Church which has wrought such wonders is of God.

But our adversary demurs to all this enthusiasm: “Nay, nay, I admit that you have reason to be proud of what your zeal and poverty have wrought. It is only sublime faith could have done it. But you forget that false religions, too, have had their glorious temples, from that of Athene in Greece to that of St. Sophia in Constantinople; and that there are pagodas in the jungles in India, whose treasures would purchase all the cathedrals of Western Christendom. Show me something else — something distinctive and unique. It is not in architectural wonders that I seek or shall find Christ.”

And you answer: “Come! Behold the long line of sages, philosophers, and divines the Church has produced. From the early Fathers, whose works are treasure-stores of wisdom, down to our latest writers, who have soared into the highest regions of human thought, there is one unbroken lineage of genius, combined with sanctity, the wisdom of the serpent combined with the gentleness of the dove. Who does not know them? Athanasius and the Gregories, Ambrose and Augustine, Aquinas and Alphonsus? From cell and cavern, from episcopal palace and lonely hermitage, they have poured forth the treasures of their thoughts. No theme was too high for their reverential inquiries; no office too low for their humility. Behold the long litany of our doctors and our saints, and admit that here is perfect Christianity, learning and humility, genius wedded to holiness.”

But here again your opponent says: “True, it is a magnificent galaxy of genius, before which the mind, even of an unbeliever, might bow down in respectful homage. Your Church has reason to be proud of her gifted children and to raise them on her altars for your veneration and your love. But is it not true that false religions, too, have had their prophets and teachers? And could I not quote a long litany of sages, whose genius equalled your own, and even if they are the wandering stars in the firmament, at least their radiance and lustre are unquestioned. No. Not in genius, however sublime, not in talents, however diversified, not in learning however deep and profound, do I seek Christ”.

Show me something else. And you say: Well, come! Art is immortal and inspired. Its breathings come not from men, but from God. Its inspirations  p.24 are from above. Its votaries are the chosen ones of Heaven; its last home is the sky. God Himself is the Great Artist, and surely where His children are, there too is He. Now, behold! From the earliest days until the Renaissance, from then till now there have been gathered into our monasteries the noblest and greatest in this great family of God. Who has not read of the nimble minds and the busy hands that have filled the Italian convents with masterpieces of painting, and made the long galleries shine with the white marvels that sprang from their chisels? Who clothed the walls of dim chapels with the tapestries of their pencils, and made the ceilings glow in colour and form, until all the wonders of Holy Scripture came forth to be witnessed by the eye, and the horrors of the Last Judgment smote the trembling consciences of men? Who, except those who had seen Heaven, like the saint of Patmos, could have imagined such spiritual loveliness? or, having imagined it, who but the children of God could have created it? Stand for a moment in that gallery of Dresden, and study the face of that Woman and Child. Confess, then, that it is only a child of Catholicity could have seen such a vision of loveliness, and only the heart of one who loved Christ could have painted such a presentment of the Child God and His Mother!

Very true, I admit, says the world. I bow down in lowly reverence before your Angelos and Raffaelles; I would canonise Fra Angelico, and I admit the grandeur and intensity of such faith and genius: but was there not a Phidias in Greece, an Apelles, a Praxiteles? Alas, and must we not go back to the land of Minerva and Mercury to find the perfection of the very art you worship? Ah no! it is not in Art however eternal and sublime, not in painting however perfect, not in sculpture however lifelike, not in the lustrous wonder of twilight galleries or the figures that gleam in the dusky avenues of libraries, that I shall seek or find Christ.

And then, wearied but not conquered, you say: Well, at least admit that we have abolished slavery, broken the chains of captives, mitigated the severities of punishment, created reverence and piety for little children, lifted up woman from the condition of a purchased slave, and made her queen of her own hearth; we have built the universities of the world, preserved the ancient classics, brought education to the masses of the people, and spread  p.25 the light of civilisation over the world. And what are you doing but feebly trying to restore the civilisation which, like the barbarian Goths, you have destroyed; and trying to build on the ruins of the Church's temples and palaces the pigmy imitations of what faith and genius alone could raise?

And again, your adversary answers: “All quite true. I admit the endless aid illimitable debt the world owes your Church. All historians are agreed as to the world's indebtedness to your zeal and to your faith. I admit that modern civilization is but a feeble imitation of what it has wantonly destroyed. But even here, I cannot find Christ; for all this is but the work of human hands, and might be wrought without the intervention of Heaven. Again, I repeat that what I want is something distinctive and unique. Show me the Christ of Nazareth and Judea, Him who walked on the sands of Galilee, whose blood dyed the grass of Gethsemane and the rocks of Calvary, and I shall be content.”

Then a great light dawns on our minds, and we conjecture that what the world seeks from us is not splendour and power, not genius or talent, not learning and art, but the lowly lessons that are pictured in the Gospels, and the sublime sacrifices that are expected from the faithful followers of Christ. And, wondering at our own blindness, we exclaim: True, it is the 'Christus Consolator' whom you seek. Do we possess Him? Attend and see.

Down the long dismal corridors of this hospital, where the sick toss wearily at night, and the air is heavy with the odours of decay, flashes a white cornette, the head-dress of the Sister of Charity. The wild eye of fever follows it as a star of hope, and peace sinks down on the wild, wandering mind for the calm and strength it gives. On the hot brow a gentle hand is placed, and there is coolness and delight, and the fierce blood ceases to throb in the temples of the dying, for a voice, like that which stilled the tempests of the Sea of Galilee, has spoken and commanded: Peace! Odious things, things too horrible to be described, salute, and mortify every sense; but there is not the faintest sign of disgust for the loathsome sights and smells, and no fainting away with horror when Nature rebels at its own dreadful possibilities. There is contagion, there is death, there is the momentary possibility that a touch will bring with it a train of dreadful issues; yet she does not shrink. Her hands touch the awful transformations of  p.26 disease, her eyes behold the sad process of decay, and she cannot but breathe an atmosphere loaded with infection and thick with the effluvia of decomposition and death. And this is she who was reared in the lap of luxury, who saw only what was beautiful and refined, and who one day, to the consternation of her friends, stepped down from her perfumed boudoir to walk in the valley and be encompassed by the dread environments of Death.

And here your adversary bows down his head in veneration, and murmurs: Yes, that is the Christ!

And having obtained such a victory, you go a little further and say: Behold, in the asylum for the insane, the same miracle repeated. Round about are maniacs, their wild eyes seeking the phantoms of their deseased fancies, and their shrieks echoing through the midnight, startling the frightened sleepers, and unnerving even those whose nerves are steel. Here in this padded chamber is one bent on self-destruction. The warder and doctor are afraid to approach. But, behold a frail woman advances, and at her touch the horrors of insanity cease, and there is peace. Is this not the Christ? Aye, yes, the Christ of the tombs, at whose touch devils departed and angels came and ministered.

And you say — Here again is one from whom all hope has departed. He is the sad inmate of the condemned cell. He hears the carpenters at work upon his scaffold; he has taken his last farewell of wife and child. His gaolers pity him. There is no hope. But that awful night there kneel by his bedside two Angels of Mercy, who breathe into his soul not only hope and resignation, but peace and joy. Is this the Christ? Aye, yes, He who said, “This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

But this is not enough. There is an island in the Pacific Seas, a summer isle of Eden. Yes, but alas, also, an Inferno of horrors and disease and death. Huddled together are masses of flesh and blood that you cannot take to be human, for every human lineament has departed, and you only see mutilated limbs and some awful excrescence, that could not be recognised as a human face, were it not for the sockets whence peer out through furrows of mouldering flesh the eyes of a human being; and there they are, living embodiments of Death, their limbs struck from them by the dread disease, before the worms have cut their ligatures. The warm air is sick with smells; the huts of the lepers  p.27 are reeking with dreadful odours; and all men are warned off by the Governmental signboard — that which Dante wrote over the gates of hell — “Leave all hope, ye who enter here.” And no one will set foot on that shore of death; for never again can he return to civilisation and life. No one, did I say? I am wrong. The light of Heaven penetrates everywhere. So does the charity of Christ. And here is one, a young priest, who, for the sake of Christ, takes up the mangled limbs and washes and anoints them, and kisses the swollen cheek, though he knows it is the kiss of death, and habituates himself to all this corruption, until his very food smells and reeks of leprosy And one day, he sees with a smile a white patch, not larger than sixpence on his hand. And he smiles. Why? Because it is his death-warrant. And the days go by, and his fingers drop off, and his hands and ears; and the dread disease eats up his face, until he, too becomes more hideous than death. And, at last, be is laid in his lonely grave, wept over by lepers, unknown and unrecognised by the world.

Is not this the Christ? Aye, Christ of the sick and the wounded; Christ of the maimed and the lame and the blind; of the dying and of the dead.

Is not this the Christ? Aye, Christ of the tombs and of the possessed, at whose touch devils departed and confessed; and reason returned and gave praise.

Is not this the Christ? Aye, He who said to the dying felon: “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”

Is not this the Christ? Aye, Christ of the lepers and the unclean — He who became a leper to cleanse the souls of men.

“Show us, then, your works.” It is the cry of the infidel. Let him be refuted and confounded by your charity. “Show us your works.” It is the cry of the schismatic. Let him be put to shame. “Show us your works.” It is the cry of your Catholic co-religionists. Let them be edified. “Show us your works.” It is the cry of the Church. Let her be glorified. “Show us your works.” It is the cry of the gentle Christ. Let Him be gratified. For has He not said: “My poor ye have always with You; and whatever you have done to the least of My little ones, that you have done to Me.”


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Title (uniform): Known by Fruits

Author: Patrick Augustine Sheehan

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Electronic edition compiled by: Benjamin Hazard

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork and private donation

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Extent: 3295 words

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Canon Sheehan on the Internet

  • http://www.canonsheehanremembered.com.


  • Canon P.A. Sheehan, 'Known by Fruits,' The Irish Monthly, 26/295 (January 1898) 21–27.


  1. Herman Joseph Heuser, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: the story of an Irish parish priest as told chiefly by himself in books, personal memoirs, and letters (New York 1917).
  2. Arthur Coussens, P. A. Sheehan, zijn leven en zijn werken (Brugge/Bruges 1923).
  3. Michael P. Linehan, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: Priest, Novelist, Man of Letters (Dublin 1952).
  4. James O'Brien (ed.), The Collected Letters of Canon Sheehan of Doneraile, 1883–1913 (Wells 2013).
  5. James O'Brien, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile 1852–1913: Outlines for a Literary Biography (Wells 2013). [Bibliographical references 205–11.]

The edition used in the digital edition

‘Known by Fruits’. In: The Irish Monthly‍ 26.295. Ed. by S.J. Matthew Russell, pp. 21–27.

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  title 	 = {Known by Fruits},
  journal 	 = {The Irish Monthly},
  editor 	 = {Matthew Russell, S.J.},
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  publisher 	 = {Irish Jesuit Province},
  date 	 = {January 1898},
  volume 	 = {26},
  number 	 = {295},
  pages 	 = {21–27}


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Creation: By Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852–1913)

Date: 1898

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Keywords: essay; prose; 19c; philosophy; theology; catholicism

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  1. 2014-03-20: File parsed; minor additions and modifications made to encoding and header. SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2014-03-10: Further content mark-up completed. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
  3. 2014-02-07: Text proof-read (1); header created; structural and content mark-up added. (ed. Benjamin Hazard)
  4. 2014-01-24: Text scanned. (file capture Benjamin Hazard)

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