Jaques-Bénigne Bossuet: Sermon on the Profession of Mlle. de la Vallière: Second Point

This is the last part of this magnificent sermon.  The introduction is here, and the first point is here.


Basically, Christians, in this oblivion of both God and herself into which she is plunged, the great God knows where to find her. He has heard her voice, at his pleasure, amid the noise of the world in its greatest splendour. In the midst of all its pomp, he discovered the foundation, that is to say, the vanity and nothingness. The soul, ashamed of her bondage, had just thought about why she was born. Looking at herself, the remnant of the image of God, she dreams to re-establish herself by reuniting herself to her Author. Touched by this sentiment, she begins to reject external things. O wealth, she says, you only have a misleading name: you come to meet me, but I have an infinite void where you do not enter. My secret desires, which ask for God, cannot be satisfied with all your treasures. I have to enrich myself by something greater and more intimate. So wealth is despised.

The soul, looking at the body to which she is united, sees it clothed with a thousand alien ornaments. She is ashamed, because she sees that these ornaments are a trap both for others and herself. Now she is ready to listen to the words that the Holy Spirit addresses to worldly ladies through the prophet Isaiah: “I saw the daughters of Zion with heads raised, walking with studied countenances, their eyes roving right and left: for them, says the Lord, I will make all of their hair fall off.” (cf Isaish 3:16-17). What kind of revenge! What, was it necessary to hurl lightening bolts from on high to make hair fall off? This great God, who boasts of his breath uprooting the cedars of Lebanon, thunders to fell tree leaves! Is this the worthy purpose of his all-powerful hand? It is shameful for man to be so attached to vain things, but taking them away is torture! That is why the Prophet goes even further. After saying: “I will make their hair fall off, I will destroy,” he goes on, “and necklaces and bracelets, and rings, and perfume boxes, and jackets,” and coats, and ribbons, and embroidery, and these delicate linens, vain covers which hide nothing, and the rest. (cf. vv. 18-24) For the Holy Spirit wanted to get an accurate count of all the ornaments of vanity, to focus his attention, so to speak, and follow by his vengeance all the different fineries as a contrived vain curiosity. To these threats by the Holy Spirit, the soul that felt long attached to these ornaments began to return to itself. “What, Lord,” she said, “you want to destroy all of this pomp? To head off your anger, I begin to shed these things myself.” Let us enter into a state where there is no longer more ornament than virtue.

Here, this soul, is disgusted with the world. She has told herself that these ornaments mark some dignity in men. Coming to consider the honours the world puffs up, she soon understands the bottom. She sees the pride which they inspire, and in that pride discovers disputes, jealousies, and all the evils which follow. She sees at the same time if these honours have something solid, that is that they require to give the world a great example. But one can, in leaving them, give a more useful example, and it is beautiful when we have them, to make such a good use. So away, earthly honours! All your magnificence is poor cover for our weaknesses and faults. He does not hide that we are alone, and makes that known to all others. Alas! “I would rather have the the last place in the house of my God, than to hold the highest rank where sinners live.” (Psalm 84:19). “”

The soul sheds, as you see, external things. She comes back from her bewilderment, and begins to be closer to herself. But does she dare to touch this body so tender, so darling, so cared for? Will there be no mercy on this delicate complexion? Instead it is mainly this body that takes away the soul, as her most dangerous seducer. I have, she said, found a victim; since that body became mortal, it seemed to have become an embarrassment to me, and an attraction which leads me to evil. But penance shows me that I must then put it to better use. Thanks to the divine mercy, in this body I have mended my past mistakes. This thought calls her to give no more to this aspect: she takes away all their pleasures, embraces all the mortifications, and gives the body little pleasant food, and so that nature is satisfied with it, she expects that need makes it bearable. Body so soft on the hard layer, the night’s psalmody and the day’s work there attracted the sleep, light sleep which did not make the spirit heavy, and hardly interrupted the work. Thus all the functions of nature began now to become operations of grace. One declares an eternal and unconditional war at all pleasures; there is nothing so innocent who escapes becoming suspect. Reason, which God gave to the soul as a driver, cried as he saw them approaching: “The serpent deceived me, serpens decepit me.” (Genesis 3:13). Early pleasures that failed us came into our hearts with an innocent look, as an enemy in disguise to get into a place he wants to rebel against the legitimate powers. These desires, that seemed innocent, have gradually moved most violent passions, which put us in chains that we can hardly break.

The soul, freed by these reflections from the captivity of the senses and detached from her body by mortification, is finally coming to herself. She came from afar and seems to have made great progress, but finally having found herself, she found the source of all evils. Thus she is herself again: disappointed by her freedom which she misused, she hopes to constrain all sides; frightful grates, a profound retreat, an impenetrable enclosure, complete obedience, all actions governed, every step counted, a hundred eyes watching you. Yet she found that there is not enough to prevent her from straying. She is placed under the yoke in every direction: she remembers the sad jealousies of the world, and devotes herself wholeheartedly to the sweet jealousy of a beneficent God, who only has the heart to fill her with heavenly candy. For fear of falling back on external objects, and that her freedom does not lead her astray again while searching them, boundaries are set on all sides, but for fear of stopping herself, she abandons her own will. Thus hemmed in on all sides, she can only breathe on the edges of the sky: she gives herself as prey to divine love, she calls back her knowledge and love to their original use. Then we can say with David: “O God, your servant has found his heart for you to pray this prayer” (2 Samuel 7:27). The soul, so long lost in external things, has finally found herself. But this in turn is for her to rise above herself, and give herself completely to God.

There’s nothing newer than this state where the soul, full of God, forgets itself. From this union with God, all virtues soon arise in her. Here is real prudence, because we learn to persevere to the end, that is to say to God, by the only road that leads to him, that is to say by love. There is strength and courage, for there is nothing that one does not suffer for the love of God. Here is found the perfect temperance, for it can no longer taste the pleasures of sense, which hearts and the attention of spirits steal for God. Here we begin to do justice to God, neighbour and oneself: to God, because we give up all to him because we should: to neighbour, because we begin to truly love him, not for himself, but as himself, after we make the effort to abandon ourselves; and finally there is justice to us, because we give all our heart to whom it naturally belongs. But, by giving away, we acquire the greatest of all goods, and we have this marvellous advantage of being happy by the same object which is the happiness of God.

The love of God therefore engenders all virtues, and to make them last forever, it gives humility as a foundation. Ask those who hold some violent passion in their heart, if they retain some pride and haughtiness in the presence of what they love: if you only submit in excess, you’re only too humble. The soul possessed with the love of God, carried away by love beyond itself, does not care to think of it, and consequently does not fill itself with pride, for she sees an object at a price which she counts for nothing, and is so smitten, she prefers it to herself, not only by reason, but by love.

But here is something to humble more deeply. Attached to this divine object, she always sees beneath it two deep gulfs, the nothingness from which she is drawn, and another nothingness more horrible, which is sin, to which she can endlessly fall back. If she draws away from God, she will be forced to leave. She believes that, if she is just, it is God who continuously makes her such. St. Augustine does not want anyone to say that God made us righteous, but he says he makes us righteous at any moment (De Genesi ad litt., VIII, 25.). It is not, he says, like a physician who, having cured his patient, leaves him in a state of health, and the patient no longer needs his assistance. It is like the air that has not been illuminated once and for all, but it is lit continuously by the sun. Thus the soul, attached to God, constantly feels its dependence, and feels that the righteousness given to her does not subsist alone, but that God creates it in her every moment. So she is always careful in this respect, always remaining in the hand of God, still attached to authority like a light beam of his grace. In this state, she knows herself, and no longer afraid to die the way she feared before: she feels she is made for an eternal object, and knows death no more than sin.

Here you must find the last perfection of the love of God. This detached soul must be shown the chaste delights which she has drawn from God, and possessed only by what she discovers in God himself, that is to say his infinite perfections. There we would see the union of soul with a forsaken Jesus; there we would understand the last consummation of divine love in a place of the soul so profound and so removed, that the senses suspect nothing. So it is far from their realm, but to explain this matter must take a language that the world would not understand.

Let us end this speech, therefore, and permit me that, in conclusion, I ask you, gentlemen, if the holy truths that I have announced have excited in your hearts a spark of divine love. The Christian life that I offer is so penitent, so mortified, so detached from senses and from ourselves, appears to you impossible. – Can you live, you say, in this way? Can we give up what we please? – You will hear from up there that one can do something more difficult, since one can embrace all that shocks. – But to do that, you say, we must love God and I do not know if we can know enough to love him as he should. – You will hear from up there that one knows enough to love without bounds. – But can we lead such a life in the world? – Yes, no doubt, because the world itself disabuses you of the world; its charms have enough illusions, its favours have enough inconstancy, its rejections enough bitterness. There is plenty of injustice and perfidy in the workings of men, enough inconsistencies and peculiarities in their inconvenient and vexatious moods, without a doubt it is enough to disgust us. – Hey! You say, I’m disgusted more than enough, everything disgusts me indeed, but nothing touches me, I hate the world, but God is not pleased with me for that. – I know this strange state, unhappy and unbearable, but too common in life. To escape, Christian soul, know that seeking God in good faith never fails to find him, his word is explicit: “For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:8). So if you do not find, you are probably not looking. Stir up your heart: the wounds of the heart can be probed to the bottom, provided you have the courage to enter. You will find in this depth a secret pride that makes you despise everything you said and all the sage advice: you will find a spirit of reckless mockery, which arises during the back and forth of conversations. Whoever is possessed by this believes life is only a game: we only want to be entertained, and the face of reason, if I may say so, appears too serious and too peevish.

But where am I going with this? To seek out hidden causes of disgust that would give you piety? There are causes more obvious and palpable: we know that these are the thoughts that generally stop the world. We do not love true piety because, being content with eternal things, it does not leave a high station on the earth, and does not make success of those who follow it. This is the usual objection that men make of God, but he replied in a manner worthy of him by the prophet Malachi: “Your words have been unsufferable to me, saith the Lord. And you have said: What have we spoken against thee? You have said: He laboureth in vain that serveth God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances, and that we have walked sorrowful before the Lord of hosts? Wherefore now we call the proud people happy, for they that work wickedness are built up, for they have tempted God and do their business.” That is the objection of the wicked, set forth in full force by the Holy Spirit. “At these words,” says the prophet, “the fearful people talked secretly to each other.” Nobody on earth dares to try, it seems, to respond to the wicked who attack God with such senseless boldness, but God himself will answer: “He has lent his ear to these things,” said the prophet, “and he heard them; he made a book where it writes the names of those who serve him; and in that day when I act, says the Lord of hosts,” that is to say where I achieve all my works, when I deploy my mercy and righteousness, “in this day,” he says, “good people will be my special possession, I will treat them as a good father treats an obedient son. Then you will return, O wicked,” you will see from afar their happiness, from which you will be excluded for ever, “and you will see what a difference there is between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serves God and one who despises its laws.” This is how God answers the objections of the impious. You would not believe that those who serve me are happy: you do not believe my word, or the experience of others, your experience will convince you, you will see them happy, and you will see yourself miserable: “Haec dicit Dominus faciens haec;” so says the Lord, he must believe: for he himself says so, “it is he who has done it.” (cf. Malachi 3:13-18) Thus he silences the proud and unbelievers.

Will you be happy enough to profit from this advice and to prevent his anger? Come, gentlemen, and think about it. Do not think about the preacher who told you about it, nor whether he said it well or poorly, for it doesn’t matter what a mortal man says! There is an invisible preacher who preaches in the hearts, and both preachers and listeners must listen to him. It is he who speaks to the one who speaks what is inside out, and he is to be heard inside the heart of all those who listen to sacred speech. The preacher who speaks to the outside only has one sermon for a great people, but the preacher who speaks to the inside, I mean the Holy Spirit, preaches as many sermons as there are hearers, because he speaks to each one individually, and applies according to each need the word of eternal life. Listen to him, therefore, Christians, let him move the secret principle of love of God in your hearts.

Holy Spirit, peaceful Spirit, I have prepared the way in preaching your word. My voice was perhaps similar to the impetuous noise which announced your descent; come down now, O invisible fire! and that this fiery rhetoric you will be doing in their hearts will fill them with a heavenly ardour. Let them taste eternal life, which consists in knowing and loving God: give them a preview of vision in the faith; a foretaste of the flood of delights which intoxicate the happy in the heavenly transport of divine love.

And you, my Sister, who have begun to taste the chaste delights, come down, go to the altar, a victim of penance, go to complete your sacrifice: the fire is lit, incense is ready, the sword is drawn: the sword is the word that separates the soul from herself to bond her only to God (cf. Hebrews 4:12). The holy priest awaits you with this mysterious veil that you have asked for. Wrap yourself in the veil: live hidden from yourself, as well as all the world, and known to God. Escape yourself, get out of yourself and take a noble flight where you will find rest only in the essence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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