"Man Clothed in the Omnipotence of God": Bossuet on Faith and Prayer

I’m briefly interrupting my posts from Bossuet’s Elevations to deal with a subject that Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm takes up: the meaning of Mark 11:23-24.  I honestly think that Bossuet, “the Eagle”, (who was very Augustinian) has a much more accurate and inspiring treatment of the passage.

The following comes from Bossuet’s Meditations on the Gospel, from the part entitled “The Last Week of the Saviour”, XXI.  This work was written about 1694-5. He is meditating on Matthew 21:21-22 and Mark 11:22:24, which (for my readers’ convenience) I will reproduce:

“I tell you,” replied Jesus, “if you have faith, without ever a doubt, you will do what not only what has been done to the fig tree, but, even if you should say to this hill ‘Be lifted up and hurled into the sea!’ it would be done. And whatever you ask for in your prayers will, if you have faith, be granted you.” (Matthew 21:21-22 TCNT)

“Have faith in God!” replied Jesus. “I tell you that if any one should say to this hill ‘Be lifted up and hurled into the sea!’, without ever a doubt in his mind, but in the faith that what he says will be done, he would find that it would be. And therefore I say to you ‘Have faith that whatever you ask for in prayer is already granted you, and you will find that it will be.’  (Mark 11:22-24 TCNT)

The apostles were astonished by the sudden effect of Our Lord’s words to the fig tree.  They were much more so when He told them that they could do as much, and even more, provided they had faith.  If you have faith, He said to them, and stagger not, not only this of the fig tree will you do, but also if you shall say to this mountain, Take up and cast thyself into the sea, it shall be done. (Matthew 21:21)

Behold the wonder of wonders: man clothed in the omnipotence of God.

Go, said the Saviour, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, case out devils: freely have you received, freely give.  (Matthew 10:8) Who ever gave such a command?

And he sent them to preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2) Who ever sent his ministers with such commands? Go, He said, into this house and heal those whom you will find there.  All were filled with wonder at such commands. And yet, he proceeded even further: All that you ask in my name, you shall receive. (John 14:14) You will be able to do all that I am able to do. You will do all of the greatest things that you have seen me do, and you will do even greater things. In fact, if one was cured on touching the edge of the robe of Jesus Christ while He was wearing it, weren’t even greater miracles being performed by St. Paul, when there were even brought from his body, to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them? (Acts 19:12) And not only the linens which had touched the apostles had that power, but their very shadow: when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities. (Acts 5:15)

Here, therefore, is the greatest miracle of Jesus Christ. Not only is He all-powerful, but here He renders man all-powerful and, if possible, more powerful than He Himself is, performing constantly greater miracles, and all through faith and through prayer: and all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive. (Matthew 21:22)  Faith, therefore, and prayer are all-powerful, and they clothe man with the omnipotence of God. If you can believe, said the Saviour, all is possible to him who believes. (Mark 9:22)

The performance of miracles, therefore, is not the difficulty.  Rather, the difficulty is to believe.  If you can believe.  This is the miracle of miracles; to believe absolutely and without hesitation. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief (Mark 9:23), said the man to whom Jesus said: If you can believe.

Lord, augment our faith within us, said the apostles. (Luke 17:5) We need only faith, for with it we can do all things. Oh! if you had faith, said the Lord, like a grain of mustard seed, you would say to the mulberry tree: Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea: and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6) And it would find a bottom in the waves to spread there its roots.

Thus the great miracle of Jesus Christ is not to make us all-powerful men.  Rather, it is to make us courageous and faithful believers who dare to hope all from God, when it is a question of his glory.

We must understand, therefore, that this faith which can do all, is inspired. In order to dare to make this act of faith which can do all, it is necessary that God give us effective motion, the power to act. And the fruit of these precepts of the Gospel, which we read today, is to abandon ourselves to this divine motion which makes us feel that God wishes something from us. No matter how great it might be, one must dare, and not hesitate an instant.

When it is a question of asking God for the things necessary to salvation, we do not need any of this particular motion from God, who tells us what He wishes that we do in order to obtain his power. We know very definitely through the Gospel that God wishes that we ask Him for our salvation and conversion. Let us ask then without hesitating, assured that if we do it with the necessary perseverance, all will be possible.

Let us dare all things, and no matter how slight our faith will be, let us fear nothing. A small grain of faith, the size of a mustard seed, enables us to undertake anything. Grandeur has no part in it, said the Saviour. I ask only for truth and sincerity; if it becomes necessary that this small grain grow, God Who has given it, will make it grow.  Act then with the little you posses, and much will be given you: And this grain of mustard seed and this budding faith, will become a great tree, and the birds of the air will dwell in the branches thereof. (Matthew 13:31,32) The must sublime virtues will not only come there, but will make their abode therein.

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