This is the first in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.
God, who is a pure spirit, wanted to create pure spirits like him, who like him live in intelligence and love, who know and love him as he knows and loves himself, who like him are happy in knowing and loving that first being, as he is happy by knowing and loving himself. By this they are steeped in their root by a divine nature, by which they are made in his image and likeness.
Such perfect creatures are drawn from nothing as the others, and from there, perfect that they are, they are by their nature prone to sin. He only by its nature is not prone to sin, which is itself perfect by its essence. But as it is the only perfect one, everything is defective except him, “and he found the same depravity in his angels.” (Job 4:18)
However is not he who made them depraved: it is not pleasing to God. Only the very good comes from a hand so good and so powerful: all minds are pure in their origin, all intelligent natures were holy in their creation, and God had formed their nature and filled them with grace all together.
He lifted from his treasures minds of countless kinds. From these infinite treasures came the angels, from these same infinite treasures came reasonable souls. There was a difference, that the angels are not united to a body, which is why they are called pure spirits. Instead, reasonable souls are created to animate a body; and though in themselves they are pure and incorporeal spirits, they make up a whole which is mixed with body and spirit, and this is all man.
O God, be praised forever in the wonderful diversity of your works. You who are spirit, you have created the spirits; and doing what is most perfect, you have not denied the being from what is most imperfect. So you also made minds and bodies, and since you have made spirits separated from the body, and bodies that have no spirit, you also wanted spirits who had bodies; and this is what led to the creation of the human race.
Who doubts that you can not separate and unite and all that pleases you? Who doubts that you cannot make spirits without bodies? Does one need for a body to hear, and to love, and to be happy? You who are a spirit so pure, are you not immaterial and intangible? Are intelligence and love not spiritual and immaterial operations, which can be exercised without being united to a body? Who would doubt that you can not create this kind of intelligence? And you told us that you have created such.
You have told us that these pure creatures “are innumerable.” (Heb. 1:12) One of your prophets, enlightened by your light and transported in spirit as among your angels, saw “a thousand thousands who executed your orders; and ten thousand times a hundred thousand who remained in your presence,” (Daniel 7:10) without doing anything else than adoring you and admiring your greatness. We must not believe that by speaking in this way he has tried to count. This prodigious multiplication, done by the largest numbers, tells us that they are innumerable and that the human mind is lost in this huge multitude. Count, if you can, the sand of the sea, or the stars of heaven, both seen and unseen, and believe that you have not reached the number of angels. It costs nothing to God to multiply most excellent things: and it is most beautiful; we can say that is what he excels in.
“O my God, I adore you in front of your holy angels; I will sing your wonders in their presence;” and I will unite in faith and truth to the immense multitude of the inhabitants of your holy temple; of your perpetual worshippers, in the sanctuary of your glory.
O God, who hast deigned to reveal that you have made them in such numbers, you have wanted to teach us that you distributed them in nine choirs; and your Scripture never lies and says nothing unnecessary, named “angels, archangels, virtues, dominions, principalities, powers, thrones, cherubim and seraphim.” Who will attempt to explain those august names, or describe the properties and the excellence of these beautiful creatures? Too content to dare name them with your always true Scripture, I dare not cast myself in high contemplation of their perfections; and all I see is that among the happy spirits, the Seraphim, which are the most sublime and whom you put at the head of all celestial squadrons nearest you, dare not yet look up to your face. Your prophet who gave them six wings, to signify the height of their thoughts, “two to put them before your face two to put them in front of your feet.” Everything is great in your nature and what is called the face and the feet, there is nothing in you that is incomprehensible. The most refined minds cannot support the splendor of your face: if there is some place in you where you seemed closer to them, and which we can call for that reason your feet, they cover with their wings and do not dare look at him. Six wings, they use four to hide from themselves both your impenetrable and inaccessible light and the love and the incomprehensibility of your being. There are left “two wings to flutter,” if one dares say it, around you, without the power to either enter your depths, or fathom the immense abyss of perfection, before whom they beat barely trembling wings, and they can hardly be sustained in front of you.
O God, I worship you with them! I do not dare to mix my unclean lips with their immortal mouths which resound your praises across the sky. I wait for one of these celestial spirits to come touch me with the fire of coals burning before your altar. What grandeur do you show in these purifying minds! And now you show me that the spirits that purify me are so small in front of you!