This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.
The dominion of God expressed in that of the soul over the body
We spend all our lives in continual miracles that we do not even notice. I have a body, and without knowing any of the organs of movement, I turn, I stir, I go wherever I want, just because I want to. I would stir a straw before me, it does not shake or shake itself in any way: I want to move my hand, my arm, my head, the other heavier parts, which I could hardly carry if they were detached. The whole mass of the body and the movements I command are done like they are on their own, I know nothing of the springs of this wonderful machine. I only know I want to stir myself this way or another, everything follows naturally: I articulate hundreds and hundreds of words heard or not heard, and I do so many known and unknown movements of the lips, tongue, throat, chest, head: I get up, I go down, I turn, I roll my eyes: I dilate and contract my pupils, as I want to see either up close or afar. Without knowing this movement, it happens, whether I want to look negligently or superficially, or determinately and attentively, or stare at some object. Who gave this dominion to my will, and how do I move equally what I know and what I do not know? I breathe without thinking and during sleep: and when I want to, or I hold my breath, or I hurry breathing, it naturally goes alone: it goes as well to my will, and yet I know neither expansion nor contraction of the lungs, or even if I have, I open, I tighten, I inhale, I exhale air with equal facility. To speak in a higher pitch, or louder, or higher, or lower, I still expand or contract another part in the throat, called the arterial trachea, even though I do not know that I have one: it is enough that I want to speak high or low, to the end that all is done by itself: in a moment, I make articulately and distinctly a thousand movements, of which I have no distinct knowledge, neither confusing them more often, since I do not know if I do or if it is done for me. But, O God! You know, and no one other than you can do what only you know. All of this is the result of the secret agreement which you have made between our wills and the movements of our bodies: and you have established this inviolable agreement, when you placed the soul in the body to govern. It is thus, not like a vessel which contains it, or like a house where it’s housed, nor in a place it stays. It is there by his dominion, by His presiding, so to speak, by his action As you are in us, you can not be far away, it is “by you we live, move and are.” (Acts 17:28) And you are of the same kind in the entire universe: above, in ruling; here, by stirring and making to come together in all its parts; below, in ruling, as Moses said, “with your eternal arms there is no God like God.” This divine man adds: “by his dominion, the magnificent winds blow here and there, and the clouds run in the sky.” (Deut. 33:25, 26) He said to the stars, walk; he spoke to the abyss and the whale; make this body submerged; he said to the waves, increase; he told the wind, blow and break into pieces these big masts; and everything follows his word. All naturally depends on the will: bodies and their movements naturally depend on a spirit and an all-powerful intelligence: God can give to the will, which he made in his own image, such dominion that pleases him; and thereby gives us the idea of his will, which moves all and does all.
Let us give him the dominion which he gives us: and “in the place of making our members do iniquity,” because it is God who submits them to us, “let us use them,” as St. Paul says, “to his justice.”
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