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.
After forming man, God begins to make him feel what he is in the world by two memorable circumstances. One, he planted with his own hand a delicious garden called Paradise, where he had put together all the beauties of nature, to serve the pleasure of man, and by that raising him to God who filled him with so many good things. The other was to bring him all the animals as to him who is the master, in order to make him see that not only all the plants and all the fruits of the earth were his, but also all the animals which, by the nature of their movements, seemed less subject to his dominion.
For Paradise, God ordained two things to man: one to cultivate it, the other, to keep it, (Genesis 2:15) that is to say, to preserve its beauty, which still belongs to cultivation. Besides, there was no enemy who could invade this tranquil and holy place: ut operaretur et custodiret illum. God taught man, by this figure, to guard himself, and to keep at the same time the place he has in Paradise. For cultivation, it was not this laborious cultivation that was the punishment of our sin, when we had to wrest from the sweat of our forehead, from the bosom of the earth, the fruit necessary for the preservation of our life. This cultivation was given to man for his exercise, it was that curious cultivation which grows fruits and flowers more for pleasure than for necessity. By this means, man ought to be instructed in the nature of lands and the genius of plants, their fruits, or their seeds. And he found at the same time the figure of the cultivation of virtues.
By bringing animals to man, God makes him see that he is the master of them, as a master in his family who appoints his servants for the ease of command. Scripture, substantial and short in its expressions, indicates at the same time the beautiful knowledge given to man: since he could not have named animals without knowing their nature and differences, and then giving them Names according to the primitive roots of the language which God had taught him.
It was then that he knew the marvels of the wisdom of God, in the appearance and shadow of wisdom, which appears in the natural industries of animals. Let us praise God with Adam, and consider for a moment all animal nature, as the object of our reason. Who has formed so many kinds of animals and so many species subordinate to these kinds; all these properties, all these movements, all these environments, all these nourishments, all these various forces, all these images of virtue, penetration, sagacity, and violence? Who made animals walk, crawl, slide? Who gave to birds and fish these natural oars, which make them split the waters and the airs? That which perhaps gave rise to their creator to produce them together, as animals of a similar design. The flight of birds appears to be a type of the ability to swim in a more subtle medium, like the ability of swimming in fishes. It is a type of flight in a thicker medium. The same author has made these conveniences and differences: he who gave the fish their sadness and, so to speak, their gloomy silence, gave the birds their songs so diverse, and put in their stomach and throat a kind of lyre and guitar, to announce, each in their own fashion, the beauties of their creator. Who would not admire the riches of his providence, which finds every animal, even a fly, even a worm, its proper nourishment, so that scarcity is not in any part of his family. But, on the contrary, abundance reigns everywhere, except now among men since sin introduced greed and avarice.
By the second consideration, all animals are for the use of man, since they serve him to know and praise God. But besides this more universal usage, Adam knew peculiar properties in the animals, which gave them the means of helping by their ministry that whom God made their lord. O God! I have considered your works, and I have been frightened. What has become of this dominion which you have given us over animals? We no longer see among us but a small remnant, as a feeble memorial of our ancient power, and an unhappy remnant of our past fortune.
Let us give thanks to God for all the goods he has left us in the aid of animals: let us accustom ourselves to praise him in everything. Let us praise him in the horse that carries us or drags us, in the sheep that dresses and feeds us, in the dog who is our guard and our hunter, in the ox that makes our plowing with us. Let us not forget the birds, since God has brought them to Adam like other animals, and still, tamed by our industry, they come to flatter our ears with their amiable music, untiring and perpetual singers, they seem to deserve the food we give them. If we praise animals in their labor, and, so to speak, in their occupations, let us not live uselessly. Let us earn our bread each in his exercise, since God has put it at this price since sin.