This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day. There is more here on the Bossuet Project.
God said to Adam: Because you have listened to the word of your wife. This is where the accusation begins: the man is convinced at first of going along too much with the woman; it is the source of our loss, and this evil is renewed only too often. Let us continue: Because you have eaten fruit that I have forbidden you, the earth is cursed in your work; you will only eat your bread with the sweat of your face; and the rest. It is where the torture begins; but it is expressed by terrible words: The earth is cursed in your work; the earth had not sinned, and if it is cursed, it is because of the work of the accursed man who cultivates it: fruit is not torn from it, and especially the most necessary fruit, except by force and endless work.
Every day of your life, the cultivation of the earth is a perpetual care which leaves us at rest neither day nor night nor in any season: at every moment the hope of the harvest and the unique fruit of all our labors can escape us. We are at the mercy of the inconstant sky, which rains upon the tender shoot, not only the nourishing waters of the rain, but also the rust of the blight.
The earth will produce thorns and bushes. Fertile in its nature and producing the best plants by itself, now if it is left to its natural state. It is fertile only in weeds; it bristles with thorns: menacing and heartbreaking on all sides, it seems to even want to refuse us the freedom of the passage, and we can not walk on it without a fight.
You will eat the grass of the earth. It seems that, in the innocence of the beginning, the trees must of themselves offer and furnish to man a pleasant food in their fruits; but since the envy of the forbidden fruit had made us sin, we are subject to eating the grass that the earth produces only by force; and the wheat, of which the bread is our ordinary food, must be watered with our sweat. This is what these words insinuate: You will eat the grass, and your bread will be given to you by the sweat of your face. This is the beginning of our misfortunes; it is a continual work that alone can conquer our needs and the hunger that persecutes us.
Until you return to the land of which you were formed, and you become dust. There is no other end of our labors or rest for us, except death and the return to the dust, which is the last annihilation of our bodies. This object is always present to our eyes; death presents itself on all sides, the very earth which we cultivate puts it incessantly before the sight; it is the spirit of this word: Man will not cease to work the earth from which he is taken, and where he returns.
Man, behold your life, eternally torment the earth, or rather torment yourself by cultivating it, until it receives you yourself, and you rot in its bosom. Awful rest! Oh, sad end of continual work!
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