« PreviousContinue »
highest heavens, descends to the deepest abysses, and visits in a moment all parts of the universe. Yet he is immoveable, and doth not quit one place to be present in another, but abides with his disciples on earth, while he is in heaven, in the centre of felicity and glory. His will constitutes his power, and his power doth not differ from his will. All creatures in the universe own their existence to a single act of his will, and a thousand new worlds wait only for such an act to spring from nothing and to shine with glory. God is above all, all being subject to his power. Within all, all being an emanation of his will. Before all, after all. Stretch thine imagination, frail but haughty creature, try the utmost efforts of thy genius, elevate thy meditations, collect thy thoughts, see whether thou canst attain to comprehend an existence without beginning, a duration without succession, a presence without circumference, an immobility without place, and agility without motion, and many other attributes, which the mind can conceive, but which languge is too imperfect to express. See, weigh, calculate. It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do? Deeper than hell, what canst thou know? Canst thou by searching find out God ? Cunst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? Job. xi. 8, 7. Let us then exclaim on the borders of the abyss, O the depth !
II. The second way that leads us to the Creator, and at the same time the second abyss in which our reason is lost, is the works of nature. The study of nature is easy, and all the works of nature have a bright and luminous side. In the style of a prophet, the heavens have a voice, which declare the glory of God; and, as an apostle expresses it, creation is a visible image of the invisible things of
God; yet there is also a dark obscuré side. What a prodigious variety of creatures are there beyond the sphere of our senses! How many thousands, how many ten thousand times ten thousand spirits, called angels, archangels, cherubims, seraphims, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, of all which we know not either the properties, the operations, the number, or the employment! What a prodigious multitude of stars, and suns, and re. volving worlds, in comparison of which our earth is nothing but a point, and of all which we know neither the variety, the glory, nor the appointment! How many things are there on earth, plants, mineral, and animals, into the nature and use of which the industry of man could never penetrate! Why so much treasure hid in the depths of the sea ? Why such vast countries, such impenetrable forests, and such uninhabited climes as have never been surveyed, and the whole of which perhaps will never be discovered? What is the use of some insects, and some monsters, which seem to be a burden to nature, and made only to disfigure it : Why doth the Creator deprive man of many rich productions, that would be of the greatest advantage to him, while he abandons them to beasts of the field or fishes of the sea, which derive no benefit from them? Whence came rivers, fountains, winds and tempests, the power of the loadstone, and the ebbing and flowing of the tides ! Philosopher ! reply, or rather avow your ignorance, and acknowledge how deep the ways of your Creator are.
But it is but little to bumble man, to detect his ignorance on these subjects. It is not astonishing that he should err in paths so sublime, and it is more glorious to him to have attempted these impracticable roads, then shameful to have done so
without success. There are other objects more proper to humble human reason. Objects in appearance less subject to difficulty absorb the mind of man, whenever he attempts thoroughly to investigate them. Let him consider himself, and he will lose himself in meditating on his own essence. Wuat is man? What is that soul, which thinks and reflects? What constitutes the union of a spirit with a portion of matter? What is that matter, to which a spirit is united ? So many questions, so many abysses, so many unfathomable depths in the ways of the Creator.
What is the soul of man? In what doth its essence consist ? Is it the power of displaying his faculties ? But then this consequence would follow, that a soul may have the essence of a soul without having ever thought, reasoned or reflected, provided it hath the power of doing so. Is it the act of thinking? But then it would follow, that a spirit, when it ceases to think, ceases to be a spirit, which seems contrary to experience. What then is a soul? Is it a collection of successive thoughts? But how can such and such thoughts, not one of which apart is essential to a soul, constitute the essence of it when they are joined together? Is it something distinct from all these? Give us, if it be possible, a clear idea of this subject? What is a soul? Is it a substance immaterial, indivisible, different from body, and which cannot be enveloped in it ruins ? Certainly : but when we give you this notion, we rather tell you what the soul is not than what it is. You will say, you remove false notions, but you give us no true and positive ideas; you tell us indeed that spirit is not body, but you do not explain what spirit is, and we demand an idea clear, real and adequate.
As I confound myself by considering the nature
of my soul, so I am perplexed again when I examine the union of this soul with this body. Let us be informed, by what miracle a substance without extension and without parts can be united to a sub. stance material and extended? What connection is there between willing to move and inotion? What relation has a trace on the brain to an idea of the mind ? How does the soul go in search of ideas before ideas present themselves ? Jf ideas present themselves what occasion for search? To have recourse to the power of God is wise, I grant, if we avail ourselves of this answer to avoid our ignorance : but if we use it to cover that, if we pretend to explain every thing, by saying God is omnipotent, and can do all these things, we certainly deceive ourselves. It is to say, I know nothing; in philosophical terms, and when, it should seem, we affect to say, I perfectly understand it.
In fine, I demand an explication of the human body? What am I saying? The human body! I take the smailest particle of it; I take only one atom, one little grain of dust, and I give it to be examined by all the schools, and all the universities in the world. This atom hath extent, it may be divided, it is capable of motion, it reflects light, and every one of these properties furnishes a thousand and a thousand questions, which the greatest philosophers can never answer.
My brethren, when we are in the schools, when we occupy the chair of a professor, when we make it a law to answer every question, it is easy to talk, and as the wise man expresses it, to find a great deal to say * There is an art, which is called
* Eccles. vii. 29. The English translation of this text is, man hath sought out many inventions. The French bible reads, Ont cherche beaucoup de descours that is, mankind have found out a great many questions to ask, and a great
maintaining a thesis, and this art is very properly named, for it doth not consist in weighing and solving difficulties, or in acknowledging our ignorance: but in persisting to affirm our own position, and obstinately to defend it. But when we retire to our studies, coolly meditate, and endeavor to satisfy ourselves, if we have any accuracy of thought, we reason in another manner. Every sincere and ingenious man must acknowledge that solidity, weight, light, and extent are subjects, on which many very curious, and very finely imagined things have been said, but which to this day leave the mind almost in as much uncertainty as before. Thus this sublime genius, this author of so many volumes, this consummate philosopher, cannot explain what a grain of dust is, so that one atom, one single atom is a rock fatal to all his philosophy, against it all his science is dashed, shipwrecked and lost.
Let us conclude that nature, this mirror descriptive of God is dark and obscure. This is emphatically expressed by two inspired writers, the apostle Paul and holy Job. The first says, God hath made all nations of men, the earth, the appointed seasons, and the bounds of men's habitation, that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him and find him. Acts xvii. 26. 29. This is both a passable road to God, and an unfathomable abyss. That they might seek the Lord; this is a way leading to God. That they might find him by feeling after him; this is the abyss. In like manner Job describes in lively colors the mulitude
many sophisms to affirm on this subject; or in other words, a great deal to say concerning original rectitude of man. The original vague terms are rendered by some critics, Ipse se infinites mis cuerit questionibus.