Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In recent newsletters, we have seen how devout, intelligent, learned, and gifted Catholic intellectuals have been seduced away from the traditional Catholic understanding of the First Article of the Creed. By contrast, the great Bishop and defender of the Faith Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet exemplifies the way that all Catholic theologians and scholars ought to have resisted the assaults unleashed against the Faith by Voltaire and the Enlightenment philosophers. And since the world in which we live continues to be dominated by the false ideas and attitudes of the Enlightenment, he shows us how we ought to resist and refute them today.
Bossuet: Bishop, Teacher and Preacher
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Bossuet was:
A celebrated French bishop and pulpit orator, born at Dijon, 27 September, 1627, died at Paris, 12 April, 1704. For more than a century his ancestors, both paternal and maternal, had occupied judicial functions. He was the fifth son of Beneigne Bossuet, a judge in the Parliament of Dijon, and Madeleine Mouchet. He began his classical studies in the Collège des Godrans, conducted by the Jesuits, in Dijon, and, on his father's appointment to a seat in the Parliament of Metz, he was left in his native town, under the care of his uncle, Claude Bossuet d'Aiseray, a renowned scholar. His extraordinary ardour for study gave occasion to the schoolboy joke, deriving his name from Bos suetus aratro. In a very short time, he mastered the Greek and Latin classics. Homer and Virgil were his favourite authors, while the Bible soon became his livre de chevet. Speaking of the Scriptures, he used to say: "Certe, in his consenescere, in his immori, summa votorum est." Early destined to the Church, he received the tonsure when he was only eight years old, and at the age of thirteen he obtained a canonicate in the cathedral of Metz. In 1642, he left Dijon and went to Paris to finish his classical studies and to take up philosophy and theology in the College de Navarre. A year later he was introduced by Arnauld at the Hotel de Rambouillet, where, one evening at eleven o'clock, he delivered an extempore sermon, which caused Voiture's remark: "I never heard anybody preach so early nor so late." A Master of Arts in 1643, he held his first thesis (tentativa) in theology, 25 January,1648, in the presence of the Prince de Condé. He was ordained sub-deacon the same year and deacon the following year, and preached his first sermons at Metz. He held his second thesis (sorbonica) 9 November, 1650. For two years, he lived in retirement, preparing himself for the priesthood under the direction of St. Vincent de Paul, and was ordained 18 March, 1652. A few weeks later, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him. Appointed Archdeacon of Sarrebourg (January, 1652), he resided for seven years at Metz, devoting himself to the study of the Bible and the Fathers, preaching sermons, holdings controversies with Protestants, and yet finding time for the secular affairs for which he was responsible, as a member of the Assembly of Three Orders. In 1657 he was induced by St. Vincent de Paul to come to Paris and give himself entirely to preaching.
Though living in Paris, Bossuet did not sever his connection with the cathedral of Metz; he continued to hold his benefice, and was even appointed dean in 1664, when his father, a widower, had just received the priesthood and become a canon of the same cathedral. There are extant one hundred and thirty-seven sermons which were delivered by Bossuet between 1659 and 1669, and it is estimated that more than one hundred have been lost. In 1669 he was appointed Bishop of Condom, without being obliged to reside in his diocese was consecrated 21 September, 1670, but, obeying scruples of conscience, resigned his bishopric a year later, in which year, also, he was elected in the French Academy. Appointed preceptor to the Dauphin, 13 September, 1670, he threw himself with indefatigable energy into his tutorial functions, composing all the books deemed necessary for his instruction, models of handwriting as well as manuals of philosophy, and himself giving all the lessons, three times a day. When his functions as preceptor ended (1681), he was appointed to the bishopric of Meaux. He took a prominent part in the Assembly of the French Clergy in 1682. Unlike the court bishops, Boussuet constantly resided in his diocese and busied himself with the details of its administration. In that period he completed his long-interrupted works of historical controversy, wrote innumerable spiritual letters, took care of his religious communities (for whom he composed "Meditations on the Gospel" and "Uplifting of the Soul on the Mysteries"), and entered on endless polemics with Ellies du Pin, Caffaro, Fénelon, the Probabilists, Richard Simon and the Jansenists. From 1700, his health began to fail, which, however, did not prevent him from wrestling in defence of the Faith. Confined to his bed by illness, he dictated letters and polemical essays to his secretary. As Saint-Simon says, "he died fighting."
Bossuet on the Immutability of Dogma
The Catholic Encyclopedia highlights Bossuet’s understanding of the unchangeable nature of Catholic doctrine:
Bossuet, while not adding to the difficulties of faith, made it a condition that care must be taken not to trench upon faith, and this trait it is which completes the picture of Bossuet's character. Tradition has never had a more eloquent or a more vigorous defender. Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; this was for Bossuet, in a manner, the absolute criterion of Catholic truth. He had not difficulty in deducing from it "the immutability of morality or of dogma"; and in this precisely, as is well known, consists his great argument against the Protestants. The "History of the Variations of the Protestant churches" is nothing more than a history of the alterations, if one may say so, to which the Protestant Churches have subjected dogma, and the adjustments or adaptations of dogma which they have pretended to make to circumstances that had nothing but what was transitory and contingent. But "the truth which comes from God possesses from the first its complete perfection", and from that it follows that as many "variations" as there are, so many "errors" are there in faith, since they are so many contradictions or omissions of tradition.
Bossuet on Days Before the Sun
In our day, how many Catholic intellectuals have argued with Fr. Stanley Jaki that the creation of the sun on the fourth day of the Hexameron invalidates and renders ridiculous the literal interpretation of the days of Genesis One—since everyone knows there “cannot be days without the sun”! But Bossuet, as a true descendant of the Fathers of the Church, answers the scoffers of his day (and ours) with the wisdom of the Fathers:
He is infinitely above that first cause and first mover whom the philosophers have known, yet without adoring. Those of them who have been widest of the mark have set forth to us a God Who, finding matter eternal and self-existent as well as Himself, put it in operation and fashioned it as a common artist, cramped in His work by that matter and its dispositions which He did not make. These philosophers were never able to comprehend that if matter is from itself, it was not to expect its perfection from a foreign hand, and that, if God is infinite and perfect, He needed but Himself and His own almighty will to make whatsoever He pleased. But the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God whose wonders Moses has recorded, not only put the world in order, but made it entirely both in its matter and form. Till He gave being, nothing had it, but Himself only. He is represented to us as the Maker of all things, and as making all things by the word of His power, as well as because He makes all things by reason, as because He makes all things without trouble; and the performance of so great works costs Him but a single word, that is, it costs Him but to will it.
Now, to pursue the history of the creation, since we have begun it, Moses has taught us that this mighty Architect, Whose works cost Him so little, has been pleased to perform them at different times, and to create the universe in six days, to show that He does not act by necessity or by a blind impetuosity, as some philosophers have imagined. The sun darts forth at once, and without reserve, all the rays it has; but God, Who acts by understanding and with a sovereign liberty, applies His power where He pleases, and as much as He pleases, and as in making the world by His word He shows that nothing is hard to Him, so by making it at different times, He demonstrates that He is master of His matter, of His action, of His whole undertaking and that He has, in acting, no other rule than His own will, ever infallibly right in itself.
This manner of acting on the part of God lets us also see that every thing proceeds immediately from His hand. The nations and philosophers who believed that the earth mixed with water and assisted, if you will, by the heat of the sun, had, of itself and by its own fruitfulness, produced the plants and animals, have most grossly erred. Scripture has given us to understand that the elements are barren if the word of God does not render them fruitful. Neither the earth, nor the water, nor the air, would ever have had the plants and animals we see in them if God, Who had made and prepared their matter, had not also formed it by His almighty will, and given to every thing the seed proper for its multiplication in all ages.
Those who see the plants derive their spring and growth from the sun’s genial heat, might possibly fancy that the sun is their Creator. But Scripture exhibits to us the earth clothed with grass and all manner of plants, before the sun was created, that so we may understand that everything depends on God alone. It pleased the great Artificer to create the light, even before He reduced it to the form He gave it in the sun and stars, because, He meant to teach us that those great and glorious luminaries, of which some have thought fit to make deities, had of themselves neither that precious and shining matter whereof they were composed nor that admirable form to which we see them reduced.
Bossuet on the Creation of Man
When Bossuet turns his attention to the creation of man, he puts to shame the absurd scenarios of theistic evolution in which the bodies of the first humans are conceived in the womb of sub-human primates:
The word of counsel of which God makes use denotes that the creature which is about to be made is the only one that can act by counsel and understanding. All the rest is no less extraordinary. Till then we had not seen, in the history of Genesis, the finger of God applied to corruptible matter. But to form the body of man, God Himself takes earth, and that earth molded by such a hand, receives the most beautiful figure that has yet appeared in the world. That particular attention which appears in God when He is making man, shows us that He has a particular regard for him, though, at the same time, everything be immediately conducted by His wisdom. But the manner in which He produces the soul is far more wonderful: He does not draw it from matter; He breathes it in from above: it is a breath of life that proceeds forth from Himself.
When he created the beasts, He said, “Let the water bring forth the creeping creature,” (Gen. 1:20) and in this manner He created the sea monsters and every moving creature that has life that was to fill the waters. He said also, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth.” (Gen. 1:24)
Thus were to spring those living souls of a brute and beast life, to which God allots no other action than some motions dependent on the body. God calls them forth from the womb of the waters and of the earth; but that soul, whose life was to be an imitation of His own, which was to live as Himself by reason and understanding, which was to be united to Him by contemplating and loving Him, and which on that account was made to His image, could not be derived from matter. God, in fashioning matter, may well form a beautiful body, but turn or fashion it how He will, He never will find in it His own image and likeness. The soul, made after His image and capable of being happy in the enjoyment of Him, must be produced by a new creation: it must come from above; and this is what is signified by that breath of life which God draws from His mouth. (Gen. 2:7)
Like a true descendant of the Fathers of the Church, Bossuet explains exactly how the language of Genesis 1-3 should be understood in a metaphorical sense when describing the action of God, without denying in the slightest degree the literal historical truth of the entire sacred history of Genesis. He writes:
Let us always remember that Moses set forth to carnal men, by sensible images, pure and intellectual truths. Let us not imagine that God breathes after the manner of animals. Let us not fancy that our soul is a subtle air, or a thin vapor. The breath which comes from God and which bears in itself the image of God, is neither air nor vapor. Let us not believe that our soul is a portion of the divine nature, as some philosophers have dreamed. God is not whole that can be divided. Though God should have parts, they would not be created ones. For the Creator, the uncreated being, could not be composed of creatures. The soul is made, and so made, that it is no part of the divine nature but only a substance made to the image and likeness of the divine nature: a substance that is ever to continue united to Him that formed it. This is the meaning of that divine breathing; this is what the breath of life represents to us. Behold, then, man formed! God forms also out of him the companion He is pleased to give him. All men spring from one marriage, in order to be forever but one and the same family, however dispersed or multiplied.
Let us learn from the great example of Bossuet how to defend the fundamental dogma of creation against all who would deform it in any way, whether through theistic evolutionism, progressive creationism, or any other deviation. Then we will keep the foundations of the Faith firm and immovable, both for ourselves and for all of those whom God has entrusted to our care.
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata in union with St. Joseph,
P.S. We have decided to hold our 2022 annual leadership retreat at the headquarters of the Apostolate for Family Consecration in Bloomingdale, Ohio, again this year, from Sunday, August 28, until Saturday, September 3. For more information or to obtain a registration form, please email me at email@example.com.