صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

But this error, however long it may have / ture, it is not unlikely that the objects which subsisted, and by whatever great names it may struck him, having left no trace in the brain, have been maintained, is nevertheless an error, he lost the recollection of a great part of what as might be demonstrated by more arguments he had seen. than we have now leisure to adduce. You But we are under no obligation to restrict have only to read the prayer which Jesus Christ ourselves to either of these senses. The words addressed to his father a little before his death, of the original translated “unspeakable, which where you will find him demanding immediate it is not lawful for a man to utter,” frequently admission into the heavenly felicity. He says, denote that which is not of a nature to be exlikewise, to the penitent thief on the cross, plained: thus it is said, that “the Spirit maketh “Verily I say unto thee, to-day thou shalt be intercession for us, with groanings which canwith me in paradise,” Luke xxiii. 43. Para- not be uttered," Rom. viii. 26. Thus, too, St. dise, therefore, is the place in which God dis- Peter mentions a "joy unspeakable and full of plays the most august symbols of his presence, glory," chap. i. 8., and we shall presently see and is not different from the third heaven. that the heavenly felicity is, in this sense, un

Now, if it be asked, why this name is given speakable. to the third heaven, it will be necessary to recur Again, among those who have pursued reto its first original. Persons who have applied searches, respecting the things which St. Paul to the dry study of etymology assure us that declares to be unspeakable, some have pretendthe word is of Persian extraction, and that the ed to tell us, that he means the divine essence: Persians gave the name of paradise to the parks others, that it was the hierarchal order of the and gardens of their kings. It came in process celestial intelligences; hers, that it was the of time to denote all places of a similar de- beauty and excellency of glorified souls; others, scription. It passed from the Persians to the that it was the mystery of the rejection of the Greeks, to the Hebrews, to the Latins.* We Jewish nation, and of the calling of the Genfind it employed in this sense in Nehemiah ii. tiles; others, that it was the destination of the 8, in Ecclesiastes ii. 5, in many profane au- Christian church through its successive periods. thors; and the Jews gave this name to the gar- But wherefore should we attempt to affix preden of Eden in which Adam was placed. You cise limits to the things which our apostle heard will find it in the second chapter of the book and saw? He was rapt up to the very seat of of Genesis. But enough, and more than the blessed; and he there, undoubtedly, parenough, has been suggested on this head. took of the felicity which they enjoy.

4. There is but one particular more that re- Had men employed their imagination only quires some elucidation. “I knew a man, on the discussion of this question, no great adds the apostle, “who heard unspeakable harm could have ensued. But it is ossible words, which it is not lawful for a man to ut- to behold, without indignation, the inventors

To see things, and to hear words, are, in of fictitious pieces carrying their insolence so the style of the sacred writers, frequently used far, as to forge writings, which they ascribed as phrases of similar import, and it is not on to the Spirit of God himself, and in which they this ground that the difficulty of the present pretended those mysteries were explained. St. article presses. But, what can be the meaning Epiphanius relates * that certain ancient here. of the apostle, when he asserts that the words tics, these were the Gaianites or Cainites, had which he heard, or the things which he saw, invented a book which was afterwards adopted

are unspeakable,” and “which it is not law- by the Gnostics. They gave it the name of ful for a man to utter?” Had he been laid un- The Ascension of St. Paul, and presume to alder a prohibition to reveal the particulars of his lege, that this book discovered what those vision? Had he lost the ideas of it? Or were speakable things" were, which the apostle had the things which he heard and saw of such a heard.f St. Augustine speaks of the same nature as to be absolutely inexpressible by work, as a gross imposture. Nicephorus tells mortal lips? There is some plausible reason- us, that a story was current, under the empeing that may be employed in support of each ror Theodosius, of the discovery, in the house of the three opinions.

of St. Paul at Tarsus, of a marble chest, buried The first has numerous partisans. Their in the earth, and which contained the Apocabelief is that God had revealed mysteries to lypse of St. Paul. He himself refutes this ficSt. Paul, but with a prohibition to disclose them tion, by the testimony of a man of Tarsus, a to the world; they believe that the apostle, after member of the Presbytery. having been rapt into the third heaven, had The impostor, who is the author of the work received a charge similar to that which was ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, and who given to St. John, in a like situation, and which gives himself out as that illustrious proselyte is transmitted to us in chap. x. of the book of of our apostle, boasts of his having heard him Revelation, 4th verse, “Seal up those things relate wonderful things respecting the nature, wbich the seven thunders uttered, and write the glory, the gifts, the beauty of angels; and them not.” Thus it was that the pagans de- upon this testimony it is that he founds the nominated certain of their mysteries ineffable, chimerical idea which he has given us of the because it was forbidden to reveal them. Thus, celestial hierarchy. too, the Jews called the name of Jehovah in- But let us have done with all these frivolous effable, because it was unlawful to pronounce it. conjectures, with all these impious fictions.

The second opinion is not destitute of pro- We are going to propose much nobler objects bability. As the soul of St. Paul had no sen- to your meditation, and to examine, as has sible intercourse with his body, during this rap

* Hæres. 38.

+ Treatise 98. on St. John. · Pollux Onomast.

| Hist. Eccles. lib. xii. cap. 34.


[ocr errors]


been said, this singular, but interesting ques. | ever efforts may have been made by certain tion, Wherefore is the celestial glory of such a philosophers to prove that we are acquainted nature as to defy description? Why is it “not with beings intermediate between mind and lawful for a man to utter them?” We are go- matter, they have never been able to persuade ing to avail ourselves of this very inability to others of it, and probably entertained no such describe these gloriously unspeakable things, as persuasion themselves. But if all beings which the means of conveying to you exalted ideas are within the sphere of our knowledge be reof them, and of kindling in your souls more ferrible to these two ideas, where is the person ardent desires after the possession of them. who is bold enough to affirm, that there are in This shall be the subject of the second part of fact no others? Where is the man who dares our discourse.

to maintain, that the creation of bodies, and

that of spirits, have exhausted the omnipotence SERMON LXXVII.

of the Creator? Who shall presume to affirm, that this infinite intelligence, to whom the uni

verse is indebted for its existence, could find THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL.

only two ideas in his treasures?

May it not be possible that the blessed in PART II.

heaven, have the idea of certain beings which

possess no manner of relation to any thing of 2 Cor. xii. 2-4.

which we have a conception upon earth? May

it not be possible that God impressed this idea I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, on the soul of St. Paul? May not this be one

(whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether of the reasons of the impossibility to which he out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) is reduced, of describing what he had seen? such an one caught up to the third heaven. For when we speak to other men, we go on the And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, supposition that they have souls similar to our or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) own, endowed with the same faculties, enriched how that he was caught up into paradise, and with the same sources of thought. We possess heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful certain signs, certain words to express our confor a man to ulter.

ceptions. We oblige our fellow men to retire Having presented you with some brief eluci- within themselves, to follow up their principles, dations of the expressions of the text, namely, to examine their notions. It is thus we are 1. Respecting the era to which reference is enabled to communicate our notions to each here made; “I knew a man in Christ above other. But this is absolutely impracticable fourteen years ago:” 2. Respecting the manner with regard to those beings who may be known of his rapture; " whether in the body, I cannot to the blessed above. There is in this respect, tell: or out of the body, I cannot tell: God no notion in common to us and them. We knoweth:” 3. Respecting the place to which have no term by which to express them. God Paul was caught; “ paradise, the third hea- himself alone has the power of impressing new ven:” and, 4. Respecting what he there saw ideas on the soul of man. All that men can and heard; “ unspeakable words, which it is do is to render us attentive to those which we not lawful for a man to utter:" we proceed to, already have, and to assist us in unfolding

. The second general head, namely, to in-them. quire, whether the silence of Scripture on the Besides, so long as we are upon earth, we subject of a state of future happiness, suggests have but a very imperfect knowledge of the any thing that has a tendency to cool our ar- two orders of beings, to which all our knowdour in the pursuit of it; or, whether this very ledge is confined. Our ideas are incomplete. veil, which conceals the paradise of God from We have only a very imperfect perception of our eyes, is not above all things calculated to body, and of spirit. We have, convey the most exalted ideas of it.

1. Very imperfect ideas of body. And withWe refer the felicity of the blessed in hea- out entering here into the discussion of the ven to three general notions. The blessed in endless metaphysical questions of which the heaven possess, 1. Superior illumination: 2. subjects admit, and, in order to convey an exThey are prompted by inclinations the most no- ample of it, brought down to the level of the ble and refined: 3. They enjoy the purest sensi- meanest capacity, the magnitude of bodies, and ble pleasures. A defect of genius prevents our their smallness, almost equally exceed our comability to partake of their illumination; a deprehension. We begin with forming to ourfect of taste prevents our adopting their incli- selves the idea of a portion of matter; we dinations; a defect of faculty prevents our per- vide it into minute particles; we reduce it to ception of their pleasures In these three re- powder, till the particles become entirely imspects, the celestial felicity is “. unspeakable:” perceptible to our senses. When the senses in these three respects, “it is not lawful for a fail, we have recourse to imagination. We man to utter it."

subdivide, in imagination, that same portion of 1. The blessed in heaven possess superior matter, particle after particle, till it is reduced illumination: a defect of genius prevents our to such a degree of minuteness, as to escape participation of it.

imagination, as it had eluded the senses. After While we are in this world, we are deficient the senses and the imagination have been in many ideas. Properly speaking, we have stretched to the uttermost, we call in thought ideas of two kinds only: that of body, and that to our aid; we consult the idea which we have of spirit. The combination of those two ideas of matter; we subject it to a new subdivision forms all our perceptions, all our speculations, in thought. Thought transcends imagination the whole body of our knowledge. And what. I and the senses. But after having pursued it to a certain point, we find thought absorbed in its , whom tumult and noise pursue wherever he turn, and we feel ourselves equally lost, whether goes, is incapable of composed recollection, we are disposed to admit an infinite progression because carrying always in himself a source of in this division, or whether we are disposed to distraction, he becomes incapable of profound stop at a certain determinate point.

reflection upon any one object abstracted from What we have said of the smallness of bo- and unconnected with matter. But a philosodies, holds equally true of their immensity of pher accustomed to meditate, is able to follow magnitude. We are able, with the help of the up a principle to a degree totally inaccessible senses of the imagination, and of thought, to to the other. Nevertheless, whatever a man's increase a mass of matter, to suppose it still attainments may be in the art of attention, it greater, to conceive it still exceeding the for- must always be contracted within very narrow mer magnitude. But after we have acted, ima- limits; because we still consist in part, of body; gined, reflected; and, after we have risen in because this body is ever exciting sensations in thought to a certain degree of extension, were the soul; because the soul is continually diswe disposed to go on to the conception of one tracted by these sensations; because that, in orstill greater, we should at length feel ourselves der to meditate, there is occasion for a great absorbed in the inconceivable magnitude of concourse of the spirits necessary to the supmatter, as it had eluded our pursuit by its mi- port of the body, so that attention wearied out, muteness. So incomplete are our ideas even of exhausted, does violence to that body; to such matter. And if so, then,

a degree, that if, by the aid of an extraordina2. How much more imperfect still is our ry concourse of spirits, we should be disposed knowledge of what relates to mind! Who ever to exert the brain beyond a certain pitch, the presumed to unfold all that a spirit is capable effort would prove fatal to us. of? Who has ever determined the connexion The blessed in heaven are not liable to have which subsists within us, between the faculty their attention disturbed by the action of the which feels, and that which reflects. Who has senses. St. Paul, by means of a supernatural ever discovered the manner in which one spirit interposition, had his soul, if not separated is enabled to communicate its feelings and re- from the body (for he himself knows not flections to another? Who has formed a con- whether his rapture were in the body, or out of ception of the means by which a spirit becomes the body,) at least emancipated from that concapable of acting upon a body, and a body upon tinual distraction to which it is subject, in vira spirit? It is to me then demonstrably certain, tue of its union with matter. He could be that we know but in an imperfect manner, the self-collected, attentive, absorbed of the obvery things of which we have any ideas at all. jects which God presented to his mind. He

The blessed in heaven have complete ideas could discern the mutual relation of the deof these; they penetrate into the minutest parti- signs of eternal wisdom, the harmony of the cles of matter; they discern all the wonders, all works of God, the concatenation of his purthe latent springs, all the subtility of the sinall- poses, the combination of his attributes; subest parts of the body, which contain worlds in lime objects which he could not possibly disminiature, an epitome of the great universe, play to men incapable of that degree of attenand not less calculated to excite admiration of tion, without which no conception can be formthe wisdom of the Creator:* they traverse that ed of those objects. immensity of space, those celestial globes, those Does not this first reason, my beloved breimmeasurable spheres, the existence of which thren, of our apostle's silence on the subject of it is impossible for us to call in question, but the heavenly felicity, already produce on your whose enormous mass and countless inultitude souls, the effect at which this discourse is princonfound and overwhelm us. The blessed in cipally aiming? Has it not already kindled heaven know the nature of spirits, their facul- within you an ardent desire to attain that felities, their relations, their intercourse, their laws. city? Soul of man, susceptible of so many ideas, But all this is inexplicable. Is any one capable of such enlarged knowledge, of illumination of changing our senses? Is any one capable of so unbounded, is it possible for thee to sojourn giving a more extensive range to our imagina- without reluctance, in a body which narrows tion? Is it possible to remove the barriers which thy sphere, and cramps thy nobler faculties? limit thought?

Philosopher, who art straining every nerve, While we are on the earth, we discern but very who givest thyself no rest to attain a degree of imperfectly the relations which subsist even be knowledge incompatible with the condition of tween the things which we do know. Contract humanity: geometrician, who, after an incredied, incomplete as our ideas are, we should, ne- ble expense of thought, of meditation, of revertheless, make some progress in our research- flection, art able to attain at most the knowes after truth, had we the power of reflecting, ledge of the relations of a circle or of a trianof recollection, of fixing our attention to a cer- gle: theologian, who, after so many days of latain degree, of comparing beings with each bour and nights of watching, hast scarcely arother, and thus advancing from those which rived at the capacity of explaining a few paswe already know, to those with which we are sages of holy writ, of correcting, by an effort, hitherto unacquainted. Men are more or less some silly prejudice; wretched mortals, how intelligent, according as they are in the habit much are you to be pitied! how impotent and of being more or less attentive. A man brought ineffectual are all exertions to acquire real up in the midst of noise, in tumult; a man knowledge! I think I am beholding one of

those animals, the thickness of whose blood, * For a farther illustration of this part of the subject, the grossness of whose humours, the encumthe Philosophical and Christian reader is referred to the Letters of Euler to a German Princess, Letter I. vol. i.

brance of that house with which nature loads published by the Translator of this voluine, 1794. them, preventing them from moving with fa


cility; I think I am beholding one of those ani- dangers, in bidding defiance to almost inevitamals, striving to move over an immense space ble death? In general, what arguments are sufin a little, little hour. He strains, he bustles, ficient to convince a worldling, that the purest he toils, he latters himself with having made and most perfect delights are to be enjoyed in a mighty progress, he exults in the thought of exercises of devotion, in these effusions of the attaining the end which he had proposed. The heart, in that emptying us of ourselves, of hour elapses, and the progress which he has which the saints of God have given us such made is a mere nothing, compared with the warm recommendations, and such amiable eximmensity of the space still untrodden. amples? These are the things of the spirit of

Thus, loaded with a body replenished with God, which the natural inan receiveth not, begross humours, retarded by matter, we are able, cause they are spiritually discerned,” i Cor. in the course of the longest life, to acquire but ii. 14: because he is destitute of that taste, a very slender and imperfect degree of know- which alone can enable him to relish their ledge. This body must drop: this spirit must charms. disengage itself before it can become capable Now, my brethren, although the love of of soaring unencumbered, of penetrating into God be the principle of all the exalted virtues futurity, and of attaining that height and possessed by the saints in glory, as well as by depth of knowledge which the blessed in bea- those who remain still on the earth; although ven possess.

both agree in this general and vague notion, Not only from revelation do we derive these that to love God is the sublimity of virtue; ideas, not even from reason, in its present high nevertheless, there is a distance so inconceivastate of improvement; they were entertained ble, between the love which we have for God in the ancient pagan world. We find this sub on the earth, and that which inspires the blessject profoundly investigated, I had almost said ed in heaven, that inclinations entirely differexhausted in the Phædon of Plato. Socrates ent result from it. considers his body as the greatest obstacle in We know God very imperfectly while we the way of seeking after truth. And this brings are upon the earth, and our love to him is in to my recollection the beautiful expression of a proportion to the imperfection of our knowcertain Anchorite, to the same purpose; exten- ledge. To come to his holy temple, to hearuated, infirm, sinking under a load of years, ken to his word, to sing his praises, to adminon the point of expiring, he breaks out into ister and to partake of his sacramental ordisinging. He is asked, Wherefore singest thou? nances; to pant after a union of which we can

Ah! I sing,” says he, “because I see that not so much as form an idea, to practice the wall tumbling down, which hinders me from virtues which our present condition imposes; beholding the face of God.” Yes, this body such is the taste which that love inspires; such is a wall which prevents our seeing God. Fall are the particular inclinations which it excites down, fall down, interposing invidious wall: in our souls. After all, how often are those fall down impenetrable wall, and then we shall feelings blunted by prevailing attachment to see God. But to man in his present state, to the creature? How often are they too faint to man loaded with a body like this, the illumina- animate us to engage in those exercises? How tion of the blessed in heaven is among the often do we present ourselves before God, like things which are unspeakable.

victims dragged reluctantly to the altar? How 2. The blessed in heaven are prompted by often must a sense of duty supply the want of inclination the most noble and refined; a defect inclination, and hell opening under our feet, of taste prevents our adopting and enjoying the produce in our souls the effects which ought to same inclinations.

flow from the love of God purely? But, be it All tastes are not similar. Men agree tole- as it may, our love, so long as we continue rably well in the vague notions of honour, of here below, can go no further than this. That pleasure, of generosity, of nobility. But that complete devotedness to God, those voluntary which appears pleasure to one, is insupportable sacrifices, that sublimity of virtue which refers to another; that which appears noble, generous every thing to God and to him alone, are to one, appears mean, grovelling, contempti- wholly unknown to us; we have neither ideas ble to another. So that the idea which you to conceive them ourselves, nor terms in which might suggest to your neighbour, of a pleasant to convey them to the minds of others. and desirable mode of living, might, in all pro- The blessed in heaven know God perfectly, bability, convey to him ideas of life the most and have a love to him proportioned to the odious and disgusting.

perfection of that knowledge, and inclinations Who is able to make a man plunged in busi- proportioned to that love. We know what ness to comprehend, that there is pleasure in- may be impressed on the heart of man, by the expressible in studying truth, in making addi- idea of a God known as supremely wise, as tions to a stock of knowledge, in diving into supremely powerful, as supremely amiable. mysteries? Who is able to persuade a miser, The blessed in heaven take pleasure in exerthat there is a delight which nothing can equal, cises which Scripture describes in language in relieving the miserable, in ministering to adapted to our present capacities. To this their necessities, in sharing fortunes with them, purpose are such as the following expressions, and thus, to use the expression of Scripture, "To cast their crowns before the throne," to draw nigh to a man's “own flesh?” Isa. Rev. iv. 10; "to behold always the face of lviii. 7. Who is able to convince a grovelling their father which is in heaven," Matt. xviii. and dastardly soul, that there is joy to be found 10, as courtiers do that of their sovereign: to in pursuing glory through clouds of smoke and cover their faces” in his presence, Isa. vi. 2; showers of iron, in braving instant and certain "to sing a new song before the throne,” Rev.



xiv. 3; to fly at his command with the rapidity significant; pleasures of everlasting duration,
of the wind and of a flame of fire,” Heb. i. to those of a moment.
* 7; to “cry one to another, Holy, holy, holy, If we declaim against your pleasures, it is
is the Lord of hosts,” Isa. vi. 3; to burn, to because the attachment which you feel for
bear the name of Seraphim, that is, burning those of the earth, engages you to consider
with zeal. These are emblems presented to them as the sovereign good, and prevents your
our imagination. The thing itself cannot be aspiring after that abundant portion, which is
brought down to the level of our capacity. laid up

for you in heaven.
We are ignorant of the effect, because the If we declaim against your pleasures, it is
cause is far beyond our comprehension. We because you regard the creatures through
are strangers to the joy flowing from it, because which they are communicated, as if they were
we want the taste which alone can enable us to the real authors of them. You ascribe to the
relish such delights.

element of fire the essential property of warmNay more, with the taste which we have ing you, to aliments that of gratifying the paupon the earth, such and such a joy of the late, to sounds that of ravishing the ear. You blessed above would appear the severest of consider the creatures as so many divinities punishments to the greatest of saints among which preside over your happiness; you pay us. The essence of the felicity of saints in them homage; you prostrate your imagination glory consists in loving God only, and all before them; not reflecting that God alone can other things in reference to God. The senti- produce sensations in your soul, and that all ments by which they are animated relatively these creatures are merely the instruments and to other beings, are not sentiments of blood, the ministers of his Providence. But the of the spirits, of temperament, like those by maxim remains incontrovertible; namely, that which we are actuated here below, they are the faculty of relishing pleasures is a perregulated by order; they refer all to God alone: fection of our soul, and one of its most glorithe blessed above are affected with the felicity ous attributes. and the misery of others, only in so far as these But what merits particular attention is, that relate to the great moving principles by which this faculty which we have of receiving agreeathey are governed. But that felicity depicted ble sensations, is extremely imperfect so long to men upon earth, and applied to particular as we remain upon the earth. It is restricted to cases, would appear to them a real punishment. the action of the senses. Its activity is clogged Could a father relish a felicity which he was by the chains which fetter it down to matter. told he could not possibly share with his child? Our souls are susceptible of innumerable more Could the friend enjoy tranquillity, were he sensations than we ever can receive in this haunted with the thought, that the friend of world. As progress in knowledge admits of his heart lay groaning under chains of dark- infinity, so likewise may progress in the enness? Have we so much love for order; are joyment of pleasure. In heaven the blessed we sufficiently disposed to refer all our incli- have the experience of this. There God exnations to God, so as to have that taste, which erts the plenitude of his power over the soul, considers objects as amiable and interesting, by exciting in it the most lively emotions of only as they have a relation to that order, and delight; there his communications are proporto that glory of the Creator? And do we not tional to the immortal nature of the glorified feel, that a felicity relative to a taste which we spirit. This was produced in the soul of our do not possess, nay, opposite to that which we apostle. now have, is a felicity unspeakable.

“The pleasures which I have tasted,” he 3. The third notion which we suggested to seems to say, “ are not such as your present you, of the heavenly felicity, is that of sensible faculties can reach. In order to make you pleasure. A defect of faculty prevents our comprehend what I have felt, I must be enperception of their pleasures.

dowed with the power of creating new laws of Be not surprised that we introduce sensa- the union subsisting between your soul and tions of pleasure, into the ideas of a felicity your body. I must be endowed with the perfectly pure, and perfectly conformable to capacity of suspending those of nature; or the sanctity of him who is the author of it. rather, I must be possessed of the means of Do not suspect that we are going to extract tearing your soul asunder from that body. I from the grossly sensual notions of Mahomet, must have the power of transporting you in the representation which we mean to give you an ecstacy, as I myself was. And considering of the paradise of God. You hear us frequently the state in which you still are, I am persuaded declaiming against the pleasures of sense that I shall represent to you what my feelings But do not go to confound things under pre- were much better, by telling you that they tence of perfecting them; and under the affec. are things unspeakable, than by attempting a tation of decrying sensible pleasures, let us not description of them. For when the point in consider as an imperfection of the soul of man, question is to represent that which consists in the power which it has to enjoy them. No, lively and affecting sensations, there is no other my brethren, it is, on the contrary, one of its method left, but actually to produce them in highest perfections to be susceptible of those the breasts of the persons to whom you would sensations, to possess the faculty of scenting make the communication. In order to prothe perfume of flowers, of relishing the savour duce them, faculties must be found, adapted of meats, of delighting in the harmony of to the reception of such sensations. But these sounds, and so of the other objects of sense. faculties you do not as yet possess. It is thereIf we declaim against your pleasures, it is be- fore impossible that you should ever comprecause you frequently sacrifice pleasures the hend, while here below, what such sensations most sublime, to such as are pitiful and in- I mean. And it is no more in my power to con

« السابقةمتابعة »