The Magnificat of Mary by Bossuet

From the Editor’s Desk (Thursday, December 22, 2016, Gaudium Press) We are pleased to offer to our readers for this Christmas a commentary of the Magnificat of Mary done by the famous French theologian of the 17th century, the Bishop of Meaux Jacques Benigne Bossuet.

It was in the chaste delight of a holy peace that the Blessed Virgin rejoiced in our Lord and said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). It is certain that her soul was at peace, for she was in possession of Jesus Christ.


Her song can be divided into three parts. Mary first tells us about the favors that God has shown to her: “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; he has done great things for me.” Then she tells how the glory of the world has been cast down: “he has scattered the proud; he has put down the mighty; the rich he has sent empty away.” Finally she concludes her sacred canticle by admiring God’s truthfulness and fidelity to his promises: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers” (cf. Luke 1:48-55). At first sight these three things do not seem to have much to do with one another. Together, however, they are most admirable: it seems that the intention of the Blessed Virgin was to inspire the hearts of the faithful with a love of the peace God had given her.

To show us the sweetness of that peace, she first reveals its principle: God’s regard for the just, his goodness toward them, and his providence that watches over them. “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (Luke 1:48). This is what gives peace to holy souls. Yet because the brilliance of the world’s favors and vain attractions could turn them away from the godly things, she then shows us the world cast down and its glory destroyed, annihilated. Finally, as this overturning of human greatness and the complete happiness of faithful souls does not appear to us in this world, she strengthens our spirits in the peace of God by noting the credibility of his promises.
Tell us, O divine Virgin, tell us what makes your soul rejoice in God. It is because he has looked upon me; “he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” We must understand what the regard of God signifies and imagine the benefits that it contains.

We note in the Scriptures that the regard of God signifies his favor and benevo¬lence, his help and protection. When God regards the just with his favor, he looks upon them like a good father who is always ready to listen to their requests: “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry” (Ps. 34:15). The same prophet explains to us, in another psalm, the regard of protection: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine” (Ps. 33:18-19). By this regard God watches over men and women of good¬will to protect them from the evils that menace them. That is why David adds: “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield” (Ps. 33:20). How could a soul as¬sured of this twofold regard fail to be at peace?
It is the Blessed Virgin who has been singularly hon¬ored by this twofold regard of providence: God looked upon her with an eye of favor when he preferred her to all other women, as well as to the angels, the seraphim, and to every other creature. The regard of protection watched over her when he preserved her from the corruption of sin, the fires of concupiscence, and all the spiritual ills that afflict our nature. This is why her song is so full of joy. Note how she celebrates God’s favor: “He who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). He has filled me with his graces. Yet see also how she praises his protection: “He has shown strength with his arm” (Luke 1:51). He has filled me with his graces and has done things for me so great that no creature can do their equal, nor any intellect comprehend them.

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Yet, if he has opened his generous hands to fill my soul with good things, he has also been pleased to extend his arm to keep away every evil. It is Mary he favored by these two regards of benevo¬lence and protection, “for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.”

Christian souls: you also have been honored, and this should give your souls peace. Yes, certainly, children of God, he looks upon you with benevolence; he reveals to you his kindly countenance. Of course, his face is terrify¬ing to us when a guilty conscience reproaches us with the horror of our sins and makes God appear to us as a judge, and an angry one. Yet when, in the course of a good life, he causes a certain serenity to arise in our conscience, he then shows an amiable and tranquil face; he calms every
trouble and chases away every cloud.

The faithful who hope in him no longer think of him as a judge: instead we see him as a good father whose sweet invitation fills us with confidence: “I will say to God, thou art my sup¬port” (Ps. 41:9; Douay-Rheims), and it seems that God responds, “I am your deliverance” (Ps. 35:3). We then enjoy perfect peace, because we are covered by the hand of God, and from whatever quarter threats should come, a voice from the heart strengthens and assures us: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31). “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1).

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Such is the hidden peace that God gives to his servants, a peace that the world cannot understand and that, exiled from the world by its continual tumult, seems to thrive only in retirement and solitude. It is disdain for the world that appears next in the canticle, disdain for the false peace that it promises and the vanities for which it would have us pine. Let us see the world for what it is: something of little account. We see all human gran¬deur overthrown, the proud struck down to the earth. In this great overturning of human things, nothing seems more exalted than the simple and humble of heart. This is why we should say with Mary, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low de¬gree” (Luke 1:52).

To enter into this sentiment, we must reflect on the strange opposition between God and the world. All of the things that God lifts up, the world would cast down; all that the world esteems, God would destroy and confound. We see this by experience. Who are those favored by God? The humble, the modest, the circumspect. Who are those put forward by the world? The bold and adventuresome. God favors the pure of heart and the sincere. The world prefers the crafty and the unscrupulous. The world requires violence of those who would carry off its favors. God gives his favors only to the self-controlled, and there is nothing greater before God or useless according to the world than the temperance in which virtue consists. Here is the struggle between Jesus Christ and the world: what the one raises up, the other casts down. This battle will last until the end of time.

The world can be considered in two ways: by looking to its present goods or by setting our sights on the last judgment. To those who look for present goods, the world gives advantages, and they imagine themselves to be victorious, because God, who is patient, allows them to en¬joy a momentary shadow of happiness. They see those who are in high estate and admire their luxury. They are blind judges and hasty. Should we not wait for the battle’s end before declaring the victor? The hand of God is com¬ing, and it will break them like a clay pot.

This is what the Blessed Virgin sees, and with her the children of God who enjoy the sweetness of his peace. They see that the world is at war with God, but they see that the two armies are not equal. They do not al¬low themselves to be dazzled by the apparent advantages that God allows the children of this world to enjoy. They consider the justice of God that is to come. This is why they laugh at the world’s glory, and amid the pomp of its triumph, they sing of its defeat. They say not only that God will cast down the proud, but that he has already done so; they say not only that he will depose the power¬ful, but that they are already at his feet, trembling and as¬tonished by their fall. And as for you, O rich of this world, who imagine yourselves to have your fill of good things, you will find yourselves poor and your hands empty; your riches will stream away like water: “the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:53). Here is worldly grandeur cast down, and God triumphant and victorious. What joy for his children, to see their enemies fallen at their feet, and his humble servants with their heads held high!

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Let us sing this holy song, the true song of those who have set the world at naught. Let us sing the world’s de¬feat, the destruction of all human pride and wealth. And you, who sigh after wealth, who think nothing great that does not turn a profit, and nothing pleasant that does not taste of riches: why do you think this way? Are you not children of God? Do you not carry the mark of his adop¬tion, the sacred character of baptism? Is not the earth a place of exile? Is not heaven your home? Why do you so much admire the world? If you are from Jerusalem, why are you singing songs of Babylon? All that you say and think about the world is said in a foreign language learned during your exile. Forget that foreign language; learn to speak the language of your home. Do not call happy those whom you see enjoying the world’s pleasures. Those whose God is the Lord are truly happy.

With these thoughts, console yourself and live in peace. Learn from the Blessed Virgin that the Lord has looked upon you, and assured of his unshakable support, do not be dazzled by the wealth of this world. Look upon it as already cast down. If the time of exile seems too long to you, think about the faithfulness of his promises: “as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Luke 1:55). What he spoke to Abraham he brought to pass two thousand years later by sending his Messiah. The rest he will bring to pass in good time, and we will see the day of everlasting happiness he has promised to us. Amen.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Bp. Bossuet’s Meditations on Mary which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Source Catholic Exchange


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