Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622) (1)
Introduction to the Author
Francis de Sales was born into a noble family at the castle of Sales and alter attended a Jesuit school in Paris. The Jesuits taught him the classics, Hebrew, Greek, and the life of discipline. His training also included the study of law and the humanities. He was ordained a priest in 1591 despite opposition from his family. In 1602 he became the bishop of Geneva.
Francis was a prolific writer whose works had a great influence on the church. He combined spiritual depth with ethical concern in a way that few writers, before or after him, have been able to do. He was a master of metaphor, describing the mysteries of the spiritual life through simple, everyday images like bees and milk, birds and sugar. Because of his considerable influence, Francis is considered to be one of “the doctors of the Western Church.”
In the following excerpts, Francis addresses “Philothea,” a name meaning one who loves God.
Excerpts from Introduction to the Devout Life
1. Only One True Devotio
You wish to live a life of devotion, dearest Philothea, because you are a Christian and you know that it is a virtue most pleasing to God’s majesty. Since little faults committed in the beginning of a project grow infinitely greater in its course and finally are almost irreparable, above all else you must know what the virtue of devotion is.
There is only one true devotion, but there are many that are false and empty. If you are unable to recognize which kind is true, you can easily be deceived and led astray by following one that is offensive and superstitious.
2. Phantoms of Devotion
In his pictures Arelius painted all faces after the mannter and appearance of the women he loved, and so too everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies. Someone given to fasting thinks himself very devout if he fasts although his heart may be filled with hatred. Much concerned with sobriety, he doesn’t care to wet his tongue with wine or even water but won’t hesitate to drink deep of his neighbor’s blood by detraction and gossip.
Another person thinks himself devout because he daily recites a vast number of prayers, but after saying them he utters the most disagreeable, arrogant, and harmful words at home and among the neighbors. Another gladly takes a coin out of his purse and gives it to the poor, but he cannot extract kindness from his heart to forgive his enemies.
Another forgives his enemies but never pays his creditors unless compelled to do so by force of law. All these individuals are usually considered to be devout, but they are by no means such. Saul’s servants searched for David in his house but David’s wife, Michal, had put a statue on his bed, covering it with David’s clothes, and thus led them to think that it was David himself who was lying there sick and sleeping. In the same manner, many persons clothe themselves with certain outward actions connected with holy devotion, and the world believes that they are truly devout and spiritual whereas they are in fact nothing but copies and phantoms of devotion.
3. Spiritual Agility
Genuine, living devotion, Philothea, presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it makes us not only do good, but also do this carefully, frequently, and promptly, it is called devotion.
Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground and only once in a while, but eagles, doves, and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner, sinners in no way fly up toward God but make their whole course here upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly, and awkwardly.
Devout souls ascend to God more frequently, promptly, and with lofty heights. In short, devotion is simply that spiritual agility by which charity works in us or by aid of which we work quickly and lovingly. Just as it is the function of charity to enable us to observe all God’s commandments in general and without exception, so it is the part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently.
Hence anyone who does not observe all God’s commandments cannot be held to be either good or devout. To be good a person must have charity, and to be devout, in addition to charity, he must have great zeal and readiness in performing charitable actions.