St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
|TREATISE ON THE LOVE OF GOD|
By St Francis de Sales
Book I. Containing A Preparation For The Whole Treatise.
Ch 17. That We Have Not Naturally The Power To Love God Above All Things.
Eagles have a great heart, and much strength of flight, yet they have incomparably more sight than flight, and extend their vision much quicker and further than their wings. So our souls animated with a holy natural inclination towards the divinity, have far more light in the understanding to see how lovable it is than force in the will to love it.
Sin has much more weakened man's will than darkened
his intellect, and the rebellion of the sensual
appetite, which we call concupiscence, does indeed
disturb the understanding, but still it is against
the will that it principally stirs up sedition and
revolt: so that the poor will, already quite infirm,
being shaken with the continual assaults which
concupiscence directs against it, cannot make so
great progress in divine love as reason and natural
inclination suggest to it that it should do.
Socrates, the most highly praised amongst them, came to the clear knowledge of the unity of God, and felt in himself such an inclination to love him, that as S. Augustine testifies, many were of opinion that he never had any other aim in teaching moral philosophy than to purify minds that they might better contemplate the sovereign good, which is the simple unity of the Divinity.
And as for Plato, he sufficiently declares himself in his definition of philosophy and of a philosopher; saying that to do the part of a philosopher is nothing else but to love God, and that a philosopher is no other thing than a lover of God. What shall I say of the great Aristotle, who so efficaciously proves the unity of God and has spoken so honourably of it in so many places?
But, O eternal God! those great spirits which had
so great an inclination to love it, were all wanting
in force and courage to love it well. By visible
creatures they have known the invisible things of
God, yea even his eternal power also and divinity,
says the Apostle, so that they are inexcusable.
Because that, when they knew God, they have not
glorfied him as God, or given thanks.(1) They
glorified him indeed in some sorts attributing to him
sovereign titles of honour, yet they did not glorify
him as they ought, that is, they did not glorify him
above all things; not having the courage to destroy
idolatry, but communicating with idolators, detaining
the truth which they knew in injustice, prisoner in
their hearts, and preferring the honour and vain
repose of their lives before the honour due unto God,
they grew vain in their knowledge.
But above all I wonder at the poor good man Epictetus, whose words and sentences are so sweet in our tongue, in the translation which the learned and agreeable pen of the R. F. D. John of S. Francis, Provincial of the Congregation of the Feuillants in the Gauls, has recently pat before us. For what a pity it is, I pray you, to see this excellent philosopher speak of God sometimes with such relish, feeling, and zeal that one would have taken him for a Christian coming from some holy and profound meditation, and yet again from time to time talking of gods after the Pagan manner!
Alas! this good man, who knew so well the unity of God, and had so much delight in his goodness, why had he not the holy jealousy of the divine honour, so as not to stumble or dissemble in a matter of so great consequence ?
In a word, Theotimus, our wretched nature spoilt by sin, is like palm-trees in this land of ours, which indeed make some imperfect productions and as it were experiments of fruits, but to bear entire, ripe and seasoned dates - that is, reserved for hotter climates. For so our human heart naturally produces certain beginnings of God's love, but to proceed so far as to love him above all things, which is the true ripeness of the love due unto this supreme goodness, - this belongs only to hearts animated and assisted with heavenly grace, and which are in the state of holy charity.
This little imperfect love of which nature by
itself feels the stirrings, is but a will without
will, a will that would but wills not, a sterile
will, which does not produce true effects, a will
sick of the palsy, which sees the healthful pond of
holy love, but has not the strength to throw itself
into it. To conclude, this will is an abortion of
good will, which has not the life of generous
strength necessary to effectually prefer God before
all things. Whereupon the Apostle speaking in the
person of the sinner, cries out: To will good is
present with me, but to accomplish that which is good
I find not.(2)