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 II. The History Of The Generation And Heavenly Birth Of Divine Love.
Ch 1. That The Divine Perfections Are Only A Single But Infinite Perfection.
When the sun rises red and soon after looks black, or hollow and sunk; or again when it sets wan, pale, and dull, we say it is a sign of rain. Theotimus, the sun is not reds nor black, nor grey, nor green: that great luminary is not subject to these vicissitudes and changes of colour, having for its sole colour its most clear and perpetual light which, unless by miracle, is invariable. But we use this manner of speaking, because it seems such to us, according to the variety of vapours interposed between him and our eyes, which make him appear in different ways.
In like manner we discourse of God, not so much according to what he is in himself, as according to his works, by means of which we contemplate him; for according to our various considerations we name him variously, even as though he had a great multitude of different excellences and perfections. If we regard him inasmuch as he punishes the wicked, we term him just; if as he delivers sinners from their misery, we proclaim him merciful; since he has created all things and done many wonders, we name him omnipotent; as exactly fulfilling his promises we call him true; as ranging all things in so goodly an order we call him most wise; and thus, continuing and following the variety of his works, we attribute unto him a great diversity of perfections.
But, all the time, in God there is neither variety, nor any difference whatever of perfections. He is himself one most sole, most simple and most indivisible, unique perfection: for all that is in him is but himself, and all the excellences which we say are in him in so great diversity are really there in a most simple and pure unity. And as the sun has none of the colours which we ascribe unto it, but one sole most clear light surpassing all colour, and giving colour to all colours, - so in God there is not one of those perfections which we imagine, but an only most pure excellence, which is above all perfection and gives perfection to all that is perfect.
Now to assign a perfect name to this supreme excellence, which in its most singular unity comprehends, yea surmounts, all excellence, is not within the reach of the creature, whether human or angelic; for as is said in the Apocalypse: Our Lord has a name which no man knoweth but himself:(1) because as he only perfectly knows his own infinite perfection he also alone can express it by a suitable name.
Whence the ancients have said that no one but God is a true theologian, as none but he can reach the full knowledge of the infinite greatness of the divine perfection, nor, consequently, represent it in words. And for this cause, God, answering by the angel Samson's father who demanded his name, said: Why asketh thou my name which is wonderful?(2) As though he had said: My name may be admired, but never pronounced by creatures; it must be adored, but cannot be comprehended save by me, who alone can pronounce the proper name by which truly and to the life I express my excellence.
Our thoughts are too feeble to form a conception
which should represent an excellence so immense,
which comprehends in its most simple and most sole
perfection, distinctly and perfectly, all other
perfections in a manner infinitely excellent and
eminent, to which our thoughts cannot raise
themselves. We are forced, then, in order to speak in
some way of God, to use a great number of names,
saying that he is good, wise, omnipotent, true, just,
holy, infinite, immortal, invisible; - and certainly
we speak truly; God is all this together, because he
is more than all this, that is to say, he is all this
in so pure, so excellent and so exalted a way, that
in one most simple perfection he contains the virtue,
vigour and excellence of all perfection.
O abyss of the divine perfections! How admirable art thou, to possess in one only perfection the excellence of all perfection in so excellent a manner that none can comprehend it but thyself!
We shall say much, says the Scripture, and yet shall want words: but the suns of our words is: He is all. What shall we be able to do to glorify him, for the Almighty himself is above all his works? The Lord is terrible, and exceeding great, and his power is admirable. Glorify the Lord as much as ever you can, for he will yet far exceed, and his magnificence is wonderful. Blessing the Lord, exalt him as much as you can: for he is above all praise. When you exalt him put forth all your strength, and be not weary: for you can never go far enough.(3)
No, Theotimus, we can never comprehend him, since,
as St. John says, he is greater than our heart.(4)
Nevertheless, let every spirit praise the Lord,
calling him by all the most eminent names which may
be found, and for the greatest praise we can render
unto him let us confess that never can he be
sufficiently praised; and for the most excellent name
we can attribute unto him let us protest that his
name surpasses all names, nor can we worthily name