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 2. That In God There Is But One Only Act, Which Is His Own Divinity.
There is in us great diversity of faculties and habits, which produce also a great variety of actions, and those actions an incomparable multitude of works. Thus differ the faculties of hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, moving, feeding, understanding, willing; and the habits of speaking, walking, playing, singing, sewing, leaping swimming: as also the actions and works which issue from these faculties and habits are greatly different.
But it is not the same in God; for in him there is one only most simple infinite perfection, and in that perfection one only most sole and most pure act: yea to speak more holily and sagely, God is one unique and most uniquely sovereign perfection, and this perfection is one sole most purely simple and most simply pure acts which being no other thing than the proper divine essence, is consequently ever permanent and eternal.
Nevertheless poor creatures that we are, we talk
of God's actions as though daily done in great number
and variety, though we know the contrary. But our
weakness, Theotimus, forces us to this; for our
speech can but follow our understanding, and our
understanding the customary order of things with us.
Now, as in natural things there is hardly any
diversity of works without diversity of actions, when
we behold so many different works, such great variety
of productions and the innumerable multitude of the
effects of the divine might, it seems to us at first
that this diversity is caused by as many acts as we
see different effects, and we speak of them in the
same way, in order to speak more at our ease,
according to our ordinary practice and our customary
way of understanding things. And indeed we do not in
this violate truth, for though in God there is no
multitude of actions, but one sole act which is the
divinity itself, yet this act is so perfect that it
comprehends by excellence the force and virtue of all
the acts which would seem requisite to the production
of all the different effects we see.
This word then, Theotimus, whilst most simple and most single, produces all the distinction of things; being invariable produces all fit changes, and, in fine, being permanent in his eternity gives succession, vicissitude, order, rank and season to all things.
Let us imagine, I pray you, on the one hand, a
painter making a picture of Our Saviour's birth (and
I write this in the days dedicated to this holy
mystery). Doubtless he will give a thousand and a
thousand touches with his brush, and will take, not
only days, but weeks and months, to perfect this
picture, according to the variety of persons and
other things he wants to represent in it. But on the
other hand, let us look at a printer of pictures, who
having spread his sheet upon the plate which has the
same mystery of the Nativity cut in it, gives but
Now though with one movement he performed the work, yet it contains a great number of personages, and other different things, each one well distinguished in its order, rank, place, distance and proportion: so that one not acquainted with the secret would be astonished to see proceed from one act so great a variety of effects.
In the same way, Theotimus, nature as a painter multiplies and diversifies her acts according as the works she has in hand are various, and it takes her a great time to finish great effects, but God, like the printer, has given being to all the diversity of creatures which have been, are, or shall be, by one only stroke of his omnipotent will. He draws from his idea as from a well cut plate, this admirable difference of persons and of things, which succeed one another in seasons, in ages, and in times, each one in its order, as they were to be.
For this sovereign unity of the divine act is
opposed to confusion and disorder, and not to
distinction and variety; these on the contrary it
purposely uses, to make beauty from them, by reducing
all differences and diversities to proportion,
proportion to order, and order to the unity of the
world, which comprises all things created, visible
and invisible. All these together are called the
universe, perhaps because all their diversity is
reduced to unity as though one said "unidiverse,"
that is, one and diverse, one with diversity and
diverse with unity.