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
The Holy Ghost teaches that the lips of the heavenly Spouse, that is The Church, resemble scarlet and the dropping honeycomb, (1) to let every one know that all the doctrine which she announces consists in sacred love; of a more resplendent red than scarlet on account of the blood of the spouse whose love inflames her, sweeter than honey on account of the sweetness of the beloved who crowns her with delights.
So this heavenly spouse when he thought good to begin the promulgation of his law, cast down upon the assembly of those disciples whom he had deputed for this work a shower of fiery tongues, sufficiently intimating thereby that the preaching of the gospel was wholly designed for the inflaming of hearts.
Represent to yourself beautiful doves amidst the rays of the sun; you will see their plumage break into as many different colours as you change your point of viewing them; because their feathers are so fitted to display the light, that when the sun comes to spread his splendour on them, a multitude of reflections are made, producing a great variety of tints and glancing colours, colours so agreeable to the eye that they surpass all other colours, even the enamel of richest jewels; colours so resplendent and so delicately gilded that the gilding makes their own colours more bright than ever; for it was this sight which made the royal prophet say If you sleep among the midst of lots; you shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and the hinder parts of her back with the paleness of gold. (2)
The Church is indeed adorned with an excellent
variety of teachings,
But amongst all the divers colours of the doctrine
which she displays, the fine gold of holy Charity is
everywhere spread, and makes itself excellently
visible, gilding all the science of the saints with
its incomparable lustre, and raising it above every
other science. All is love's, and in love, for love,
and of love, in the holy Church.
Now it is true that divers writers have already handled this subject; above all those ancient Fathers, who as they did lovingly serve God so did they speak divinely of his love. O how good it is to hear S. Paul speak of heavenly things, who learned them even in heaven itself, and how good to see those souls who were nursed in the bosom of love write of its holy sweetness! For this reason those amongst the schoolmen that discoursed the most and the best of it, did also most excel in piety. S. Thomas has made a treatise on it worthy of S. Thomas; S. Bonaventure and B. Denis the Carthusian have made divers most excellent ones on it under various titles, and as for John Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, Sixtus Senensis speaks of him thus: "He has so worthily discoursed of the fifty properties of divine love which are described in the course of the Canticle of Canticles, that he alone would seem to have taken proper account of the affections of the love of God." Truly this man was extremely learned, judicious and devout.
And that we may know this kind of writings to be made
more successfully by the devotion of lovers than by
of the wise, it has pleased the Holy Ghost that many
women should work wonders in it. Who has ever better
expressed the heavenly passions of sacred love, than
S. Catharine of Genoa, S. Angela of Foligno, S.
Catharine of Siena, S. Mechtilde?
That great and celebrated
Cardinal Bellarmine has also lately issued a little
book entitled: The Ladder for Ascending unto God by
his Creatures, which cannot be but admirable coming
from that most learned hand and most devout soul, who
has written so much and so wisely in the Church's
behalf. I will say nothing of the Parenetic of that
river of eloquence (3) who flows at present through
all France in the multitude and variety of his
sermons and noble writings. The close spiritual
consanguinity which my soul has contracted with his,
when by the imposition of my hands he received the
sacred character of the episcopal order, to the great
happiness of the diocese of Belley and to the honour
of the Church, besides a thousand ties of a sincere
friendship which fasten us together, permits me not
to speak with praise of his works, amongst which this
Parenetic of divine love was one of the first sallies
of the matchless wealth of intellect which every one
admires in him.
And although, my dear reader, this Treatise which I now present you, comes far short of those excellent works, without hope of ever running even with them, yet have I such confidence in the favour of the two heavenly lovers to whom I dedicate it, that still it may be in some way serviceable to you, and that in it you will meet with many wholesome considerations which you would not elsewhere so easily find, as again you may elsewhere find many beautiful things which are not here. Indeed, it even seems to me that my design is not the same as that of others except in general, inasmuch as we all look towards the glory of holy love. But this you will see by reading it.
Truly my intention is only to represent simply and
naively, without art, still more without false
colours, the history of the birth, progress, decay,
operations, properties, advantages and excellences of
divine love. And if besides this you find other
things, these are but excrescences which it is almost
impossible for such as me who write amidst many
distractions to avoid. But still I think that there
will be nothing without some utility. Nature herself,
who is so skilful a workwoman, intending to produce
grapes, produces at the same time, as by a prudent
inadvertence, such an abundance of leaves and
branches, that there are very few vines which have
not in their season to be pruned of leaves and
Some perhaps will think that I have said too much, and that it was not requisite to go so deep down into the roots of the subject, but I am of opinion that heavenly love is a plant like to that which we call Angelica, whose root is no less odoriferous and wholesome than the stalk and the branches. The four first books and some chapters of the rest might without doubt have been omitted, without disadvantage to such souls as only seek the practice of holy love, yet all of it will be profitable unto them if they behold it with a devout eye: while others also might have been disappointed not to have had the whole of what belongs to the treatise of divine love. I have taken into consideration as I should do, the state of the minds of this age: it much imports to remember in what age we are writing.
I cite Scripture sometimes in other terms than those of the ordinary edition (the Vulgate). For God's sake, my dear reader do me not therefore the wrong to think that I wish to depart from that edition. Ah no! For I know the Holy Ghost has authorized it by the sacred Council of Trent, and that therefore all of us ought to keep to it: on the contrary I only use the other versions for the service of this, when they explain and confirm its true sense. For example what the heavenly spouse says to his spouse: Thou hast wounded my heart:(5) is greatly illustrated by the other version: Thou hast taken away my heart, or, Thou hast snatched away and ravished my heart. That which our Saviour said: Blessed are the poor in spirit: is much amplified and cleared by the Greek: Blessed are the beggars in spirit: and so with others.
I have often cited the sacred Psalmist in verse, and this to recreate your mind and on account of the ease with which I could do it, by the beautiful translation of Phillip des Portes, Abbot of Tiron. This however I have sometimes departed from; not of course thinking I could improve the verses of this famous poet (for I should be too impertinent if never having so much as thought of this kind of writing, I should pretend to be happy in it in an age and condition of life which would oblige me to retire from it in case I had ever been engaged therein), but in some places where the sense might be variously taken, I have not followed his verse, because I would not follow his sense, as in Psalm cxxxii., where he has taken a certain Latin word for the fringe of the garment which I thought ought to be taken for the collar, wherefore I have translated it to my own mind.
I have said nothing which I have not learned of others, yet it is impossible for me to remember whence I had everything in particular, but believe me, if I had taken any lengthy and remarkable passages out of any author, I would make it a matter of conscience not to let him have the deserved honour of it, and to remove a suspicion which you may conceive against my sincerity in this matter, I warn you that the 13th chapter of Book VII. is extracted from a sermon which I delivered at Paris at S. John's en Gr?e upon the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady, 1602.
I have not always expressed the sequence of the chapters, but if you notice you will easily find the links of their connection. In that and several other things I had a care to spare my own leisure and your patience. After I had caused the Introduction to a Devout Life to be printed, my Lord Archbishop of Vienne, Peter de Villars, did me the favour of writing his opinion of it in terms so advantageous to that little book and to me, that I should never dare to rehearse them: and exhorting me to apply the most of my leisure to the like works, amongst many rare counsels he favoured me with, one was that as far as the mutter would permit I should always be short in the chapters.
For as, said he, travellers knowing
that there is a fair garden some twenty or
twenty-five paces out of their way, readily turn
Nevertheless, to imitate the great Apostle in this occasion, who esteemed himself a debtor to every one, I have changed my address in this treatise and speak to Theotimus, but if perchance there should be any woman (and such an unreasonableness would be more tolerable in them) who would not read the instructions which are given to men, I beg them to know that Theotimus to whom I speak is the human spirit desirous of making progress in holy love, which spirit is equally in women as in men.
This Treatise then is made for a soul already devout
that she may be able to advance in her design, and
hence I have been forced
For the rest some men of note in various places have signified to me that certain little books have been published simply under the first letters of their author's name which are the same as mine. This made some believe that they were my works, not without some little scandal to such as supposed thereby that I had bidden adieu to my simplicity, to puff up my style with pompous words, my argument with worldly conceit, and my conceptions with a lofty and plumed eloquence.
For this cause my dear reader, I will tell you, that as those who engrave or cut precious stones, having their sight tired by keeping it continually fixed upon the small lines of their work, are glad to keep before them some fair emerald that by beholding it from time to time they may be recreated with its greenness and restore their weakened sight to its natural condition, so in this press of business which my office daily draws upon me I have ever little projects of some treatise of piety, which I look at when I can, to revive and unweary my mind.
However, I do not profess myself a writer; for the
dulness of my spirit and the condition of my life,
subject to the service
and requirements of many, would not permit me so to
be. Wherefore I have written very little and have
published much less, and following the counsel and
will of my friends I will tell you what I have
written that you may not attribute the praises of
another's labours to him who deserves none for his
Soon afterwards his Highness came over the mountains, and finding the bailiwicks of Chablais, Gaillard and Ternier, which are in the environs of Geneva, well disposed to receive the Catholic faith which had been banished thence by force of wars and revolts about seventy years before, he resolved to re-establish the exercise thereof in all the parishes, and to abolish that of heresy, and whereas on the one side there were many obstacles to this great blessing from those considerations which are called reasons of State, and on the other side some persons as yet not well instructed in the truth made resistance against this so much-desired establishment, his Highness surmounted the first difficulty by the invincible constancy of his zeal for the Catholic religion, and the second by an extraordinary gentleness and prudence.
For he had the chief and most obstinate called together, and made a speech unto them with so lovingly persuasive an eloquence that almost all, vanquished by the sweet violence of his fatherly love towards them, cast the weapons of their obstinacy at his feet, and their souls into the hands of Holy Church.
And allow me, my dear readers I pray you, to say this word in passing. One may praise many rich actions of this great Prince, in which I see the proof of his valour and military knowledge, which with just cause is admired through all Europe. But for my part I cannot sufficiently extol the re-establishment of the Catholic religion in these three bailiwicks which I have just mentioned, having seen in it so many marks of piety, united with so many and various acts of prudence, constancy, magnanimity, justice and mildness, that I seemed to see in this one little trait, as in a miniature, all that is praised in princes who have in times past with most fervour striven to advance the glory of God and the Church.
The stage was small, but the action great. And as
that ancient craftsman was never so much esteemed for
his great pieces as he was admired for making a ship
of ivory fitted with all its gear, in so tiny a
volume that the wings of a bee covered all, so I
esteem more that which this great Prince did at that
time in this small corner of his dominions, than many
more brilliant actions which others extol to the
My Lord Claude de Granier, my predecessor, whose memory is in benediction, imposed the burden upon me according to the power which he had over me, who beheld him not only as my Bishop but also as a holy servant of God. I made therefore this answer, under the title: Defence of the Standard of the Cross, and dedicated it to his Highness, partly to testify unto him my most humble submission, and partly to render him some small thanksgiving for the care which he took of the Church in those parts.
Now lately this Defence has been reprinted under the
prodigious title of Panthalogy, or Treasure of the
Cross: a title whereof I never dreamed, as in truth I
am not a man of that study and leisure, nor of that
memory, to be able to put together so many pieces of
worth in one book as to let it deserve the name of
Treasure or Panthalogy, besides I have a horror of
such insolent frontispieces:
In the year 1602, were celebrated at Paris, where I was, the obsequies of that magnanimous prince Philip Emanuel of Lorraine, Duke of Mercoeur, who had performed so many brave exploits against the Turks in Hungary that all Christianity was bound to conspire to honour his memory. But especially Madam Mary of Luxembourg, his widow, did for her part all that her heart and the love of the deceased could suggest to her to make his funeral solemn.
And because my father, grandfather, and great grandfather had been brought up pages to the most illustrious princes of Martigues her father and his predecessors, she regarded me as an hereditary servant of her house; and made choice of me to preach the funeral sermon in that great celebration, where there were not only several Cardinals and Prelates but a number of princes also, princesses, marshals of France, knights of the Order,(6) and even the Court of Parliament in a body.
I made then this funeral oration and pronounced it in this great assembly in the great Church of Paris, and as it contained a true abridgment of the heroic feats of the deceased prince, I willingly had it printed, at the request of the widow-princess, whose request was to me a law. I dedicated this piece to Madam the Duchess of Vend?e, as yet a girl, and a very young princess, yet one in whom were very clearly to be recognized the signs of that excellent virtue and piety which now adorn her, and which show her to be worthy of the bringing forth and educating by so devout and pious a mother.
While this sermon was in the press, I heard that I
had been made Bishop, so that I came here to be
consecrated and to begin residence. And at first
there was pointed out to me the necessity of
instructing Confessors on some important points. For
this reason I wrote twenty-five instructions, which I
had printed to get them more easily spread amongst
those to whom I directed them: since then they have
been reprinted in various places.
I should have desired them however to please to consider that the first proposition is drawn from the common and true doctrine of the most holy and learned divines, that I was writing for such as live in the world and in courts; that withal I carefully inculcate the extreme dangers which are found in dancing; -- and that as to the second proposition it is not mine, but S. Louis's, that admirable king, a doctor worthy to be followed in the art of rightly conducting courtiers to a devout life. For, I believe if they had weighed this, their charity and discretion would never have permitted their zeal, how vigorous and austere soever, to arm their indignation against me.
And therefore, my dear reader, I conjure you to be gracious and good to me in reading this Treatise. And if you find the style a little (though I am sure it will be but a very little) different from that which I used in the Defence of the Cross, know that in nineteen years one learns and unlearns many things, that the language of war differs from that of peace, and that a man uses one manner of speech to young apprentices and another to old fellow-craftsmen.
My purpose here is to speak to souls that are advanced in devotion. For you must know that we have in this town a congregation of maidens and widows who, having retired from the world, live with one mind in God's service, under the protection of his most holy Mother, and as their purity and piety of spirit have oftentimes given me great consolation, so have I striven to return them the like by a frequent distribution of the holy word which I have announced to them as well in public sermons as in spiritual conferences, and this almost always in presence of some religious men and people of great piety.
Hence I have often had to treat of the most delicate sentiments of piety, passing beyond that which I had said to Philothea: and I owe a good part of that which now I communicate to you to this blessed Society because she who is the mother of them and rules them, knowing that I was writing upon this subject, and yet that scarcely was I able to accomplish it without God's very special assistance, and their continual urging, took a constant care to pray and get prayers for this end, and holily conjured me to pick out all the little morsels of leisure which she judged might be spared here and there from the press of my hindrances and to employ them in this.
And because this soul is in that
consideration with me which God knows, she has had no
little power to animate me in this occasion. I began
indeed long ago to think of writing on holy love, but
that thought came far short of what this occasion has
made me produce, an occasion which I declare to you
thus simply and in good faith, in imitation of the
ancients, that you may know that I write only as I
get the chance and opportunity, and that I may find
you more favourable. It is said amongst the Pagans
that Phidias never represented anything so perfectly
as the gods, nor Apelles as Alexander. One is not
always equally successful: if I fall short in this
treatise, let your goodness make progress and God
will bless your reading.