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 12. That Divine Inspirations Leave Us In Full Liberty To Follow Or Repulse Them
I will not here speak, my dear Theotimus, of those miraculous graces which have almost in an instant transformed wolves into shepherds, rocks into waters, persecutors into preachers. I leave on one side those all-powerful vocations, and holily violent attractions by which God has brought some elect souls from the extremity of vice to the extremity of grace, working as it were in them a certain moral and spiritual transubstantiation: as it happened to the great Apostle, who of Saul, vessel of persecution, became suddenly Paul, vessel of election.(1)
We must give a particular rank to those privileged souls in regard of whom it pleased God to make not the mere outflowing, but the inundation - to exercise, if one may so say, not the simple liberality and effusion, but the prodigality and profusion of his love. The divine justice chastises us in this world with punishments which, as they are ordinary, so they remain almost always unknown and imperceptible; sometimes, however, he sends out deluges and abysses of punishments, to make known and dreaded the severity of his indignation.
In like manner his mercy ordinarily converts and
graces souls so sweetly, gently and delicately, that
its movement is scarcely perceived; and yet it
happens sometimes that this sovereign goodness,
overflowing its ordinary banks (as a flood swollen
and overcharged with the abundance of waters and
breaking out over the plain makes an outpouring of
his graces so impetuous, though loving, that in a
moment he steeps and covers the whole soul with
benedictions, in order that the riches of his love
may appear, and that as his justice proceeds commonly
by the ordinary way and sometimes by the
extraordinary, so his mercy may exercise liberality
upon the common sort of men in the ordinary way, and
on some also by extraordinary ways.
Doubtless, Theotimus, we are not drawn to God by
iron chains, as bulls and wild oxen, but by
enticements, sweet attractions, and holy
inspirations, which, in a word, are the cords of
Adam, and of humanity, that is, proportionate and
adapted to the human heart, to which liberty is
natural. The band of the human will is delight and
pleasure. We show nuts to a child, says S. Augustine,
and he is drawn by his love, he is drawn by the
cords, not of the body, but of the heart. Mark then
how the Eternal Father draws us: while teaching, he
delights us, not imposing upon us any necessity; he
casts into our hearts delectations and spiritual
pleasures as sacred baits, by which he sweetly draws
us to take and taste the sweetness of his doctrine.
But what is as admirable as it is veritable is, that when our will follows the attractions and consents to the divine movement, she follows as freely as she resists freely when she does resist, although the consent to grace depends much more on grace than on the will, while the resistance to grace depends upon the will only. So sweet is God's hand in the handling of our hearts! So dexterous is it in communicating unto us its strength without depriving us of liberty, and in imparting unto us the motion of its power without hindering that of our will! He adjusts his power to his sweetness in such sort, that as in what regards good his might sweetly gives us the power, so his sweetness mightily maintains the freedom of the will.
If thou didst know the gift of God, said our
Saviour to the Samaritan woman, and who he is that
saith to thee, give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst
have asked of him, and he would have given thee
living water.(3) Note, I pray you, Theotimus, Our
Saviour's manner of speaking of his attractions. If
thou didst know, he means, the gift of God, thou
wouldst without doubt be moved and attracted to ask
the water of eternal life, and perhaps thou wouldst
ask it. As though he said: Thou wouldst have power
and wouldst be provoked to ask, yet in no wise be
forced or constrained; but only perhaps thou wouldst
have asked, for thy liberty would remain to ask it or
not to ask it. Such are our Saviour's words according
to the ordinary edition, and according to S.
Augustine upon S. John.
These are favours which God bestows upon us before we have thought of them, he awakens us when we sleep, and consequently we find ourselves awake before we have thought of it; but it is in our power to rise, or not to rise, and though he has awakened us without us, he will not raise us without us. Now not to rise, and to go to sleep again, is to resist the call, seeing we are called only to the end we should rise. We cannot hinder the inspiration from taking us, or consequently from setting us in motion, but if as it drives us forwards we repulse it by not yielding ourselves to its motion, we then make resistance.
So the wind, having seized upon and raised our apodes, will not bear them very far unless they display their wings and co-operate, raising themselves aloft and flying in the air, into which they have been lifted. If, on the contrary, allured may be by some verdure they see upon the ground, or benumbed by their stay there, in lieu of seconding the wind they keep their wings folded and cast themselves again upon the earth, they have received indeed the motion of the wind, but in vain, since they did not help themselves thereby.
Theotimus, inspirations prevent us, and even before they are thought of make themselves felt, but after we have felt them it is ours either to consent to them so as to second and follow their attractions, or else to dissent and repulse them.
They make themselves felt by us without us, but
they do not make us consent without us.