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 VI. Of The Exercises Of Holy Love In Prayer.
Ch 1. A Description Of Mystical Theology, Which Is No Other Thing Than Prayer.
We have two principal exercises of our love towards God, the one affective, the other effective, or, as S. Bernard calls it, active; by that we affect or love God and what he loves, by this we serve God and do what he ordains; that joins us to God's goodness, this makes us execute his will: the one fills us with complacency, benevolence, yearnings, desires, aspirations and spiritual ardours, causing us to practise the sacred infusions and minglings of our spirit with God's; the other establishes in us the solid resolution, the constancy of heart, and the inviolable obedience requisite to effect the ordinances of the divine will, and to suffer, accept, approve and embrace, all that comes from his good-pleasure; the one makes us pleased in God, the other makes us please God: by the one we conceive, by the other we bring forth: by the one we place God upon our heart, as a standard of love, around which all our affections are ranged, by the other we place him upon our arm, as a sword of love whereby we effect all the exploits of virtue.
Now the first exercise consists principally in
prayer; in which so many different interior movements
take place that to express them all is impossible,
not only by reason of their number, but also for
their nature and quality, which being spiritual, they
cannot but be very rarefied, and almost imperceptible
to our understanding. The cleverest and best trained
hounds are often at fault; they lose the strain and
scent by the variety of sleights which the stag uses,
who makes doubles, puts them on a wrong scent, and
practises a thousand arts to escape the cry; and we
oftentimes lose the scent and knowledge of our own
heart in the infinite diversity of motions by which
it turns itself, in so many ways and with such
promptitude, that one cannot discern its track.
We take not here the word prayer (oraison) only for the petition (priere) or demand for some good, poured out by the faithful before God, as S. Basil calls it, but as S. Bonaventure does, when he says that prayer, generally speaking; comprehends all the acts of contemplation; or as S. Gregory Nazianzen, who teaches that prayer is a conference or conversation of the soul with God; or again as S. Chrysostom, when he says that prayer is a discoursing with the divine Majesty; or finally as S. Augustine and S. Damascene, who term prayer an ascent or raising of the soul to God. And if prayer be a colloquy, a discourse or a conversation of the soul with God, by it then we speak to God, and he again speaks to us; we aspire to him and breathe in him, and he reciprocally inspires us and breathes upon us.
But of what do we discourse in prayer? What is the subject of our conference?
Theotimus, in it we speak of God only: for of what
can love discourse and talk but of the well-beloved?
And therefore prayer, and mystical theology, are one
same thing. It is called theology, because, as
speculative theology has God for its object, so this
also treats only of God, yet with three differences:
for, 1. The former treats of God as God, but the
latter treats of him as sovereignty amiable; that is,
the former regards the Divinity of the supreme
goodness, and the latter the supreme goodness of the
Divinity. 2. The speculative treats of God with men
and amongst men, the mystical speaks of God with God,
and in God himself. 3. The speculative tends to the
knowledge of God, and the mystical to the love of
God; that, therefore, makes its scholars wise, and
learned, and theologians, but this makes its scholars
fervent, and affectionate, lovers of God, a
Philotheus or a Theophilus.
In fine, prayer and mystical theology is nothing else but a conversation in which the soul amorously entertains herself with God concerning his most amiable goodness, to unite and join herself thereto.
Prayer is a manna, for the infinity of delicious tastes and precious sweetnesses which it gives to such as use it, but it is hidden,(2) because it falls before the light of any science, in the mental solitude where the soul alone treats with her God alone. Who is she, might one say of her, that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer?(3) And it was the desire of secrecy that moved her to make this petition to her love: Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field, let us abide in the villages.(4)
For this reason the heavenly spouse is styled a
turtle, a bird which is delighted in shady and
solitary places, where she makes no other use of her
song but for her only mate, either in life wooing him
or after his death plaining him. For this reason, in
the Canticles, the divine lover and the heavenly
spouse describe their loves by a continual conversing
together; and if their friends sometimes speak during
their conference, it is but casually, and without
interrupting their colloquy. Hence the Blessed Mother
(S.) Teresa of Jesus found at first more profit in
the mysteries where our Saviour was most alone; as in
the Garden of Olives, and where he was awaiting the
Samaritan woman, for she fancied that he being alone
would more readily admit her into his company.
The language of love is common, as to the words, but in manner and pronunciation it is so special that none but lovers understand it. The name of a friend uttered in public is no great thing, but spoken apart, secretly in the ear, it imports wonders, and the more secretly it is spoken the more delightful is its signification.
O God! what a difference there is between the language of the ancient lovers of the Divinity, - Ignatius, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Hilary, Ephrem, Gregory, Bernard, - and that of less affectionate theologians! We use their very words, but with them the words were full of fire and of sweets of amorous perfumes; with us they are cold and have no scent at all.
Love speaks not only by the tongue, but by the eyes, by sighs, and play of features; yea, silence and dumbness are words for it. My heart hath said to thee, my face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.(5) My eyes have failed for thy word, saying: When wilt thou comfort me?(6) Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication: give ear to my tears.(7) Let not the apple of thy eye cease,(8) said the desolate heart of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to their own city.
Do you mark, Theotimus, how the silence of
afflicted lovers speaks by the apple of their eye,
and by tears? Truly the chief exercise in mystical
theology is to speak to God and to hear God speak in
the bottom of the heart; and because this discourse
passes in most secret aspirations and inspirations we
term it a silent conversing. Eyes speak to eyes, and
heart to heart, and none understand what passes save
the sacred lovers who speak.