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 13. Of The Wound Of Love.
All these terms of love are drawn from the resemblance there is between the affections of the mind and the passions of the body. Grief, fear, hope, hatred, and the rest of the affections of the soul, only enter the heart when love draws them after it.
We do not hate evil except because it is contrary to the good which we love: we fear future evil because it will deprive us of the good we love. Though an evil be extreme yet we never hate it except in so far as we love the good to which it is opposed. He who does not much love the commonwealth is not much troubled to see it ruined: he who scarcely loves God, scarcely also hates sin. Love is the first, yea the principle and origin, of all the passions, and therefore it is love that first enters the heart; and because it penetrates and pierces down to the very bottom of the will where its seat is, we say it wounds the heart.
"It is sharp," says the apostle of France,(1) "and enters into the spirit most deeply." The other affections enter indeed, but by the agency, of love, for it is this which piercing the heart makes a passage for them. It is only the point of the dart that wounds, the rest only increases the wound and the pain.
Now, if it wound, it consequently gives pain. Pomegranates, by their vermilion colour, by the multitude of their seeds, so close set and ranked, and by their fair crowns, vividly represent, as S. Gregory says, most holy charity, all red by reason of its ardour towards God, loaded with all the variety of virtues, and alone bearing away the crown of eternal rewards: but the juice of pomegranates, which as we know is so agreeable both to the healthy and to the sick, is so mingled of sweet and sour that one can hardly discern whether it delights the taste more because it has a sweet tartness or because it has a tart sweetness.
Verily, Theotimus, love is thus bitter-sweet, and while we live in this world it never has a sweetness perfectly sweet, because it is not perfect, nor ever purely satiated and satisfied: and yet it fails not to be of very agreeable taste, its tartness correcting the lusciousness of its sweetness, as its sweetness heightens the relish of its tartness. But how can this be?
You shall see a young man enter into a company,
free, hearty, and in the best of spirits, who, being
off his guard, feels, before he goes away, that love,
making use of the glances, the gestures, the words,
yea even of the hair of a silly and weak creature, as
of so many darts, has smitten and wounded his poor
heart, so that there he is, all sad, gloomy and
depressed. Why I pray you is he sad? Without doubt
because he is wounded. And what has wounded him?
Love. But love being the child of complacency, how
can it wound and give pain? Sometimes the beloved
object is absent, and then, my dear Theotimus, love
wounds the heart by the desire which it excites; this
it is which, being unable to satiate itself,
grievously torments the spirit.
Theotimus, love is indeed a complacency, and
consequently very delightful, provided that it does
not leave in our heart the sting of desire; for when
it leaves this, it leaves therewith a great pain.
True it is this pain proceeds from love, and
therefore is a loveable and beloved pain. Hear the
painful yet love-full ejaculations of a royal lover.
My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God;
when shall I come and appear before the face of God?
My tears have been my bread day and night, whilst it
is said to me daily: where is thy God?(2) And the
sacred Sulamitess, wholly steeped in her dolorous
loves, speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem: Ah!
says she, I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if
you find my beloved, that you tell him that I
languish with love.(3) Hope that is deferred
afflicteth the soul.(4)
I. The first strokes we receive from love are called wounds, because the heart which appeared sound, entire and all its own before it loved, being struck with love begins to separate and divide itself from itself, to give itself to the beloved object. Now this separation cannot be made without pain, seeing that pain is nothing but the division of living things which belong to one another.
2. Desire incessantly stings and wounds the heart in which it is, as we have said.
3. But, Theotimus, speaking of heavenly love, there is in the practice of it a kind of wound given by God himself to the soul which he would highly perfect. For he gives her admirable sentiments of and incomparable attractions for his sovereign goodness, as if pressing and soliciting her to love him; and then she forcibly lifts herself up as if to soar higher towards her divine object; but stopping short, because she cannot love as much as she desires: - O God! she feels a pain which has no equal. At the same time that she is powerfully drawn to fly towards her dear well-beloved, she is also powerfully kept back and cannot fly, being chained to the base miseries of this mortal life and of her own powerlessness: she desires the wings of a dove that she may fly away and be at rest,(5) and she finds not. There then she is, rudely tormented between the violence of her desires and her own powerlessness. Unhappy man that I am, said one of those who had experienced this torture, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?(6)
In this case, if you notice, Theotimus, it is not
the desire of a thing absent that wounds the heart,
for the soul feels that her God is present; he has
already led her into his wine-cellar, he has planted
upon her heart the banner of love: but still, though
already he sees her wholly his, he urges her, and
from time to time casts a thousand thousand darts of
his love, showing her in new ways, how much more he
is lovable than loved. And she, who has not so much
force to love as love to force herself, seeing her
forces so weak in respect of the desire she has to
love worthily him whom no force of love can love
enough, - Ah! she feels herself tortured with an
incomparable pain; for, as many efforts as she makes
to fly higher in her desiring love, so many thrills
of pain does she receive.
My God! Theotimus, what am I going to say? The blessed in heaven seeing that God is still more lovable than they are loving, would fail and eternally perish with a desire to love him still more, if the most holy will of God did not impose upon theirs the admirable repose which it enjoys: for they so sovereignly love this sovereign will, that its willing stays theirs, and the divine contentment contents them, they acquiescing to be limited in their love even by that will whose goodness is the object of their love.
If this were not so, their love would be equally delicious and dolorous, delicious by the possession of so great a good, dolorous through an extreme desire of a greater love. God therefore continually drawing arrows, if we may say so, out of the quiver of his infinite beauty, wounds the hearts of his lovers, making them clearly see that they do not love him nearly as much as he is worthy to be beloved.
That mortal who does not desire to love the divine
goodness more, loves him not enough; sufficiency in
this divine exercise is not sufficient, when a man
would stay in it as though it sufficed him.