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 15. Of The Affectionate Languishing Of The Heart Wounded With Love.
It is a thing very well known that human love not only wounds the heart, but even makes the body sick unto death; because, as the passion and temperament of the body have great power to incline the soul and draw her after it, so the affections of the soul have great force to stir the humours and change the qualities of the body. But besides this, love when it is violent bears away the soul to the thing beloved with such impetuosity, and so strongly possesses her, that she fails in all her other operations, be they sensitive or intellectual; so that to feed and second this love, the soul seems to abandon all other care, all other exercises, yea and herself too, whence Plato said that love was poor, ragged, naked, barefoot, miserable, houseless, that it lies without doors upon the hard ground, always in want.
It is poor, because it makes one quit all for the thing beloved; it is houseless, because it urges the soul to leave her own habitation to follow continually him who is loved; it is miserable, pale, lean and broken down, because it makes one lose sleep, meat and drink; it is naked and barefoot, since it makes one forsake all other affections to embrace those of the thing beloved; it lies without upon the hard ground because it causes the heart that is in love to lie open, making it manifest its passion by sighs, plaints, praises, suspicions, jealousies; it lies along at the gate like a beggar, because it makes the lover perpetually attentive to the eyes and mouth of the thing which it loves, keeping continually to the ears thereof to speak to it and beg favours, wherewith love is never satiated; now the eyes, ears, and mouth are the gates of the soul.
In fine the condition of its life is to be ever
indigent, for if ever it is satiated it is no longer
ardent, nor, consequently, love.
For turn your eyes a little upon those first masters of Christian doctrine, I mean those first doctors of holy evangelical love, and mark what one of them who had laboured the most said: Even unto this hour, says he, we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no fixed abode. And we labour working with our own hands: we are reviled, and we bless: we are persecuted, and we suffer it. We are blasphemed, and we entreat: we are made as the refuse of this world, the off-scouring, and as it were the parings, of all even until now.(1) As though he had said we are so abject that if the world be a palace we are held the sweepings thereof, if the world be an apple we are its parings.
What I pray you had brought them to this state but love? It was love that threw S. Francis naked before his bishop, and made him die naked upon the ground; it was love that made him a beggar all his life; it was love that sent the great S. Francis Xavier poor, needy, ragged, through the Indies and amongst the Japanese; it was love that brought the great Cardinal S. Charles, Archbishop of Milan, to that extremity of poverty amidst the riches which his birth and dignity gave him, that, as says the eloquent orator of Italy, Master (Monseigneur) Pancirola, he was as a dog in his master's house, eating but a bit of bread, drinking but a drop of water, and lying upon a little straw.
Let us hear, I beseech you, the holy Sulamitess, who cries almost in this manner: Although by reason of a thousand consolations which my love gives me I be more fair than the rich tents of my Solomon (I mean more fair than heaven, which is the inanimate pavilion of his royal majesty, while I am his animated pavilion), yet am I all black, rent, dust-worn, and all spoilt by so many wounds and blows given me by the same love.
Ah! regard not my hue, for truly I am brown,
because my beloved, who is my sun, has darted the
rays of his love upon me; rays which by their light
illuminate, but which by their heat have made me
sunburnt and swarthy, and touching me with their
splendour they have bereft me of my colour. The
passion of love has made me too happy in giving me a
spouse such as is my king, but the same passion which
is a mother to me (seeing she alone gave me in
marriage, and not my merits), has other children
which fiercely assault and trouble me, bringing me to
such a languor, that as, on the one hand, I am like
to a queen who is beside her king, so on the other
hand I am as a vineyard-keeper who, in a miserable
hut, looks to a vineyard, and a vineyard that is not
Theotimus, I have often pondered this wonder, and have made this conception of it. That great servant of God, a man wholly seraphical, beholding the lively picture of his crucified Saviour, represented in a shining seraph, who appeared unto him upon Mount Alverno, was touched beyond what could be imagined, being taken with a sovereign consolation and compassion, in beholding this bright mirror of love, which the angels cannot satisfy themselves in beholding. Ah! he as it were swooned away with sweetness and contentment. But seeing also the lively representation of the marks and wounds of his Saviour crucified, he felt in his soul the merciless sword which transfixed the sacred breast of the virgin-mother on the day of the passion, with as much interior pain as though he had been crucified with his dear Saviour. O God!
Theotimus, if the picture of Abraham holding the
Now the soul, as the form and mistress of the body, exercising her authority over it, impressed the pains of the wounds with which she was struck, on the parts corresponding to those wherein her beloved had endured them. Love is admirable in sharpening the imagination to penetrate to the exterior. In Laban's ewes the imagination had a corporal effect upon the lambs, and the imagination of human mothers affects their children. A strong imagination makes a man become grey in one night, and disturbs his health and all his humours.
Love then drove the interior torment of this great lover S. Francis to the exterior, and wounded the body with the same dart of pain with which it had wounded the heart; but love being, within could not well make the holes in the flesh without, and therefore the burning seraph coming to its help, darted rays of so penetrating a light, that it really made in the flesh the exterior wounds of the crucifled, which love had imprinted interiorly in the soul.
So the seraph seeing that Isaias did not dare to speak, because he perceived his lips defiled, came in the name of God to touch and purify his lips with a burning coal taken from off the altar, seconding in this sort his desire. The myrrh tree brings forth its gum and first liquor by way of sweat and transpiration, but that it may let out all its juice, it must be helped by incision.
In the same way the divine love of S. Francis
appeared in his whole life, after the manner of a
sweating, for in all his actions he showed nothing
but this sacred affection; but to make the
incomparable abundance of it plainly appear, the
divine seraph came to make the incision and wounds.
And to the end it might be known that these wounds
were wounds of Heaven's love, they were made not with
the steel, but with rays of light. O true God!
Theotimus, what amorous dolours and dolorous loves!
For not only at that instant, but also his whole life
after, this poor Saint went pining and languishing,
as sick with very love.
B. (S.) Stanislaus Kotska, a youth of fourteen years, was so assaulted by the love of his Saviour that he often fainted away and fell down, and he was constrained to apply linen steeped in cold water to his breast, to moderate the violence of the burning which he felt.
To conclude, Theotimus, how do you think that a soul which has once tasted divine consolations at all freely, can live in this world so full of miseries, without an almost continual pain and languishing?
That great man of God, Francis Xavier, was often heard lifting up his voice to Heaven, when he thought himself all alone, in this sort: Ah! my God, do not, for pity, do not bear me down with so great abundance of consolations; or if through thy infinite goodness it please thee to make me so abound in delights, draw me then into Paradise; for he who has once tasted thy sweetness must necessarily live in bitterness while he does not enjoy thee.
And therefore when God has somewhat largely
bestowed his heavenly sweetnesses upon a soul, and
afterwards withdraws them, he wounds her by this
privation, and she afterwards is left pining; sighing
out with David: My soul hath thirsted after the
strong living God; when shall I come and appear
before the face of God?(2) And with the great
Apostle: Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?(3)