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 following Treatise presents, at first sight, considerable difficulties. They do not arise from any defect in the Saint's mode of expression, but are inherent in his subject and manner of treatment, "going deep down into the roots" of the Love of God. Thus he speaks in his Preface, and continues: "The first four books, and some chapters of the others might doubtless have been omitted without disadvantage to such souls as seek only the practice of holy love . . . . I have been forced to say many things which will appear more obscure than they are. The depths of science are always somewhat hard to sound."
But he tells us that the state of the minds of his age required this deeper treatment; and whatever may be thought as to the best way of presenting modern religious teaching to an age so ignorant, so shallow and so unthinking as is our own with regard to spiritual truths, there can be no question that this masterpiece of the chief doctor of ascetic theology must not be brought down to our level, but that we must raise ourselves towards it. The necessity of giving some explanation of the sequence of its doctrine, and of the difficulties which occur, must be our chief excuse for daring to place words of ours by the side of this finished work of S. Francis de Sales.
A second reason lies in the fact that the
"Treatise on the Love of God" was, with others of his
writings, the chief subject of the celebrated
controversy between Fenelon and Bossuet. There can be
little doubt that this lowered the authority of the
work. Not because the mere fact of a discussion
seemed to throw over it an air of unsafeness or
Incredible as the fact may seem, it is nevertheless true that neither Fenelon nor Bossuet had properly studied the works in dispute. The former went to them prepossessed. His opinions were already formed, and he merely sought a confirmation of them. He read in a most superficial manner. He precipitately chose out what seemed to suit his purpose, and neglected important statements and obvious interpretations which were inconsistent with it. He even went so far in what must be called a sincere dishonesty of misapprehension, as to insist on clinging to mistakes he had fallen into through using Bailly's Lyons edition of the "Conferences" (1628), which Bossuet had proved to be spurious.
Bossuet, on his side, admits that he had not previously read it properly, he only studied what seemed necessary to answer his opponent, and lacked that high complete knowledge of S. Francis's teaching as a whole which was necessary for taking a proper view of details and parts. Indeed he only then (1695) began those profounder studies of mystic theology which enabled him later to write his treatises on matters which to S. Francis, by the experience of sanctity more even than by the studies of a lifetime, were as familiar as the sights and sounds of home.
Hence it came about that while he easily justified the teaching of the Saint, he not only failed to give the full influence of his genius and authority to unassailably establish its triumphant reputation, but on the contrary he incidentally disparaged it. He says, for instance: "S. Francis is a great saint, and I have always maintained yhat his doctrine which is objected against us is entirely for us as to the matters in question: but we must not therefore make him infallible, and it cannot be forgotten that he has shown more good intention than knowledge on some points."
Fortunately Bossuet mentions these points, and the reader shall see directly Bossuet's entire misapprehension of the Saint's meaning, and meanwhile "it cannot be forgotten" that while Bossuet refused the title "infallible" to S. Francis, for whom no one claims it, he refused it to the successor of S. Peter to whose office it really belongs.
Bossuet says further: "According to the spirit of his time he had perhaps less read the Fathers than the modern Scholastics." Did Bossuet remember that he was speaking of the age of Sirmond, of Bellarmine, of Venerable Canisius, and, we may say, of Petavius? Francis was a master and a leader of his age, and, as is clear from this Treatise alone, was excellently versed both in the Fathers and the Scholastics, if any distinction is to be made between them.
In conclusion, Bossuet presumes to say: "In these
places and in some others his theology might be more
exact and his principles more sure . . . . one would
not follow him in certain condescensions which I will
not particularize." In this also it will be shown
that Bossuet is most unjust, but for the present we
may consider that he neutralizes his own objection,
when in the same sentence he says: "As director of
souls he is truly sublime." In answer to these
attacks, Fenelon gladly changed places with Bossuet,
but his hasty defence was not so complete as the
charges were unwarranted and presumptuous.(1)
The first chapter is to show that the unity required for the beauty of that assemblage of perfections called man, lies in this, that all his powers are grouped round the will and subordinated to it. Then (c. 2) it is shown that the will exercises its authority in different ways, according to the different nature of human powers. It governs: (a) exterior movements, at its pleasure, like slaves; (b) the senses and corporal functions, by a certain management, like horses or hawks; (c) the fancy, memory, understanding, by direction and command, like wife and children, who are able to disobey if they choose; (d) the sensual appetite (c. 3), in the same manner as the last-named; it is still less under the will's control, but there is no moral guilt so long as the will refuses to consent to or adopt its wrong desires.
Then are described the twelve movements of this sensual appetite, -- viz., desire, hatred, hope, &c., which are called perturbations or passions. They are all forms of the chief, and, in a sense, the only passion, love. These passions are left in man on purpose to exercise his will. A universal experience, testified to in effect even by those who pretend to deny it, such as the Stoics, proves that these movements are necessary qualities of human nature.
Love being (c. 4) the root of the others their action is good or bad according as the love is rightly or wrongly placed. Nay the very will is bad or good according to its love; and its supremacy does not lie in this that it can reject all love, but in this that it can choose amongst the loves presented to it, by directing the understanding to consider one more favourably or more attentively than another.
In the will, now defined (c. 5) as "the reasonable appetite," there are affections, that is, movements or forms of love, similar to the passions of the sensual appetite. Having different and higher objects they often run counter to the passions, and the reasonable will often forces a soul to remain in circumstances most repugnant to its sensual inclinations.
These affections or tendencies of the will are divided into four classes according to their dignity, that is, the dignity of their objects:
The essential supremacy of divine love is proved
(c. 6), and there follows a wondrous description in
four chapters of the nature and qualities of love in
general. Divine love or charity is not defined till
chapter 13, and is not specifically described till
the last chapter of Book II.
It is in 2 and 3, complacency and movement, that love more properly consists, and most precisely in (3), the movement or outflowing of heart. Complacency has appeared to some to be the really essential point of love, but it is not so, because love is a true passion or affection, that is, a movement. Complacency spreads the wings, love actually flies. When the object loved is present and the lover has but to grasp it, the love is called a love of complacency, because complacency has no sooner produced the movement of love than it ends in a second complacency. When the object is absent, or, like God, not as present as it may become, the tending, advancing, aspiring movement is called a love of desire, that is, the cupidity of what we have not but hope to have.
After certain exquisite distinctions between various kinds of desires, he returns (c. 8) to the correspondence or affinity with good which is the root of love, and which consists not exclusively in resemblance, but in a certain relation between things which makes them apt to union for their mutual perfection.
Finally, coming to union and the means thereto, it is exquisitely proved (c. 9) that love tends to union but (c. 10) to a spiritual union, and that carnal union, instead of being an expression of true love or a help to it, is positively a hindrance, a deviation, a degradation.
The next two chapters (11,12) treat the important
distinction between the two parts of the soul, the
inferior and the superior. It will clear matters to
notice that the Saint means the two parts of the
reasonable soul, and that in the first two paragraphs
of chapter 11 he simply says that his distinction
does not refer to the soul as a mere animating
principle, or, again, as the principle of that life
which man shares with plants and animals. He speaks
of the human soul as such, that is, as having the
gift of reason.
The distinction between the inferior and the superior part of the reasonable soul is quite independent of revelation: it rests on the distinction between what we have called the lower light of nature and that higher light which, for instance, heathen philosophers used, when, for love of country or moral virtue, they chose to submit to sensible pain or even to death which their lower reason would direct them to avoid. The existence of this lower reason is clearly shown in Our Blessed Saviour's prayer in the garden. Willing and praying are acts of reason, yet in this case they were acts of a lower reason which Christ permitted to manifest itself, but which had to give way to higher considerations.
Now the inferior part of reason forms by itself one degree of the reason, but the superior part has three degrees; in the lowest of which we reason according to higher natural light, or as the Saint calls it, "human sciences," in the next according to faith, and in the highest we do not properly reason, but, "by a simple view of the understanding, and simple acquiescence,"or assent, "of the will" we correspond with God's action, when he spreads faith, hope and charity in this supreme point of our reasonable soul.
The distinction corresponds exactly with that made in chapter 5, into natural, reasonable, Christian and divine. The Saint there spoke of affections or tendencies, he here speaks of reasonings and willings which are the fulfilment of those tendencies. We may remark here, as an instance of the superficial way in which Fenelon and Bossuet studied this Treatise, that they take a totally different ground of distinction in separating the soul into superior and inferior (viz., sensible perception and intellectual cognition), and yet do not perceive that they are differing from the Saint.(4)
To sum up (cc. 11, 12): in man there are some
powers altogether below reason; and reason, which is
of course one and simple in itself, has four degrees,
according to the rank of the objects presented for
its consideration and love, sensible things,
spiritual things known by the light of nature,
spiritual things known by the revelation of Christ,
and spiritual knowledge communicated by the immediate
communication of God's light. Between the last and
the last but one there is not exactly a difference of
rank in the objects, but a difference in clearness of
perception and strength of acceptance.
He has already, in chapter 7, sub-divided the love of cupidity into love of benevolence and love of desire, according as the loved good is present or absent, and now he applies the same division and the same ground of division to the love of benevolence. This also is either a love of complacency or a love of desire according as the good is present to or absent from the person we love: we rejoice in the good he already has, we desire him the good he has not.
This double form of the love of benevolence,
besides occurring frequently throughout, enters
particularly into the structure of Book V., and is.
importantly needed for the full understanding of Book
VIII. It is necessary here to point out that whereas
he has just placed the names complacency and desire
under the generic head, benevolence, he afterwards
uses the word benevolence, specifically, instead of
desire, as if dividing benevolence into complacency,
and benevolence proper. This use of the word in the
sense of desire agrees with its etymology,--bene-volentia,
The love of benevolence is called friendship when it is mutual. This friendship has degrees. When it is beyond all comparison with other friendships, supereminent, sovereign, it is called charity-the friendship or mutual love of God and man.
The Saint shows (c. 14.) that to employ the word
love instead of charity is not against the use of
Scripture, and he mentions one reason for his
preferring the word love which gives us an important
help to the understanding of the Treatise. It is, he
says, because he is speaking for the most part not of
the habitual charity, or state of friendship between
God and the soul in grace, but of actual charity,
that is, of the acts of love which at once express
and increase the state of charity. Even in the three
following books, in which he is speaking of the
formation, or progress, or loss, of habitual charity,
he is still chiefly concerned with the acts by which
this is done.
It is chiefly against these three chapters that Bossuet's animadversions are directed. He accuses the Saint of two errors:
Fenelon misapprehends the Saint's meaning, and gives a very confused, imperfect answer to the two objections. The real answer to the first is that Bossuet is quite outside the question. S. Francis is not speaking of the step by which a man passes from the natural to the supernatural order, but of the process by which his natural inclination to love God above all things ripens into that actual love of him above all things which belongs still to the natural order.(5)
Bossuet falls into a somewhat similar error in his
second objection. S. Francis is considering,
separately, the natural love of God which those would
have who might be in the state of original justice,
who would, of course, by the very terms, have
supernatural love. Not only is Bossuet's criticism
ridiculously irrelevant, but his language, to ears
which have heard the Saint declared "Doctor of the
Church," sounds almost like impertinence. "What," he
says, "would this humble servant of God have done if
it had been represented to him that in the state of
original justice we should have loved God
supernaturally? Would he not have confessed that he
was forgetting the most essential condition of that
state?" And it is after these mistakes that Bossuet
complacently observes: "These opinions rectify
themselves in practice when the intention is good;"
and "In some points his theology might be more exact
and his principles more sure."
The two introductory chapters, which seem at first sight somewhat foreign to the subject of the book, are directed to put steadily and unmistakeably before us the truth that when theologians speak of many perfections, many acts, a most various order of decrees and execution, this is only according to the human method of viewing, and that our God is really but one perfection and one act, which is himself.
This truth is developed partly also to introduce a description of the perfections of the God of whose love the Saint is speaking. At the end of the Treatise he refers to these chapters as his chief treatment of the chief motive of love -- the infinite goodness of God in himself.
After this caution and preface, he begins (c. 3) his account of the action of God in the production of charity. He speaks, first, of God's providence in general, including under this title his actual providing or foreseeing, his creating, and his governance. Then (c. 4) he comes to the divine decree to create Christ's Humanity, angels and men for him, inferior creatures for men -- following here the Scotist teaching that Christ would have become man (though of course he would not have died) even if Adam had not sinned.
God decreed to create angels and man in the supernatural state of charity, and, foreseeing that some angels and the whole nature or race of man would fall from this state, God decreed to condemn the former, but to redeem the latter by his Son's death, making the state of redemption a hundred times better than the state of innocence.
God decreed (c. 6) special favours, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for certain rare creatures who were to come nearest to his Son, and then for men in general an immense abundance and universal showers of grace, an all-illuminating light.
He gives a whole exquisite chapter (c. 8) to show the sincerity and strength of the desire God thus manifests that we should love him, and then comes (c. 9) to the effecting this desire by preventing our hearts with his grace, taking hold of our natural inclination to love him. We can (c. 10) repulse his grace, not because (c. 11) there is anything wanting in God's offer, but (c. 12) as an inevitable consequence of our having free-will; in case we accept it, we begin to mingle our action with God's.
Here we must remark that the Saint is not
concerned with the sacramental action of God which
creates or re-creates charity in the soul by baptism
or penance, still less does he treat the
semi-miraculous production of charity by Baptism in
souls which have not yet the use of reason, but he
speaks of the intellectual and moral process or set
of acts by which a soul gifted with the use of reason
is conducted from infidelity to faith and charity, he
treats of the justification which is made by love
even before the actual reception of a Sacrament.
From it spring two movements or acts of the soul, the one by which she expects from God the promised happiness, and this is really the chief element of hope -- esperer, the other by which she excites herself to do all that is required on her part -- aspirer. This aspiration is the condition but not the positive ground of our esperation (to coin a word). That is to say, we may not expect the fruition of God except in so far as we have a courageous design to do all we can; then, we may infalliby expect it, yet still ever from the pure mercy of God.
Hope, then, is defined "an expecting and aspiring
love," or "the loving complacency we take in the
expecting and seeking our sovereign good." It is then
a distinct advance in love. Faith includes a
beginning of love in the movement of the will though
its real seat is the intelligence; hope is all love,
and its seat is the will. However hope as such is
still insufficient, because, however noble, it is a
love of cupidity, and not that love of God for his
own sake which is necessary for eternal life. By it
we love God sovereignly, because we desire him above
all other goods, yet our love is not sovereign,
because it is not the highest kind of love. The Saint
is of course speaking of the action of hope before
charity. Hope remains also after charity, existing,
as we have said, in the very heights of perfect love,
and after charity its acts merit before those of
every other virtue.
The Saint then reminds us (c. 21) that all this
has been done by the loving action of God's grace,
which, after awakening our souls and inspiring them
to pray has brought them through faith and hope to
penitence and perfect love. In conclusion (c. 22) he