"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God."

Thomas á Kempis

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"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"There is nothing which gives greater security to our actions, or more effectually cuts the snares the devil lays for us, than to follow another person’s will, rather than our own, in doing good."

St Philip Neri

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St. Francis de Sales  (1567-1622)
 Bishop, Founder of the Visitation and Doctor of the Church


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.

God alone is he, who, by his infinite wisdom, sees, knows and penetrates all the turnings and windings of our hearts: he understands our thoughts from afar, he finds out our traces, doubles and turnings; his knowledge therein is admirable, surpassing our capacity and reach. Certainly if our spirits would turn back upon themselves by reflections, and by reconsiderations of their acts, we should enter into labyrinths from which we should find no outgate; and it would require an attention quite beyond our power, to think what our thoughts are, to consider our considerations, to observe all our spiritual observations, to discern that we discern, to remember that we remember, these acts would be mazes from which we could not deliver ourselves. This treatise, then, is difficult, especially to one who is not a man of great prayer.

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.

Now it is called mystical, because its conversation is altogether secret, and there is nothing said in it between God and the soul save only from heart to heart, by a communication incommunicable to all but those who make it. Lovers' language is so peculiar to themselves that none but themselves understand it. I sleep, said the holy spouse, and my heart watcheth. Ah! hark! The voice of my beloved knocking.(1) Who would have guessed that this spouse being asleep could yet talk with her beloved? But where love reigns, the sound of exterior words is not necessary, nor the help of sense to entertain and to hear one another.

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.

Love desires secrecy; yea, though lovers may have nothing secret to say, yet they love to say it secretly: and this is partly, if I am not mistaken, because they would speak only for themselves, whereas when they speak out loud it seems no longer to be for themselves alone; partly because they do not say common things in a common manner, but with touches which are particular, and which manifest the special affection with which they speak.

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.

1. Cant. v. 2.
2. Apoc. ii. 17.
3. Cant. iii. 6.
4. Cant. vii. 11.
5. Ps. xxvi. 8.
6. Ps. cxviii. 82.
7. Ps. xxxviii. 13.
8.  Jer. Lam. ii. 18.