The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus
Part 8 out of 8
must beware of taking to ourselves any part of the glory which belongs to
"One of the greatest misfortunes of heretics is that their ministers in
their discourses travesty our Faith, representing it as something quite
different from what it really is. For example, they pretend that we have
no regard for Holy Scripture; that we worship the Pope as God; that we
regard the Saints as divinities; that we hold the Blessed Virgin as being
more than Jesus Christ; that we pay divine worship to images and pictures;
that we believe souls in Purgatory to be suffering the selfsame agony and
despair as those in Hell; that we deprive the laity of participation in
the Blood of Jesus Christ; that we adore bread in the Eucharist; that we
despise the merits of Jesus Christ, attributing our salvation solely to the
merit of our good works; that auricular confession is mental torture; and
so on, endeavouring by calumnies of this sort to discredit our religion
and to render the very thought of it odious to those who are so thoroughly
misinformed as to its nature. When, on the contrary, they are made
acquainted with our real belief on any of these points, the scales fall
from their eyes, and they see that the fascination and cajolery of their
preachers has hidden from them the truth as to God's goodness and the
beauty of God's truth, and has put darkness before them in the place of
"It is true that at first they may shrug their shoulders, and laugh us to
scorn; but when they have left us, and, being alone, reflect a little on
what we have told them, you will see them flutter back like decoyed birds,
saying to us, 'We should like to hear you speak again about those things
which you brought before us the other day.' Then they fall, some on the
right hand, others on the left, and Truth, victorious on all sides, brings
them by different paths to know it as it really is."
He gave me many instances of conversions he had himself made in this manner
during his five years' mission in the Chablais.
He gave them to show how useful this mode of proceeding was, and how far
more helpful to souls than mere controversy can be.
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
Blessed Francis did not approve of controversial sermons, "The Christian
pulpit," he used to say, "is a place for improving of morals, not for
wrangling about them, for instructing the faithful in the truth of their
belief, rather than for convincing of their error those who have separated
themselves from the Church. An experience of thirty years in the work of
evangelising makes me speak thus. We made some trial of the controversial
method, when God through us led back the Chablais to the Catholic Faith,
but when I attempted to throw my treating of controversial subjects in the
pulpit into the form of a discussion, it was never successful. In place
of reclaiming our separated brethren, this method scares them away; when
they see that we are of set purpose attacking them, they instantly put
themselves on their guard; when we bring the lamp too close to their eyes,
they start back from the light. Nor have I ever observed that any of my
fellow labourers in this work of the Lord were more successful in following
out this plan, of fencing, as I may more justly call it, even though
they engaged in it with the utmost enthusiasm, and in a place where the
congregation all sang hymns together, and each one in his turn acted the
preacher, each saying exactly what he liked, and no one taking any kind of
official lead among them.
"But, in truth, this fencing was what St. Paul calls beating the air. I
do not mean that we must not prove Catholic truths, and refute the contrary
errors; for the weapons of the spiritual armoury and of the Word of God are
powerful to destroy all false teaching which rears itself up against the
truth, and to condemn disobedience to God; but we must not slash with our
words as desperate fencers do, but rather manage them dexterously, as does
a surgeon when using his lancet--he probes skilfully, so as to wound the
patient as little as possible."
And, indeed, Blessed Francis' way of dealing with this branch of theology,
bristling with thorns as it does at every point, was so sweet and pleasant
as to make it, as it were, blossom into roses. I could relate many
instances of the success of his preaching, without employing controversy,
in bringing back wanderers from the fold, equally with other sinners, into
He accomplished this by simply stating great truths, and bringing them home
to his hearers. One of the most remarkable instances, perhaps, is that of
the Protestant lady, who hearing him preach on the Last Judgment at Paris
in the year 1619, having been attracted more by curiosity than by any good
motive to listen to the sermon, there received that first flash of light
which afterwards guided her into the bosom of the true Church, into which
later she was followed by all the members of her noble family, one that
has since given us many celebrated divines and preachers. This incident,
however, with many more of the same kind, is fully related in the life of
our Blessed Father. So successful was he with Protestants that Cardinal
du Perron used to say that if it were only a question of confounding the
heretics, he thought he had found out the secret, but to convert them he
felt obliged to send for the Bishop of Geneva.
[Footnote 1: Note.--It is more correct to say that St. Francis preferred
moral sermons to controversy.]
[Footnote 2: 1 Cor. ix. 26.]
UPON REASON AND REASONING.
He used to say that reason never deceives, but reasoning often does. When a
person went to him with some complaint, or about some troublesome business,
he would always listen most patiently and attentively to any reasons which
were put before him, and, being full of prudence and good judgment, he
could always discern between what had any bearing on the matter and what
was foreign to it. When, therefore, people began obstinately to defend
their opinions by reasons, which, plausible though they might appear,
really carried no weight sufficient to secure a judgment, he would
sometimes say very gently, "Yes, I know quite well that these are your
reasons, but do you know that all reasons are not reasonable?" Someone on
one occasion having retorted that he might as well assert that heat was not
warm, he replied seriously, "Reason and reasoning are two different things:
reasoning is only the path leading to reason." Thus he would endeavour to
bring the person who had strayed away from truth back to it. Truth and
reason can never be separated, because they are one and the same thing.
UPON QUOTING HOLY SCRIPTURE.
St. Charles Borromeo never read the Scriptures except on his knees, just
as if he were listening to God speaking on Mount Sinai in thunder and
Blessed Francis also would not allow the Bible to be treated with anything
but the most extreme reverence, whether in public speaking, in writing, or
in private reading.
He was especially averse to that habit which some preachers have of
plunging into the mystical meaning of a passage, whether allegorical or
figurative, before they have explained its literal sense. "To do this," he
said, "is to build the roof of a house before laying the foundation. Holy
Scripture must be treated with more reverence and more consistency--it is
not material to be cut according to our fancy, and made into ornamental
garments such as fashion suggests."
UPON POLITICAL DIPLOMACY.
On one occasion I expressed my surprise to our Blessed Father that his
Serene Highness Charles Emanuel, Duke of Savoy, who was one of the most
excellent Princes and foremost politicians of his age, should never have
employed him in his affairs, especially in those which regarded France,
where they did not prosper.
As may be supposed, I explained the reason of my surprise, insisting that
his gentleness, patience, skill, and probity were certain to bring about
the desired result.
He listened in silence, and then answered with a seriousness and
earnestness which put me to shame, "You say too much, you exaggerate: you
imagine that others esteem me as you do, you who are always looking at me
through a magnifying glass. However, let us put that aside. As regards our
Prince, my feeling is very different from yours, for in this very matter I
consider that he shows the excellence of his judgment.
"I will tell you why I speak and think this. In the first place, I have
not all that skill and prudence in the management of affairs with which
you credit me. Is it likely I should have? The mere words, human prudence,
business, politics, terrify me. That is not all. To speak frankly, I know
nothing of the art of lying, dissimulating, or pretence, which latter is
the chief instrument and the mainspring of political manoeuvring; the art
of arts in all matters of human prudence and of civil administration.
"Not for all the provinces of Savoy, of France, nay, not for the whole
empire, would I connive at deceit. I deal with others frankly, in good
faith, and very simply; the words of my lips are the outcome of the
thoughts of my heart. I cannot carry two faces under one hood; I hate
duplicity with a mortal hatred, knowing that God holds the deceitful man in
abomination. There are very few who, knowing me, do not at least discern
this much of my character. They therefore judge very wisely that I am by no
means fit for an office in which you have to speak peace to your neighbour
whilst you are plotting mischief against him in your heart. Moreover, I
have always followed, as a heavenly, supreme, and divine maxim, those great
words of the Apostle: _No man being a soldier to God entangleth himself
with secular business that he may please Him to whom he hath engaged
[Footnote 1: Tim. ii, 4.]
St. Francis was truly like Aaron called to the pastoral charge by God
alone, without his having used artifices or other means to procure himself
such honour. This plainly appears from his life written by so many worthy
His Bishopric was, indeed, no sinecure, being a most onerous burden. He
says of it himself in one of his letters:
"The affairs of this diocese are not streams, they are torrents which
cannot be forded." Alluding to the words of the prophet: _And, it was a
torrent which I could not pass over_.
Towards the close of his life, when Madame Christina of France, the King's
sister, married His Serene Highness the Prince of Piedmont, heir to the
Duke of Savoy, she wished to have Blessed Francis in some official position
close to her person, and, to effect this, proposed to make him her Grand
Almoner. Certain prelates who had been themselves hoping to obtain this
office, seeing their design thus frustrated, murmured bitterly, bursting
forth into angry invectives against the Saint, as if by cabals, and
intrigue, according to the custom of the world, he had succeeded in gaining
the post for himself. St. Francis, however, was merely amused by what he
called the buzzing of flies, and wrote to one in whom he could confide:
"Her Highness and the Prince of Piedmont wish me to become the Princess's
Grand Almoner, but you will believe me readily enough, I am sure, when I
tell you that I neither, directly nor indirectly, have shown any wish to
obtain this office. No, truly, my dearest Mother, I have no ambition save
that of being able to employ the remainder of my days usefully in the
service and to the honour of our Lord. Indeed, I hold courts in sovereign
contempt, because they are centres of the power of this world, which I
abhor each day more and more--itself, its spirit, its maxims, and all its
[Footnote 1: Ezech. xlvii. 5.]
[Footnote 2: Louis XIII.]
UPON COURTS AND COURTIERS.
Blessed Francis did not hold the opinion of many that the courts of Princes
are places the very atmosphere of which is so tainted as to infect all who
frequent them, and to be invariably prejudicial to the health and holiness
of the soul.
Those who describe a court in terms of this sort are usually very ignorant
on the subject. They speak of what they have never seen nor heard about
from competent witnesses. A soul which has received the grace of God, and
preserves it, can work out its salvation anywhere, nor is there any harmful
intercourse so disease-laden that it cannot be overcome by this heavenly
antidote, "David, and after him St. Louis," says our Holy Bishop, "in the
press of the perils, toils, and travails which they endured, as well in
peace as in war, did not cease to sing in truth: '_What have I in Heaven,
and, besides Thee, what do I desire upon earth?_'"
"St. Bernard lost none of the ground which he desired to gain in this holy
love by passing much time in the courts and armies of great Princes where
he laboured to guide matters of state to the advancement of God's glory.
He changed his habitation, but he changed not his heart, nor did his
heart change its love, nor his love its object; in fine, to speak his own
language, changes were made round about him, but not in him.
"His employments were different, yet he was indifferent to all employment,
and different from them all, his soul not taking its colour from his
affairs and conversations, as the chameleon does from the places where it
is, but remaining ever wholly united to God, ever white in purity, ever red
with charity, and ever full of humility.
"I am not ignorant, Theotimus, of that wise man's counsel,
He ever flies the Court and legal strife
Who seeks to sow the seeds of holy life:
Rarely do camps effect the soul's increase,
Virtue and faith are daughters unto peace.
"And the Israelites had good reason to excuse themselves to the
Babylonians, who urged them to sing the sacred Canticles of Sion: _How
shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?_ But do not forget
that those poor people were not only among the Babylonians, but were also
their captives, and whoever is intent only on winning the favours of
princes, dignities, military honours, alas! he is lost, he cannot sing the
hymn of heavenly love. But he who is at Court, in the army, at the bar,
only because it is his duty, God helps him, and heavenly sweetness is an
_Epithem_ on his heart, to preserve him from the plague which rages round
"There are some kinds of fish, such as salmon, and the like, which, instead
of losing their flavour, become better and more agreeable to the taste when
they forsake the salt water of the sea for the sweet water of rivers.
"Roses smell sweeter when planted near garlic, and in like manner there are
souls which grow more fervent in places where libertinism and irreligion
seem to drag all virtue at their chariot wheels."
Our Blessed Father's piety was of this sort, for, knowing that he who is
consecrated to God should not entangle himself in the intrigues of the
world. he speaks thus to one in whom he confided: "I must confess that,
as regards business, especially that of a worldly nature, I feel myself
more than ever to be nothing but a poor priest, having, thank God, learnt
at court to be more simple and less worldly."
Truly, we may say here with the wise man: _Who is he and we will praise
him? for he hath done wonderful things in his life._
[Footnote 1: Psalm lxxii. 25.]
[Footnote 2: Psalm cxxxvi. 4.]
[Footnote 3: _Love of God_. Book xii. c. 4.]
[Footnote 4: 2 Tim. ii. 4.]
[Footnote 5: Eccles. xxxi. 9.]
UPON THE CARNIVAL.
His sad time each year was the Carnival, those days of disorder and licence
which, like a torrent, carry away into excesses of one sort or another even
the staunchest and most fervent in their piety. He felt, indeed, like Job
of old, who offered sacrifices and prayers, and afflicted both body and
soul with fasts and mortifications, while his children were passing their
time in revellings and banquetings.
As our Blessed Father was all things to all men, and weak with the weak, so
he also burned with the scandalised; and who would not be scandalised to
see the Pagan festival of the Bacchanalia celebrated among Christians? For
this very reason, as we know, the name of God is blasphemed by many, and
the Catholic religion unjustly blamed, as if it permitted what it cannot
prevent, as if it commanded what it tolerates with reluctance, as if it
ordered what it detests and declaims against by the mouth of its preachers.
Perhaps you would like to hear the words in which our Blessed Father pours
forth his lamentations over this period of the year, so full of disorder
"I must tell you," he says, "that now I have come to my sorrowful time.
From the Epiphany even to Lent my heart is full of strange sensations.
Miserable and detestable as I am, I am weighed down with grief to see the
loss of so much devotion, I mean the falling off of so many souls. These
two last Sundays I have found our communions diminished by one-half. That
has grieved me very much, for even if those who made them do not give way
to sin, why, and for what, do they now omit them? For nothing at all--out
of mere vanity, it is that which grieves me."
AN INSTANCE OF HIS COMPASSION FOR ANIMALS.
The Church inculcates on the Clergy perfect gentleness and kindness. This
is why they may never take any part in anything involving bloodshed. His
having shed the blood of a fellow man, even when required by the interests
of justice, is considered a canonical irregularity, and deprives a Priest
of the right to celebrate Holy Mass.
Blessed Francis was remarkable for his gentleness and tender-heartedness
towards all creatures. I will give you a little instance of this.
One day he was at my house, when a nobleman of distinction called upon us.
This gentleman was at the head of a hunting party, and seeing in my orchard
a roebuck which had been given to me and which was peacefully feeding, he
proposed, as he said, to amuse our Blessed Father by setting his dogs upon
the poor animal, and to confine the hunt to my orchard.
The good Bishop's remonstrances were in vain. But though he refused to go
to the orchard, he could not avoid being a witness, however unwillingly, of
what took place, as his room overlooked the ground. Great numbers of people
came to enjoy the spectacle; the horns were blown, the dogs barked, while
the poor roebuck, as if it knew who would fain have been its deliverer,
bounding towards the window near which the Bishop was seated, seemed, like
a suppliant, to be imploring his help.
Blessed Francis drew back, and begged as earnestly that the hunt might be
given up as if he had been asking pardon for a criminal.
He did not see the end, for the animal was at once brought to bay and
despatched. They wanted him to see it when dead, but he did not deign so
much as to look at it, and when the venison was served at table, he most
unwillingly partook of the dish. "Alas," he exclaimed, "what hellish
pleasure! This is just how infuriated demons pursue poor souls by
temptations to sin, so as to precipitate them into the abyss of everlasting
death, yet of that no one thinks."
Blessed Francis was sometimes taxed with over much good nature and
gentleness, and was told that this was the cause of many disorders which
would not have occurred had he been more wholesomely severe. He, however,
answered calmly and sweetly that he had always in his mind the words of
the great St. Anselm, the glory of our Alps, among which he was born.
That Saint, he observed, was in the habit of saying that if he had to be
punished either for being too indulgent or being over-rigorous, he would
far rather it should be for the former. He gave as his reason that judgment
with mercy would be meted out to the merciful, and that God would always
have more pity on the pitiful than on the rigorous. He went on to recall
that most sound maxim: Sovereign right is only sovereign injustice, and
remarked that in Holy Scripture those pastors who were over-severe were
Our Saint used always to say that sugar never yet spoilt any sauce, but
that too much salt or vinegar often did.
His speaking of St. Anselm's gentleness reminds me of the story told of the
same Saint by Blessed Francis in his Philothea. "One day," he says, "as he,
St. Anselm, was travelling, a hare, being closely run by the hounds which
pursued it, took refuge between his horse's feet, and the dogs remained
yelping around unable to molest their prey in this its strange sanctuary.
His followers were highly entertained at so novel a spectacle, but Saint
Anselm groaned and wept. 'Even thus,' said he, 'do the enemies of the soul
pursue it and drive it into all manner of sins, until at the last they can
kill and devour it, and whilst the terrified soul seeks for some refuge and
help, its enemies mock and laugh if it finds none.'"
Our Blessed Father, following the example of the holy Archbishop, was
invariably kind and gentle, even with the brute creation. He not only
himself never did them harm, but he prevented, as far as he could, any
being done to them by others, for he believed that those who thus inflict
pain on innocent creatures often, even at the risk of their own lives,
display a cruel and malevolent kind of courage. He went so far as to regard
it as a venial sin to injure creatures for the sole pleasure of harming
them where no advantage of any sort would accrue to ourselves; his reason
being that we in this way deprive them of the joy to be found in mere
existence bestowed upon them by God.
"What, then," he was asked, "do you say to the chase, and to the killing
of animals for the food of man?" "As regards the food of man," he replied,
"the very words you use justify the act, and it is that end which justifies
the chase." From this we may conclude that the mere pleasure of the chase
was not sufficient, in his opinion, to render lawful the indulging in it.
Although he blamed the superstition of the Turks, who think that they
acquire merit in the sight of God by lavishing kindness on senseless
brutes, even the most savage and cruel, such as wolves and lions, still he
used to say that this pity had a good natural source, and that those who
were so compassionate to animals were likely to be no otherwise to men,
nature teaching us not to despise our own flesh. In spite of these
feelings, he was very far from falling into those mistakes which casuists
enumerate as the result of excess in gentleness and kindness.
The various writers of the life of Blessed Francis tell us how it was
commonly remarked that all animals by natural instinct seemed to recognise
his tender, compassionate feelings for them, and that when hunted and
pursued, they at once took refuge with him, witness the pigeons, which at
different times when he was saying the Divine Office, flew for safety and
shelter into his very hands.
[Footnote 1: _Devout Life_. Part II. c. 13.]
UPON THE FEAR OF GHOSTS.
Fear is a natural passion, which, like all the others, is in itself neither
bad nor good, but bad when it is excessive and disquieting, good when it
is subordinate to reason. There are some who, because naturally timid and
apprehensive, would never dare to speak in public. Others are so afraid
of thunder and lightning that they faint in a storm. Others are afraid of
noises at night, and have a horror of darkness and solitude. Others, again,
have so great a fear of ghosts and apparitions that they dare not sleep
alone in a room.
I have been told, on good authority, that one of our Bravest and most
distinguished Generals, who went to battle as gaily and confidently as he
would go to a marriage, declared that he could never suffer his valet,
after settling him for the night, to leave his sleeping apartment, it being
quite impossible for him to sleep when left alone at night. Our Blessed
Father writes in the following consoling manner to a pious person who
suffered from the weakness of being afraid of ghosts:
"I am told," he says, "that you are afraid of spirits. The Sovereign Spirit
of our God is everywhere, and without His Will or permission no other
spirit dare stir. Those who fear this Divine Spirit ought not to fear
any other. You are beneath His wings, like a little chicken under those
of its mother; what do you fear? In my youth I, too, was a prey to these
imaginations, and in order to get the better of them I forced myself
when quite a child to go alone into places which my fancy had peopled
with fantastic terrors. I went alone, I say, but my heart was armed with
confidence in God. Now I am grown so strong in this confidence that
darkness and the solitude of the night are delightful to me, since in
solitude I realise better the all-embracing Presence of God. The good
angels are there round about us like a company of soldiers on guard. _The
truth of God_, says the Psalmist, _shall compass thee with a shield; thou
shall not be afraid of the terror of night_.
"This feeling of safety you will acquire little by little, in proportion
as the grace of God grows in you: for grace engenders confidence, and
confidence is never confounded."
See how, with this timid, fearful soul, he makes himself weak and infirm.
If I may be permitted to add to this great example my own poor and
worthless experience, I would say that when I was young I was greatly
afflicted with this weakness. It was indeed, perhaps, the chief impediment
to my entering the Order of St. Bruno, which is, in my opinion, the
holiest, as it certainly is the most retired and the most steadfast of all
the religious orders. I, however, lost this infirmity as soon as I had
received the imposition of hands from the Blessed Francis de Sales, and I
may add that Almighty God permitted me to succeed, in the episcopal chair,
three Saints of that order which I revered so much, namely, Saints Artauld,
Audace, and Anthelme.
[Footnote 1: Psalm xi. 5.]
[Footnote 2: Six Carthusians occupied the See of Belley: Ponce de
Balmay, St. Anthelme, Raynauld, St. Arthaut, Bernard, and Bd. Boniface
of Savoy. (_Tresor de Chronologie, Chez Palme, Paris, 1880_).
Audace, first Bp. of Belley, was not canonised, nor was he a Carthusian.]
I have known great servants of God who would not on any account allow their
portraits to be painted, imagining that their doing so must involve some
degree of vanity and dangerous self-complacency. Our Blessed Father was not
of this opinion, but, making himself all things to all men that he might
win all to Jesus Christ, he made no objection to having his portrait taken
when asked to do so. He gave as his reason that since we are obliged by the
law of holy charity to communicate to our neighbour the representation of
our mind, imparting to him without dissimulation or jealousy what we have
learnt concerning the science of salvation, so we ought to be still less
niggardly in pleasing our friends by placing before their eyes the picture
of our outward self which they so earnestly desire to have.
If we see, not only without annoyance, but even with pleasure, our books,
which are the portraits of our minds, in the hands of our fellow men, why
grudge them the picture of our countenance, if it contribute anything to
their satisfaction. On this subject he expresses himself as follows in one
of his letters: "Here, then, is the picture of the earthly man, for I am
unwilling to refuse you anything which you desire.
"I am told that my portrait has never been really well painted. That, I
think, matters very little, _surely man passeth as an image. Yea, and he is
disquieted in vain._
"I borrowed it in order to send it to you, for I have not myself got my
own portrait. Ah! if the image of my Creator were imprinted in all its
splendour on my soul, how gladly would I let you see it!
"_O Jesu, tuo lumine, luo redemptos sanguine,
sana, refove, perfice, tibi conformes, effice. Amen._"
Thus did he turn every subject into an occasion of elevating the soul to
[Footnote 1: Psalm xxxviii. 7]
UPON BLESSED FRANCIS' TRUE CHARITY.
Since charity was the animating motive of all that our Holy Bishop thought,
said, or did, and since it was in truth his very spirit, we cannot better
close these reminiscences of that saintly spirit than by quoting the words
of the Prince of the Apostles: _Before all things have a constant charity
among yourselves, for charity covers a multitude of sins. Let every one
behave himself according to the dispensation of grace. If any man speak,
let him speak as the words of God. If any man minister, let him do it as
of the power which God administers, that in all things God may be honoured
through Jesus Christ, to whom is glory and empire for ever and ever.
[Footnote 1: 1 Peter iv. 8, 10, 11.]
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