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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Saint Francis de Sales (1567–1622)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Yetta Blaze de Bury (d. 1902)
 
IN 1567, at the height of the League in France,—at Annécy, in a Savoy almost French in consequence of the repeated alliances of its sovereigns with France,—he who was to be St. Francis de Sales was born of one of the first families of his country. His early choice of the study of the law shows the predominance in him of reason over imagination. But what he refuses to imagination in the field of literary “invention,” he makes up to it by the abuse of “images of style.” When it is a matter of painting with the pen, he puts under contribution flowers, birds, streams,—all nature. The contemporary of Florian, of D’Urfé, and of Vaugelas, as well as their compatriot, he has neither the affectation of the second nor the “Scudérisms” of the first; but he rushes into veritable whirlwinds of metaphors. This abuse of metaphor, especially evident in his ‘Introduction à la Vie Dévote’ (Introduction to the Devout Life), does not prevent him, however, from having a very definite style,—a combination which makes it possible to republish him at the present time without any changes. In the order of psychological subtlety, Francis de Sales is the precursor of Fénelon. His direction of the nuns of the Visitation whom he governed, with the direction of the most worldly women of his time, evinces his great knowledge of women. In the ‘Introduction to the Devout Life,’ he excels in distributing his counsels as befits the worldly and the “regulars.” For the worldly, he even takes part in the gallantry of the time, when he speaks of “friendships.” He even accords that “friendship is mutual love; and that there should be constant communication and intercourse between persons united in friendship.”  1
  It was about the beginning of the seventeenth century that he founded the Order of the Visitation, and formed in his turn, with Madame Jeanne de Chantal, the aunt of Madame de Sévigné, exactly such a strict friendship “for good” as those of which he proclaims the utility, when in the ‘Introduction’ he says: “If the benefits that friends give each other are false and vain, the friendship is false and vain; but if they are true benefits, the friendship is true!”  2
  The ‘Traité de l’Amour de Dieu’ is not less fertile in figurative language than the ‘Introduction.’ But it applies more especially to religious persons. Henry IV., and later, Louis XIII. particularly, did their best to keep Francis in France; but nothing could prevail over his love of his native land, and in spite of his constant visits to the French court, and the direction of his “daughters” of the Visitation, and also his strong affection for St. Vincent de Paul, the country of his birth never ceased to be the country of his choice.  3
  The firmness of his character, combined with great keenness, particularly fitted him for the direction of women: and it was thus he wrote the ‘Introduction’ for Madame de Charmoisy, as he founded the Order of the Visitation and modified its regulations upon the advice of Madame de Chantal; while at the same time this moral collaboration aimed at the personal elevation of this eminent woman left in widowhood! The foundation of the Visitation and the direction of souls,—such were the works of St. Francis de Sales. He died peacefully in 1622. There was nothing of the ascetic in him. While the holiness of his Italian namesake palpitates with the “madness of the cross,” the triumph of Francis de Sales is, on the contrary, reason—wisdom—the economy well understood and well combined of worldly duties with divine obligations. He summed up in a word his own classification of each one’s rôle, when he said, “The religion of the Capuchin is not the religion of the soldier.”  4
  The following citations are drawn from the ‘Introduction to the Devout Life.’ The selection is made especially in view of the worldly; and in order to show them how free our saint’s morality was from all those compromises with questions of interests, such as money interests, with which church people are sometimes too justly reproached. These citations show, too, how well in his secular counsels his morality could adjust itself to social enigmas.  5
  Speaking of the love of riches, and the pains we should take for the extension of our worldly fortune, St. Francis wrote: “We are rendering God an acceptable service when we take care of the good things which he has confided to us. This care must be greater and sounder than that of the worldly; for they work only for love of themselves, while we should work for the love of God.”  6
  Apropos of the love of the poor:—
          “If you love the poor, take pleasure in being with them, in having them visit you, in going to see them. In speech be poor with them, talking with them as equal to equal; but with your hands be rich, sharing with them what God has given more abundantly to you than to them.”
  7
  In another passage St. Francis wishes to show us the value of voluntary renouncing, and the difference between accepting and choosing poverty:—
          “Esau came before his father with hairy hands, and Jacob did the same, but because the hair covering Jacob’s hands was not fastened to his skin, but only to his gloves, it could be torn from him without flaying or wounding him. On the contrary, as the hair on Esau’s hands grew from his skin, naturally hairy, it could not be torn off without great pain and great resistance. The faithful servants of God care no more for their wealth than for their clothes, which they can put on and leave off at pleasure; but bad Christians prize it as much as animals do their skin.”
  8
  Sometimes, too, the saint’s counsels take the form of maxims or thoughts: “Wherever there is less of us, there is more of God; poverty chosen in the midst of riches is therefore most agreeable to God, since it proves a divine election in the soul which chooses it.”—“If poverty displeases you, it is because you are not poor in spirit, but rich in spirit by the affection you give wealth.” St. Francis applies his declaration that “the religion of the Capuchin is not the religion of the soldier”; he proves it by showing the part which human love plays in people’s hearts:—
          “Love holds the first place among the passions; it reigns in the heart, it guides all its movements. Therefore forbid your heart all evil love, Philothea, for it would soon become an evil heart. All love moreover is not friendship; since one can love without being loved, and then there is ‘love’ not ‘friendship.’ Friendship is a mutual love. Between people who love each other there must be some communication. If the benefits that friends give each other are false and vain, the friendship is false and vain; but if they are true benefits, the friendship is true.”
  9
  Upon the harm caused by luxury, Francis de Sales is not less explicit: “There is a great difference between having poison and being poisoned. You may have wealth without its natural poison going to your heart.” In the eyes of our saint, as in the eyes of Montaigne, sadness and anxiety are the most detestable of all things. “Anxiety arises from an unreasonable desire either to be delivered from the ill one feels, or to attain a blessing for which one hopes. Thus the anxious heart is like a bird taken in a net, which, struggling wildly, involves itself deeper and deeper in the snare.”  10
  In Chapter iv., Book iii., upon humility, the saint says:—
          “We call vain glories, those which being in us are not properly of us. Nobility of birth, the favor of the great, are all outside of ourselves: why should we glory in them? How many persist in vain exultation because they have fine horses, showy clothes, beautiful furniture. Does not this show the folly of men? Some would like to dance well, others to sing well. That is very superficial, highly contemptible, and very irrelevant.”
  11
  St. Francis alludes very keenly to those persons who like to display their great learning, their noble traits of heredity. Acting thus, we should be embarrassed by an examination of the qualities of which we boast; and as there is nothing finer than honor when received as a gift, so there is nothing more shameful when required as a right. Our author reserves his highest contempt for preoccupation with rank and honors. “The questions of precedence, of rank and honors, suit only petty minds.” Thus too upon false humility: “We often say that we are the dust of the earth, but we should be very sorry to be taken at our word. We often flee so that we may be pursued. The truly humble man, on the contrary, speaks little of himself, and tries to conceal his virtues.”  12
  Although St. Francis was not a mystic, he spoke for those who are, when, apropos of St. Catherine of Siena, he said:—
          “The story of the temptations with which God permitted the Evil Spirit to assail St. Catherine’s modesty is very astonishing; and nothing more horrible can be imagined than this spiritual combat, whether it be the enemy’s suggestions to heart and imagination, or to the eyes by infamous representations. Although all this external evil struck only her senses, she was violently troubled and agitated. When our Lord finally appeared to her, she said, ‘Where were you, Lord, when my heart was filled with filth?’ Upon which the Lord answered, ‘My daughter, I was in thy heart itself. If I had not been present, thy soul would have consented to those impressions, which would have destroyed it.’”
  13
  Here, apropos of gambling, is matter to satisfy the casuists, when St. Francis affirms “playing to satisfy the company where one is, to be perfectly proper”; and that St. Elizabeth of Hungary played thus at pleasure-gatherings without failing at all in devotion. Moreover, faithful in his care for the home woman, the friend of Jeanne de Chantal particularly advises many women to consecrate themselves to study; to “console others; and among your occupations,” he adds, “do not forget the spindle and the distaff: these humble occupations will keep you from idleness, the scourge of homes.”  14
  Sometimes his taste for the picturesque leads our saint to impose anticipations of Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ upon his reader. Particularly in the passage where he advises Philothea to balance the scales between the calls of temptation and the nobler instincts:—
          “Consider on your left hand the Prince of Darkness upon a high throne; an infinite number of sinners are around, paying him homage. Some are transported by the spirit of rage, which makes them unchained furies of hate and vengeance; others are weakened by the spirit of idleness, which leaves them only leisure for vain frivolities. One group are intoxicated by the spirit of intemperance, which renders them brutes and madmen, another swollen with pride and insupportable; one parched with longing, another perishing with lust; others troubled with the anxiety for gain: behold them restless, disordered, killing, persecuting, destroying each other. And now consider upon your right hand, Jesus the Crucified, with an inexplicable tenderness of compassion. To obtain the liberty of these wretches, he offers his prayers and his blood to God his Father. Consider the evenness of disposition, the serenity of mind, of the servants of God. They love each other with a pure and holy love. Even those who have afflictions are very little or not at all disquieted by them, and lose nothing of the peace of their hearts.”
  15
 
 
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