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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 Fénélon 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 suspicion. Descriptions of the sublime and mysterious operations of the soul under the influence of grace are always capable of being misunderstood, and "wrested" from their proper sense, and no Christian mystic, from S. Paul downwards, has escaped this danger. The shameless abuse of the Saint's authority by the Jansenists left it eventually quite unimpaired. Hence the mistakes of Molinos, Père Lacombe, Madame Guyon, and even of Fénélon himself would have thrown no permanent discredit on this treatise, if Bossuet had defended it in a proper spirit and with full knowledge and discretion. Incredible as the fact may seem, it is nevertheless true that neither Fénélon 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 that 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, Fénélon gladly changed places with Bossuet, but his hasty defence was not so complete as the charges were unwarranted and presumptuous.11For our authorities and full information on this important controversy we refer our readers to the admirable "Dissertation," by Baudry, in the supplementary volume (ix.) of Migne's edition of the "Works of S. Francis and S. Jane Frances." There is an anonymous dissertation in vol. vi. which bears on the same subject.
We shall briefly touch upon these controverted points as they occur among the difficulties of the Treatise. Of these difficulties Book I. contains by far the largest proportion, and we will give an abstract of this Book sufficiently complete to prevent the necessity, not indeed of studying it, but, of a too laborious study.22The following part of our Introduction—viz., the analysis of Books i., ii., will probably be found more intelligible and useful after reading the Saint's text.
In this first Book the Saint treats in general of the will and its affections, in particular of its chief affection, love, and of the will's natural inclination towards a sovereign love of God.
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: 1°. Natural affections, where the word natural is not used in opposition to supernatural (as in this sense the next class would also be natural), but to signify those first and spontaneous affections which by the very natural constitution of our reason arise from the perception of sensible goods. Indeed the word sensible exactly explains his use of the word natural, provided that we carefully remember that he is speaking not of the movements of the merely sensual appetite or concupiscence which are anterior to reason, but of our reasonable and lawful affections for sensible goods. Such are the affections we have for health, food, agreeable society. 2°. Reasonable affections, where it will now easily be understood that the word, which could be applied also to the preceding class, is restricted to those which are par excellence reasonable, that is, the affections which arise in the spiritual part of reason, from the light of nature indeed, but from the higher light of nature—such as the affections for the moral virtues. 3°. Christian affections, which spring from the consideration of truths of the Christian revelation, such as affections for poverty, chastity, heavenly glory. 4°. Divine, or (entirely) supernatural affections which God effects in us, and which tend to him as known by a light entirely above that of nature. These supernatural affections are primarily three: love for the beautiful in the mysteries of faith, love for the useful in the promises of hope, and love for the sovereign good which is the Divinity.
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.
There are (c. 7) five points in the process of love: 1. Natural affinity of the will with good. 2. Delectation or complacency in it. 3. A movement, following this complacency, towards union. 4. Taking the means required for union. 5. Union itself.33This division is the connecting chain of the whole Treatise, and it will be found that each Book treats of one or more of its parts. Thus the three following Books are on point 3, Book v. on point 2, Books vi.–ix. on points 4 and 5 (viz., union by affective and by effective love), x.–xii. on point 3. 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.
Even the inferior part of the soul truly reasons and wills (so that his distinction of inferior and superior is not the distinction between concupiscence and reason), but it is inferior because it only reasons and wills according to data furnished by the senses: the superior part reasons and wills on intellectual and spiritual considerations. But it must be noticed that these considerations are not necessarily supernatural. 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 Fénélon 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.44Certain expressions on p. 50 require explanation. It is there said that in the superior part of the soul there are two degrees of reason—the answer is that the Saint for the moment puts out of consideration the lowest degree of the higher reason, and concerns himself with the two supernatural degrees. And a little lower down he speaks of the action of faith "in the inferior part of the soul," but he really means in the lower one of the two highest degrees. 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.
Having finished this subject, which is to some extent a digression, the Saint returns to the consideration of love, and gives (c. 13) its two main divisions,—viz., love of cupidity when we love good for our own sake, and love of benevolence when we love good for its sake—i.e. love of self-interest and disinterested love. 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, bien-veuillance, well-wishing.
Cupidity alone is exercised in the inferior reason, but in the superior reason both find place. The love of God for his own sake which is necessary for eternal life belongs exclusively to the supreme degree of the superior reason, but the Saint teaches (as Bossuet has clearly shown against Fénélon) that there is a reasonable, high love of cupidity, that is, a love of God as good to us, even in the highest degree and supreme point of the spirit. This indeed is the precise motive of Christian hope, which must be kept subordinate to disinterested love, but can only be separated from it by abstraction and by a non-permanent act.
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.
In the remaining four chapters preparation is made for the account of the communication of grace and charity to the soul. He shows (c. 15) that there is a natural affinity of the soul with its God which is the root of love; that thus, by a glorious paradox, God and man need one another for their mutual perfection; that we have (c. 16) a natural inclination to love God above all things; that (c. 17) we cannot fulfil this inclination by natural powers; but (c. 18) that still the inclination is not left in our hearts for nothing, as it makes possible the communication of grace, and is the handle by which grace takes hold of us.
It is chiefly against these three chapters that Bossuet's animadversions are directed. He accuses the Saint of two errors: 1°. in saying (p. 61) that God would give grace to one who did his best by the forces of nature as certainly as he would give a further grace to one who corresponded with a first grace; 2°. of saying (p. 57) that in the state of original justice our love of God would not be supernatural.
Fénélon 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.55It is true that elsewhere (Book iv. c. v.) S. Francis says, after S. Thomas and S. Francis Xavier, that God is sure to give grace to those who fulfil the natural law, but, since in the state of fallen nature the natural law itself cannot be fully observed without grace, there is already supposed in the hearts of such persons the existence of grace which draws the further grace. This the Saint expressly states (xi. 1).
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."
Book II. describes the generation of charity, which, being supernatural, must be created in the soul as a new quality. And after two introductory chapters, the remaining twenty are evenly divided between the history of the action of God in bestowing, and the action of man in appropriating this gift. 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.
Our first act under divine inspiration is (c. 13) the consenting to those first stirrings of love which God causes in the soul even before it has faith. Then (c. 14) comes the production of faith. This may follow after argument and the acceptance of the fact of miracles, but it is not precisely an effect of these. Such things make truths of faith extremely credible, but God alone makes them actually believed. And the effect is from God not only in this sense that the extremest effort of natural intelligence could not attain to faith, but also because a moving of the will is required and is contained in the intellectual act of faith itself, what the Saint calls an affectionate sentiment of complacency in the beauty and sweetness of the truth accepted, so that faith is an acquiescence, an assent, an assurance. The Jews saw the force of the argument from Christ's miracles, but they did not assent to the conclusion because they loved it not. Hence faith includes a certain commencement of love in the will, but a love not as yet enough for eternal life.
Then (cc. 15, 16, 17) comes the production of hope, which brings yet closer to charity. As soon as faith shows the divine object of man's affections, there arises a movement of complacency and desiring love. This desire would be a torment to us unless we had an assurance that we might obtain its object. God gives this assurance by his promise, and this promise, while it makes desire stronger, causes at the same time a sense of calm which the Saint calls the "root" of hope. 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 soverign 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.
Then comes the production of penitence or repentance. He distinguishes (c. 18) first, a merely human repentance; secondly, a religious repentance belonging to the merely natural order; thirdly, a supernatural inferior repentance, which (c. 19) is good but insufficient; and fourthly (c. 20), perfect repentance, that is, sorrow for sin arising from the loving consideration of the sovereignly amiable goodness which has been offended thereby. This is not precisely charity, because charity is, precisely, a movement towards union, whereas repentance is, precisely, a movement of separation (from sin); but though it is not precisely charity and therefore has not the sweetness of charity, it has the virtue and uniting property of charity, because the object of its movement of separation from sin is union with God. In practice there is no means, or need, to distinguish, because perfect repentance is always immediately followed or preceded by charity, or else the one is born within the other.
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 describes charity.
Book III. treats of the progress and perseverance of the soul in charity on earth, and of the perfection of triumphant charity in heaven. We have only one remark to make on this book. The Abbé Baudry expresses surprise that the Saint when speaking (c. 2) of the increase of charity by good works does not mention its increase by the Sacraments. But he includes them under the name good-works, and in Book IV., c. 4, where he sums up this part of Book III. mentions them explicitly. He does not dwell on them because his object in chapter 2 is to show how easy God has made the increase of charity. He takes therefore as his examples the smallest works, such as the giving a cup of cold water, and he leaves us to draw the conclusion that the faithful and loving reception of God's Sacraments would â fortiori increase love. Still it is true that neither here nor elsewhere does he treat the Sacraments except quite incidentally, and the explanation of this fact gives us a further insight into the true character and object of the Treatise. He is concerned with the action of grace in general, not with its action by particular means; he is more concerned with the interior movements of man under grace than with the effects worked on him, as it were from outside; and, as he is treating of actual charity, he is more concerned with the good acts for which God gives (whether by Sacraments or in any other way) an increase of grace, than he is concerned with the actual reception of the grace. We mention this to show that one must not be surprised at not finding a fuller treatment of, for instance, the Blessed Eucharist. We must also remember that this Treatise supposes the "Introduction to a Devout Life" as a foundation. And though he only introduces the Sacraments incidentally, he does not fail to speak of them frequently, and with such magnificent praises as we should expect from the Saint of love. As when he says (ii. 22) that the communication of Christ's body and blood is the very consummation of the charity he is writing of, and the crown of God's love-dealings with us; or as when he says, speaking of the return of the penitent soul to reunite herself, immediately, with her God: "Go and cry God's mercy in the very ear of your confessor" (ix. 7).
Book IV. describes the relations of love and sin. The following five Books treat of the exercise of benevolence in its generic sense—the sovereign love of God for his own sake.
Book V. treats in general of the double action or manifestation of this love,—in complacency, and in benevolence in its specific sense, that is, desire.
Books VI. and VII. treat of union with God by affection, that is, by prayer; the former treating of meditation, and of contemplation as far as union, the latter of union itself. The various degrees of the prayer of quiet are treated in these books, and Quietists bring forward passages from them, as from other parts of the Saint's works, in support of their extravagant system of annihilation of the powers and of purely passive prayer. We have said elsewhere66"Four Essays on the Life and Writings of S. Francis de Sales," Essay III. p. 88. as much as we think it necessary to say to overthrow these allegations. But it is important to show that Fénélon was utterly wrong in appealing to the Saint's authority in support of his erroneous doctrine on this point in his "Maximes des Saints." Bossuet has exposed these errors and given a full explanation of the passages cited from S. Francis; particularly in the 8th and 9th Books of his "Instruction pastorale sur les états d’oraison." The Saint expresses in this as in all things the very teaching of the Church. He rightly teaches that there is, even short of suspension and ecstasy, a kind of prayer in which God takes into his own hands the powers of the soul, and produces in it acts far above the ordinary operations of faith, hope and charity. When God lifts a soul to this prayer, and also to some extent in preparation and expectancy of this elevation, the will acts, by a placing of itself (remise) in the hands of God, and even continues to act, though insensibly: hence the soul is not purely passive, but the action of God is so mighty, and so far beyond all proportion to that of the will, that S. Francis says this is "as it were passive." And as the soul must offer itself to be lifted, and must co-operate with God, therefore also must it help to acquire and preserve that "quiet" which is the condition of God's operation: it must abstain from intrusive acts of reasoning and from other acts of the will, especially from violent ones. But this prayer, however frequent, long, uninterrupted, absorbing, it may become, is of itself a non-permanent state, and not of the nature of a habit, but is always an act of charity. And far from saying that for perfection it is necessary to be raised to and to keep oneself in this state, the Saint teaches in a hundred places that the soul, however perfect, must exercise itself in all ordinary acts of prayer, faith, hope, petition, which are only put on one side for the time in which God has raised it. The practice of S. Jane Frances, whose authority was invoked even more speciously than that of her saintly director by the advocates of passive prayer, bears on this. We are told that: "She wrote out and signed with her blood a long prayer which she had composed of petitions, praises, thanksgivings, for general and particular favours, for relations and friends, for the living and the dead, in fine for all intentions to which she considered herself obliged, with the Credo of the Missal, also signed with her blood. She carried this in a little bag night and day round her neck, and she had made a loving covenant with Our Lord that whenever she pressed this to her heart she should be taken to have made all the acts of faith, the thanks and the petitions she had written."77From her life by Maupas, quoted by Bossuet in the "Instr. Past. sur les états d’oraison," viii. And, at last, prayer is not a character of perfection, but a means to it, and the two following statements of S. Francis in his second Conference absolutely settle the whole question as to his teaching. "It happens often enough that Our Lord gives these quietudes and tranquillities to souls that are far from perfection." . . . . and on the other hand: "There are persons who are very perfect to whom Our Lord has never given such sweetnesses nor such quietudes; who do all with the superior part of the soul, and make their will die in the will of God by main force, and with the supreme point of the reason; and this death is the death of the cross, much more excellent than that other, which should rather be called a slumber than a death."
As in treating affective love Book VII. completes Book VI., so in treating effective love Book VIII., which treats of obedience to the already signified will of God, is completed by Book IX., which treats of indifference, or the state of perfect readiness to accept all that God's good-pleasure may choose to send us.
On the doctrine of indifference we venture again to refer the reader to our Essay88Pp. 82-4. just quoted. We add a few words to show how completely Fénélon erred in appealing to this Treatise to support his extravagant and condemned propositions that indifference extends to eternal salvation as our salvation, and to virtuousness as such. The Saint expressly teaches that while God's glory must be our principal end, we may, indeed we must—our nature so requires—desire salvation and virtue as good also in themselves. Much less can we acquiesce in a supposed decree of damnation, with that species of absolute act which Fénélon requires as the last test of the disinterestedness of love.99The Saint is careful to qualify any ambiguous statement (as in ix. 4) by declaring that he speaks "par imagination de chose impossible." With regard to eternal salvation, we have only to study the sentiments the Saint places in the hearts and mouths of those whose love is refined to its highest point at the moment of death (v. 10, vii. 11, 12). He has a chapter to prove that the preceding desire of heaven increases the enjoyment of it (iii. 10); and he teaches that not only mercenary hope but also servile fear remain in the soul as part of its habit of charity so long as it is in this life (xi. 17). With regard to virtues he says (xi. 13): "Let us love the particular virtues, but principally because they are agreeable to God;" and: "We must make this heavenly good-pleasure the soul of our actions, loving the goodness and beauty of virtue principally because it is agreeable to God." Here the word "principally" is the key of the whole question.
Bossuet triumphantly vindicates1010In the same "Instruction, &c." the Saint's doctrine on indifference, but has a very ill-judged criticism on his use of the word. He is quite right in saying that indifference is only a degree of resignation, but he forgets how far ordinary resignation is below indifference. Bossuet gives a full explanation of all the passages alleged by Fénélon from S. Francis, but he was hampered, as Fénélon was totally misled, by Maupas's erroneous account of S. Francis's famous temptation to despair.
Of the remaining three books, Book X. is dedicated entirely to the commandment of loving God above all things; Books XI. arid XII. are on the theory and practice of the particular virtues. Indeed it must be remembered that the object of the Treatise, even in its speculative parts, is exclusively practical. And as we have shown that in its theory it is free from error, so we may now be allowed to indicate some of its glorious truths, particularly with regard to the practice of holy living.
It is not a book, like other spiritual books, treating only a section or a single element of the devout life, but it is one by which and on which the whole spiritual life can be formed; it is, with the "Introduction to a Devout Life," a perfect book, a "complete food," containing all the ingredients necessary for spiritual sustenance.
It contains in the first place an immense mass of instruction, dogmatic and moral, on the science of the love of God. It treats not only in broad outline but also in subtle detail of God and the soul, this world and the world to come, grace and free-will, holiness and sin, commandments and counsels, ordinary virtue and perfection, all questions of prayer; it treats the virtues in detail, not only the virtue of charity in all its parts, but also faith, hope and fear, zeal, obedience, resignation. The direct course of the Treatise takes us through all these, and they are not only treated fully in themselves, but so treated as to bring out in illustrating them a hundred related truths. A whole theology of Mary might be gathered as we pass along; her Immaculate Conception (ii. 3), her graces and privileges (iii. 8.; ix. 14.; vii. 13, 14), her praise of God (v. 11), her heavenly death (vii. 13, 14). A new light is thrown on the sense of Holy Scripture, and on the principles and actions of the Saints.
But, in the second place, we more particularly wish to point out some of his practical principles and rules, the manner of loving and serving God. The most important of these is what may be called the Saint's general idea or philosophy of life. It begins thus: "We know by faith that the divinity is an incomprehensible abyss of all perfection. . . . . And this truth which faith teaches we consider attentively by meditation, regarding this immensity of goods which are in God. . . . . Now when we have made our understanding very attentive to the greatness of the goods which are in this divine object, it is impossible that our will should not be touched with complacency in this good . . . . and especially when we see amidst his perfections that of his infinite love excellently shining" (v. 1, 2.). The loving soul does not stay in complacency but goes on to benevolence, wishing her God all possible goods; but as she is at the very same time exulting in the thought that nothing is wanting to him, she can at first but spend herself in desiring him what he already has, in desiring to be able to give him something, and in praises, ever rising higher and higher until at last she finds a sort of rest in the sense that her utter inability to desire him anything which he has not, or to praise him fully, is the best proof of the infinity of the goods he has. This delight in God and these loving desires are an important part of her service, but they would be barren if she did not go further. She turns, then, to her own powers, and finds that exercising them in herself by internal acts of prayer (affective love), and outside herself, amid creatures, by external acts of the virtues (effective love), she can increase the glory of her beloved, not in itself, but in and by herself. Thus the various interior and exterior acts are brought into one, and the soul's life consists, on the one hand, in "a continual progress in the sweet searching out of motives which may continually urge her" (v. 7), and, on the other hand, in acts of prayer, in obedience, and in submission. She "employs every occasion," "does everything most perfectly," and, by the practice of Intention, Offering, and Ejaculatory Prayer (according to methods minutely described in Book XI. 13, 14, 20, and throughout Book XII.), subordinates and ranges every interior movement and every exterior action to the service of divine love.
This "view" of life, this continual gazing at the beloved Master for whom we work, this regarding the acts of life as a mere series of acts or offerings of love, is the very central point of the ascetic teaching of S. Francis. It not only gives the nobleness, the intensity, the meritoriousness of charity to every act, but it gives also at the same time a great simplicity and largeness, preserving the soul from formality and from getting lost or wearied in the multitudinous details and minute practices of the spiritual life; it creates a loving detachment and liberty of spirit, with a readiness to follow every slightest indication of God's will. Finally, it gives order to our various duties. For instance, it puts in their proper place, in serene majesty above the cavils of worldlings, the works of religion and "piety." These are the immediate services of the beloved, the first effects of charity, and therefore charity itself teaches that: "Amongst all virtuous actions we should carefully practise those of religion and reverence to divine things, those of faith, hope and the most holy fear of God;—often talking of heavenly things, thinking of and aspiring after eternity, frequenting churches and holy services, reading spiritual books, observing the ceremonies of the Christian religion; for holy love feeds at will amid these exercises, and spreads its graces and properties more abundantly over them than over the simply human virtues" (xi. 3). Yet there is no fanaticism. The human virtues find their proper place at the proper time, and, inferior in themselves, are raised by love, that is, by the fact that for the time they are the will of God, to the highest rank in the eyes of the loving soul,—"For in little and low exercises, charity is practised not only more frequently, but also as a rule more humbly, and therefore more profitably and more holily" (xii. 6). He has two glorious chapters on the truth that legitimate occupations, be they even in court or camp, hinder not the practice of divine love. "Curiosity, ambition, disquiet, together with inadvertence to, or not considering, the end for which we are in this world, are the causes why we have a hundred times more hindrances than affairs; and it is these embarrassments, that is, the silly, vain, superfluous undertakings with which we charge ourselves that turn us from the love of God, and not the true and lawful exercise of our vocations" (xii. 4.). In the one great principle of doing all for love we have signalized two conditions or negative aspects of the same. 1°. The intellect must be kept "very attentive." As the Saint says in the "Introduction to a Devout Life" (v. 17), so here, consideration "is supposed throughout the entire work," the whole edifice is built on it, and therefore the want of it, "inconsidération," is the ruin of the whole spiritual life (xi. 7.) This "consideration" need not be called by the alarming name of mental prayer, but whatever it is called it consists in a most serious attention to spiritual truths according to the capacity of the individual: there must be one great esteem, and therefore the energy of the intellect cannot be given primarily to anything else. So (2°) in the will, there must be but one great affection, one aim, one desire—"One to one." "The desire of exalting God separates from inferior pleasures" (v. 7); and: "to have the desire of sacred love we must cut off other desires" (xii. 3). "Those souls who ever abound in desires, designs and projects never desire holy celestial love as they ought:" "He who aspires to heavenly love must carefully reserve for it his leisure, his spirit, and his affections:"—words which should be written in letters of flame for the guidance of such as seek the right way to perfection.
We will not stay to give examples of his more particular principles with regard to prayer, but we select a few with regard to the virtues. The truly loving heart not only observes the commandments, but loves the observance, of them (viii. 5). "Inclination is neither vice nor virtue. . . . . How many by natural disposition are sober, simple, silent, even chaste? All this seems to be virtue, but it is not, until on such natural humours we have grafted free and voluntary consent:" The whole chapter "On the imperfection of the virtues of the pagans" (xi. 7.) is of the most practical importance at the present day. The general, but surely most constraining, principle of mortification,—that other pleasures and other desires must be put down for the sake of divine love,—is applied to the interior in such more particular methods as this:—irregular affections can be put down either on the principle of curing contraries by contraries, or on the principle of curing likes by likes: the inclination to trust in earthly things may be overcome either by thinking of the vanity of earthly hopes or of the solidity of heavenly hopes; desire of riches or of sensual pleasure may be kept down either by the contempt of them or by the esteem of heavenly goods, "as fire is extinguished either by water or by lightning" (xi. 20). It is applied to the exterior thus: "It is useless to give orders of abstinence to the palate, but the hands must be ordered to furnish the mouth with meat and drink only in such and such a measure. . . . . If we desire our eyes not to see we must turn them away, or (he has just compared our sensual appetite to a hawk) cover them with their natural hood . . . . it would be folly to command a horse not to wax fat, not to grow, not to kick,—to effect all this, stop his corn" (i. 2). In this connection, and to show how beautiful, how consistent, and how feasible his teaching is, it should be studied with his life, as his life should be explained by his teaching. That his extraordinary and almost unreasonable meekness sprang from no weakness or ignorance, but was founded on the deepest wisdom and sincere humility, we realize when we study his teaching (x.) on zeal and anger. His extremely affectionate expressions towards his friends find their justification in the truth that "the union to which love aspires is spiritual" (i. 10). The ground of his missionary spirit and life is found in v. 9, and the whole work is the explanation of his absolute devotion of himself to the loving service of God and his neighbour.
In the third place, the Treatise contains a full exposition of the motives for serving God, the why of a spiritual life. This is all reduced to the one great motive of the infinite perfections—especially the amiableness, the love, the goodness of God—brought before us in a hundred ways. His mere descriptions are enough to bring home this motive to the heart that reads them with attention, but the Saint himself puts them together (xii., 11, 12) with the exact method of applying them. But besides the direct treatment of the motives, the Treatise is pervaded by a heavenly persuasive unction, which ever urges them. This is why S. Vincent calls it "the goad of the slothful and the stimulus of love." While S. Francis seems only to be making us clearly understand what virtue is, he at the same time makes us esteem and love it; his reasons for loving God and practising virtue are not cold, dry logic, but reach the heart, and command assent; and while he is apparently only fixing our attention on the way to practise virtue he is at the same time gently but effectively touching the springs of the will to make us love and prepare to effect it. But besides this continual stimulation he has direct exhortations; he stops, as it were, in his course to preach. One chapter is headed: "An exhortation to the amorous submission which we owe to the decrees of divine Providence" (iv. 8). Another is his exposition of S. Paul's,—"The charity of Christ presseth us." Another—"An exhortation to the sacrifice we ought to make to God of our free-will" (xii. 10). And other chapters, though not precisely in the form of exhortations, contain the virtue of them. Such are the chapters "On condolence and complacency in the Passion of Our Lord" (v. 5); on the "Marvellous history of a gentleman who died of love on Mount Olivet" (vii. 12); and the last chapter of all: "That Mount Calvary is the true academy of love."
But, in the fourth place, this Treatise is not only a manual and a guide to perfection, but it is also a meditation-book, and a prayer-book. In such chapters as those just mentioned the devout soul will find all the materials of most excellent meditations;—not only deep pregnant thoughts, but also a very fountain of affections and ejaculations, most pressing movements of the will, and most effective resolutions. The summing up of motives, and method of using them is already in the very form of meditation. But almost every chapter could be used as such. For instance, if one wished to strengthen the groundwork of love—the realization of the perfections of God—after thinking out Book v. cc. 1. 2., he could add Book i. cc. 15, 18, Book ii. cc. 1, 2, 8, 15, 22, and Book iii. cc. 11, 12, 13. This Book III. furnishes grand meditations on heaven, and every Book is full of the excellences of charity, than which no consideration could be more touching or more practical.
Then, the Treatise is a prayer-book. Very frequently the Saint ends his chapter with an exquisite prayer, himself giving the expression of the ardours with which he has filled our hearts. All Book V. is a prayer;—for instance, c. 5 on the Passion, c. 6 on Desires. Profound dogma, having permeated the intellect, exhales itself, as it were, to God on the apex of the spirit in such burning words as his—"Ah! then I am not made for this world, &c." (i. 15), or—"Ah! Jesus, who will give me grace to be one single spirit with thee, &c!" (vii. 3.)
We have now to speak of our text and rendering. We have followed the text of Vivès's edition of the "Œuvres Complètes," which, with a little improvement from subsequent editions, is a reproduction of the original work, published at Lyons by Rigaud in 1616. We therefore follow in our quotations the spelling and accentuation of the old French. We have of course used the ordinary Catholic translation of the Bible, except where the Saint leaves the Vulgate for the Septuagint or the Hebrew, which he occasionally does, not, as he says, to get the true sense, but "to explain and confirm the true sense." We have consulted the originals for the citations from the Fathers, but the Saint himself quotes them with a certain freedom, and we have not thought it necessary to give the exact references, as the student can easily find them in Vivès or Migne. It has been decided to omit or modify in this popular edition a few sentences in which the Saint refers to certain delicate matters—in particular to certain Bible narratives which to his original readers were matters of familiar knowledge—with the happy simplicity of his day. As he says in his Preface, "it is of extreme importance to remember the age in which one writes," and there can be no doubt that if he had been writing for this age he would have consulted its requirements, and would have conformed to the universal practice of modern spiritual writers by forbearing reference to these subjects. He only introduces them incidentally and merely for the purpose of illustrating his main argument. The omissions or alterations taken altogether would not amount to more than two pages.1111They occur in i. 5, 10; iv. 10; v. 1; vi. 15; vii. 1; viii. 1; ix. 10; x. 7, 9; xi. 4, 10, 11, 14.
We are acquainted with only two English versions of the Treatise. The first was made by Father Car, from the eighteenth French edition,1212"A Treatise of the Love of God." Written in French by B. Francis de Sales, Bishope and Prince of Geneva. Translated into English by Miles Car, priest of the English Colledge of Doway. The eighteenth edition. Printed at Doway by Gerard Pinchon, at the sign of Coleyn, 1630. and we had at first intended to take this as the basis of ours; but when we came to actually test it by the original, we determined to make our translation completely independent of it, and in many parts we did not refer to it at all. As to the substance of the work it is satisfactory; though there are many slight omissions, and a few somewhat serious mistakes. As to style, taken by itself, it is a good and a very interesting specimen of the racy, vigorous English of that day; but taken as a translation, the rendering is unwarrantably free, and Father Car's manner is far too rugged to represent that of the Saint, which is always graceful and flowing, even when the thought is closest and the passion strongest. Father Car gives the structure correctly, but his manipulation of conjunctions and adverbs, particularly in the more argumentative parts, is painfully cumbrous. We should expect his diction to be archaic, but some of his words are quite obsolete1313We would gladly have reintroduced such a fine old word as "yert," which represents the now untranslateable eslan or eslancement.. He is occasionally mistaken in his use of words, as when he translates bonté, "bounty," instead of "goodness;" he makes curious mistakes in words which are spelt nearly alike.1414For instance nuisance as if it were naissance; jeusnes et veilles, as if they were jeunes et vieilles. We have laboured to preserve his delightful air of antiqueness, which is singularly appropriate to the Saint's work.
The modern English translation, which was made, we believe, early in the present century by an Irish lady, and which has been reprinted by various publishers, is not worth criticizing. It is not so much a translation as a very bad adaptation. A good deal of the substance of the book is left out, and the translator, who was not properly acquainted either with the Saint's language or her own, substitutes her style for his. We have no hesitation in saying that there is not a page without important errors on commission or omission.
We may add a few words on our own work. It is sometimes said that a translation should read as if it were composed in the language in which it appears, and, again, that a translator must not attend immediately to the words of his text, but must, in the first place, aim at producing the same impression on the minds of his readers as the author would produce on the minds of those for whom he originally wrote. We cannot but consider both these rules or principles to be fallacious. A Frenchman, for instance, is different from an Englishman, and there are many words which necessarily make a very different impression, according as they fall on a French or on an English mind. So, again, the French tongue has national peculiarities and differences which an English translator may not ignore, but which he cannot represent in strict accordance with the genius of his own tongue. S. Francis's work would have been totally different, both in itself and in its effect, if he had been an Englishman writing for his countrymen in their native language. The most that a translator can do is to put the foreign reader in as good a position as he would be in if he had a familiar knowledge of the original. When an Englishman having a familiar knowledge of French reads a book written in that language, he does not indeed usually advert to the expression therein of the national characteristics—vivacity, use of gesture, frequent expression of emotion, strong sense of personality—because he has for the time put on his French form of mind, but there is certainly a latent sense of foreignness, of which he becomes conscious when these peculiarities are exaggerated, as in such a writer as Victor Hugo.
We say this in explanation of the general structure of the work, which could not be altered without being revolutionized, but as regards particular words and phrases, we have tried our best to spare our readers the disagreeable jar which is caused by the introduction of a foreign idiom. In this matter the Treatise presents less difficulty than is found in the more colloquial writings, because its argument is very substantial, and its text largely consists of quotations from the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers, and philosophers. The difficulty lies deeper, and one must be extremely careful, in obliterating Gallicisms, not to injure or destroy what belongs to the very texture of the style. S. Francis's work cannot be made to read as easily as do the empty, superficial writings of the day, or to appear in a spick-and-span modern English dress. He is a classic, he is a master of thought, having his individual characteristics, who wrote scientifically on profoundest religious truths three ages back.
His style is old-world, antique. Words with him have more of their fresh native simplicity than they now retain after having done service for three hundred years. Some of them he was the first to bring out of their classic use into modern circulation. Hence, we make no difficulty in using such words as "contemplation," "sensible," "civil," in their original and more proper sense, as English religious writers of his age—Hooker, Taylor or Milton—used them.
Again, he is scientific—theological and philosophical. He writes a Treatise. The world, which is only interested in its own matters, will not admit the rights of the scientific writer on religion. Catholics of the English-speaking race are placed at a double disadvantage, on account of the small proportion their numbers bear to the mass of their countrymen. But surely we are not to acquiesce in allowing terms to be prohibited which are necessary or useful for properly and safely expressing the distinctive truths of our religion: there is an interest at stake not merely literary, but religious, and also patriotic. We claim, therefore, the right to use, for instance, the words "religion," "religious," "professed," in our technical Catholic sense, for the state and the persons of those who have bound themselves to the service of God by vow.
S. Francis also had his special characteristics, which, therefore, are not French but Salesian. He was slightly old-fashioned, even in his own time. He was a patriarch of French literature, and devoted, in language as in other things, to the old times, though so glorious a pioneer of the new. He is simple in expression amongst the simple. But each word is charged with thought and reflection, and sometimes an exclamation which one might at first be tempted to suppress as a French superfluity, turns out to be a "word," and welded into the substance of the phrase. He was a Saint, also, and what would be an exclamation in others is an ejaculation in him.
But, after all, our object is devotional and not literary; we are far from wishing to indulge any literary fancies or crotchets and have no intention of straining our principles of translation. Our one aim is to make the true teachings of S. Francis de Sales accessible, profitable, and attractive to English readers, and so to contribute our poor efforts to advance the divine Art of Holy Loving.
Feast of our most holy Father S. Benedict, 1884.
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