Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Gentleman Saint

Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, sometimes called the Gentleman Saint due to his unfailing politeness even in difficult situations. His father wanted him to be a lawyer, but he wanted to be a priest; so, just as many young people deliberately appeart to go along with their parents at first while not really going along with them, he studied both law and theology, and after he was done began refusing the positions and nice marriage that his father had set up for him. It took the intervention of the Bishop of Geneva to work out the inevitable mess, and Francis became provost of the cathedral at Geneva. It was a field of opportunity for a young priest, as almost the entire area had become Calvinist. He threw himself into missions, and had some patchy success at first in trying to get them to return to communion, but eventually the locals agreed with each other to stop listening to him at all, and a handful of the more enterprising tried to kill him. Undeterred, he started writing tracts and slipping them under their doors. It's unclear from the evidence whether this worked any better. After becoming coadjutor bishop of Geneva, he was sent on a mission to court, where he both stood out like a sore thumb in the midst of excess and loose customs, but was also remarkably popular for precisely that reason. He then ascended to the see of Geneva; because Geneva was Calvinism central, he was never able to set a foot in Geneva itself (he was headquartered in Annecy, where he is buried). A significant contributing factor to his becoming recognized as one of the great theologians of the Church was his recognition that the laity had a great need for spiritual works written specifically for them; in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries there was an increasingly educated and active laity that had difficulty at times adapting spiritual works written for monks to their own situations. So St. Francis began to make up the difference by keeping laypersons in mind when writing. He also carried on a famously profound correspondence with St. Jeanne Frances de Chantal, with whom he founded the Order of the Visitation of Mary.

From Treatise on the Love of God Book I, Chapter XV:

This pleasure, this confidence which man's heart naturally has in God, can spring from no other root than the affinity there is between this divine goodness and man's soul, a great but secret affinity, an affinity which each one knows but few understand, an affinity which cannot be denied nor yet be easily sounded. We are created to the image and likeness of God:—what does this mean but that we have an extreme affinity with his divine majesty?

Our soul is spiritual, indivisible, immortal; understands and wills freely, is capable of judging, reasoning, knowing, and of having virtues, in which it resembles God. It resides whole in the whole body, and whole in every part thereof, as the divinity is all in all the world, and all in every part thereof. Man knows and loves himself by produced and expressed acts of his understanding and will, which proceeding from the understanding and the will, and distinct from one another, yet are and remain inseparably united in the soul, and in the faculties from whence they proceed. So the Son proceeds from the Father as his knowledge expressed, and the Holy Ghost as love breathed forth and produced from the Father and the Son, both the Persons being distinct from one another and from the Father, and yet inseparable and united, or rather one same, sole, simple, and entirely one indivisible divinity.

But besides this affinity of likenesses, there is an incomparable correspondence between God and man, for their reciprocal perfection: not that God can receive any perfection from man, but because as man cannot be perfected but by the divine goodness, so the divine goodness can scarcely so well exercise its perfection outside itself, as upon our humanity: the one has great want and capacity to receive good, the other great abundance and inclination to bestow it.

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